Fall is a beautiful time of year to travel anywhere in Canada. The change of seasons are blazing with vibrant colours and a cool crispness in the air. Montreal is a perfect escape from the everyday and the city offers the hustle and bustle but Old Montreal (Vieux Montreal) is just as charming as any quaint European town. A quick four-day trip offered us everything we needed for a perfect “girls’ getaway” — the food, arts, culture, history, spas, nightlife, and of course shopping can fill all your heart’s desire.
We spent most of our time just wandering in historical Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal) where it’s not hard to imagine what the area was like centuries ago with the well preserved churches, stone houses, cobblestone streets and alleyways. Teeming with quaint shops, restaurants, galleries and places to stay, it’s a great location that is within walking distance to many sites in the city.
WHAT TO SEE:
Cité Memoire offers various evening walkable circuits with stops to view and learn about historical moments all projected on sides of buildings. One of the most moving is titled Foundling Quay 1750. Dedicated to founder Marguerite d’Youville, this offered a moving viewpoint of women known as the sisters of Charity (the Grey Nuns) who accepted abandoned children and cared for young unwed mothers near the small Saint-Pierre River. Locations can be found on their website and stops are marked on sidewalks along the routes. Free.Notre-Dame Basilica: is known as the first Gothic Revival style church in Canada. It is also the place where significant events happen including state funerals and notable weddings including Céline Dion’s marriage to René Angélil. It continues to be an active place of workship in the Catholic faith. Public visits are available (ticketed).Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel: also known as the Sailors Church, is actually Montreal’s first church. As the port grew in importance in the 19th century, the chapel became a favourite place of prayer for sailors. The carved replicas of sailing ships can be seen throughout the chapel. Here you will also discover the importance of Marguerite Bourgeoys, the first female Saint of Canada. Main chapel is free to enter. Additional cost to explore other areas.
Rue Saint Jacques: in Montreal was considered the financial capital of Canada from 1850 to 1950 and you can still find these buildings amongst newer builds. The area was lined with luxurious mansions along side the grandest of Canada’s banks. Pop into the Bank of Montreal (located across from Notre-Dame Basilica) – the very first one that remains as grand and opulent as ever. We also found a door open to a theatre space that was also once a bank. And the LHOTEL (owned by Georges Marciano, founder of GUESS Inc.,) is worth exploring as it’s loaded with contemporary artwork by artists including Andy Warhol, Jeff Kooning, Takashi Murakami, Chagall, Miró and more. Originally built in 1870 this landmark building is great example of the Renaissance style of architecture.
Barbie Expo: Located along the busy shopping area on St. Catherine’s in the world’s largest permanent exhibition of Barbie dolls. Over 1000 Barbies are on display in themes from international Barbies, celebrities, brand collaborations, designers, bridal and more. Admission is free and great for all ages. Located on the second floor of Les Cours Mont-Royal (shopping mall) — by the way, the mall has various Instagrammable sets that are fun to visit.
The Ring: is a massive and stunning public art installation by Claude Cormier + Associés. Located at Place Ville Marie (a short walk from Old Montreal) it weighs in at 23,000 kg and is 30 meters in diameter. It was first erected in June 2022 and illuminated at night this past September 2022. Free.
Montreal Underground Path: The winter is cold and a fun time to explore the city’s famous underground path that spans over 33 kilometres including Old Montreal. The walk offers links to shopping, restaurants, cafés and to the metro. Stop by Time Out Market – a delicious food hall.
WHERE TO RELAX:
Scandinave Spa: if you are looking for place to recharge and refocus, this is where you want to be. Take a moment out of your schedule and give yourself well deserve space at this day spa. Like their sister properties they offers hydrotherapy benefits of ancient Scandinavian bathing rituals of a hot-cold-relax circuit. Let the warm waterfalls caress your shoulders. Clear your minds in the eucalyptus steam room. Curl up in your plush bathrobe and under cozy blankets in the relaxation zone are just a few options. Visitors can also pre-book massages – very popular! Recently added are special sessions with Montreal-based spa ambassador and Scandinave Spa’s first official hydrotherapy guide, Scott Simons. He offers guided meditation along side your visit to the baths for a fully immersive experience (check their online schedule for upcoming dates – also available at other Scandinave Spa locations). This urban spa is open for anyone 18+. Allow yourself a good two to three hours and don’t rush. Just breathe. It’s beautiful!WHERE TO SHOP:
Delano: this local shop is not just a treasure trove of fashionable items including local designers but it’s also run by professional stylists who are happy to help you select what would be great for your body shape on the spot. They ask questions beyond if you’re looking for something in particular — like colours you enjoy wearing, what you do for work even as they pull items for you to try on they’ll even push your style imagination beyond what you’re accustomed to and surprise you.
Sarah Pacini: Italian/Flemmish designer is a globally known designer known for her modern and timeless design. The label has a stand-alone store for both men and women. If you’re lucky enough to visit at sale times definitely a worthwhile time to add a few beautiful pieces from her collection often between 30% to 50% off retail.
SSENSE: some of the most sought after fashion labels are held with this online retailer but a visit to the shop located on Saint-Sulpice in Old Montreal offers an immersive experience with a more personalized touch in this unassuming location. By appointment only.
Chocosina: This local chocolatier is a sweet lover’s paradise. Owned by James Lavoie Montero, a Canadian-born European with Spanish roots and Isabelle Forcier, a French Canadian-born from Montreal. Here you will find an incredible assortment of artisanal chocolates hand crafted. Ask for the seasonal products too beyond their smooth darks. The chocolate with lemon rind is only offered for a limited time and worth hoarding.
WHERE TO EAT:
Restaurant Helena’s: Chef and owner Helena Loureiro offers elevated Portuguese cuisine that is so flavourful and special. There is an a la carte menu but opt for the tasting menu. It not only highlights incredibly flavourful dishes but is also a real showcase of cooking techniques by this culinary master.
Olive & Gourmando: A charming and popular brunch spot that offers fresh baked pastries but wonderfully filling savoury dishes to keep tummies very happy for a day of exploring. Look for weekend features (by weekend they mean Fridays and Saturdays) like their Brioche French Toast with apples and caramel.
Dobe & Andy: This unassuming and affordable Hong Kong style BBQ spot located in Chinatown serves up comfort foods like their super moist soya chicken or roast pork on rice, stir fried flat rice noodles and more. Now taken over by the next generation that continue to take pride in traditional Chinese BBQ and they’re doing a great job. Then take a walk around the corner for Chinese bakery goods and bubble tea.
Tommy’s Cafe: Forget Sbux, this is the perfect spot to duck into and relax with a mocha, tea, of coffee in hand. For a fun twist, order up their Lucky Charms Latte. Yes, totally instagram worthy but it’s actually really good! Their chocolate almond croissants are incredible – filled with a gooey slather of crushed almonds.
Mandy’s Gourmet Salads: is it even a trip to Montreal without a visit to this salad mecca? Sisters Mandy and Rebecca created their first salad bar in the back of a women’s clothing store. Today, they have 8 locations in Montreal (including one in Old Montreal) as well as two cookbooks. Here order up their very flavourful and filling salads and quinoa bowls ..and don’t forget the chocolate chip cookie! YUM! (FYI there’s one now in Toronto on Ossington).
Other places that were on my list that were recommended but hey, a girl can only eat so much!…
- Beba (Argentinian)
- Ma Poule Mouillée (Piri Piri Chicken)
- Arthur’s Nosh Bar (brunch)
- Cafe Un Po’di Pu (Italian)
- Vin Papillon
- Boulangerie Guillaume
- Juni (Japanese)
- St. Viateur Bagels
We travelled by Via Rail Train from Toronto and managed to score an incredible deal. The train takes about 5 hours from downtown Union Station to Montreal’s downtown core. It was a very efficient and pleasant way to travel!
Montreal is a walkable city and being situated in Old Montreal was very convenient. The city also has an efficient Uber and taxi services.
There’s so much to do in Montreal and I’m looking forward to returning soon to get to the more places on my list!
Want more ideas? Visit www.mtl.org