I threw this quick list together for folks who are visiting Montreal for the first time. I did this on my tablet so I didn’t add links or directions to places, so you’ll have to Google for addresses, etc.
Caveat: it’s been over 6 years since I’ve lived in Montreal, so a lot of my information is probably outdated. Surely some of these places no longer exist or have changed since I’ve last been - and surely newer places have appeared with which I’m not yet acquainted. I hope this at least helps you get started.
- The metro will get you most places you need to go. Get an opus card or temporary card and put a pass on it (3 days, weekend, weekly, whatever) or tickets. Be careful, the 3 day pass goes by calendar days so if you get it at, say, 11pm on Monday then it will still expire Wednesday night! Also the weekly pass goes Monday-Sunday and is not valid for arbitrary 7-days. You can also take the 747 bus to/from the airport (this requires a pass - at least a 1-day pass - tickets won’t work) to Lionel-Groulx metro - and I think it does a few more stops along the hotel corridor as well.
- There’s no Lyft in Montreal but taxis are usually pretty ok and there’s Uber if you must.
- Montreal is not that big and you can walk quite a bit of it.
- Montreal is an island, and the “grid” is kind of on a tilt. Because of this, what’s commonly referred to as “North” is actually more like North-West. In some places, “North” is just straight-up West. Be careful, use a map.
- Microbrasserie 4 Origines - New brewpub founded by my brother’s former roommate (Mike). I haven’t been there yet, my friends swear by it. He’s always been a stellar homebrewer.
- Dieu du Ciel! (Plateau) classic Montreal brewpub with great beer. Serves food. Gets busy.
- Benelux (Downtown/McGill or Verdun) one the best brewpubs in the city. Everything is good. Serves paninis and light snacks. (Verdun location has slightly more substantial food) both locations have lots of outdoor seating.
- L’amère à boire (plateau/St-Denis). Brewpub with a quiet and relaxed vibe.
- Vices et Versa (Little Italy) might be a little out of the way but they have a great selection of Quebec beers if you want to try a variety and a nice patio in back and good food.
- St-Bock (plateau/st-denis) another good beer bar serving up a variety of quebecois craft beer.
- Le Trèfle (Olympic Park) has a ton of Quebec and international beers.
- Station ho.st (The Village) is a tasting room and gastropub for Hopfenstark brewery.
- Brutopia (Downtown/Crescent) was one of my favourite bars all throughout university. Their beer was never the best but in summer 2017 they got a new brewer and their beers are now pretty decent. The vibe is always fun, there’s usually live music and it’s usually really good.
Montreal’s craft cocktail scene is amazing. But you have to go to the right places. These four speakeasy-style bars have freaking fantastic cocktails. I strongly suggest ordering off menu.
- Atwater Cocktail Club (St-Henri) best cocktail bar in the city. Hands down. The entrance is in an alley, gets crowded late at night. Serves food from Foiegwa - which is very good but very upscale. (Tartare, chicken liver paté, foie gras, truffle pasta, etc.).
- Update (July 2019): Also check out Milky Way Bar in Pt-St-Charles, owned by the same folks.
- Le 4e Mur (Plateau) look for a door that says “Agence de Detectives”. Inside there’s a secret brick to press that opens the door. They regularly have free burlesque shows.
- Cold Room (Old Montreal) you have to ring a door bell at an unmarked door and then get led through a fire escape. They’re a little pretentious and don’t want to be called a speakeasy. Drinks are amazing.
- Cloakroom (Downtown/crescent) there’s a latch under the door in front of you when you walk in. Drinks are great and I’m not sure if they even have a menu, as I’ve never ordered from it.
Honestly, you can just wander and stumble into places. Hopefully this helps get you started
- Brutopia (downtown/crescent) - brewpub with live music and great atmosphere. Beer not great. I spent way too much time here in college. Update (August 2017): Brutopia has hired a new brewer and completely revamped their brew process. Their beers are actually good now.
- Hurley’s (next door to Brutopia). Irish pub, lots of rooms and nooks to hang out in.
- La St-Sulpice (Plateau/St-Denis) one of the best terraces in the city. (“Terrace” is French for patio). It’s massive, and holds hundreds of people. Can get very crowded. Don’t sit inside because the Inside sucks.
- Ste-Elizabeth (Downtown/St-Laurent) has the PRETTIEST terrace, in a vine-lined courtyard. Service is not great, though.
- La Distillerie (Plateau/St-Denis) wasn’t sure if I should put this under “cocktails”. They do some great cocktails but their main schtick is 1-litre Mason jars of drinks. I recommend the mojito (ask for it with some angostura bitters to cut the sweetness). Fills up quickly so go early.
- Suite 701 (old Montreal) it’s overpriced and iirc the drinks aren’t great but the rooftop terrace is stunning.
- Bily Kun (Plateau/Mont-Royal) nice bar with decent micros on tap and good cocktails. Close to parc Jeanne Mance.
- L’Barouf is a classic hangout on St-Denis near Rachel. Good for an afternoon stop or evening party.
- Wiggle Room (Plateau). Not sure if this goes under Cocktails (it’s not a speakeasy), Bars or activities. This place has regular burlesque shows and good drinks. Check their website for events/cover.
Activities (most of these are free):
- Jazz Fest runs until July 8 (2017) so if you’re here go to Place Des Arts and just walk around outside and soak it in. Several square blocks are closed for the festival grounds with tons of free outdoor shows.
- Old Port/Old Montreal. Just walk around and along the water. Lots of squares with buskers and vendors, and the Notre Dame Cathedral which is gorgeous.
- International Fireworks Festival has shows on Saturday nights at 10pm. Lots of places around the city where you can get a great view for free (Google them!)
- Parc Jeanne Mance is where the people gather on nice summer days for loitering, larping, picnics, etc. on Sundays. It’s on the Eastern slope of “the mountain” aka Mont Royal.
- Mont Royal (aka “the mountain”) is in the middle of the city and has lots of trails you can explore including and awesome lookout with views of the skyline.
- Biodome/Botanical Gardens/Insectarium (iirc there’s a free portion of the botanical garden but that might have changed - generally these require admission) in the Olympic Park. The biodome is a giant indoor zoo with separate climate areas. Botanical garden is beautiful. Insectarium is a super fun insect museum.
- Pointe à Callières is an amazing museum with history and archaeology of the area.
- Walk around and explore. I recommend the shops/bars/restaurants along St-Denis, St-Laurent, Mont-Royal and Ste-Catherine. There’s lots to see and do, parks to provide some breaks.
- Parc Lafontaine (North of the Village) is a giant gorgeous park with a huge pond and fountain for picnics. FYI you can drink beer and wine publicly in parks as long as you have “substantial” food with you.
Most good places will make you excellent espresso drinks. My favorite is the allongé, which is nearly impossible to get in the US.
- Humble Lion (downtown/McGill)
- Myriade (downtown/Concordia)
- Pikolo (downtown/plateau - on Parc near Sherbrooke)
- Station W (Verdun)
- Schwartz’s (Plateau) is not optional! You must go. It is the only place to get serious Montreal style smoked meat. Other places are good but don’t really come close to the original. There can be a huge line, but you can usually skip it by going to the separate takeout line and getting your sandwich to go. Then walk up the street to a park and eat there.
- La Banquise (Plateau) poutine place open 24/7. One of the few places that does variations on poutine while retaining that which makes it classic. I usually get the original/classic poutine anyway. (See also: Poutineville - many locations. You can get a decent poutine at lots of other places too. Look for signs that say “Casse-Croute” which are basically diners). Most places serve “steamies” (steamed hot dogs) that you should get “all dressed” (mustard, onions, relish).
- Boustan (several locations) for chicken shawarma. You can also order the creation. Open late for drunk people.
- (Update July 2019) – really not as good as I remember it, definitely better while drunk.
- St-Viateur or Fairmont for bagels. They are both in Mile End and both make excellent bagels. Montrealers have been divided for decades over which one is superior. All other bagels are inferior to the ones made by hand at these two shops. Iirc they’re both open 24/7. The best thing to order is “whatever’s warmest”. (Bagels come in two varieties: “black seed” (poppy) or ,”white seed” (sesame) and anything else is blasphemy).
- If you have a night, go to a Bring Your Own Wine (“Apportez votre vin”) place. There are hundreds of them, especially concentrated on Duluth St near St-Laurent and St-Denis. It helps to make a reservation. There are always SAQs nearby (liquor stores) where you can buy bottles of wine (you can’t bring liquor to a byob). Most places do a “table d’hôte” which is a fixed price multi course meal and they’re usually not expensive. There have been nights where I’ve wandered around with some wine and friends and just walked into places until we found one with an open table. Bring your own wine places in Montreal do not have a “corkage fee.” Some suggestions, though you should probably Google for a more recent list of the best places:
- Khyber Pass (Afghan food)
- Tay Do (Vietnamese)
- L’academie (two locations, including one in the crescent area) does classic french/American kind of food
- Steak & Frites (in old Montreal)
- Romados (Plateau) is a Portuguese chicken place and it’s fucking amazing. It’s a casual walk up place and if it’s busy just get it to go and head into a park to sit & eat.
- Eggspectation might be a chain but I’m a big fan of their elaborate breakfasts. Multiple locations but downtown you’re more likely to find the one on de Maisonneuve near Crescent. My favorite dish is the Sunny Bagel. The French toast flambe is really nice too.
- If you can brave the lines, Fabrege and l’Avenue are considered the best brunch places in the city. Lots of places do a great breakfast though like L’Ouefrier and Toi, Moi et Cafe…
- Sumac is one of the best Lebanese restaurants around and it’s in the up and coming St-Henri neighborhood. Can get busy so there might be a wait but it’s sooooo good.
- Le Vin Papillon is a wine bar & restaurant with an amazing tasting menu and some great wines to go with it. No reservations but you can always have a glass of wine while waiting.
- Agrikol is a Haitian restaurant and rum bar in the Village. The food is incredible and I definitely recommend getting the Ti Punch to share with friends. Yes it’s a whole bottle of rum.