A Definitive Guide to the Best of Montréal—Just in Time for Summer
Cross the border from New York State into Canada, and you’ll find yourself in Montréal, a cosmopolitan city with a European flair and an edgy Brooklyn attitude. Get served in French at restaurants, walk the historic cobblestone streets of Old Montréal, and you might just feel like you’ve landed in Paris without ever crossing the pond. But Montréal isn't Paris, and it doesn't aspire to be—the French Canadian city is in a league of its own.
Montréal has long been known for its centuries-old buildings and Francophone roots, but these days it’s the local foodie culture that’s making waves on the culinary scene. Anthony Bourdain has raved about the Canadian city in every single one of his shows, from No Reservations to Parts Unknown, and he put it on the map as a place where overly friendly locals add shaved truffle to every single meal, and where low-fat isn't an option.
Yes, Montréal fosters foodies. Attending weekly restaurant openings is second nature to Montréalers, and craft cocktail bars pop up on every corner monthly. If this doesn’t convince you, the favorable exchange rate and the short six-hour drive from New York City just might. Ready to explore the city that comes alive in springtime? We’ve mapped out your local-approved ideal itinerary.
Start your day the right way with a visit to Arthurs Nosh Bar. Upon opening, Arthurs had carved itself a seemingly instant cult status in just a matter of days. A brunch destination of choice of many Montrealers, the new-style deli offers Jewish classics with a twist in a highly Instagrammable environment. Choose between a challah grilled cheese, organic salmon gravlax, Matzah ball soup, or a choice of latkes, pierogies, and schnitzel. Beware: The line on weekends can deter a few hungry crowds.
Arthurs Nosh Bar | 4621 Notre-Dame St. W.
Another newcomer on the Montréal food scene, Foiegwa, stems from the team behind longtime favorites Barroco and Bocata, but this new venue is a beast of its own. Located in an old diner in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Saint-Henri, the beautifully designed restaurant serves French Canadian classics and an option to add foie gras to any dish for a mere $9.95 CAD. Take it from a local: Order a spaghetti monté with a bloody Caesar.
Foiegwa | 3001 Notre-Dame St. W.
Joe Beef recently added The World’s 100 Best Restaurants list to its impressive collection of awards. It was praised on the hottest culinary shows, from Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown to David Chang’s Mind of a Chef. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone visiting Montréal, but it can be near impossible to get into.
The good news is that instead of braving the months-long waiting list, you can head three doors down to Le Vin Papillon, Joe Beef’s newly expanded wine bar. The walk-in policy assures that with a hint of patience (30 minutes on a busy night), you’ll be ready to taste chefs David MacMillan and Frédéric Morin’s acclaimed modern French Canadian cuisine. Vanya Filipovic, the city’s hottest female sommelier, will readily recommend you the best privately imported natural wines. The house-smoked shaved ham with brown butter and Parmesan is worth the visit alone.
Le Vin Papillon | 2519 Notre-Dame St. W.
Courtesy of In Situ Atelier d’Architecture
Skip the crowded museums and head to Fonderie Darling, a one-of-a-kind visual art center in a 1918 refurbished foundry in Montréal’s Multimedia City. The gallery’s restaurant, Le Serpent, is also one of the most acclaimed in the city, so reserve a table ahead of time and finish off the day with a taste of its mouthwatering lobster mascarpone risotto.
Le Serpent | 257 Prince St.
When it opened in 2011 under the watchful eye of chef and ex–Joe Beef employee Emma Cardarelli, Nora Gray was quickly picked up as one of Canada’s 10 best new restaurants openings. Years later, this tiny Italian joint with an unassuming façade still serves some of the best Southern Italian fare in the city.
Nora Gray | 1391 St. Jacques St.
If there’s one food that’s typical of Montréal (alright, other than poutine and Montréal bagels), it’s smoked meat sandwiches. Locals and tourists alike line up in front of Schwartz’s Deli at all hours to get a taste of Montreal’s answer to pastrami sandwiches. Personally, I like skipping the crowds and going to Lester’s for what I believe is an even better smoked meat sandwich than Schwartz’s (the smoked meat war is real here). Stepping into Lester’s is like stepping back in time; I don’t believe anything has changed there in the last 60 years. It doesn’t get more authentic Montréal than this.
Lester’s Deli | 1057 Bernard Ave.
Eat Your Heart Out
Courtesy of A Rendez Vous
Café Tommy is Montréal’s favorite new café. Located in the heart of Old Montréal, it’s the ideal spot to kick-off your Montréal excursion. Prolific local designer Zébulon Perron transformed this 1874 national heritage building into an old-meets-new café with soaring ceilings, ornate moldings, midcentury furniture, and statement vine chandeliers. Get ready to Instagram!
Café Tommy | 200 Notre-Dame St. W.
Montreal's answer to WeWork is Crew Collective Café, a communal office and coffee shop located in a beautiful historic building in Old Montreal that was once the city's first Royal Bank of Canada. Go for the impressive architecture, and stay for the coffee. You'll be in prime position to explore the city's most picturesque neighborhood.
Crew Collective Café | 360 St. Jacques St.
Courtesy of Atwater Cocktail Club
Tucked away in an alleyway behind the aforementioned Foiegwa, Atwater Cocktail Club is among the first of many speakeasy type cocktail bars to take over the Montréal nightlife. Step into the dark establishment and get a seat at the gorgeous dimly lit green marble bar. Here, skilled mixologists shake and stir smoking cocktails under glass domes and other olde worlde libations. Do not miss.
Atwater Cocktail Club | 512 Atwater St.
Another speakeasy favorite is the newly opened Cloakroom—a cocktail bar, Japanese tailor, and barbershop. Located in Montréal’s historic Golden Square Mile district, the late 19th-century building serves classic signature drinks from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Visit if you want to turn back time.
Cloakroom | 2175 de la Montagne St.
This place is a true cocktail lab (bottle fire shows included) served in a relaxed, vaguely southern atmosphere. Its cocktail bible is thick and could be studied for days, but the best cocktail (in my humble opinion) is off the menu. The Nirvana is what you’ll want to order upon arriving.
Le Lab | 1351 Rachel St. E.
Courtesy of Design Montreal
Go to Big in Japan Bar for the design, and stay for the libations. You might have a bit of difficulty finding this cocktail lounge off St. Laurent’s main strip. Just look for a tiny red Japanese symbol on a black door, right next to a burger and poutine joint. If you’re greeted upon entry by a majordomo in a tuxedo, you’ve come to the right place. Very dimly lit, and playing soft 1950s-inspired tunes, this sit-down-only bar is a refined date-night spot. Its specialty: a selection of Japanese whiskey that hangs from the main bar’s ceiling.
Big in Japan Bar | 4175 St. Laurent Blvd.
Pack the Essentials
Courtesy of Sid Lee Architecture
Rain or shine, freezing cold or steaming hot, there’s never a bad moment to visit Bota Bota, a spa located on an old 1950s ferryboat in the Old Port’s Saint Lawrence River. Need we say more? The outdoor baths and Finnish saunas offer unparalleled views of the Montréal skyline. So if you happen to visit Montréal on a particularly gloomy day, treat yourself to some pampering with a view.
Bota Bota | Old Port of Montreal
Courtesy of Tourisme Montreal
Not only is Montréal an island, it’s also home to a (very) extinct volcano. Today, Mount-Royal Park is a sanctuary in the middle of bustling downtown, sprinkled with hiking trails. The park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame), offers unparalleled views of the city skyline from its three peaks. Hike up to the Chalet du Mont Royal Belvedere or the Westmount Belvedere for the best views.
Mount-Royal Park | Downtown Montréal
You don’t have to be more religious than the next to enjoy Notre-Dame Basilica’s breathtaking beauty. The 1888 construction, loosely inspired by the Paris cathedral of the same name, features an azure-like blue and gold-vaulted ceiling to impress even the most die-hard atheists. The $5 entry fee is well worth the detour.
Notre-Dame Basilica | 110 Notre-Dame St. W.
Courtesy of WANT Apothecary
Want Les Essentiels leather products are sold around the world now, but the brand stems from this small Westmount shop, which also sells Skultuna, Acne Studios, Byredo bath products, and Astier de Villatte candles. The shop is appropriately named because you’ll want to buy everything.
Want Apothecary | 4960 Sherbrooke St. W.
Courtesy of Frank & Oak
For clothing, coffee, and more, take a trip to Frank & Oak’s flagship store. The brand that made waves on the fashion startup scene years ago with its Hunt Club monthly membership model now has a few physical stores in Montréal, complete with full-service barber shops and Café Nevé coffee shops onsite. Feast your eyes on its modernist design while sipping one of Montréal’s best coffees.
Frank & Oak | 1420 Stanley St.
Dress Like a Local
Courtesy of Hotel William Gray
Montréal was once short on cool fresh hotels, but not anymore. The new William Gray is getting rave reviews from around the world. Located in the heart of Old Montréal, the space mixed old world charm and modern Danish design. The hotel lobby is a hub for locals and tourists alike. What's more, Montréal's most famous coffee shop, Café Olimpico, opened its second location in the hotel.
Hotel William Gray | 421 St. Vincent St.
Courtesy of Prix Design
An institution as old as time. For the true royal treatment, stay at the iconic Ritz-Carlton Hotel located in the Golden Square Mile. The architecture (both inside and out) is stunning, the service is unparalleled, and the restaurant Maison Boulud (of the Daniel Boulud fame) is worth the detour alone. Sit at the bar and order a Smoky Gentleman, or head out and explore Sherbrooke Street, lined with historic buildings, luxury shopping, and museums.
Ritz-Carlton | 1228 Sherbrooke St. W.
Do you have any favorite spots in Montréal? Share with us below.
This was originally published on November 8, 2016. It has been updated by Gabrielle Savoie.