Although we technically had thanksgiving in Montreal, it’s a stretch to say we celebrated it. Or you could call it a 5 day celebration, because for 5 days straight we ate, drank and explored like we were tourists in Europe, completely uninhibited by the somewhat never-ending pandemic. Andy and I spent our second Canadian thanksgiving not with friends and a turkey, rather we stayed in Montreal’s old town, wandering the quaint cobble-stoned streets until the early hours of the morning and eating some of the highest quality food I’ve had in a long, long time.
First of all, I want to mention how magical it was flying into Montreal in peak autumn. It is a city filled and surrounded by trees, of all colours. From the plane window, I originally thought we were overlooking some kind of red desert, until I realised they were all trees. Then we saw oranges, and yellows and greens come into the picture. It was a proper fall feast for the eyes and those stupid airplane windows would not let me take a photo that did it any sort of justice at all! It was a brilliant start to Montreal.
At a later point in time, I might deep dive into some of the specifics that the city has to offer, but for now I’m just going to provide a summary (and photos!) of some of my favourite activities. We were incredibly fortunate with the weather, which I think definitely made a difference on the things we could do. It was so cheap to hire bicycles (via the bike share system) and so we spent most of our time ripping around on those, only walking when we particularly wanted to be soaking up our surroundings.
Climbing Mt Royal to the Kondiaronk Belvedere viewpoint is a must do in Montreal. It’s crazy that this big city has a huge hill right in the centre of it, but it definitely provides an excellent reference point and makes it hard to get lost. Climbing to the viewpoint gives a great layout of the land, and this particular panorama looks toward the downtown and across the river. It has a wide gradual path which makes the climb easy, except for the last 5 minutes or so, which involve some pretty gruelling stairs. From the top, we made our way to Beaver Lake where we enjoyed a picnic lunch. There were lots of people cycling too, which would have been a fun (and much quicker) way to view the park.
Wandering the old town was a definite highlight for me. I don’t know how many times we ventured down Rue Saint Paul, the oldest street in Montreal, but it still didn’t feel like enough. The transformation between night and day was incredible: crammed with bars and restaurants at night, which dissolved into souvenir shops, creperies and cafes packed with families during the day. Not to mention the cobble-stoned alley ways with graffiti and coffee shops and ivy crawling up the walls. It was beautiful and me and my camera could have wandered these parts all day!
The only way to see the Notre Dame basilica at the moment is by way of a paid visit, so we splashed on the Aura lights show to get a glimpse of Her Majesty from within. The basilica was enormous! The show did real justice in highlighting just how magnificent the structure was, taking us through each season in Montreal and lighting up the walls with what each season had to offer. Naturally my favourite was winter, and watching the snowflakes piling up outside the stained glass windows was just magical.
Crossing the bridge to St. Helen’s Island is a few hours well spent, and it would have been much longer if we had enough time to also visit La Ronde (the Six Flags theme park located a stones throw from the city). Instead we wandered the historical landmarks on the island, marvelling at the views back across the city and the incredible colours of autumn that were drenching our surroundings. We walked back across Jacques Cartier bridge, which gave some exceptional panoramic views of its own.
Visiting the Olympic Park was a must do for us: seeing major sporting landmarks is something Andy and I both seem to really enjoy. It was a bit of a trek to get out there (but easy peasy on the metro system) and when we arrived we were a bit unsure of what was going on as there seemed to be people everywhere for no obvious reason. We went into the pool complex where Andy spoke in French to a very nice man (who complimented Andy on his French accent) and he let us go for a wander to see the pool and diving area – both of which are usable by the public on a daily basis. It was nice to see – I remember seeing the stadiums in Athens being left to complete ruin, which is such a shame! We explored the complex and then headed up to the football stadium where we could see the Canadian team training as well as a neat view overlooking the entire complex.
Neighbourhood walks around the Mile End and Le Plateau areas was something we could have done for days on end. Quaint streets lined with thrift shops, boutiques, cafes and colourful leafy trees, it was such a pleasure just aimlessly (kind of) strolling around. We found so many gorgeous coffee shops and local spots that we wanted to indulge in, it was hard work deciding where to go! It entirely epitomised what I picture a neighbourhood to be, and somewhere neither of us would never get bored of exploring.
These were some of my favourite activities, but we did so much more. We spent a lot of time down by the La Grande Roue (giant ferris wheel) as it was extremely picturesque, rich with autumnal trees and plenty of park benches for appreciating them on. We also went to a stand up comedy show, which was of excellent quality and produced many a laugh. My favourite bike ride was one we did after visiting the highly over-rated St Joseph’s Oratory (extremely impressive from the outside, particularly strange on the inside) where we cycled back through an incredibly wealthy residential area where the streets were wide, smooth and deserted, and the houses were enormous, fancy homesteads, with extravagant Halloween decorations to boot. I’ve written this entire blog post without even mentioning the food, probably my MOST favourite thing about Montreal, but you can read all about that here 🙂