Montreal is a wonderful city to visit. Having lived only 2 hrs away from it most of my life, I’ve never actually spent much time there. So for New Years this year (or I guess last year??) my boyfriend K and found an amazing deal online for 2 nights stay right downtown. Now I do prefer the outdoors and nature to city life, but sometimes I crave that downtown metropolis and Montreal was a perfect fit.
We took the train from Ottawa to Montreal (we just love traveling by train!) so we didn’t have access to a car, but that really didn’t matter. Montreal is so connected and compact it’s ridiculously easy to get around by foot or metro. So without further adieu, here are 5 things to do in downtown Montreal that will give you a great introduction to this wonderful city!
1.Try A Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich
If you want to try an authentic meal in Montreal, head to Schwartz’s. Home to the original Montreal smoked meat sandwich, this deli claims to be the oldest in Canada. Opening this doors in 1928, Schwartz’s is a famous Montreal landmark. But don’t let its inconspicuous decor fool you! Its your typical old school deli but the food is anything but typical.
Be warned: the secret is out and you may find yourself waiting in line outside, just to get seated (K and I waited about 20 min outside while it snowed on us). Ordering up a smoked meat sandwich is a must and K and I opted to go completely Quebecois and shared a poutine on the side. The sandwich was basic being only bread, mustard and meat but with something this good, less is more. The sandwich was divine, the bread and smoked meat warm and fresh, we felt rejuvenated from the long cold wait and it warmed us up immediately.
2. Explore The Underground City
It’s everywhere. Literally. Below Montréal’s downtown lies a labyrinth of tunnels, malls and metro stations that can take you pretty much anywhere you want to go without ever setting foot outdoors. When K and I set out to “find” the underground city we took a 30 min, completely useless ride on the metro before we realized that we were in fact, already IN the underground city! Hotels, malls, the train station, everything is connected. It can be a bit overwhelming and disorienting but if you love to shop this may just be your heaven.
3. Old Montreal
Located along the St.Lawrence River, Old Montreal is just that: Old world cobblestone streets lined with restaurants, bars and boutique’s that are perfect for wandering. This is the downtown tourist area and is one of the oldest urban areas in North America. Bordered to the west by McGill St and to the east by Rue St Andre, this area includes the old port and is the oldest area of Montreal with remains dating back to the 17th century when it was called New France. Old Montreal’s might make you feel like you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in Europe! Cute, charming and picturesque, Old Montreal will win you over in a heart beat.
4. Notre – Dame Basilica
Located in Old Montreal, Notre – Dame Basilica is an incredible site to behold. With a grand entrance way and two imposing towers, its rivals anything you’ll find in Europe. It’s history is a long one with the original stone church being built on this site between 1672-1683. Construction of the church that stands today however, took place between 1824 – 1829 with the first tower being added in 1841. For its first 50 yrs it was the largest church in North America.
Walking inside be prepared for a truly jaw dropping sight. With intricate wood carvings throughout and stunningly colorful decor, I was left in awe at its beauty. High arched ceilings painted blue with gold stars, red and gold pillars and detailed paintings depicting biblical historical figures, I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around this heavenly basilica.
5. St. Catherine’s St
Lined with bars, cafes, restaurants, and shopping malls, this is the hip downtown center of Montreal. Close to many of the downtown hotels, just a few metro stops from Old Montreal, and close to pretty much everything else, this is the place to people watch and shop. If your looking for a night out at the bar, you’re probably going to end up here.
So there you have it! If you’re short on time or just arriving in the city, I suggest heading directly to Montreal’s downtown to your first taste of this happening city. There is much more to see and do in Montreal but you might as well start your exploration in the heart of this beautiful city.