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Montreal – travel tips and Photos

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

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I’m always taking photos or writing about exotic foreign places and it hit me that I’ve never posted photos or written anything about the city where I’ve lived the last 23 years. It is easy to take the place that you’re living in for granted especially when you associate it with the day-to-day routine of working, buying groceries, etc – you just don’t look at it with the same eyes as when you’re on vacation. But it sometimes hits me as it did recently – Montreal is a great city. It is vibrant (there is always some kind of festival going on in the summer), it has great and affordable dining (fantastic food of every nationality), and is scenic and clean with a lot of green places and some nice viewpoints looking over the city. It is a very safe city by North American standards. Many people come here for the great nightlife – Montreal is definitely the nightlife capital of Canada. It is renown for its beautiful women (I can’t think of any place I’ve been with more head-turning women per capita than Montreal!). It is also a cosmopolitan and cultural city full of small boutiques, restaurants, and cafes with a very European character – you can get great coffee, fresh croissants and baguettes around every corner! With that in mind, I’ve compiled some of my better pictures and some tips for anyone traveling to Montreal.

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Sightseeing in Montreal has to start in Mont Royal Park, the mountain (actually more like a big hill) situated in the heart of the city. The rest of the city is flat so it’s a great spot to get orientated; from the chalet at the summit you see the whole of downtown, the river and Ile St. Helene and Ile Notre-Dame (the 2 islands in the St. Lawrence), as well as right across the river to the south shore. A lot of tourists to Montreal head straight to the Old Port area (Vieux Montreal) – I think it’s over-rated, commercial, and honestly a bit boring; I definitely suggest starting on “Mont-Royal” as we call it (it’s a nice hike from downtown – just walk up Peel street until you hit the park, follow the path to the stairs, then walk all those stairs to the summit where the chalet is. It’s beautiful!). After looking at the views from the summit, walk back to the top of the stairs (but don’t go down!) and take the path to your left. This path skirts the top of the mountain and has some really nice viewpoints on the city before turning east and giving views over the eastern end of Montreal – the river, the Jacques-Cartier bridge, the Olympic Stadium, Parc Lafontaine and Le Plateau Mont-Royal district. If you continue on that path it will bring you to a viewpoint very popular with tour buses. At that point, you can either go back along the trail and head back down the stairs to downtown, OR, continue from the viewpoint down to the Plateau Montreal district (covered later). To do this latter option; just after the viewpoint you’ll see a dirt walking path on your right – go down. It zig zags down through the park and will eventually take you down to the monument on Park Avenue. From there you can cross the street and explore the “Plateau”.
There’s lots to see in Mont-Royal park but I think I’ve covered the best above (although Beaver Lake, “Lac aux Castors”, is also very scenic and should be seen and walked around if you have the time).

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Downtown: not really my bag , but that’s where you’ll find some nice shopping centers and all the usual big retailers that you see in every city. You can walk down Ste. Catherine Street and you’ll find all that along with trendy bars and caf├ęs and strip-joints (Montreal is famous for strip joints). There are a couple of streets full of bars and terraces: Crescent Street and Bishop Street are the most popular. Crescent is full of terraces, it’s really the place to go to hang out for a beer on a hot day and just people watch. It’s not super sophisticated though (it’s the “pick up” place) and attracts the younger 20-30 year old Anglophone crowd. A really nice place to go for drinks, if only for the views, is Altitude 737 at Place Ville-Marie where they have an outdoor terrace looking out over the whole city (you can actually look across at the summit at the top of the mountain). Its more sophisticated and the best time is when the after work crowd gets there (go on a Thursday in the summer – only open Thursday and Fridays and for some reason it’s dead on Fridays..). Anyway, I’m covering ‘places to see’ rather than ‘places to drink’, so I’ll leave it at that for drinking places -there are tons in Montreal, you don’t have to look far.

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Montreal is a fantastic place to ride a bike (recently voted #1 North American city for cycling) and you can now cover most of the most scenic attractions just staying on the bicycle path. Just this year they’ve completed a bike path that cuts right across downtown, so even if you’re staying at a big downtown hotel you can get on the bike path and head off anywhere. I strongly suggest renting a bike (there’s a bunch of places in Le Plateau Mont-Royal district, most around Parc Lafontaine) where you can do this, although I imagine there’s also some spots downtown as well. The official website of Velo Quebec, the cycling organization (includes maps): www.velo.qc.ca/english/index.php


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Places I recommend going on the bike (or even by foot): Parc Lafontaine (beautiful park, bike path cuts right through it), The Botanical gardens and Biodome (both next to the Olympic Stadium and both easily accessible by bike path), and Ile Ste-Helene and Ile Notre-Dame (where they hold the Montreal Grand Prix). The two islands are really worth seeing; both have beautiful gardens and streams, Ile Ste-Helene has great views of downtown Montreal from across the river and has quiet bicycle paths, while Ile Notre Dame has the casino, the race track, as well as a very popular beach on a man-made lake. They are both quiet and peaceful and easily accessible from downtown by bike (via Old Montreal, “Vieux Montreal” – also worth seeing if only to see all the old buildings and the port). Also recommended, when coming back from the islands, ride your bike (or walk) across the Jacques Cartier bridge. It gives great views of the city and the river down below. By the time you get back downtown you’ll have had your exercise!

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If you want to keep your bike ride shorter, go from Old Montreal to the Lachine Canal and follow the bike path down the canal until you get to the Atwater market (about 15 minutes max.). It’s a really nice place to sit down for a coffee.

Lachine canal:
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Le Plateau Mont-Royal district (ie. “The Plateau”) is really worth seeing. It’s 10 minutes by subway from downtown and is the cultural heart of Montreal as far as I’m concerned. It is a very European looking neighborhood with some great restaurants including BYOBs (bring-your-own-wine restaurants) boutique stores, B&Bs, cafes, and pastry shops. Avenue Mont-Royal is fun and trendy, yet not touristy and has some nice restaurants. Avenue Laurier is a bit quieter, more family orientated, and also has a few very nice restaurants and boutique stores. The neighborhood also has some pretty parks (Parc Lafontaine, Parc Laurier). I really recommend staying in this area instead of downtown, it’ll be cheaper and I think more interesting.

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A good website for Bed and Breakfasts in Montreal including on the Plateau: http://www.bbcanada.com/quebec/montr%E9al/montreal

Walking from the Plateau back downtown can be done in about 40 minutes (or take the subway to Metro Mont-Royal, that’s about 10 min from anywhere downtown). I recommend walking down rue St. Denis, another street full of terraces, restaurants and upscale shops. About mid-way between Avenue Mont-Royal and Sherbrooke is Rue Duluth which has a concentration of BYOB restaurants.

The above will keep anyone busy for about 3 or 4 days, I recommend you get a map, rent a bike and/or take the metro to get around.

Quebec has a bit of a reputation due to the language factor. It can be frustrating, especially for the visitor as all road/highway signs are unilingually in French. But that’s just because of our screwed up politics – the average person on the street is quite friendly and will happily help you out in English.

If anyone has questions on Montreal just drop me a message. Enjoy the city!