City guide: Montreal

Montreal, once the commercial center of Canada, now stands as its cultural hub. The largest city in the province of Quebec is home to more than 250 theater and dance companies, top-notch museums, a world-famous jazz festival and an events calendar bursting with more than 100 other festivals each year. Past and present are neighbors in Montreal: Glitzy skyscrapers stand beside centuries-old churches, and historic neighborhoods lie just outside the downtown core.

Montreal’s port was established to support the fur trade in the 1700s, and it remains important to the city’s economy. But industries like aerospace, pharmaceuticals, transportation and software have gained prominence, and the city has become a hub of film, television and video game production.

Getting to and from the airport

Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport is 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of downtown Montreal. Take the 747 Airport Express bus to get to the city center. It runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and costs CA$10 (US$7.88 using the exchange rate US$1 to CA$1.27) for unlimited travel during a 24-hour period. You can find a taxi or limousine at the arrivals level near the central exit. Taxis carry a flat rate of CA$40 (US$31.51) to downtown and a limousine costs CA$55-60 (US$43-48).

Getting around Montreal

Montrealers love to walk, and the city is set up to do so. The Montreal Underground Pedestrian Network downtown encompasses 20 miles of walkways lined with 1,700 shops and restaurants. Tunnels connect you to public transportation, offices and arts venues. Use the reliable and affordable Métro for longer journeys. The standard fare is CA$3.25 (US$2.56) for one trip; multi-trip and unlimited fare options are available. Two of the four main lines connect downtown to attractions around the city. Operating hours are 6 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. with extended hours until 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. If you prefer to get around by taxi, it’s easy to flag one down on the street. You’ll also find them at the city’s many taxi stands or in front of major hotels.

Where to stay

For luxury and upscale accommodation, try Fairmont’s The Queen Elizabeth (900 Rene Levesque Blvd. West; Ph: +1-514-861-3511), Renaissance Montreal Downtown Hotel (1250 Robert-Bourassa Blvd.; +1-514-657-5000) or Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Montreal Centre-ville (1390 Rene-Levesque Blvd. West). A good midscale option is Comfort Hotel & Suites Downtown (1600 Rue St. Hubert; Ph: +1-514-849-3214).

Things to see and do

A visit to Mount Royal Park is a must. This sprawling oasis within the city limits shares the same landscape architect as New York City’s Central Park. Cycling, jogging and horseback riding are fine options in summer, while winter conditions are great for tobogganing and cross-country skiing. A walk up Mount Royal—it’s more of a hill than a mountain—will provide you with dazzling views of the city, as well as of nearby mountains that rise dramatically from the flat countryside.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has amassed an impressive collection of works by Rembrandt, Picasso and Monet, among others, but the Canadian art and artifacts are where this museum really shines. You’ll find works by Paul Kane and the Group of Seven, as well as Inuit and other aboriginal artifacts. Tickets to the regular collection cost CA$15 (US$11.62) for visitors 31 and older; ages 30 and younger are free. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s open late on Wednesdays and closed on Mondays.

At the Biodome you can explore a rainforest, Antarctic islands, rolling woodlands and the Atlantic oceanfront, all under one roof. Follow the self-guided circuit through these four distinct ecosystems. Each contains hundreds of animal and plant species. The price for non-resident adults is CA$20.50 (US$16.14).

Notre-Dame Basilica is a standout in a city full of churches. Everything from its ornate Gothic Revival façade to the 24-carat gold stars that stud its soaring blue ceiling is designed to impress. Intricately designed stained-glass windows chronicle the city’s history and add to the grandeur. Admission is CA$6 (US$4.72) for adults, which includes a 20-minute tour held in French or English.

Don’t leave the city without a stroll through Vieux-Montréal or Old Montreal. It’s unlike any other neighborhood in North America. You’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to a quaint European town. Buildings from the 17th to 19th centuries line winding cobblestone streets. While away an afternoon exploring the many galleries, cafés and shops.

Where to eat

Montreal is a food lover’s paradise. The city’s diverse communities contribute to a wide mix of ethnic restaurants. You’ll also find great traditional cuisine; Quebec dishes include hearty meat pies, baked beans and maple desserts.

Pop in to L’Express for a proper French bistro experience. This place is packed, no matter the time of day—a testament to its consistent, high-quality cuisine. You won’t go thirsty—the wine cellar is 11,000 bottles strong. Menu items include seared calf’s liver, duck foie gras and fish soup stirred with garlic aioli. Save room for the delectable lemon tart. L’Express is at 3927 Saint Denis St.; Ph: +1-514-845-5333.

Montreal is famed for poutine—a calorie-rich indulgence of French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Make a stop at La Banquise for the classic dish, or craft your own version from the extensive list of toppings such as hot peppers, guacamole and bacon. You’ll get a generous portion 24 hours a day. Find it at 994 Rachel St. East; Ph: +1-514-525-2415.

Meat lovers won’t be disappointed with the fare at L’Original. The cozy restaurant specializes in expertly prepared game. And the décor reflects the menu; walls are flanked with antlers and birch tree trunks. A lengthy cocktail list may have something to do with the lively atmosphere. It’s at 479 Saint Alexis St.; Ph: +1-514-303-0479.

For an elegant fine-dining experience try Europea. Its menu influenced by Spanish and Italian cuisines is sure to impress. Chef Jérôme Ferrer offers inventive dishes like lobster cappuccino with truffle puree and lemon calamari tagliatelle with quail egg, squid ink and garlic butter croutons. You’ll find it at 1227 De La Montagne St.; Ph: +1-514-398-9229.