“Montreal is a city of contrast,” my tour guide said, and it’s true. The dichotomy between old (circa 1642) and new, French and English, and vibrant art mixed into the urban landscape is seen at every turn.
Because Montreal is a walkable and public transit-friendly city — and less than two hours from New York City and Philadelphia by plane — it makes for a perfect, easy-to-navigate weekend getaway. Here’s what to do in this lovely and historic city.
• Sarah B
I started where I hung my proverbial hat, the InterContinental Hotel’s Sarah B bar. This cozy absinthe den allows you to channel its namesake, French doyenne Sarah Bernhardt, with or without la fée verte (the green fairy) — though I highly encourage you to try it at least once. If not for the delicious taste of strong anise, do it for the highly Instagrammable ritual of imbibing it.
If traditional cocktails are more your bag, the InterContinental recently introduced its Wordly Classics cocktails. Created by renowned mixologist Angus Winchester, these new takes on old classics are inspired by the cultures of the hotel’s global locations. I highly, highly recommend the Indonesian Nu Fashioned, with Woodford Reserve bourbon, dark creme de cacao and Angostura bitters.
You had me at “underground speakeasy in Old Montreal,” but first I had to find the nondescript door to buzz for entry into this former industrial cold room. Now a dark, intimate bar with affable service and extraordinary drinks, The Coldroom is worth the hunt. Try the Roger Rabbit. In fact, have a few as I did. You’ll thank yourself — and moi.
This casual eatery in the heart of Little Italy offers authentic Italian fare that’ll transport you to the motherland. The pork ossobuco was a slightly spicy revelation, while the savory farinata pancake with kale, rapini and bacon appetizer was easily a table favorite.
This intimate and ambient spot in a former foundry offered the lightest lobster risotto I’ve ever tasted and an amazing burrata and beef carpaccio appetizer I’m not ashamed to admit I’m still dreaming about.
• Mural tour
Though you should take one of Tourism Montreal’s wonderful tours, especially with the delightful René Lemieux, you should also hit the streets with Spade & Palacio for a walking tour of the city’s vibrant murals. Many are commissioned each June as part of Montreal’s Mural Festival, in which local and global artists converge and create for 11 days.
• Old Montreal
While I love the sleek skyscrapers in downtown Montreal, my heart belongs to historic Old Montreal, with its old cobblestone streets, small and intimate sidewalks and narrow alleyways where, at night, you may find a projected installation of a woman breastfeeding, the sight and sound of ocean waves crashing on the cobbles or the scrolling words of native son Leonard Cohen. Plus, you can truly make a day/night out of it thanks to a fantastic mix of bars, restaurants and shops.
Speaking of Cohen, the beloved musician/poet who died in 2016 lives on, both in a mural in his former neighborhood and in a yearlong mixed-media exhibit at Musee d’Art Comtemporain called “A Crack in Everything.”
The Notre-Dame Basilica is a sight to see in and of itself and one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen. Come nightfall, however, the multimedia installation “Aura” turns the 189-year-old church into a canvas for a breathtaking, immersive light show accompanied by orchestral music.