Quebec’s pride and joy, the uncanny city of Montreal, is a town of odd mixtures: French and English, modern and historic, residential and tourist. From sleepy sidewalks overflowing with flowers and vegan cafes to glitter-strewn avenues filled with queens of all colors, your vibe options are ripe and numerous.
Signs for érable, or maple syrup, will assault you just about anywhere within the tourist zone. But if you want a true Montreal maple dessert, go to the Fournée des Sucreries de l’Érable at the back of the Jean-Talon market for a tarte à l’érable, a version of Quebec’s famous sugar pie made with maple syrup.
For dinner, settle down for tapas at the wine bar/gastropub Larry’s, which is open every day until 1am.
For breakfast, it would be a crime if you visited Montreal without trying a Montreal bagel from one of the king bagel-makers St. Viateur or Fairmount Bagel. Smaller and chewier than their New York counterparts, these sesame-laden lovelies are often gobbled up whole without cream cheese or toppings (gasp!). For anyone who finds this appalling, cafés like nearby Novanta serve versions topped with cream cheese, lox, onions, capers, and avocado.
Jean-Talon Market, 7070 Henri Julien Ave
Larry’s, 9 Fairmount Ave E
Fairmount Bagel, 74 Avenue Fairmount O
Novanta, 90 Avenue Laurier O
Montreal’s historic quarter truly looks like a little slice of Europe, complete with its own Notre-Dame Basilica, a smaller replica of the Hunchback’s home off the Place d’Armes. It’s historic Vieux Port is dotted with boats and a sliver of man-made beach, and in the distance you can spy the Montreal Biosphere, which was built for the 1967 World Fair.
Free Montreal Tours offers an excellent — and yes, free — tour of the neighborhood, beginning at the stunning Second Empire-style City Hall and ending with the city’s World Trade Centre and a slice of Montreal’s Underground City.
Notre-Dame Basilica, 110 Notre-Dame St W
Vieux Port, 333 Rue de la Commune O
Take a climb up Mont-Royal, the mountain that lends Montreal half its name. One turn in and you’ll forget you were in the city to begin with. If you don’t feel like getting your shoes dirty, take one of the many buses that scale the steep hillside to the Chalet du Mont Royal, a quaint historic cottage with the best views in the city.
Chalet du Mont Royal, 1196 Voie Camillien-Houde
For any comedy lovers, the Comedy Nest is the spot to catch Anglophone comedy shows in Downtown Montreal. Located on the top floor of the Cineplex Forum, you might think you’re in the wrong place at first, but make your way up a few escalators in the deserted mall/movie complex and you’ll find the cozy comedy club tucked away behind a barely-marked door. Pre- or post-game next door at the appropriately named Forum Sports Bar for billiards, bowling, and beer.
Not raunchy enough for you? Montreal’s Gay Village, just north of Vieux Montreal, has more than enough showmanship to go around. The main drag, St. Catherine Street East, is hung with rainbow ornaments from Saint Hubert Street all the way to Avenue Papineau, making it the largest gayborhood in North America. Go to Cabaret Mado for a drag show any night of the week, or Club Unity a block down for dancing.
Comedy Nest, 2313 St Catherine St
Cabaret Mado, 1115 St Catherine St E
Club Unity, 1171 St Catherine St E
Unlike in cities like Paris or New York, Montreal nightlife isn’t concentrated around one area, and you’ll need to hop around a bit if you’re looking to switch bars. But there are a few hidden gems, like Chez Serge, a Mile-End dive bar completely at odds with its upscale surroundings. Its many charms include a mechanical bull you can actually ride and a $5 spinning wheel that will either get you a shot or a spanking.
Craft cocktails more your thing? Head back to Renard in the Gay Village for something served in a gimlet glass to top off a perfect night.
Chez Serge, 5301 St Laurent Blvd
Renard, 1272 St Catherine St E