It's not often I head into a new city without having done a significant amount of research. Montreal is a place I've always wanted to visit, but I didn't have a running list of places to go or things to see. All I knew that it held a lot of French history and culture, and since it's a much easier destination to get to than France itself, I figured Montreal would be a great place to moderately satisfy Paris wanderlust between transatlantic trips.
We picked up our Enterprise car rental late morning the day of our departure and drove five hours north from Boston. I was never loyal to a car rental company—I just always went with whatever was cheapest—until I realized Enterprise was the cheapest every time I searched. After renting from them so many times both traveling and at home in Seattle, I realized I was an Enterprise Plus member and almost always get a free upgrade from whatever car I requested online. I'm excited to work with Enterprise later on this year, and very glad we got to partner on this little east coast road trip.
Hôtel Place d'Armes was our home for the weekend (right around the corner from Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica where Celine Dion was married, a popular tourist spot), and I knew we made the right choice when we were greeted by cake pops in our stunning executive suite. I'm always ready for a late afternoon sugar fix. The room itself is very dark and moody, but it felt like it represented the city we discovered very well. Montreal, especially Old Montreal, has an elegance about it, and our first evening's activities fit right in. We drove into downtown and ate a hearty albeit average-tasting meal (I had pasta, Emily had a burger) at Upstairs Jazz Bar, but the vibes were just what we were after. We hung for an hour or so, at a back table next to the musicians who were up next or just finishing a set. Afterwards, we stopped next door at N sur Mackay for an early and delicious nightcap.
We only had one full day in Montreal, and after I turned to my gracious Instagram friends for recommendations, the day filled up fast. Of course, it began with bagels at the famed St. Viateur Bagel bakery (sesame and rosemary were delicious—of course I got two!). Myriade coffee is right next door in the Mile End neighborhood, and is a light & bright coffee shop with a great cappuccino and pretty greenery.
After that, we had about 12 shops to stop into on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. The shopping in Montreal is such a delight—even if the boutiques have some brands you've seen before in the States or elsewhere, the stores are arranged so beautifully and they all smell incredible. So many of them have truly unique housewares and trinkets. It would be easy to fill up an extra suitcase to bring home. Some standouts were Vestibule, Annex Vintage, and Général 54.
All along Boulevard Saint-Laurent, I was both surprised and delighted to find a ton of murals! If you're familiar with truelane, you'll know that I've spent the last two years becoming somewhat obsessed with murals and street art. It turns out Montreal has a huge arts community, and their own yearly mural festival, which I hope I get to go someday! There were so many pieces around every corner that I was borderline giddy, especially when I saw work by artists I recognized.
We stopped for a snack at Bar Darling before our next adventure for the day began: the Montreal Biodome. I am a big Olympics nerd, so seeing that they were able to take an arena that was built for track cycling for the 1976 Games and turn it into a wildlife experience that houses replicas of four ecosystems that are found in North America completes my wildest nerd dreams. Although I have severely mixed feelings about seeing animals in captivity, it was an interesting experience and incredible to see how they can transform and reuse an entire building that was built for one single purpose. The entire Olympic village is pretty interesting to walk around—the pool is still there and in use!
Emily and I also took what is probably the most hilarious picture of our friendship just before we went in to see the penguins.
The evening was reserved for exploring the beautiful and charming neighborhood of Old Montreal. Still craving my afternoon sugar rush, we stopped at an adorable and well-loved patisserie, Maison Christian Faure, for a snack before refreshing for dinner back at Hôtel Place d'Armes. The Mont Blanc was one to remember! We counteracted the afternoon indulgence by going to an all-vegan restaurant for our evening meal. LOV was just a ten-minute walk from the hotel and offered a great wine list and delicious food options. I had the veggie burger with fries while Emily decided on an Asian noodle bowl, and we split Brussels sprouts as an appetizer. Then, of course, neither of us had room for dessert.
We did have room for one more nightcap though—cocktail culture in Montreal is just as serious as any other big city, and we had an amazing time at an unnamed speakeasy tucked underneath a pizza place. It has a hidden door in a brick wall that swings open when you apply pressure to the right brick. We had a great time playing cards and sipping cocktails, feeling like we had strolled straight into the 1920s.
Before we set off on our Sunday drive back to Boston, we made one more important stop at the iconic brunch place, Arthur's Nosh Bar, which describes itself as "Jewish classics served with a twist and a whole lot of family pride." With a twist indeed—they were bumping top 40 rap tunes all morning. However, they have reason to be proud...I'll remember those cottage cheese pancakes for years to come. Until I go back, really.
With just a few hours left in the city and needing to make room before poutine, we stopped at the highly recommended St. Joseph's Oratory for views of the city and an impressive pipe organ. Although it's barely a hundred years old, it's an impressive building and the largest church in Canada. Again, it was strange to have a list of recommendations that I hadn't made myself—I didn't know a single thing to expect before I arrived in Montreal. I didn't even know that all the signs would be exclusively in French! I was expecting it to be like an airport—one sign in French, and one right next to it in English. It was definitely an exercise in language and even driving, but one I hope I get to experience again very soon.