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Things To Do In Montreal

Updated on September 30, 2012

Oh Canada

Alright, I have a confession to make. I have a soft spot for friendly people, and there seems to be an abundance of them in Canada. My friend Donna, who's an American citizen, calls Canada "America Jr". She says that Canada is just like America, only colder. This coming from someone who's never set foot on Canadian soil, mind you.

I beg to differ. Having spent quite a lot of time in both countries, I see many subtle differences. Sure, they have similar accents (not trying to start a fight here, eh) and they like the same tv shows. Other than that... they're about as different as the British and the Irish.

One of my favorite (or should that be favourite?) Canadian cities is definitely Montreal. Having visited it a handful of times, I'd like to give you my two cents on what to do in Montreal, once you've done all the touristy stuff, like visiting the Biodome.

Mes amies, allons-y!

First stop - A girl must have her priorities straight

The first order of business when I get to Montreal is to get the taste of vile airline food out of my mouth. And what better way than by having a bagel from St Viateur, fresh out of the oven?

Make no mistake--Montrealers take their bagels very seriously. So much so, that when a Toronto newspaper had the unmitigated chutzpah to suggest that their bagels might be better, a bagel duel ensued. In a blind taste test, 6 judges sampled a selection of poppy and sesame seed bagels from both cities, and in the end the Montreal bagels passed the test with flying colors. The Toronto bagels, not so much.

(I shouldn't be writing about this before having lunch. My stomach is loudly objecting.)

There is nothing like a Montreal bagel. Other bagels are simply a piece of bread with a hole in it. They pale in comparison. So here's a fair warning: be prepared to never want another bagel from anywhere else after having one of these.

(Wiping drool off my keyboard now.)

There are two famous bagel bakeries in Montreal: St Viateur and Fairmount. Deciding which one is better is like trying to pick a favorite Friends episode.

I personally prefer St Viateur over Fairmount, for the simple reason that I like to wolf down my bagels in the car on the way back. When you're eating bagels fresh out of the oven, St Viateur bagels are king. If you're planning on saving a few for the next day or taking them home and freezing them, I suggest you go with Fairmount bagels. Their taste isn't lost in frozen translation. Fairmount is also the way to go if you like fancy bagels. Like, Lord have mercy, a chocolate chip or a pesto and black olive bagel.

St Viateur or Fairmount?

Have you ever had a Montreal bagel? If so, which did you prefer and why?

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If you think you can make a better bagel than these, you'll need all the help you can get.

Next: Retail therapy

Underground city

Obviously Montreal has oodles of shops above ground, but if you're silly enough to visit Montreal in the winter, like I once did, then you can still go shopping without losing fingers and toes to frostbite.

Montreal's Underground City - called RÃSO by the locals - is the world's largest underground complex, spread out over nearly 5 sq miles. The interconnecting tunnels, stretching over 20 miles, house a variety of shops, banks, hotels, offices, museums, 7 metro stations, 2 train stations, and a bus terminal.

A word to the wise: bring a map. It's a bit of a labyrinth, and that's putting it nicely.

A Not So Clockwork Orange - Gibeau Orange Julep

I don't know anyone who grew up in Montreal and didn't pay this restaurant at least a few dozen visits as a child. Three stories high, 40 ft across and bright orange, this place is hard to miss.

Stay away from the poutine (go to La Banquise near Parc La Fontaine for your fix) and hotdogs and go right for the gold: Orange Julep. You can thank me later.

I have no idea how they make it or what's in it, and I'm sure its nutritional values are only slightly better than Mountain Dew's, but by golly, Molly, it's goooooooooooood.

(I've been told it's quite similar to Orange Julius, which I can neither confirm nor deny as I've never had the pleasure.)

The Big Orange is also the place to be on Wednesday evenings between 7 and 10 pm in the summer to oooooh and aaaaah at the muscle cars and hot rods in the parking lot.

Life may not be the party you hoped for..

.. but while we're here we should dance.

If you're in the mood for something a little different, head over to Parc Jean-Drapeau. Every Friday and Sunday night from late May through September, there are free ballroom dancing lessons in the park near the subway exit. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, short or tall, Fred Astaire or MC Hammer. Just show up with or without a partner and let the music move your feet and your soul.

Rub shoulders with celebrities ..

... in a deli.

The oldest deli in Canada (or so it claims), Schwartz's is a landmark. To be honest, there are other places in Montreal that serve great smoked meat, but Schwartz's is by far the most popular, and with good reason. The food is hot and greasy, the lines are long, the waiters impertinent. What more could a shiksa possibly want?

The smoked meat sandwiches come in different grease levels: fat, medium-fat, medium, medium-lean or lean. Do yourself a favor and avoid the lean sandwich at all cost. Trust me on this, you want the grease. This is no place to start your diet.

Have a Caesar

Et tu, Brute!

I just realized that the majority of the topics in this article are food-related. That's very telling, isn't it? I'm a huge foodie and I love trying all sorts of new things on my travels. Nothing seems to phase me. Fried grasshoppers? Boiled lizzard eyes? Pickled piranha intestines? Bring it on!

It's rather strange then that a drink made me hesitant, after hearing its ingredients. I had never heard of a Caesar or clamato and the mere description of it was enough to turn my stomach, especially since I made Caesar's acquaintance over breakfast. Yes, breakfast. Little did I know that this Canadian take on a Bloody Mary is a great hangover cure. Since my head was pounding from the bacchanal the night before, I decided to give it a try. And lo and behold, I absolutely loved it. Happiness in a glass. No wonder that an estimated 350 million of these are sold per year in Canada alone.

You can easily make your own but if you're out and about you should have one at Vol De Nuit. In my humble opinion, they make the best Caesar in town.

Habitat 67

If you're into architecture, Habitat 67 is definitely worth a visit. Bring your camera.

This marvel of architecture was designed by Moshe Safdie and built as part of Expo 67. The buildings consist of 354 concrete blocks of different shapes and sizes, which were assembled on site. Forty something years later, the buildings are still very contemporary, and its 148 condos, each with its own garden, are in very high demand.

A happy ending

Want to find out more about Montreal before your trip? Find more information in these travel guides.

Have you been to Montreal or are you planning to in the near future?


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