If You Only Have Three Days in Montreal

Montreal has enough attractions and sights to keep visitors busy for months on end. If you only have three days in Montreal, however, you’ll have to pare down the city’s ever-expanding list of things to do. The essentials include the quaint streets of Plateau and the historic alleys of Old Montreal, perusing arts exhibits and shopping for works by local designers, and, of course, exploring the culinary experiences for which Montreal is famous.

4-8 Saint Paul St E
Rue Saint Paul is the oldest, the most popular, and the most iconic of Old Montreal streets. It was Montreal’s main thoroughfare in the 18th and 19th centuries, and although it doesn’t hold the same strategic importance today, it’s still at the core of Montreal’s destinations. Despite the tourist shops filled with souvenirs like moose-shaped shot glasses and maple-syrup everything, Saint-Paul Street still holds the grandeur it had back in the day, thanks to its stunning architecture. Ignore the shops and look up, admire the details of the windows and roof lines—to see what the street really is about. This street is ideal for a romantic, dimly lit, post-dinner stroll.
3927 Rue Saint-Denis, Montréal, QC H2W 2M4, Canada
L’Express, on rue St-Denis in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood, opened in 1980 and has about it the air of a beloved institution. Indeed, with its timeless style, it feels even older than it is. This popular spot serves classic renditions of bistro fare—steak tartare, bone marrow, onion soup—into the early morning hours (2 a.m. except for Sundays, when it closes at 1 a.m.). When the kitchen ventures into new territory, the results are impressive. The spaghetti with mushrooms is unconventional in its presentation (topped with a healthy serving of arugula)—one of those dishes you try on the road and then want to re-create at home. Reservations recommended.
1196 Voie Camillien-Houde, Montréal, QC H3H 1A1, Canada
Not unlike the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Empire State Building in NYC, the Mont Royal acts as a natural landmark for orientation-challenged travelers. The “mountain” (some would call it a big hill) overlooks the entire city and offers unparalleled panoramas of downtown and the Eastern Townships south of the city. The entire mountain is actually a city park, with many things to do besides admiring the view: tam-tam jams, bird watching, cycling, forest treks—and even skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, and sledding in the winter. Brownie points if you make it to the Kodiaronk lookout at dawn, in time to see the sun rise behind the skyscrapers.
138 Atwater Avenue
The whole province of Quebec takes its agriculture very seriously, and consequently you can find some incredibly fresh, tasty products. The vendors at Atwater Market are passionate about what they sell, and they are more than happy to talk all things food. From sweet and tangy strawberries to ice wines, cheeses, and maple creations, the Atwater Market leaves very few unimpressed. A true staple of the Montreal culinary scene, this is a must for all foodies.
4177 Saint Laurent Boulevard
My everyday diet goes off the rails when I visit Montreal. This is my favorite food town in the world, and I often begin an adventure with a visit to Patati Patata. Poutine for breakfast isn’t a healthy option, but the beer I drink with it has plenty of organic ingredients, so it’s basically a wash. I’ve made plenty of photographs in this place, but I thought this shot of one of the cooks prepping a takeout box perfectly captures the atmosphere; there’s nothing quite like waiting for that first bite. Don’t be put off by the lines; this diner is a Montreal institution, and a joint you can’t miss. But I do suggest you punch a new hole or two into your belt.
110 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, Montréal, QC H2Y 1T1, Canada
A church—or, at least, a small chapel—has stood on the site of the Basilica of Notre-Dame since shortly after Ville-Marie (Montréal’s predecessor) was founded in 1642. The current building, however, dates to 1829 and was constructed in a soaring Gothic Revival style. At the time, that aesthetic choice raised some eyebrows—Gothic designs were associated more with Protestant churches than Roman Catholic ones. (Perhaps the fact that the architect was an Irish-American Protestant didn’t help the situation.) Whatever initial resistance there was evaporated in the face of the beauty of the completed building. In the decades that followed, Gothic became the popular choice for churches in Canada of every denomination in large part because of Montréal’s basilica. In the 1870s, in what was perhaps a case of gilding the lily, the basilica became even more stunning when its interiors were painted in bright colors to resemble Paris‘s Ste-Chapelle.
Avenue Laurier Est
If you only have a day in the city, go to Mont-Royal park for the views. But if you have more time, I strongly suggest you also visit Laurier Park, just a stone throw’s from Laurier metro station. It’s the park Montrealers enjoy the most. Mature trees, beautiful architecture in the surrounding streets and tons of take-away restaurants nearby (not to mention free wifi) make this park incredibly popular from early March to late November, from the first to the last rays of warm sunlight. It really is a great place for a picnic, for a tanning session or even an impromptu volleyball game.
343 Rue Saint Paul Est, Montréal, QC H2Y 1H3, Canada
Rustic elegance is the order of the day at La Champagnerie, a champagne-only bar in Old Montreal. Between the delicious cocktails, heaven-sent food, and exposed brick walls of this historic building, the drinking experience will be memorable. The menu features over 50 different brands of bubbly (including real champagne, cava, and prosecco) and a very entertaining sabering act, as well as brie poutine and oysters. Contrary to popular belief, la Champagnerie isn’t that expensive. Yes, there is the odd $500+ bottle, but visitors can easily enjoy a meal and a cocktail or two without needing to remortgage their house. A very nice way to spend an evening, if you ask me—champagne, Old Montreal, and good music. Santé!
1257 Avenue Bernard
What started out as a crazy musing during a family dinner has turned out, surprisingly, to be one of Montreal‘s most appreciated establishments. Indeed, when Francine Brûlé mentioned that she was thinking of taking on a new project, nobody could predict the huge success Les Enfants Terribles would be become—not even her. And yet, with the help of chef Guillaume Daly and partner Serge Bruneau, this Outremont eatery is now a frequent hideout for the cool, hip, urban youngsters of Montreal. It’s a place where people go to see and be seen, but most importantly, to have a good time. Les Enfants Terribles revisits the classics of French cuisine, all while crafting innovative dishes with a festive, flavorful, and unorthodox touch. For example? Chorizo corndogs, gouda mac’n’cheese, shepherd’s pie with truffle oil, and a coco pana cotta. I have visited this restaurant many, many times and not once was I disappointed.
5135 Saint Laurent Boulevard
With local brands like Barilà, Betina Lou, Uranium and Eve Gravel, Unicorn is probably the one-stop shop for all things Montreal designers. The shop itself, cleverly located on Montreal‘s biggest shopping street and in the heart of hipster, artsy Mile End district -- that sometimes feels more like Brooklyn than Montreal --, is a work of art and immediately makes shoppers feel at ease. The owners, Amélie and Mélanie, created a unique minimalist atmosphere where their passion for clothes truly prevails, and where their own individual style perfectly mix. The store recently celebrated its 5-year anniversary, and luckily for us fashionistas, the adventure is nowhere near over. Here’s to 5 more years of wonderful shopping!
Whether boasting full-on winters is actually a curse or a blessing remains to be seen; but whenever a snowstorm hits and cover the city in a fresh layer of snow, one can hardly feel anything else than sheer excitement, especially in Old-Montreal. The Bonsecours Quay are not only iconic year-round, but also quite festive in the colder months thanks to a popular and entertaining ice-skating rink. For just $6, skaters can relish the view of downtown Montreal and the Old-Port, especially the historic Bonsecours Market, while enjoying the music and the colorful lighting, in a truly unique urban ambiance. Each night has a different theme (including Classical Mondays and Retro Fridays) and thus, from November to March.
1595 Boul St-Laurent, Montréal, QC H2X 2S9, Canada
When Bouillon Bilk first opened in 2011, Montréal’s restaurant critics were intrigued. The chef, François Nadon, had worked at several of the city’s top restaurants but was largely unknown, and the restaurant was located on an undistinguished stretch of boulevard St-Laurent. But it soon became both a critical and popular favorite. The contemporary, minimal space is decidedly unstuffy compared with many of Montréal’s leading restaurants. Similarly, the menu may be gourmet but it’s also daring, with ingredients and preparations from Asia complementing French dishes and techniques. You can start with Japanese yellowtail, move on to a pasta dish, and end with a selection of Québecois cheeses, if you choose. There are also fresh oysters on the menu at both lunch and dinner.
211 Rue Bernard Ouest
Possibly the most important and influential publishers of graphic novels in the last 20 years, Drawn & Quarterly has a must-visit shop in the cool Mile End neighborhood. It sells work from the extensive D&Q catalog (which includes Joe Sacco, Lynda Barry, and Adrian Tomine) and from other publishers. Check out 184 Rue Beaubien by local graphic artist Cyril Doisneau.
2491 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, Montréal, QC H3J 1N6, Canada
This Little Burgundy mainstay is the headquarters of chefs David McMillan and Frédéric Morin, the acclaimed and enterprising minds behind an evolving blackboard menu that has been known to feature smoked meat croquettes, house-cured ham with truffles, lobster spaghetti and horse meat steaks. The duo is known to do absolutely everything in-house, even brew their own beer and distil their own absinthe. Stroll down Rue Notre-Dame, past their other restaurant, Liverpool House, to the nearby Lachine Canal after an evening at this inviting space with vintage wooden chairs, leather banquettes and a permanent air of celebration.
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