Yes, we all love New York; that goes without saying. But just a little to the north, across the Canadian border, there’s a city that rivals it in everything from art to architecture to bagels (yes, bagels): Montreal.
Montreal vibrates with an energy few North American cities have, one that combines New World innovation with European charm. With dozens of festivals throughout the year, a bustling arts scene, and to-die-for food, it’s a fantastic alternative to New York that's just as close to the Bay Area.
Here’s where to start on a trip to Montreal. The rest is up to you.
Where to Stay in Montreal
(Courtesy of @voguehotelmontreal)
Ideally situated within Montreal’s Golden Square Mile, a glittering neighborhood of elegant historic homes, gourmet restaurants, and upscale shops, the Vogue Hotel is a comfortable, style-forward stay. Rooms are outfitted with dreamy beds, plush velvet seating, and details that are as well thought out in function as in form (think wraparound mood lighting in the walls and marble baths with whirlpool tubs). Yama restaurant, the newest debut by Montreal star chef Antonio Park, is a pan-Asian delight at dinner and benedict heaven at breakfast; its sculptural bar, which serves mountain-inspired cocktails, draws a crowd. Park also collaborated with pastry chef Bertrand Bazin to fashion Cafe Bazin, the hotel’s minimalist French bistro where the pastries are anything but. // 1425 Rue De la Montagne, hilton.com
One Restaurant to Book in Montreal
(Courtesy of @barrocomontreal)
Montreal’s food scene is brilliant, with hundreds of restaurants that could easily be the subject of this section. But there’s just one spot where Old Montreal charm comes together beautifully with French Mediterranean cuisine: Barroco. Tucked inside one of the waterfront Vieux Port neighborhood’s oldest buildings, the restaurant’s rustic, stone-walled interior drips with an ambiance that is simultaneously romantic, energetic, and exclusive. Seasonal eats include Old World–inspired dishes like beef tartare with sopressata, manchego, and sherry cream; halibut with mussels and grenobloise sauce; and beef short ribs with maple and aged balsamic. Cocktails are an art all their own with elixirs like the Scheherazade (whiskey, strawberry, bay leaf, rhubarb, amaro, smoked butter wash) that are worth stopping at the atmospheric bar for alone. // 312 Rue Saint-Paul Ouest, barroco.ca
Montreal's Can’t-Miss Neighborhood
(Eva Blue - Tourism Montreal)
Known as a center for art and music, Le Plateau-Mont Royal is a bohemian boiling pot that developed from working class, immigrant roots in the early 20th century, with lovely stone Victorians (check out the city’s own version of San Francisco's Painted Ladies in St. Louis Square) and pedestrian-only streets lined with indie shops and legendary eateries. Stop by Fairmount Bagel Bakery (74 Fairmount), originators of the wood-fired bagel tradition considered by many to surpass even New York’s, or Schwartz’s Deli (3895 St. Laurent Blvd.) for MTL's famous smoked meat, and don’t forget to look up while you’re hoofing it around the hood—some of the city’s best street art dons its walls.
The Best Events in Montreal
(Eva Blue - Tourism Montreal)
There isn’t one single event around which you should plan a trip to Montreal, there are many—110, to be exact. Montreal is known as one of the world’s most incredible festival cities and they go on throughout the year, each with tons of free events that will make your visit all the more extra. Among the multi-day events are the Mural Festival (June), Zoofest (July), Festival d’Art dans les Ruelles (Sept.), and dozens of others revolving around jazz, comedy, experimental art, music from the African diaspora, science, and circus. You wouldn’t think a city in the frigid north would be celebrating outdoors in winter but, in Montreal, some of the best festivals, including Fête des Neiges (Jan./Feb.) and Montreal en Lumière (Feb./March), actually take place not in the heat of summer but in those cold, dark months. Check the city’s festival schedule before booking tickets so you won’t miss a thing.
Montreal's Must-Visit Museum
A Dave Chihuly sculpture welcomes us to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts, one of the city’s most storied institutions, is an absolute must. Spanning three separate salons on two sides of the street in the Golden Square Mile, the art here ranges from sculpture to painting, experimental to crowd-pleasing, ancient to modern. The museum also puts a welcome emphasis on Indigenous work from around Canada in a way few art museums do, making ample room for the expression of world views that are not dominated by the West. Case in point, their current exhibition, Thought and Splendour of Indigenous Colombia, which is on through October 1st, 2023. // 1380 Sherbrooke St. W., mbam.qc.ca
The Greatest Show in Montreal
(Eva Blue - Tourism Montreal)
If you think the circus is for kids, you’ve never been to Montreal. The city is the birthplace of the contemporary artform—we’re talking death-defying acrobatics and other acts that push the limits of the human body here, not clowns and elephants—and holy moly is it incredible. You may already be familiar with Montreal’s most famous circus export, Cirque du Soleil (Quai Jacque-Cartier), and it’s still a sight to see with new shows debuting under the big top at the Old Port before heading out for national and international tours. But there are actually around a dozen circus companies in town including Cirque Éloize (417 Berri St.) and the 7 Fingers(2111 St. Laurent Blvd.), whose fantastic show Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story is now in its second year in SF. For the best of it all, come during the annual Montreal Complètement Cirque Festival in July, when circus takes over the streets with free performances like Le Géant, where performers scale (and fall from, and twist around, and launch up to) a 50-foot metal giant erected in the middle of Place Ville-Marie twice daily.