Tour One of the Best Cities in the Americas in a Weekend

Quebec’s second city is one of the oldest, most vibrant cities in the Americas and the perfect place for a weekend trip. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Montréal.

Montréal is a great mix of old and new. The city holds more historic buildings than any other in Canada, some of which date back to the 17th century. But Montréal isn’t a museum — it’s also one of the three Unesco Cities of Design, is an important location for culture and is known as the city of festivals.

Much of the culture is based around a mix of the French-Canadian identity of the Montréalais and North American cosmopolitanism. Food ranges from poutine, French fries with gravy and cheese, to Montréal bagels, which are sweeter than the Polish and New York varieties. 

Here are Gray Line’s tips on how to spend 48 hours in Montréal.

Friday Night — Polish Off Some Poutine Before the House of Jazz

As you’ve just arrived in town, you’re likely to be a little hungry after your trip. A bit of comfort food will be just what the doctor ordered. And as you’re in Montréal, you’ve got some of the world’s best comfort food on every corner — poutine. This dish of French fries, cheese curd and gravy dates back to the 50s and, at first, the Québécois were teased for their creation. In no time at all, poutine had risen to A-list status.

Chez Claudette has a huge range of excellent poutine and even larger servings. This is a local eatery so it’s as traditional as it gets — don’t expect anything special other than the food. If you want something fancier, go to Au Pied de Cochon. Here you’ll find a formal restaurant serving modern Québécois cuisine with gourmet poutine au foie gras on the menu. In between the two extremes is the cool, industrial Poutine Centrale. As well as finding the classics, you’ll be able to grab a number of vegetarian options here.

Once you’ve eaten too much food, it’s time for another great Montréalais tradition — jazz. While the original House of Jazz downtown shuttered during the pandemic, its sister bar in Laval survived and continues as one of the city’s institutions. It’s less experimental than some of the other bars in town and has a very well-stocked bar.

If you’re a bit nervous about finding your way around on your own, checkout the Montreal by night tour and soak up the ambiance.

Saturday Morning — Bagels and a Bus Tour

The bagel arrived in Montréal during a wave of Jewish immigration in the early 20th century. No one knows who, but someone boiled their bagel in honeyed water and the Montréal version was born. It’s the best in the world, although New Yorkers might disagree.

Where to find the best bagel in Montréal is a matter of some dispute. Most will tell you it’s either St-Viateur or Fairmount Bagel. Both have been open since the 50s, although Fairmount traces its history in the city to 1919, and serve a large and delicious range of bagels and toppings.

After breakfast, discover the city and its main landmarks on one of Gray Line’s famous hop-on hop-off bus tours. You’ll be taken to Notre Dame Basilica, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and through the Latin Quarter, among much more. Tickets last for at least 24 hours, and you can jump off anytime you want to take a closer look.

Saturday Afternoon — Smoked Meat Sandwiches and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

As well as bringing the bagel, Jewish immigrants brought their smoked meat to Montréal. This beef brisket is salted and cured for a week before going through the smoking process. Every sandwich must be made by hand since the meat is too tender to be cut by machine. You can have it with poutine or on a pizza, but the best way is to pop into a deli and pile it between two slices of rye bread with a dollop of mustard.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is the oldest, largest and most-visited museum in Canada. It holds five pavilions to explore, each focused on a different period. Among its more than 45,000 works, you’ll find collections of the Old Masters, contemporary art and sculpture, as well as some of the most important Canadian and Indigenous artists.

Saturday Night — A Modern, Traditional Québécois Dinner and a Night of Culture

Housed in an old railcar near the St Lawrence River is Hoogan et Beaufort which serves some of the best food and wine in Montréal. Every dish in the restaurant is made with local and seasonal ingredients and while there are often Italian meals on the menu, they also do modern versions of Québécois classics. You will need to make a reservation to get a seat.

Place des Arts holds one of the largest cultural complexes in North America. The square holds six different halls that hold symphony orchestras, ballet, and opera companies and the Quartier des Spectacles that has developed around it is the heart of Montréal’s cultural scene. Plan ahead and find tickets to something special, or see where the evening takes you and you never know what show you might find.

Sunday Morning — Brunch at Beautys and a Stroll Through Plateau Mont-Royal

The family-run Beautys Luncheonette in Mont-Royal is a place many locals will recommend for a hearty breakfast or brunch. Open since the early 40s, this classic diner will serve up some of the best pancakes and bacon slathered in maple syrup or thick toasted sandwiches with your morning coffee or smoothie. It’s a staple of the city and the staff are always friendly.

Plateau Mont-Royal itself is a beautiful, relaxed neighborhood and the area that gave the city its name. It’s full of delightful Victorian townhouses, arts, culture and shopping. Mont-Royal is slightly less bohemian than it used to be, but it’s still full of artists and little galleries to explore. To find panoramic views of the city, climb “the mountain” in Parc du Mont-Royal. There are incredible lookouts at Belvedere Kondiaronk and Camillien-Houde that will show you the whole city.

Sunday Afternoon — Avoid the Tourist Traps and Wonder at Notre Dame Basilica

As you wander towards Notre Dame Cathedral from Mont-Royal, you’ll be hankering for some lunch. Skip the tourist traps and stop at Brasserie 701 in the Hotel Place d’Armes. This is a spectacular restaurant with grand chandeliers hanging over the tables. The menu is very good and very French, and the service is excellent.

Photo from Brasserie 701 website

Notre Dame Basilica is stunning. The interior is something to behold. It’s considered to be the most wondrous in the world. While the construction of the basilica was completed in 1829, it took another 50 years for work inside to finish. Walk across the shimmering blue floor towards the grand sanctuary and take in one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture.

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