Canada’s second largest city dates back nearly four centuries, and its rich history and strong European (namely, French) roots are on full display in the winding cobblestone streets of Old Montreal. But, beyond the charm of the city’s oldest area, there are a handful of neighborhoods well worth exploring. From Mile End to Gay Village to the Plateau, there’s also excellent food from an impressive range of cuisines to feast on. Don’t miss local favorites either, like the gravy-doused, French-fried goodness of poutine, dense, slightly sweet Montreal bagels, or towering smoked meat deli sandwiches.
Standout shopping, cool architecture, and street art can also be found throughout the Quebec metropolis, and the lively city is often filled with festivals, concerts, street fairs, nomadic food vendors, and more.
Where to get tattooed in Montreal:
Launched two years ago by Christian Lanouette as an extension of the clothing and accessories company he runs with his wife, Sans Regret is located in the Plateau amongst restaurants and coffee shops, making walk-ins accessible for anyone in the neighborhood. It’s a studio founded on the principle that it’s essential to stay humble and be respectful of everyone, no matter their background, and hosts around eight artists at a time, with room for a guest artist. For more on Sans Regret, read our interview with Lanouette.
Studio SANS REGRET Tatouage, 506 Rue Rachel
Located in the heart of the Mile End, Minuit Dix is a queer, female-owned, bilingual studio founded on LGBTQ+ and POC safety and comfort. Opened by Muriel de Mai at the beginning of 2017, it’s a studio that uses vegan ink to lessen their environmental impact, and takes an active stance against racism, classism, sexism, and any other discriminatory behavior. For more on Minuit Dix, see our interview with de Mai.
Minuit Dix, 5445 Avenue de Gaspé, Suite 416
For over two decades, MTL Tattoo has been a mainstay of the Montreal tattoo scene, offering a wide variety of styles. There are two locations, MTL North and MTL South, both situated on St. Denis Street right near Mount Royal. In addition to straightforward ink and piercing services, the pair of studios also host events like festivals, trade shows, and more.
3933 St Denis St., Latin Quarter
Where to stay in Montreal:
Situated in a former cotton warehouse dating back to the 19th century, Hotel Gault is kitted out with cool interiors with lots of mid-century influence. It’s an interesting contrast between the facade’s Beaux Arts aesthetic and the more mod interiors. Posh furnishings abound will delight the design savvy, like Arne Jacobsen and Bertoia chairs, a cast metal check-in desk, and a handsome oak library. The accommodations are roomy, particularly the big apartment-like suites outfitted with their own kitchens, perfect for longer stays or family gatherings. Bonus: pets are welcome.
449 Sainte-Hélène St., Old Montreal
With less than 30 rooms, this boutique property is nestled in the heart of Old Montreal. Shopping fiends will appreciate that it’s situated on Saint-Paul, a prime retail stretch. Inside, historic architecture meets modern design. Details include bespoke, glossy dark wood furniture, with plush touches like goose-down duvets and fancy Marie L’Oie pillows for quality snoozing and entertainment amenities like LCD TVs and iPod docks. There’s complimentary breakfast for guests and anyone, hotel guest or not, can get their coffee fix thanks to the hybrid front desk-coffee counter.
168 Saint-Paul St. W., Old Montreal
Auberge du Vieux-Port has an airy, loft-like feel to its location, which was previously a factory. This home away from home has high ceilings, bamboo floors, exposed brick and stone walls, and a lobby fireplace to warm around in chillier temperatures (which Montreal definitely experiences come winter). Snooze in a wrought-iron bed frame and wake up to a picturesque view of Saint Lawrence River, which the property sits next to. You can also see the river from the roof terrace bar, and the on-site restaurant, Taverne Gaspar.
97 Rue de la Commune E., Old Montreal
The William Gray is another cool boutique hotel option in a converted warehouse space, with covetable, Instagram-worthy decor. This hotel is significantly larger than the rest of the picks here, with 127 rooms spread throughout two circa-1700s buildings as well as a glassy addition that spans eight floors. The lobby has a hip feel, thanks to tables constructed from salvaged barn wood with leather stools for seating and concrete beams, and great dining and shopping offerings. Go to Maggie Oakes and Café Olimpico for great noshes, the 5,500 square foot spa for some R&R, or make your way up to the rooftop bar for stunning city views.
421 Rue Saint Vincent, Old Montreal
What to do in Montreal:
The various rooftop bars and terraces found at most of the hotels above may be lovely, but none hold a candle to the sweeping vistas of Mount Royal. A lush, vertiginous landmark in the city’s center, the sprawling park set on a mountain opened in 1876 and boasts some major urban planning. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, perhaps best known as the architect of NYC’s lush Central Park. There are countless ways to get moving in Mount Royal—from jogging, biking, and picnic-going to more rugged pursuits like skiing and tobogganing.
Kondiaronk Belvedere, Mount Royal, 1196 Voie Camillien-Houde
Montréal Space for Life
Falling somewhere between an outdoorsy traipse around Mount Royal and an afternoon looking at art indoors, Space for Life is Canada’s biggest natural science institution. Located in Olympic Park, the sprawling complex, which is essentially comprised of multiple museums, has lots to explore, regardless of what fascinates you about the planet (and beyond). There’s also the Rio Alcan Planetarium, a 185-acre Botanical Garden with a ton of greenhouses, and an Insectarium, filled with around a quarter-million different specimens of crawly creatures. There’s also the Biodome, complete with replicas of different ecosystems, which is slated to reopen this summer.
4101 Sherbrooke St. E., Olympic Park
For fans of street art or those looking for a unique, themed reason to explore the city, consider a mural tour of Montreal offered by Spade & Palacio. A company started by a pair of local natives, Danny Pavlopoulos and Anne-Marie Pellerin, highlights include street art masterpieces depicting the likes of Jackie Robinson and Leonard Cohen. The experience is offered on weekend mornings and runs from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m..
Tours depart from 3523 Boul. Saint-Laurent, Station 16 Gallery
What to see in Montreal:
The expansive collection at this popular museum, which has been around since 1860, spans five pavilions and is filled with pieces by greats like Picasso, Rembrandt, Renoir, and Cézanne. Expect a lot of decorative arts as well as an extensive assortment of graphic art. There are also local Canadian treasures to explore, which occupy a former church. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts isn’t just one of North America’s 10-most visited museums (and the most-visited art museum in Canada), but is also Montreal’s largest.
1380 Sherbrooke St. W., Downtown.
For those more interested in modern masterpieces, head to the Fondation Phi Pour L’art Contemporain (formerly known as DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art), which is open Wednesdays through Sundays. The young institution, which opened in 2007, is comprised of two historical buildings that are filled with contemporary works. Instead of a permanent collection, there are a handful of exhibitions that cycle through the space annually. Currently, there’s a Yoko Ono exhibit entitled “Growing Freedom” on display through September 15, 2019. Past showings have ranged from a Björk show to an exhibit devoted to Brazilian works of art. Best of all? Admission is free.
451 – 465 St-Jean St., Ville-Marie
Where to eat and drink in Montreal:
A visit to Montreal isn’t complete without at least one of the city’s signature bagels. Denser, smaller, and slightly sweeter than their New York City counterpart, try the Canadian rendition of the beloved breakfast carb at St-Viateur. Opened by Polish Holocaust survivor Meyer Lewkowitz in 1957, the bagels here were originally intended to be an homage to Lewkowitz’s homeland style of the bread. This Mile End institution cooks up its rounds of dough in a wood-fired oven, and while there are a couple other locations (plus a food truck offshoot) in Montreal and other parts of Quebec, it’s worth stopping by this original outpost, which is open 24/7.
263 Rue St-Viateur O., Mile End
For excellent tipples with a focus on rum, be sure to hit up the tropical-feeling Agrikol. The Haitian cocktail spot has major music cred, thanks to Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Régine Chassagne being its investors. The slew of rum-spiked creations include a variety of punches, while the affordable, tight edit of food options includes booze-absorbing, shareable snacks like mac and cheese, Haitian beignets, and ceviche, plus some heartier entree offerings.
1844 Rue Amherst, Gay Village
What Katz’s is to the Big Apple, Schwartz’s is to Montreal. This brisket haven was opened in 1928 by Romanian immigrant Reuben Schwartz. Prepare for a wait at the iconic (and pint-sized) spot, but the smoked meat sandwich, accessorized simply with mustard slathered on top and a pickle on the side, is well worth it.
3895 St. Laurent Blvd., Plateau