Montréaler Lance Stroll is coming home. The largest city of Francophone Canada and a unique melting pot of North American and European culture, Montréal boasts stunning architecture, expansive parks, outdoor terrasses and its own distinctive food scene starring the hero dish – poutine...
Where can you hang out in Montréal's buzziest neighbourhood?
Mile End is the Williamsburg, Silverlake or Shoreditch of Montréal – an artsy area that has been home to bands and musicians as diverse as Grimes, Arcade Fire and Mac DeMarco. The neighbourhood buzzes with bars and independent boutiques, street food and art. There are numerous post-industrial spaces where DJs play and street artists ply their trade. And don't forget Montréal's bagels, which locals swear are better than New York's. Fairmount Bagel has been baking Montréal-style bagels here for more than a century.
Where can you get a slice of urban nature?
Montréal's answer to Central Park – Parc du Mont-Royal – might remind you of the real thing in New York City because it was dreamed up by the same visionary: Frederick Law Olmsted. Although the finished design is not entirely his, you can see the similarities with Central Park: broad lawns, avenues of trees, small woodlands, and formal features like ponds, paths, lakes and beds. They all come together to form a cohesive whole that soothes the soul. As well as the lookout point on top of the hill providing the best view over the city, this sprawling park is also perfect in summer for hanging out and relaxing; getting away from the urban hubbub.
How can I explore beneath the surface of Montréal?
If you learned French at school in the 1990s, you'll already know about Montréal's oddest claim to fame – the Tricolore textbooks were obsessed with adventures in La Ville Souterraine. If you haven't come across its wacky charms yet, think of it as a cross between a huge mall and a subterranean passageway system linking all the metro stations, office blocks, department stores, hotels and attractions in the heart of Montréal's city centre. It's particularly helpful on frigid winter mornings, but even in summer the so-called RÉSO is an intriguing diversion.
How can you get a retro fix?
You might recognise the Biosphere from the artwork used by Montréal's best band, Arcade Fire. This huge dome was an icon of the 1960s and sat at the heart of Montréal's 1967 World Expo, which was a high point for modern architecture. It also put Quebec and Montréal on the world map.
You can see some of the other buildings from the Expo dotted around Parc Jean Drapeau. The Parc is a pleasant place for a picnic and has also hosted music festivals like Osheaga. Crucially it is also the picturesque location for the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, which is one of the best F1 tracks for fans with great views and high speeds plus the retro Expo artefacts dotted around the track. It’s named after the legendary driver and father of the equally famous Québécois F1 driver Jacques Villeneuve.
Where can you eat like a local?
Best eaten after a long night on the Molsons (the famous Montréal-brewed beer), poutine is a source of pride and prejudice to people here. Some extol its virtues, others roll their eyes when you ask where to get some. Mix chips, cheese curds and beef gravy, sprinkle on salt, and there you have it. A strange beast but a tasty one. Chez Tousignant is one of the city's most famous poutine purveyors. They mix chicken and peas into theirs (another Quebec speciality).
Greenspot is another top choice, with 25 varieties of poutine. Restaurant A.A. is open until 04:00 for the late owls to sample poutine. While Lance recommends all-night diner La Banquise as the place to go to for the local dish, before heading to Lester's Deli for 'the best smoked-meat sandwich in town'.
Want to see Montréal's coolest mid-century building?
Montréal was expanding like crazy during the 1960s and '70s and was the most exciting city in North America for architecture with its 1976 Olympics buildings, new airport at Mirabel and of course the Expo. The housing complex Habitat 67 is still as seminal today as it was back in the '60s, drawing architects, students and visitors to its strange shapes. It was erected by the side of the St Laurent River by Moshe Safdie and its futuristic 'experimental ant farm' design, coupled with its brutalist aesthetics, have inspired many other similar apartment complexes around the world.
Where can you drink and dine on Montréal's best 'terrasse'?
Montréal in summer is a city of 'terrasses' where citizens who’ve been cooped up in the cold for months relish getting out into the sun with a spritz and a snack. There are literally hundreds, from informal beer gardens to glitzy rooftop affairs. H3 offers a killer combination of terrasse, pool, slick mixology and on-point dining up on the ninth floor of the Humaniti Hotel on Rue de la Gauchetiere.
How can you get a handle on history?
Montréal's history dates back to the 1600s when fur traders, then representatives of the French crown, set out to make a go of life in 'New France' and create this New World city. Vieux-Montréal was the first part of the city they built – a city that became Quebec's largest, and, for a time, Canada's too. The historic stone buildings stretch out across the district in cool, almost dour, grey colours and it's worth exploring it all on foot.
The Bonsecours Market is particularly well preserved and the Champ de Mars square is a great place to people-watch. Stroll down to the old docks by the St. Lawrence River and you can find shops and cafes, and boutique hotels, too.
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