Montréal is one of those cities that defies expectation. A lush mix of North American swagger and Euro-cool, the city presents a cutting-edge culture that outshines its Canadian brethren. Though a day is nowhere near enough, here are our suggestions to see some of the best of Montréal in a day.
Start your day slowly partaking in a local ritual – a long and leisurely brunch. Weekend brunching in Montréal is de rigueur, and usually gets started at around 10am, although at some of the city’s hotspots the long lines – full of late-night revellers not long out of bed – will linger until 2pm. L’Express serves up scrambled eggs and pain perdu (French toast) in a classic Parisian bistro atmosphere, Beauty’s is worth the legendary long queue for toasted sesame bagels, or head over to Eggspectation (www.eggspectations.com) to try one of their many variations on eggs Benedict.
If you’re still hungry, grab some portable snacks from Marché Jean-Talon, the city’s largest market and right in the heart of Little Italy. There are several hundred market stalls on a huge square ringed by shops that stock all manner of produce year-round including fruits, vegetables, potted plants, herbs and (of course) maple syrup. Food stalls whip up fresh juices, tender crepes, baguette sandwiches and more. Don’t miss the Québécois specialty store Le Marché des Saveurs.
Time to work off all that food! Hike up Mont Royal, stopping to catch your breath and snap the cityscape from the Kondiaronk Lookout. Montréalers are proud of their 'mountain', Mount Royal Park, the work of New York Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted. It's a sprawling, leafy playground that's perfect for cycling, jogging, horseback riding, picnicking and, in winter, cross-country skiing and tobogganing.
In fine weather, enjoy panoramic views from the Kondiaronk lookout near Chalet du Mont Royal, a grand old white villa that hosts big-band concerts in summer; or from the Observatoire de l'Est, a favourite rendez-vous spot for lovebirds. It takes about 30 minutes to walk between the two. En route you'll spot the landmark 40m-high Cross of Montréal, which is illuminated at night. It's there to commemorate city founder Maisonneuve who single-handedly carried a wooden cross up the mountain in 1643 to give thanks to God for sparing his fledgling village from flooding.
If outdoor rambling isn’t your style, you can explore the cobblestone alleys of Old Montréal. Get a dose of history at Musée d’Archéologie et d’Histoire Pointe-à-Callière. For the most part, the museum is underground. Head to the archeological crypt in the basement where you can explore the remains of the city's ancient sewage and river system and the foundations of its first buildings and first public square. Interactive exhibits include video monitors that allow visitors to ask questions of the hologram-like figures from the 17th and 18th centuries about their lives in the colony.
By now you’ve certainly worked up a thirst, so as the sun sets join the cinq-à-sept (5pm-to-7pm) crowd for outdoor drinks on your way to winding down with a decadent meal at L’Orignal.
You may not have seen all that Montréal has to offer, but you will have seen some of the best.
This article was first published in June 2011 and was refreshed in June and October 2012.