Montreal is much more than a Parisian mini-me. The city is a delightfully original urban get-away, chock full of quirky things to do. Here are our picks for the 10 Best Offbeat Things to Do in Montreal:
1) Hang your chapeaux in a hotel that is in touch with the city. At Le Petite Hotel, the lobby is a neighborhood coffee shop. The young, energetic staff will custom tailor your time in Montreal to fit even your most unconventional whims. The hotel’s exposed stone and brick walls nod to the past, while playful splashes of mod-design are in tune with Montreal’s stylish present.
2) Have brunch at Beautys Luncheonette, established in 1942 by Hymie and Freda Sckolnick. If you are lucky, ninety-two year old Hymie will seat you and share tales of Montreal’s lively past, while his family members serve you extreme portions of hearty food.
3) Stroll the stalls of the colorful Jean-Talon Market, in the Little Italy district. You can make a meal of snacking on the free samples of fruits and vegetables. But save room to nosh at La Salle a Manger, a hipster eatery in Mont Royal Plateau, where the bounty of the Jean-Talon Market will reappear on your plate, accompanied by a very fine glass of wine.
4) Rent a bicycle at Montreal on Wheels and ride to the nearby islands of St. Helen and Notre-Dame. Explore the remains of Expo 67, Montreal’s 1967 World’s Fair, including, Habitat 67, a ‘futuristic’ cubist housing project, which has aged surprisingly well.
5) Visit a classic bagel shop. Montreal prides itself on its bagels, sweeter and chewier than those of its rival, New York. Step back in time at Fairmount Bagel, circa 1919, where bagels are still hand-made and baked in wood fired ovens, all in full view of the customer counter.
6) Sample Montreal’s stately residential life. Amble down Rue Laval, lined on either side by elegant Victorian row houses. Idle a while at Saint-Louis Square, so European in nature, it is easy to forget which side of the Atlantic you’re on.
7) Explore Griffintown, a former working class ghetto morphing into très trendy. Sip a ginger-laced craft beer at Brasseur de Montreal, a cavernously industrial brew pub. Nibble on all creatures great and small, raw and cooked, at the stylish Grinder Restaurant. Fake it if you don’t get the point of the contemporary art at the Darling Foundry Visual Arts Centre.
8) Shop for old, odd things. Perusing Montreal’s antique district along rue Notre Dame is like rummaging in grandma’s dusty attic, provided your grandma was profoundly French. For pure recreational retail therapy, visit time-warped Joseph Ponton Costumes, in business since 1865. Fancy that life-like bear costume? It can be yours for $2,000.
9) Find the fringe element in Little Burgundy. Whereas Griffintown is visibly gentrifying, Little Burgundy only hints at civility. It is the kind of neighborhood where you can find yourself standing in line at the drug store behind a man who is purchasing six bottles of Old Spice aftershave. It is not the scent he fancies; it’s the alcohol content. Despite its hardscrabble countenance, Little Burgundy is home to some of Montreal’s most of-the-moment nightlife, including the Drinkerie, a lively neighborhood tavern, and Joe Beef, perhaps the city’s most sought after dining destination.
10) Eat slightly-off-the-street food. Montreal has only recently, and begrudgingly, conceded to the food truck craze. Food trucks are considered beneath the city’s lofty gastronomic standards, and onerous regulations guarantee that Montreal’s rolling culinary offerings will remain mind-numbingly pedestrian. So ditch the truck and join the long line at the Satay Brothers’ stall in the colorful Atwater Market. The reward is imaginatively prepared Southeast Asian flavors served in a lively communal atmosphere.