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All photography by Amelia Gregory.
I had a truly wonderful time in Montreal earlier this month. Alongside the many festival goings on during Montreal Festimania there were plenty of other things to do in this fabulous Canadian city. Here’s my pick!
1. Eat Poutine
Okay, so this is not strictly a Montreal custom, but for any new visitor to Quebec it is supremely important that you try this classic meal. Poutine consists of cheesy curds on top of thin french fries and topped with a thick gravy. At posher restaurants and Poutine specialists you can also get a wide variety of variations on the theme, including a meaty topping which ensures that this really is a full meal!
2. Go to the Musée McCord
It costs a bit of money but it’s well worth visiting this museum, which is dedicated purely to Canadian history, in all its variety. When we visited there was an excellent exhibition of selected goodies from the museum vaults and on the second floor there was a beautifully put together history of Montreal. In another room there were contrasting panoramic views of the city 100 years ago and in recent times. On the top floor was an exhibition of First Peoples‘ contemporary art.
3. Get on a Bixi bike
In London we have the Boris bike and in Montreal they have the Bixi, which is a somewhat older system but still familiar. In fact so familiar that we actually came across one of London’s own Boris bikes. We have no idea how it got there! Bike hire is cheap and it’s a brilliant way of getting around downtown Montreal, which is a small area laid out in a simple grid system with wide bike lanes.
4. Go to Old Montreal
It may require you working up a bit of a sweat on the aforementioned Bixi bike to get up the hill but the architecture in this part of town is staggeringly beautiful: wide boulevards and stately homes with colourful metal roofs abound. In the trendy Mile End district there are plenty of second hand stores to peruse and intriguing wall art around every corner.
5. Play with racoons on Mont Royale
Once you are in Old Montreal why not take a walk through the Mont Royale park, which is less of a park and more of a Hamsptead Heath type wilderness, especially as you start to climb the mount (take plenty of water). If you take the back route you will no doubt stop for a rest at the viewing point, only to be greeted by a tumbling family of baby racoons, one of my unexpected Montreal highlights.
Further up the hill is the Chalet du Mont Royale – more of a vast hall than a chalet, with a wide plaza in front and amazing views of downtown Montreal.
6. Eat fruity ice pops. In fact, eat fresh locally grown fruits in general!
I became absolutely hooked on fresh fruit pops as a tasty and healthy way to cool down during the sweltering heat at Festival Mode et Design, where there was a stall selling pops made from imaginative combinations of strawberry, mint, pineapple, blueberry and coconut. Oh how I wish it was as easy to buy fresh fruit pops in the UK – I tell you, there would be a market here for those.
In Quebec they like to boast of the quality of their fresh produce, and with good reason! We ate beautifully flavoursome local strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.
7. Visit the Biosphère and the Biodome
They are fond of their Bios in Montreal. The Biosphère was designed by Buckminster Fuller for the World Fair Expo in 1967 and is now a remnant cast adrift in Parc Jean-Drapeau, an island of Montreal on the Saint Lawrence River. It is a perfectly spherical steel structure made up of delicate cells, inside which is housed the Environment Museum (which we didn’t visit).
The Casino de Montreal, including the Quebec Pavilion, are also remnants of the World Expo 1967.
The Biodome is a remnant of the 1976 Olympics, a velodrome which now houses an interactive zoo that replicates four different biospheres. We saw grooming bright orange tamarin monkeys, a sleeping otter and playful puffins – all caged in the most minimal manner possible. Needless to say the sea of children swarming around our feet were also having the time of their lives (get there early to avoid the primary school rush).
Above the Biodome looms the much maligned Olympic Stadium; its tilting tower (the tallest in the world) and hanging roof have become a relic of badly judged design. We enjoyed the amazing concrete spirals of its ambitious carpark.
8. Take a walk around the Jardin Botanique Montreal
Above the Olympic Stadium is the entrance to the excellent Botanical Gardens, which is amongst the largest in the world. It features copious beds of well labelled plants from all around the world, dramatic Japanese and Chinese gardens and a brand new Insectarium, where we once again fought small children to look at beautiful bugs.
Look out also for the wonderful art deco decorations on the welcoming fountains and on the outside of the main research building.
9. Dine out in style at Europa
This high end restaurant is by no means cheap but it was such an interesting and different dining experience that I highly recommend a visit for a special occasion. We ordered a set menu of four courses, but throughout our meal we were offered further unexpected dishes and nibbles so that by the end we had lost count of exactly how many courses we had eaten: I estimate it to have been something closer to 20! The food was very experimental: we ate cheese cigars, candyfloss, ice cream pops and food served in pots of dry ice. Main courses included a tagliatelle made from calamari and the largest scallops I have ever seen. Altogether an extremely enjoyable dining experience.
10. Go to the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montréal
This museum is the jewel in Montreal’s cultural crown: two buildings connected by an underground passage which house a huge selection of modern and ancient art. We visited when the Jean Paul Gaultier retrospective was on, which is a pay exhibition well worth seeing (read my review of The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk here) but there is also plenty of stuff to see for free. There’s also a really good gift shop.
Of course, there is so much more to do in multicultural Montreal… we also loved the Contemporary Art Museum, the Notre-Dame Basilica, La Ronde amusement park and great value Japanese food at new restaurant Kiss Grill (above). Plus, don’t miss Montreal strip joints lit up at night! But then, why not visit and discover all this and more for yourself?
- Montreal Festimania 2011: Festival Mode et Design Review – Mode et Opera
- Montreal Festimania 2011: Festival Mode et Design Review – Jean Paul Gaultier Bourgeoises Sans Age
- Montreal Festimania 2011: Festival Mode et Design Review – Brut Design, Bye Bye Bambi, AQUAOVO
- Two wheels good: London’s Borisbike cycle hire scheme proves its worth
- Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk