After a long winter slumber, Montreal’s legendary joie de vivre awakens with the arrival of warmer seasons. Dozens of festivals and outdoor activities take over the city’s streets, parks, and squares for a continuous summer-long party. Food is always at the heart of any Montreal celebration, and the food scene has never been more exciting than it is now.Friday: Once you’ve arrived and settled in, head towards the Quartier des Spectacles, a pedestrian area of downtown Montreal that is the city’s “cultural heart” and where no fewer than 40 festivals and events take place each year. Great lunch options abound, including a Chinese-inspired feast at Orange Rouge in Chinatown, a market-fresh lunch at Bouillon Bilk or a typical French meal at Brasserie T!. Sunday PM: The Jean Talon Market and Little Italy Walk or Bixi north along The Main (or St Laurent Street, which divides the city into east and west) until you reach the Jean-Talon Market in Montreal’s Little Italy neighborhood. This open-air market is bustling with vendors and purveyors of all things delicious. Graze your way through the many flavors of the market, from duck poutine to artisanal ice cream. A must stop is Le Marché des Saveurs, a great spot to purchase edible and drinkable (ice wine anyone?) local products to consume on the spot or to take home. Don’t forget to stock up on Quebec maple syrup: it really is the best in the world!
All of these things make summer the perfect time for a long weekend in the city, full of eating and drinking and celebrating the festival du jour. While Old Montreal is full of boutique hotels, Hotel Gault is a favorite and a great choice while visiting; so is the elegant Hotel Germain in the heart of downtown.
Once you arrive and get settled, here’s an itinerary that will show you the best of what Montreal has to offer:
Around the corner on Ste-Catherine Street is Place des Festivals, where at any time during the summer months you might be able to catch a Montreal Jazz Festival concert, a Just for Laughs comedy show, or one of the many free outdoor activities taking place here. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon.
When dinnertime comes around, head to FoodLab on the third floor of SAT (the Society of Arts and Technologies), a hidden, magical space with an ever-changing thematic menu led by an inventive chef duo creating simple yet flawless fare. You’ll eat and drink while taking in the enchanting views of downtown Montreal from the rooftop terrace.
Saturday morning: Old Montreal
With its cobblestone streets, horse drawn-carriages, and charming terrasses, Old Montreal is the closest you will come to Parisian meanderings this side of the Pacific. Start your day early with flaky pastries and a café au lait at the buzzing Olive & Gourmando then stroll around charming St-Paul Street with its many art galleries and kitschy tourist stores. Old Montreal classic stops include Basilique Notre Dame and Place Jacques Cartier as well as a stroll along the piers, which are usually brimming with Montrealers and visitors alike enjoying the beautiful views over the Saint Lawrence River. You won’t get a better view than from the Bota Bota, spa-sur-l’eau complex. The award-winning, floating thermal spa is housed inside a repurposed ferryboat and features a relaxing water circuit as well as breathtaking new gardens where you can spend time poolside sipping on one of their refined alcohol-free cocktails.
Saturday afternoon: Saint-Henri and Little Burgundy
Grab a Bixi (the Montreal bike sharing system) from the station adjacent to Bota Bota and ride along the Lachine Canal to the Atwater Market in the Saint-Henri neighborhood. The Southeast Asian flavors of the Satay Brothers within the market are a great lunch option, as is Patrice Pâtissier, which offers some of Montreal’s best desserts. Walk around Montreal’s second largest market and chat with the many vendors displaying colorful mounds of produce and you will most probably end up discovering something new.
Stop by Vin Papillon for an early dinner to avoid the crowds; this tiny wine bar doesn’t accept reservations. The vegetable-centric menu and the wine list are both outstanding. After dinner, head back to Old Montreal and to Mimi la Nuit, an award-winning speakeasy where the cocktails are as fashionable as the crowd.
Sunday AM: The Mile End
Lawrence Restaurant stands right in the middle of Montreal’s hippest neighborhood. It serves one of the city’s best brunches so get there early if you don’t want to wait in line and, whatever you order, don’t skip their doughnuts. Sparrow and its sister spot Salon Cardinal across the street are also great brunch options. After brunch, head out on an exploration of the Mile End by zigzagging through Fairmount, St Viateur and Bernard streets. You’ll discover a slew of vintage shops like Annexe Vintage, bohemian stores like Lo Well, recycled industrial homeware purveyors like Style Labo, independent bookstores like Drawn & Quarterly as well as other unique businesses that constitute the very fabric of this neighborhood. Stop for coffee at hip Café Myriade or the more classic Café Olimpico, a true Montreal establishment. Once you’re done touring the Mile End, you might be able to answer the age-old question that sends every Montrealer into a heated debate: Fairmount or St Viateur bagels? Buy some of each for an on-the-fly taste test and take the rest home. They freeze well and will be a delicious reminder of your Montreal stay. If you are itching for a taste of Montreal’s famous smoked meat, head to Lester’s Deli where the line-ups are scarce and the meat tasty.