Weekend Destination: Montreal

weekend destination Montreal composite

By Julie Madsen

Why: Museums, culture, food, markets, great neighborhoods. It's Montreal.
How far: About 3.5 hours.

Montreal is a city that makes you feel as if you're on a different continent -- even though you're within half a day's drive from Albany.

So grab your passport or enhanced license and head out for an international weekend that's close by. Here are a few ideas to start with...

Getting there

The trip from Albany to Montreal is about 220 miles, and it's pretty much all one road -- with a crossing at the US/Canada border, of course.

It's also a trip you can take without a car. Roundtrip bus tickets are $110. Amtrak tickets are a bit more expensive (and the travel time is 8 hours).

Once you get there, there are good public transport options -- Montreal has a subway called The Metro.

Architecture, sights, museums

weekend_destination_Montreal_Mont_Royal.jpg

Mount Royal Park
Mont Royal is the highest point in the city and the source of its name. There is no place lovelier for a stroll on a sunny day. Enjoy the seamless trails leading to vistas designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same landscape architect who created the layout for Central Park in NYC.

In the warmer months you may encounter a strange sight on a Sunday afternoon, a wild drum circle called the Tam-Tams. You'll find a large group jamming from bongos to cowbells, and an even larger crowd looking on.

Museums
Montreal has a plethora of world class museums scattered around the city, covering subjects ranging from art to history to science.
+ The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most popular on the continent. Its collections include a wide variety of art, and it also hosts rotating exhibitions.
+ The Redpath Museum of natural history at McGill University is a good choice for those on a budget (admission is free, donations accepted).
+ Out near Olympic Stadium, the Biodome is an indoor zoo. (The nearby Montreal Insectarium is also worth a look.)
+ And at the Biosphere on Saint Helen's Island, there's a focus on environmental issues inside a geodesic dome.

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Basilique Notre Dame

Old Town
No trip to Montreal is complete without hearing the horse and buggies clomping down the cobblestoned streets of Old Montreal, or Vieux-Montréal. It's the oldest part of the city. The architecture in this neighborhood is a sight to see, and nothing catches the eye more than the gothic revival style Notre Dame Basilica built in the early 19th century.

Neighborhoods

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Montreal has some great neighborhoods that are worth exploring. Among them is Mile End, just north of Mont Royal on the western end of the Plateau neighborhood. Hip and artistic, it's is a perfect place to walk around and experience the local flavor. Vibrant clusters of street art are prevalent, especially down St. Dominique and St. Laurent Blvd. You can also find an array of unique boutiques and vintage shops on St. Laurent Blvd to revamp your wardrobe.

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A few beers, and people watching, at Dieu du Ciel!.

When your legs tire seek out refuge in one of the many coffee houses or at a local brew pub. For caffeine try Cardinal Tearoom (5326 St Laurent Blvd) which has an eclectic fancy décor and comfy couches to sink into. The patio at Dieu du Ciel! (29 Avenue Laurier Ouest) is food for sipping quality craft beer while people watching.

Food

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Poutine
The first things that come to mind when I think of French Canadian cuisine are fries, cheese curds, and gravy. If you are looking for an excellent poutine, head to The Banquise, open 24 hours serving up big hot portions of this delicious comfort food. They have been open since 1968 and serve over 30 different kinds of poutine (one variety is vegan). Expect a line and some tight seating, it's all part of the experience. 994 Rue Rachel E, Montréal, QC H2J 2J3, Canada

weekend_destination_Montreal_St_Viateur_bagel.jpg

Montreal bagels
There are a few differences between Montreal and New York bagels. Montreal bagels are wood-fired baked, they are smaller and thinner and a bit sweeter. A classic spot to try them out is at St Viateur Café -- there are multiple locations throughout the city. They make an excellent everything bagel, but call it an "all dressed."

weekend_destination_Montreal_Schwartzs_smoke_meat_sandwich.jpg

Smoked meat sandwich
A lot like pastrami, this Montreal specialty is smoked beef rubbed with spices. People queue up down the block to eat at the oldest deli in Canada, Schwartz's, to taste the rich and smoky meat made from a 1928 recipe. The sandwich is best enjoyed with a black cherry cola. 3895 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, QC H2W 1X9, Canada

Markets

weekend_destination_Montreal_Jean_Talon_Market.jpg

Jean Talon
Jean Talon Market has been open since 1933, it runs daily year round and is covered, but open air. You'll find local produce, a food court with vendors ranging from a Portuguese bakery to a creperie, and outdoor seating. The perimeter of the market is dotted with great stores, coffee shops, and cafes. 7070 Henri-Julien Avenue, Montréal, Québec H2S 3S3

Atwater
Opened in the same year as Jean Talon, Atwater Market is a bit smaller -- it's located in an art deco building on the south side of downtown near the canal, which makes it great for a takeaway picnic. It boasts a larger selection of flowers. Both markets have Premiere Moisson storefronts, a local artisanal bakery. Make sure to grab yourself a fresh, flakey, slightly buttery chocolate croissant, and bring a dozen home across the border. 138 Atwater Avenue, Montréal, Québec H4C 2H6

Language

French is the official language of Quebec. But if you don't speak French -- or it's been a few years since your last class -- many people in Montreal speak English. Your best bet is to greet people with a friendly "Hello!"

Julie has got the travel-bug. Whether it's day trips, weekend getaways, or wandering around the world -- she's always up to something. Read more about her adventures at juliejourneys.com.

More weekend destinations

+ Weekend Destination: Thousand Islands

+ Weekend Destination: New Hampshire

+ Weekend Destination: Finger Lakes

Comments

Barfly is a great hole in the wall place for music. Sorocco for tapas was excellent.

Good article....best place in Montreal is the plateau neighborhood. Think downtown Troy times 1,000.

Dieu de ciel is a fantastic place. Avoid the bars and restaurants in Old Montreal, which are good but hugely overpriced. Walk a block away and save half your money.

Just two points of etiquette:
1. In Montreal, bartenders are tipped for each drink. Don't wait till the end.
2. Saying 'Hello' in English if you do not speak French is indeed a good idea. Most people will respond in whatever language is spoken to them. It's not like Europe where it's polite to at least try a few words of the local language before you fall back on English! You will just cause confusion if you greet people in your few words of French if that's all you have.

Combine two icons at Dunn’s Famous (1249 Metcalfe St.) and have smoked meat on a Montreal bagel.

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