Places to Love: Montreal
From immersive to interactive, Montréal is a city that puts on a show of artistry in practically everything. From hidden alleyway bicycle tours to its world famous Cirques Festivals, the “City of Saints” both surprised and inspired me.
Here’s why Montreal is a place to love.
PLACES AND STORIES TO LOVE
Montreal by bicycle
One of my favorite ways to get my bearings in a new city is through a walk or bike ride. In Montreal, I opted for a bike tour with Shea Mayer, founder of Fitz and Follwell. These guys organize the best bike and walking tours, year-round. On our ride, we explored Montreal’s unique laneways. Once used as service rows for things like ice delivery and garbage collection, many of these narrow corridors are now hidden gems, often off-limits to cars, and filled with gardens, kids playing tag and art. It’s just one of the many ways Montreal offers unexpected bursts of creativity and community.
IF YOU GO
In addition to tours, Fitz and Follwell rents city, touring and fat bikes from the Maison des Cyclistes, at Vélo Québec’s headquarters.
Fitz and Follwell
1251 Rue Rachel E
Montréal, QC H2J 2J9 Canada
A taste of Italy without leaving North America
1950s Montreal experienced a huge influx of Italians. Today, Little Italy continues to be one of the most charming and vibrant neighborhoods in the city. Restaurateur and third generation Italian-Canadian Stefano Faita showed me around. I adore grocery shopping on any trip (yes, seriously) and Milano Fruiterie was everything I wanted from an Italian grocery store and more.
Open since 1954, you’ll find Italian imports here that aren’t available anywhere else in town. Their cured meats are some of the best in town—order a smattering of items and enjoy in a nearby park (or if it’s cold, maybe even in your hotel room!). Plenty of Italian grandmas shop here daily, so you know it’s good!
IF YOU GO
Try the prosciutto, imported from Parma. It’s incredible!
6862 St. Laurent (Little Italy)
Montreal, QC, CANADA H2S 3C7
Find everything never knew you needed at Montreal’s Dante Supply Store
In all my travels, I’ve never ever been to a place quite like Dante. Open since 1954, this corner store specializes in, well, just about everything. It’s part hardware store, part kitchen shop, and a bona fide gun shop. Where else in the world can you buy a peppermill and a shotgun in the same place (and big box stores don’t count!). Still family owned, this place has to be seen to be believed.
IF YOU GO
They say their pasta makers are one of the shop’s best-sellers. Bring one home and you’ll always have a piece of Montreal’s Little Italy with you.
6851 rue St-Dominique (coin Dante)
Montréal (QC) H2S 3B3
Proof that sometimes change isn’t good.
There’s nothing like a enjoying a cup of coffee in a place that’s been around forever. In Little Italy, that iconic spot is Café Italia. You won’t find a mustachioed barista in suspenders here—it’s as old school as it gets. Owned by the same family since opening in 1956, any renovation has been intentionally reminiscent of the original. Who cares if they could afford real wood floors, they’ve instead replaced the old stuff with laminate— to keep it looking as original as possible. Order a cappuccino and mingle with the locals. This is where they hang.
IF YOU GO
Play a game of foosball—it’s been a staple at Café Italia for years.
6840 St Laurent Blvd
Montreal, QC H2S 3C7, Canada
A meal with a cause
Named after the beloved figure that stole from the rich and gave to the poor (that would be Robin Hood), Robin des Bois strives to serve incredible food while concurrently serving its community. Founded by Judy Servay, Robin des Bois is one of the only restaurants of its kind. Whatever excess money the restaurant makes is funneled right back into the community. It’s an easy way to contribute to charities working to make Montreal a better place for all.
What’s more, the globally inspired menu is delicious. Japanese-inspired rice bowls, yummy poutine, and Nordic-style smoked salmon sandwich with salty lemon confit, sour cream and dill are just a handful of options.
IF YOU GO
Anyone can volunteer. And though it may be helpful, no restaurant experience is required. Help chop onions, or take orders. Find more info here.
4653 St Laurent Blvd
Montreal, QC H2T 1R2, Canada
City of Cirque
Did you know Montreal is the unofficial headquarters of the modern day circus—or cirque, if you want to use the correct terminology. I had the great pleasure of joining cirque choreographer Anthony Venisse in bringing circus performers to the city streets during the 11-day Montreal Cirque festival. Held every July, you’ll find troupes performing all over Montreal.
However, no matter when you visit this great city, the circus is always in town. Seven Fingers (or Les 7 Doigts), Cirque Eloize and Cirque du Soleil all typically have shows ongoing in Montreal, so it’s worth checking the local listings to see if you can catch one.
History comes alive in Old Montreal
I love history, and I love art. And I’ve never seen mashup of the two presented quite like Cité Mémoire. On my trip, co-creator Michel Marc Bouchard showed me around this outdoor museum exhibit. Inspired by the city’s history, Cité Mémoire invites you to meet a host of characters who’ve witnessed the city’s evolution first-hand. This poetic tableaux comes alive with the help of images, words and music. Projected throughout Old Montreal, Old Port of Montréal and at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth Hotel, the work appears on the very walls that surround you.
Drink like a Montréalais
As the first grain to bottle artisanal distillery in Montreal open to the public, Cirka is a must for any cocktail lover. Housed in a bright and airy industrial space in the heart of Montréal, they make a gin that only uses the local botanicals of Quebec. C’est Bon!
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IF YOU GO
For a more hands-on experience, book a tours. Additionally, they offer mixology classes, perfect for learning to craft the perfect cocktail.
2075 Cabot Montreal H4E 1E2