Why were so many Canadians travelling to Montreal in the late summer and fall of 2021? Judging by social media posts, it appeared as though it was the destination for that long-awaited getaway so many were eager to take when COVID restrictions began to ease. It might be because the city has earned its place as a cultural beast of its own, bestowing those who visit a joie de vivre that stands unique. After all, it’s the home of Cirque Du Soleil, a vibrant arts scene, and where entire streets shut down in the summer for festivals.
There’s something for the neophyte or seasoned visitor, be it eye candy, landmarks, or flavours. This year, it’s no surprise that the fourth annual Time Out Index rated Montreal sixth in greatness out of 37 of the world’s major cities. No visit is complete without stopping by cobblestone-lined Old Montreal that hosts artisan shops, galleries, bars, sidewalk vendors, bistros, and fine dining. With a four-hundred-year history, you can still see traces of the original New France architecture from the fortresses of long ago.
Mount Royal is the place to be for sightseeing and fun in equal measure. It gives hikers and picnickers a panoramic city views at the height of nearly three million square metres. In the winter, hop on its ski slopes – in case you didn’t bring your own equipment, you can rent on-site.
If you go between spring and fall, a must-see is Village au Pied-du-Courant, a public space with an ersatz beach, where you can find family-friendly activities and attractions, including cantinas, sidewalk acts, and live music.
Close to the downtown area is a unique indoor zoo, Biodome, where you will find four separate ecosystems in the building and the animals indigenous to those areas. With more than two hundred animal species and five hundred plant species, a single visit can’t do it justice, so be sure to visit it more than once.
For the foodie in you, the biggest outdoor market in Montreal, Jean-Talon, hosts a myriad of outlets serving yummies, ranging from fresh meat purveyors and bakers selling warm bread to grocers with fresh produce and local cheeses. Always buzzing with activity, it has been a mainstay of locals since 1933.
Graced by Leonard Cohen and Celine Dion (who later became a company shareholder), Schwartz’s Deli does one of the best Montreal-style smoked meat. Cured for 10 days on premises, the spicy meat is cooked in a brick smokehouse.
Gibeau Orange Julep, housed within the iconic, gigantic orange-resembling structure, can be seen from the Deli. Don’t skip its signature creamy orange drink with a serving of rich poutine.
Cheskie’s Bakery is a hotspot of baked sweets, including rugelach, black and white cookies, and babka, where it’s not unusual to see line-ups out the door. Also, get your fix of Montreal bagels that differentiate themselves by being boiled first in water with honey, then baked in wood ovens. When he’s in town, it’s the go-to place for Hollywood actor Jerry O’Connell.
Dave Gordon | Contributing Writer