Summer Travel: A Philadelphian’s Guide to Vacationing in Montreal
Not keen on traveling abroad quite yet? Montreal is a nearer-by way to fully immerse yourself in culture, old-world charm, and that certain je ne sais quoi.
Just 90 minutes by direct flight from PHL, Montreal, a UNESCO City of Design and the largest city in Canada’s Quebec Province, conjures European charm from its cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes, historic churches, and world-class dining destinations. Check into Four Seasons Montreal (rates from $463) for centrally located luxury in Golden Square Mile; swish rooms feature soaking tubs and floor-to-ceiling windows. Dine at Marcus Samuelsson’s eponymous, buzzy restaurant on the third-floor terrace, and book a refreshing Energy & Glow facial at the brand-new Guerlain Spa. Don’t leave without taking a dip in the spa’s skylit swimming pool.
Alternatively, check into the nearby Le Germain Hotel Montreal (rates from $276) in Quartier des Spectacles. The stylish spot puts you close by the shops of Sainte-Catherine Street and the base of Mount-Royal Park. The 500-acre urban green space, known as “the mountain” to locals, was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and draws year-round visitors to jog, snow-shoe and picnic. Rent a Bixi — the Indego bike of Montreal — to sight-see on two wheels.
It’s easy to get around in this supremely walkable city. Fully immerse yourself in French culture at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where you can peruse a vast collection of works, including galleries spotlighting Quebecois and Canadian art. A 10-minute walk takes you to the McCord Museum, which explores Montreal social history through its collection of roughly 1.5 million artifacts, from textiles and fashion to the Indigenous Cultures collection of tools and other historical objects. Don’t miss the sublime “JJ Levine: Queer Photographs,” on view until August 21st.
Explore the city’s rich history with a self-guided walking tour of Vieux-Montreal, passing Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, a gem of a chapel and one of the city’s oldest, dating back to 1771; Bonsecours Market, a former public market and current shopping destination; City Hall; and Gothic Revival Notre-Dame Basilica.
To taste some of the city’s iconic foods — including poutine and Montreal bagels (a thinner, wood-fire-baked version) — join Local Montreal Food Tours for its three-hour jaunt through Mile End. Or find a patch of grass along the Lachine Canal for a picnic, stopping for provisions at Marché Atwater, where you’ll find stands selling local cheese, produce, prepared foods and artisanal chocolate.
Take in Montreal the way the locals do, too, spending hours over bottles of European wine, fresh seafood, and plates of tarte au sucre at cozy restaurants and outdoor cafes. Try Beba in the Verdun neighborhood — doing inspired things with seafood — or modern Italian Un Po di Più in Old Montreal, for handmade gnocchi with crispy chicken skin and cocktails with an Italian twist. To channel classic Montreal, make for L’Express, a Parisian-inspired bistro with an epic wine list, or frozen-in-time lunch counter Chez Claudette. Don’t leave without seeing Cirque du Soleil, which was born in Quebec Province. The newest show, Kooza, features the company’s signature audacious acrobatics and vivid costumes and theatrics.
Published as “If You Missed European Flair …” in the June 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.