What not to miss in Montreal

Downtown Montreal by night.
Downtown Montreal by night.

We had two house guests back-to-back last month, one before my brother’s wedding and then my grandmother who was here for the wedding. My grandmother was born in Quebec City, but lived in Montreal for nearly 20 years before she and my grandfather moved to California for four years when he was transferred there just before he retired. Once they got a taste of life without Winter, my grandparents decided to continue to live in a warm climate rather than move back to Canada and go back to shoveling snow and wearing more layers than an onion for five months a year. My grandmother still comes to Montreal at least twice a year though grandmother and knows the ropes well enough that she is still totally comfortable riding the metro, even at 10:00 P.M. Our out-of-town guest, however, had never been to Montreal before and it was therefore my job to show her around on her first day in town.

Being a lifelong Montrealer, I know a lot of places in town that are amazing, but most of them are off the beaten track since, as anyone who lives in a touristy city knows, the touristy parts of town can be loathsome during the Summer months. So what did I do? I took our out-of-town guest to the most touristy part of town, Old Montreal, but I skirted around the tourist traps. Our first stop was Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Chapel

A stained glass window and a model ship holding votive candles in Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Chapel
A stained glass window and a model ship holding votive candles in Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Chapel

As I mentioned in my brother’s wedding post, a lot of fuss is made about Notre-Dame-Basilica, with reason. It is a beautiful church, inside and out, but because the Basilica is so beautiful and so nearby, a lot of people overlook Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours. It is a much smaller, much more peaceful church and I have always been touched by the history it has as being a place of prayer and hope for sailors and their families because it is so close to the Old Port.

After our visit to Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours, my guest and I visited some art galleries before stopping for lunch at one of my absolute favorite cafés: Olive et Gourmando!

Olive et Gourmando
Olive et Gourmando
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Two more large blackboards like this one can be found in the café.

I love this place for its laid-back atmosphere, fun décor (I love blackboards and have two in my house!) and naturally, its amazing food and coffee! My favorite sandwich of theirs is the Poached Egg on Your Face, but I also love the Cubain. Watch out for the Poached Egg on Your Face though, it is quite spicy since there is sriracha in the sauce! As far as O & G’s  coffee goes, I am addicted to their latte! It is a perfect blend of smooth and strong and I never have to add any sugar to it. One very important note about dining at Olive et Gourmando though: I highly recommend you make a reservation if you want to eat there at any time between 9:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M., especially during the Summer months because it is always chock-a-block full and at lunchtime people are often lined up out the door. Also, since they make all of their sandwiches fresh, they can run out of some of their more popular selections around the end of the day. They do have a to-go counter though if you don’t like eating in crowded places.

After lunch, we made our way up to, you guessed it, Notre-Dame Basilica! I could not neglect to take our guest there and I also wanted to get some pictures of the Basilica and Chapel for my brother’s wedding post. Off we went and I was not sorry we made the stop since it turned out that my new Canon EOS 6D and EF 24-105mm lens made for some serious photography fun, the most fun I’ve had in Notre-Dame Basilica ever, except when I’ve been there for concerts or my little brother’s wedding. I’ve been used to frustration while trying to take pictures in Notre-Dame because of the low light conditions, but it turns out that all I needed was a bit more practice and a kick-ass lens and camera duo. Oh, and our guest loved the Basilica too. Go figure, I’ve never left there with a disappointed visitor!

This sculpture of the prophets Isaiah and Ezechiel sits below the pulpit on the left had side of the Basilica near the main altar
This sculpture of the prophets Isaiah and Ezechiel sits below the pulpit on the left had side of the Basilica near the main altar.
The pulpit.
The pulpit.
A view of the choir section of the Basilica behind the altar.
A view of the choir section of the Basilica behind the altar.
A view of the Basilica's crucifix behind the sanctuary lamp.
A view of the Basilica’s crucifix behind the sanctuary lamp.

Our last stop before heading home for some dinner was St-Louis Square, a park that was recently given a face-lift by the city after they had let it run down for a few years. The Square is one of the most easily recognizable places in Montreal for people who have never been here, because the colorful houses that surround it are printed on postcards just about as frequently as Notre-Dame-Basilica is, but when people actually come to Montreal, they very rarely make it to the square because it is not near any other tourist attractions. This is a shame because it is a very beautiful park with a lovely fountain in its center with benches around it that are screened from view by a beautiful garden. It is a wonderful place to sit with a book and a cup of coffee or tea or for a nice long chat with a friend. It is also right next to the pedestrian stretch of Prince Arthur street which is filled with wonderful cafés and on the day I was there with our guest, there was a farmer’s market going on, which was a lovely surprise.

The fountain that stands in the center of the square.
The fountain that stands in the center of St-Louis Square.
Some of thec colorlful Victorian houses that surround St-Louis Square
Some of the colorful Victorian houses that surround the Square
A closeup of a few of the houses.
A closeup of a few of the houses.
Another closeup of one of the houses.
Another closeup of one of the houses.

After dinner in the evening, my Darling and I had one last place we wanted to take our guest to make her first full day in Montreal complete: The Belvedere in Mount Royal Park that overlooks Downtown Montreal. The Kondiaronk Belvedere offers one of the most famous views of Montreal there is, but once again, a lot of tourists don’t make it there unless they are visiting with family or friends. In this case, it is because you can only reach the Belvedere by going for a bit of a hike through the park from a parking lot, or by climbing a whole lot of stairs and then going for a hike in the park. We Canadians are pretty health conscious, so we don’t mind having to walk a way to get someplace nice! And the view from the Belvedere is definitely worth the workout in the daytime, at night (as seen at the top of this post), in Summer or in Winter.

The View form Kondiaronk Belvedere in Winter.
The View form Kondiaronk Belvedere in Winter.

There are a lot more places in Montreal that you should not miss, namely the awe-inspiring St-Joseph’s Oratory, which attracts a steady two million visitors per year, but I’ll save that for another post since the Oratory is definitely worth of a post all its own! For now, I hope you enjoyed these few highlights of my lovely hometown!

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