Things to do and places to visit in Canada’s second largest city, Montreal
Introducing a new series of alternative city guides, specially curated for the cultivated traveller.
A mix of Parisian charm and East Coast grit, Montreal is often referred to as “the Europe of North America”. These kinds of juxtapositions have come to define the city: its atmosphere is both laissez-faire and bustling, its architecture old and avant-garde, its population entirely multicultural. The city boasts one of Canada’s most enviable lifestyles with a vibrant art and design scene (Montreal was crowned a UNESCO city of design in 2006), beautiful 19th-century architecture, lively nightlife, and plenty of lush green space to lounge about in. And, while Montreal winters are unforgiving, the spring and summers are when the city truly comes alive with streetside terraces, festivals, cyclists on public BIXI bikes, and wine-drinking, barbecuing park-goers. So, after you’ve finished exploring Montréal’s historic Old Port – stumbling through its maze of cobblestone walkways and catching the breeze off the canal are musts for first-time tourists – skip the line at the district’s Notre-Dame Basilica and head straight to these (somewhat) hidden spots.
This “all-day-all-evening café-restaurant-wine bar-breakfast-joint” is a staple for residents of Montreal’s trendy Mile End neighbourhood. Little brother to much-loved brunch spot Lawrence, Larry’s features an all-day menu with an ever-changing selection of small, mix-and-match plates. Standout stalwarts are the delicious mackerel spaghetti, the ceviche, and the anchovy and ‘Nduja toast. The hand-scrawled blackboard wine menu is updated often and features a selection of natural wines from Québec and around the world. 9 Avenue Fairmount E
Tucked away in Montreal’s up-and-coming Saint Henri neighbourhood is elevated pizzeria Elena. Both the food and the decor are inspired by trattorias of decades past: gorgeous purple velvet banquettes, globe lights, and slatted blinds complement thin-crust wood-fire pizzas, homemade pastas, and small veggie dishes. Around back, the restaurant’s café-cum-take-out counter, Club Social PS, boasts a lively terrace – perfect for drinking café au lait or a glass of natural wine, morning through night. 5090 Notre Dame O
Located on a dead-end street just past one of Avenue Parc’s busiest intersections, it’s easy to miss this Park-Ex watering hole. Cichetti draws its namesake from the Venetian slang for ‘small snacks’ and it’s really the cichetti themselves that are the star of this establishment. Clocking in at less than $2 each, these tapas-style bites, including caviar-topped shrimp toasts, mini sandwiches, and eggs mimosa, are infinitely snackable and shareable. Classic Venetian cocktails – spritzes and pisco sours, done to perfection – round out an impressive selection of natural wine. Be sure to visit in the summer, when the bar lays out its colourful – and massive – terrace. 6703 avenue Parc
Haitian chef Paul Toussaint, along with Arcade Fire couple Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, founded Agrikol in 2016 to bring a taste of Haitian culture to Montréal at large. The decor is all island vibes – breezy pastel pinks and sea blues, palm greens, smatterings of carnival beads, and bumping music. As to be expected, the food is mouth-wateringly amazing, as are the predominantly rum-based drinks. Garnish any plates you try – I recommend the griot and chicken – with the house pikliz and a side of plantain. In the summer, the back garden opens into a terrace with an exclusive barbeque menu and make-your-own rum cocktail bar service. 1840 rue Atateken
Bagels are great and all – sorry, Saint Viateur and Fairmount – but nothing beats a croissant or fresh loaf of bread. And no one in Montreal makes them like artisanal bakery Guillaume. Pick up a baguette or one of their many French viennoiseries (the almond croissant is divine!) and make like a true Montrealer: grab some cheese and wine from the neighbouring dépanneur and have yourself un vrai pique-nique at nearby Parc Lahaie. 5134 boulevard St Laurent
Off-the-beaten path it is not, but the tranquil halls of the Musée National des Beaux-Arts’ impressive permanent collection offer peaceful respite from Montreal’s tourist-laden downtown district. Take in pieces from Rodin, Jean Arp, Henry Moore, Basquiat, Lucio Fontana, and Mark Rothko. And don’t miss the Decorative Arts and Design collection, housed in the museum’s north wing, for antique curiosities, mid-century furniture, and modern design from Philippe Starck, Shiro Kuramata, Cindy Sherman and more. 1380 rue Sherbrooke O
Only one block south of Les Étoffes, RUSE Boutique serves up a directional selection of luxury consignment goods for both genders. Catch monogrammed Louis Vuitton baguettes and Phoebe Philo-designed Céline garb hanging alongside fare from indie brands like Eckhaus Latta and MISBHV. 5141 boulevard St Laurent
Housed in two former metalworking factories in Montréal’s Griffintown neighbourhood, Fonderie Darling offers 3,500-metres-squared worth of contemporary art from creators both local and international. Conceptual sculptures, light installations, painted canvases, and more interact with the spare industrial interior. 745 rue Ottawa
This tiny boutique on Saint Laurent Boulevard – Montreal’s colloquial “main street” – carries a tightly edited collection of designer labels for men and women. Focusing primarily on French and Asian labels – Les Étoffes was Lemaire’s first Canadian account – the store’s aesthetic strikes an immaculate balance between avant-garde, minimalist, and cosy-casual. 5253 boulevard St Laurent
The bricks-and-mortar outpost from the comic-book publisher of the same name, this bookstore hosts a curated selection of the best books past and present, fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose, illustrated and not, and so on. What makes this place special is its cosy, clubhouse atmosphere. Spend an hour or two poring over the collected works of Clarice Lispector and John Berger or the newest from Roxane Gay and Ottessa Moshfegh. 211 rue Bernard O
Just outside the city centre (a quick stopover from downtown on the metro’s blue line), lies a treasure trove by the name of Marché aux Puces St-Michel. This two-storey indoor flea market is chock-full of antique furniture, lighting, clothes, and all the knick-knacks you can fit in your suitcase. The booths (and their owners) are eclectic and eccentric. Sprawling sections are committed to single eras and categories, like Louis XVI furniture or kitschy mid-century tableware, while some booths are dedicated to disparate niches – like cowboy boots and cocktail glasses, 19th-century jewellery and 80s horror movie soundtracks. 7707 avenue Shelley