48 Hours in Montreal

Terrasse de la rue Saint-Denis is just one of the many dynamic neighborhoods of Montreal.
Terrasse de la rue Saint-Denis is just one of the many dynamic neighborhoods of Montreal.

DAY 1

9:00 a.m.

Don’t let the cold deter you — with a wealth of possibilities worth exploring throughout the city, getting an early start is essential. Stroll down one of the main arteries, Boulevard St. Laurent, and allow yourself to be greeted by the inviting smell of freshly baked baguettes and pain d’épices. In keeping with its French ancestry, the Canadian city takes pride in its artisanal boulangeries, which have maintained their traditional duty to satisfy the local clientele with daily bread and patisseries. Tuck into Boulangerie Guillaume (www.boulangerieguillaume.com; 514-507-3199) for a chocolatine and an energizing, caffeinated beverage. Another alternative (for late-risers) is to head to Mile End, the home of Montréal’s two leading bagel suppliers: Fairmount Bagel (www.fairmountbagel.com; 514-272-0667) and St. Viateur Bagel (www.stviateurbagel.com; 514-276-8044). Take your pick, order a typical “Montréal bagel” (a pillowy baked round covered in sesame seeds and sweetened with a touch of honey that hardly resembles its starchier American counterpart) and delight in the tender, chewy dough. Die-hard Montréal and New York City bagel enthusiasts are constantly struggling to convince the other of the superiority of their hometown product. Let brunch determine whose camp you ultimately belong to.

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11:30 a.m.

Contemporary art enthusiasts should take a peek at Galerie Simon Blais (www.galeriesimonblais.com; 514-849-1165) to view works from local artists. The hideaway, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, houses a variety of mixed media, such as painting, sculpture and photography, and serves as an intimate backdrop for discussions about the Montréal art scene.

1:30 p.m.

The Salon de thé Cardinal - Tea Room (www.thecardinaltea.com; 514-903-2877) is a cozy retreat to nurse a warm cup of tea. The adorable hideout is open from Thursday to Sunday, and serves a basic menu of light sandwiches, sweet and savory pastries, and pots of steaming specialty brews. The decor, with its checkered floors, chandeliers and book-lined walls, feels like the library-den of the British grandfather you may or may not have ever had.

Le Plateau-Mont-Royal is filled with vintage shops, cool restaurants and bars.
 
Le Plateau-Mont-Royal is filled with vintage shops, cool restaurants and bars.

3:00 p.m.

Cross over onto rue St. Denis, another large walkway lined with boutiques, restaurants and bookstores. Tourists can prepare for their next trip (or generate fresh ideas for their current one) while perusing the shelves inside Ulysse (www.ulyssetravel.com; 514-843-9447), a travel-centric bookseller. Further down the avenue, souvenirs, perhaps reminiscent of recent high tea experiences, can be purchased from David’s Tea (www.davidstea.com; 514-845-4423), a favored Canadian distributor, or Kusmi Tea (www.kusmi.ca; 514-840-5445), the Parisian brand that has found its way into numerous posh Montréal dining establishments. To find a customized gift or take-home item, stop at the colorful Maison Tan Tan Kat (www.tantankat.com; 514-451-3888).

6:00 p.m.

Poutine, Montréal’s signature dish, a hearty pile of potato wedges covered in gravy and cheese curds isn’t palatable to everyone. For those who can stomach the native snack, two shops should be mentioned: La Banquise (www.labanquise.com; 514-525-2415) and Frite Alors! (www.fritealors.com; 514-843-2490). The former features a lengthy menu (it even has breakfast-appropriate combinations and a selection that both veggie and meat lovers will find appealing), while the latter is open late and emphasizes meat-based toppings along with elaborate sauces.

9:00 p.m.

Montréal is known for its vibrant nightlife, owing in part to its significant student population. A well-frequented destination, known for its memorable mixed drinks, is La Distillerie (www.pubdistillerie.com; 514-288-7915).The hip spot has an ever-changing repertoire of cocktails (many of which are served in large mason jars) and creative concoctions at affordable prices. We couldn’t pick a better hangout to rehash the day’s events and plan tomorrow’s itinerary.

DAY 2

10:00 a.m.

Perhaps it was all the undergrads in the bar last night, but today, we’re inspired to tour the campuses of some of Montréal’s most prestigious universities. Sweep down rue Sherbrooke to join the main stretch of the Lower Campus, a meeting point where students sit (weather permitting) between classes to study or partake in the varied activities and initiatives that are held in the outdoor space. If time allows for a stop atop Mount Royal, a trek up to the mountain’s peak promises an impressive bird’s eye view of the city.

A little further into town, along rue Sainte Catherine, is the Sir George Williams Campus location of Concordia University. A convenient subterranean connection from the Guy-Concordia metro station makes it easily accessible, with the added luxury of avoiding the chilly streets outside. In contrast to the sleek, modern design of downtown hub, the university’s second (Loyola) campus is a 20-minute shuttle bus ride away in the Notre Dame de Grace neighborhood. Here, students of various disciplines attend their courses and seminars amidst the quaint, traditional English architecture and expansive green lawns.

Signature Dish: You can enjoy some poutine at one of Montreal’s “friteries,” including Patati Patata.
 
Signature Dish: You can enjoy some poutine at one of Montreal’s “friteries,” including Patati Patata.

12:30 p.m.

There are plenty of cozy outposts for reading, studying, or enjoying a good cup of coffee in the charming suburb. Monkland Avenue, one of the more animated streets, has a number of small shops to browse through, in addition to a fleet of homey eateries to refuel and relax. The Gryphon D’Or Tea Room (www.gryphondor.com; 514-485-7377) is known across Montréal for its Afternoon Tea service (which must be reserved at least 24 hours in advance). Despite its coveted status, last minute drop-ins are welcome for Weekend Brunch, where the signature dish, Rarebit Benedict, remains a customer favorite.

2:00 p.m.

Return downtown via metro and stroll into the historic Vieux-Port area. Its cobblestone streets, old churches and horse-drawn carriages genuinely feel like they’ve been frozen in time. Architecturally, the Basilique Notre Dame stands as an emblem of Europe and reportedly houses the largest bell in North America. Montréal’s Hotel de Ville is another sight to behold. Another standout is the Marché Bonsecours (www.marchebonsecours.qc.ca; 514-872-7730), with its neoclassical facade. Over the years, the construction has held a variety of different roles: from the seat of the Parliament of Canada to a theater venue in which Charles Dickens was said to have performed in the mid-19th century. The domed building is now a commercial hub. A detour for art lovers is the Darling Foundry (www.fonderiedarling.org; 514-392-1554), which hosts contemporary art exhibitions, events, book readings and launch parties (entry is free on Thursdays).

3:30 p.m.

Akin to its New York City and San Francisco counterparts, Montréal’s Chinatown — though proportionally smaller — contains many of the same distinguishing features from the cultural spillover of the resident Southeast Asian community. Admire little trinkets on one of the lantern-lit streets, or enjoy an order of steamy pot-stickers for an afternoon pick-me-up.

4:30 p.m.

Time permitting, a visit to the Musée d’Art Contemporain (www.macm.org; 514-847-6226), the only Canadian museum that is devoted primarily to contemporary art, is an opportunity to view works from some of the most influential Canadian artists.

6:00 p.m.

On the way to the Quartier Latin, remain observant, as the neighborhood streets are teeming with venues offering ideal last-minute finds from the vast array of secondhand boutiques, antiques stores, natural food markets and herbal suppliers. At this stage, after a day’s worth of sightseeing, it is only normal to feel tired and hungry. A satisfying stop at La Bulle au Carré (www.bulleaucarre.com; 514-848-0316), a Breton-style bistro that specializes in buckwheat crepes, will curb ferocious appetites. To ensure a good night’s sleep, pair the meal with sparkling cider. All that’s left to do is snuggle under the duvet and hope it doesn’t snow before tomorrow’s departure.

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