Montreal Travel Guide

Montreal Travel Guide

The charming, French-kissed cosmopolis of Montreal is unlike anywhere else in Canada, home to a welcoming bunch of people with a unique European heritage that colours everything from its architecture to its nightlife. Proud and progressive, Montreal’s population live vibrantly diverse lifestyles, whether in upscale tree-lined avenues or chaotic, neon-lit Chinatown alleys. Refusing to be contained, the rainbow-flag clad Gay Village spills out onto surrounding areas, livening up the historic district with shops, spas and delicious cuisine – from poutine to Portuguese chicken – reflecting the city’s position as a cultural melting pot of the world. Read our Mr Hudson Montreal gay guide to find out why this city should be a bucket list destination for any LGBTQ traveller.

The best hotels in Montreal

Let’s kick off this gay Montreal travel guide with a roundup of the best hotels in Montreal. A great place to start is the Ritz-Carlton, reopened in 2015 with a fresh new look, yet with the classic elegance and service, one would expect from a Ritz-Carlton property. For that fun living room hangout vibe, the W Montreal is the trendy option. A solid option where you might run into some musical acts during concert season is Hotel Le Crystal, which happens to have an outstanding outdoor rooftop hot tub.

The Hotel Le St-James, though, is a tough one to beat. This landmark property with its avant-garde style has impeccably detailed guest accommodations, each room and suite possessing its own personal charm. Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel is another decadent option, only offering suites, which they describe as personal living spaces, decorated with the perfect mix of Old World and new, showcasing the beauty and character of Old Montreal, yet fitted and finished with amenities of today. And then there is Hotel William Gray, Mr Hudson’s choice for an upscale boutique. With only 127 rooms and suites, located in the centre of Old Montreal, this property was carefully designed to not only be aesthetically appealing but ultra-convenient for guests, with an upmarket grill restaurant, a rooftop bar, a lobby bar, café and even a high-end retailer. Additionally, the hotel offers a multi-functional Living Room with a library, pool table and music station, as well as a full-service spa with an outdoor pool and a state-of-the-art fitness centre.

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Recommended hotels in Montreal
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Photo: Marc Olivier Jodoin

Photo: Marc Olivier Jodoin

If you can’t get enough of the outdoor Sunday thrills, head over to Parc Jean-Drapeau in the evening for the weekly open-air music festival, Piknic Electronik.

Things to do in Montreal

All four seasons are certainly felt in Montreal but in the warmer Summer months, outdoor activities prosper. One of the more unique things to do in Montreal is to witness The Tam Tam Drummers performing in a giant circle around the George-Etienne Cartier statue at the base of Mont Royal every Sunday. Not only good for drum enthusiasts, this area has been a great hangout spot since the 1860s, perfect for sunbathing, making music and morning strolls. If you can’t get enough of the outdoor Sunday thrills, head over to Parc Jean-Drapeau in the evening for the weekly open-air music festival, Piknic Electronik.

Regardless of whether you’re travelling with friends or not, get a group together ASAP and head down to the Old Port of Montreal for a one-of-a-kind private luxury yacht experience. Asbolü Cruises is the only company to offer this type of high-end service on a commercial vessel. With a choice of yacht and personalised offerings,  a cruise with friends both new and old could be an intimate sunset cruise or a full-on champagne-filled hot tub party cruise. Plus, there are no better views of Montreal than by out from the waters. Nearby the dock is Bota Bota, a floating spa. Here one can book spa services or just simply enjoy the extensive outdoor water circuits and pools. There’s also a bar and restaurant to help make a day of it.

Getting your culture fill can be tricky business due to all the sheer range of things to do in Montreal. Out of all Montreal points of interest, don’t skip the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, an institution and staple of the city’s extensive arts community. The Montreal Biosphere is also worthy of a gander – a museum dedicated to the environment and educating people on climate change and sustainable development. The history of the biosphere and its construction within the heart of the city is also an intriguing story to discover.

Photo: Warren Wong

Photo: Warren Wong

Photo: Jf Brou

Photo: Jf Brou

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Recommended experiences in Montreal
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What to see in Montreal

The culture list of what to see in Montreal is a long one, but most tourists tend to congregate in the central hubs. To avoid the crowds and see an authentic Montreal, head to St. Catherine West, an up-and-coming area recently seeing a surge of brewpubs and noodle joints as well as terrace extensions for rooftop liaisons on balmy days. For a more French experience, East End and Mile End are where one can find most trendy French bars and restaurants, as well as live music joints. For chill times among likeminded people, the city’s Gay Village awaits newcomers with open arms. Founded in 1869 when Moise Tellier’s apple and cake shop became the first openly gay business in North America, these days ‘Le Village Gai’ is a tourist attraction in its own right for lively cafes, people watching and of course stellar gay nightlife. If you’re visiting in good weather, check out the Rue St. Catherine which transforms into a walkway for flea market stalls and fairs when the sun comes out.

One meaningful architecture project in Montreal is Habitat 67 a neo-futuristic housing complex along the St. Lawrence River designed by a McGill University student in the 1960s. The massive concrete structure of panoramic interlocking blocks, bridges and walkways has become an urban icon and can be viewed either from afar in the Old Port or up close with a 90-minute guided tour. Another famous architectural feat and landmark is the Notre-Dame Basilica, a visually pleasing if slightly gaudy symphony of carved wood, paintings, gilded sculptures and stained-glass windows. Built in 1829 on the site of another smaller church, this basilica claims a famous Casavant organ and the biggest bell in Europe.

Had enough of human design for a moment? Montreal’s Botanical Garden is the ultimate getaway from the concrete jungle, highly regarded as one of the world’s best botanical gardens and a veritable jewel of the city. Don’t miss out on its 22,000 plant species, 20 thematic gardens, 10 exhibition greenhouses and its tree pavilion, inside a site of almost 200 acres boasting fresh air and natural beauty.

With a casual-chicness only found in French Canada, a visit to Le Plateau is a wonderful experience for shopping, munching and moseying. Walk the tree-lined streets passing gorgeous old colonial buildings all the way along St Laurent Boulevard, where some of the city’s hippest boutiques and furniture stores can also be found. Nearby St Denis and Lorimier streets meanwhile vibe at a slightly different frequency – this is where to go in Montreal for second-hand stores, vintage goods, record shops and cutesy coffee joints.

Qu | Photo: Steven Wright

Qu | Photo: Steven Wright

Basilique Notre Dame de Montréal | Photo: Annie Spratt

Basilique Notre Dame de Montréal | Photo: Annie Spratt

Keep an eye out for random food trucks, which oddly enough, were banned in the city up about until a few years ago

Where to eat in Montreal

Let’s start with the easy basics that are kind of a must. Schwartz’s iconic smoked meats is as casual as it gets, but the meats are considered somewhat of a Montreal delicacy – just make sure to avoid rush hour times as the lines will stretch down the block. Another classic is St-Viateur Bagel, a haven for bagel lovers. Also, keep an eye out for random food trucks, which oddly enough, were banned in the city up about until a few years ago, but are now a thriving market (food trucks might also arguably be the best source for classic poutine, but you’ll have to try several and come to your own conclusions). For a quick bite, stop by Xavier Artisan, but leave room for the crèmes glacées (ice cream).

Le Serpent

Le Serpent

For fine dining, the options are endless, as the Montreal food scene is as abundant as any other major city in the world. For Italian, Le Serpent has an incredible Bucatini with pork flank confit, black garlic and soy. The oysters served with a maple mignonette are also a must. Hidden in the heart of the city’s business district is Jatoba, a premier Japanese restaurant with a mouth-watering menu and to-die-for raw bar. For authentic Quebecois cuisines, Auberge Saint-Gabreil is steps from the Notre-Dame Basilica. The braised rabbit with mustard, crème fraîche, celeriac purée and Brussels sprouts is a highlight of the dinner menu. But for something totally different, experience O.Noir, dining in the dark. Here it’s possible to order your food before entering the dark space or simply order the surprise menu, which will completely confuse anyone. Eating in the darkness is somewhat of a unique experience, and it truly enhances all the other senses – plus it’s just really fun.

Jatoba

Jatoba

For you analogue people living in a digital world, L’Échange is a much-needed sanctuary of paperbacks and vinyl…

Shopping in Montreal

Shopping is a year-round pastime for stylish Montrealians. During the summer, it’s easy to spot the retail therapy junkies swarming up and down St. Catherine Street just west of what locals call “The Main”, where all the office towers are. Downtown, you’ll want to head to the plazas for your shopping thrills. Also downtown and a saviour in winter is Montreal’s 32-kilometre underground city. Used by 500,000 people daily (for commuting as well as shopping), the tunnels are not only home to hotels, shopping complexes and museums, but also university buildings, seven metro stations and the Bell Centre Hockey Arena!

Of Montreal’s hidden gems, fashion boutique Frank + Oak is a ruby. Offering a large collection of stylish and affordable fashion for men and women, Frank + Oak also does a neat line of footwear, accessories and lifestyle products. In a similar yet more upscale manner, Tozzi is a stunning Crescent Street boutique showcasing cutting-edge trends in men’s and womenswear in sleek minimal environs.

For you analogue people living in a digital world, L’Échange is a much-needed sanctuary of paperbacks and vinyl. Predominantly a French-language bookstore, holding everything from philosophy to bestsellers, L’Échange also deals in an extensive vinyl collection of both French and English world music. Stay in the past for a moment longer with a visit to Style Labo a vintage curiosity shop on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. Despite being just a decade old, Style Labo hosts a whole hoard of original relics from 1850 to 1950, including trade furniture, functional industrial interiors and taxidermies, alongside contemporary fixtures and accessories.

Blending classic staples with modern trends, THE WANT Apothecary is a multi-brand store styled as a 19th Century apothecary discreetly set in Westmount away from the hubbub of downtown. Rejecting the “fast fashion” ethos of today, WANT carries men’s and women’s high-end labels like Acne and Maison Kitsuné, as well as a timeless range of home décor and body-care products.

Tozzi

Tozzi

Gay bar options in Montreal are near limitless but for the sake of this Montreal guide we’ve managed to whittle them down.

Montreal nightlife

And now for Mr Hudson’s Montreal gay scene guide. Montreal’s bar scene sprawls citywide and can cover all predilections, from hidden away bohemian haunts to loud and proud dance clubs. Of its hidden offerings, Cloakroom Barber is noteworthy as a hard-to-find speakeasy disguised as a barber and tailor combo. There are many answers of where to go in Montreal to find a good cocktail but Gokudo will be most memorable. The Japan-inspired cocktail bar made a recent low-key appearance downtown at Cathcart and Union, with simple yet meticulous interiors shared by the exclusive Ryoshi sushi shack often overlooked by unwitting passers-by.

Outside of the Montreal International Jazz Festival from June to July, visitors can get their jazz on year-long at various locations across the city, with the hip Plateau and Mile End districts known especially for their live music. Dièse Onze Jazz bar and restaurant offers nightly jazz performances while Résonance Café attracts young jazz aficionados looking for up-and-coming talent. Those trendy French bars I mentioned also compete to offer the best live music in the city. Known as “foufs” by locals, Foufounes Electriques is a visual delight – but brushing up on some French may be required!

Gay bar options in Montreal are near limitless but for the sake of this Montreal guide, we’ve managed to whittle them down. From 1 pm daily, Bar Renard is both a super stylish, gay-friendly restaurant and bar highly recommended by gay locals for its cute boys and cocktail menu. At around happy hour in the Gay Village, Bar le Cocktail tempts us with affordable cocktails before livening up later with drag and karaoke entertainment.

If you’ve never heard of glam, drag icon Mado Lamotte, then that needs to change immediately. Make your hasty way to Cabaret Mado, Lamotte’s own gay bar and cabaret club, offering live stage performances and comedy acts all week long before transforming into a dance club in the early hours. Mado, the queen of glitz herself, performs on Tuesdays! Bringing gays together across multiple floors and music genres is Club Unity, considered to be the biggest gay club in Montreal, located in the heart of the Gay Village. With queues down the street on busy nights, this club is the ultimate place to dance like crazy among friendly, like-minded people.

Photo: William Topa

Photo: William Topa

Old Port of Montreal | Photo: Walid Amghar

Old Port of Montreal | Photo: Walid Amghar

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