As the largest city in Canada's region of Quebec, Montreal is one of the most vibrant places to visit. With a rich European history that is evident in its architecture and culture, Montreal also oozes with modernity. There is much to see, do, and eat! Find out some top things to do in Montreal here. In the meantime, get inspired to visit by perusing the photos below.
Montreal is a unique place the exudes the old-world charm of Europe while still being a modern North American city. While there are many signs of French high culture, there's also a rapidly growing hipster scene worth exploring. Even if you've been to other parts of Canada such as British Columbia, you'll find Quebec unique in its own ways. Here's how to make the most of your weekend trip to Montreal. Check out these photos to inspire you to visit Montreal. I visited Quebec's largest city on a fall road trip with my parents. We had spent the past week had been spent exploring New York City before picking up a rental car and driving north to upstate New York. From there, we crossed the border into Canada, settling in Montreal. Despite being a relatively long drive, it was smooth without problems. I'd definitely recommend traveling to Montreal as a road trip.
Getting Around Montreal
Like most cities, it's easiest to ditch the car and avoid driving around. If you love biking, you'll be pleased to know that Montreal has over 310 miles of bike lanes crossing the city. Use Bixi, the city's shared bike program and easily get around on two wheels. After all, this is why Montreal was named a Unesco City of Design in 2006. The Montreal Metro also runs frequently and is the top form of public transit.
Where to Stay in Montreal
Downtown is the central pulse of the city, and it's where you'll find large chain hotels. Standard accommodations through Hilton, Marriott, and the Holiday Inn and relatively easy to find.
Old Montreal is the best place to experience the city's unique mix of European and North American cultures. This section of old world charm shows off cobblestone roads, stunning architecture, and historic public spaces. There is a very unique and romantic vibe surrounding Old Montreal. In our case, we chose to stay here at the eclectically modern LHotel. Highly recommend staying here for its impressive design and closeness to attractions.
If you use a service like Airbnb to find a room, choose your location based on proximity to the Metro for easy day-time travel.
What to Do
1. Take a walking tour of Old Montreal
Place d'Armes is one of the main entrances to the city's historic area. From here, you can get a fantastic view of the facade of Notre Dame Basilica. Definitely go inside of the Basilica and prepared to be wowed by its colorfully lit interiors. No wonder Celine Dion got married in here!
Stroll down St-Paul Street and Place Jacques Cartier to feel like you've stepped back in time. Despite the many tourist shops, the architecture of these areas stunning. Be sure to head down Saint-Claude Street and visit the Bonsecours Market. It's the largest and oldest public market in the city. Walking these areas can feel a bit touristy, but it's one of those thing to do in Montreal that you really should do!
2. Visit Jean-Talon Market
As foodies (we had just visited the Culinary Institute of America days before), we still had food on our minds when we got to Canada. One of the best things to do in Montreal is visit the markets. We started our culinary tour at the Jean-Talon Market. Originally called Marché du Nord, Jean-Talon Market has been around since 1933. It was and still continues to be the main neighborhood market of Little Italy.
You'll see a wide variety of goods being sold at this market, but the emphasis is the fresh fruit and vegetables from farms in Quebec. All arrangements are drool worthy and you will go crazy taking food photos! Indulge in whatever fruits or vegetables are in season, and be sure to pick up some authentic Canadian maple syrup.
When you need a meal, grab a grilled cheese sandwich at Qui Lait Cru. They offer several variations of grilled cheese sandwiches such as brie with walnuts. Everything is made to order and there are many places to sit and enjoy.
3. Keep on eating at Atwater Market
Slightly larger and more popular than Jean-Talon is Atwater Market. The offerings are somewhat similar, including the many fresh fruit and produce vendors, cheese shops, maple syrup shops, etc. But the outdoor food court is the highlight here. Satay Brothers and their South Asian street food are arguably the most popular among diners.
4. Visit "The Big O"
The 1976 Summer Olympics were held at the Olympic Stadium of Montreal. Today, the interestingly shaped stadium is an architectural attraction. It also has the largest seating capacity in Canada and hosts many professional sporting events. There is also an Observatory that gives you stellar views of the Olympic Village.
Bonus tip: Eat poutine!
Trivia time: did you know that poutine actually emerged from Quebec? This popular Canadian dish consists of French fries and cheese curds topped with gravy, and you should eat some while in Montreal. One of the best poutineries (yes, it's a word) is Patati Patata.
Have you visited Montreal? What were your top places to visit? Let me know in the comments below!
Craving a summer island escape in the Pacific Northwest, but want to avoid the crowds? Located just off of Nanaimo in British Columbia, Gabriola Island offers peace and tranquility that is hard to find on other nearby islands. It's a quick, 20-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo and relatively easy to get to from Victoria and Vancouver. Learn more about how to get to the island and things to see and do here, or see where else we have been in Canada. In the meantime, get a taste of what the island has to offer in the photos below!
Gabriola Island Photo Gallery
Believe it or not, but the Pacific Northwest has quite a few islands that offer supreme weekend getaways. The San Juan Islands in Washington get the most attention and thus tend to be packed during peak seasons. But head just a bit north of the San Juans and you'll find hidden gems offering much more intimate experiences. For our annual 4th of July road trip, we decided to head to one such place: Gabriola Island. Having spent many weekends in downtown Vancouver and Whistler, we hadn't spent much time in or around Vancouver Island, so this was our chance to finally do so! Want to see more photos of Gabriola Island? Click here.
Where is it?
Gabriola Island is a small southern Gulf Island located in the Salish Sea that separates Vancouver Island from mainland British Columbia. The easiest way to get here is taking a 20-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo, a small city on Vancouver Island. You can also take the super scenic route by flying in a float plane from Vancouver Airport. For our weekend trip from Seattle, we drove north to Vancouver, BC to a small town called Tsawwassen. From here, we loaded our car onto a BC Ferry and set sail to Swartz Bay (Victoria). It was a pleasant and scenic 90-minute ferry ride.
Overnight Stay in Victoria
Given the amount of land and water travel we did on day one, we made a short pit stop at an Airbnb rental in Victoria. The capital of British Columbia, Victoria is a lovely, picturesque city located on the southern end of Vancouver Island. There is lots of visual evidence of the city's British colonial past in the form of Victorian architecture. You can easily spend a whole day wandering the streets of Victoria with a camera in hand, marveling at the building designs. If you prefer outdoor activities, there's also an abundance of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, zip lining and even bungee jumping (which I may have done in Canada in my younger years).
What to Do in Victoria
- Walk through Beacon Hill Park, the city's main urban green space that has a petting zoo
- Visit Butchart Gardens, a designated National Historic Site of Canada
- Enjoy high tea at the iconic Empress Hotel
- See the Neo-baroque British Columbia Parliament Buildings light up at night
- Go hiking, biking, zip lining, or bungee jumping
- Take an Orca whale watching tour
Days 2 & 3
Head to Gabriola Island
The next day, we departed Victoria for Nanaimo harbor. We loaded our car onto a ferry and enjoyed a 20-minute ferry ride to Gabriola Island. The ferry pulled into Descanso Bay, and from there we headed to our accommodations. Marina's Hideaway is bed and breakfast that we found on Airbnb. We occupied an upper-level guest suite attached to the property's main house and absolutely loved the comfortable atmosphere and delicious home-cooked breakfast. But perhaps best of all was the view! Sitting out on the deck or in the outdoor hot tub gave you the most stunning view of Nanaimo in the distance. It's the most beautiful place to watch a sunset. We recently discovered that Marina's Hideaway has been sold; hopefully the new owners are still running it is a bed and breakfast, but we can't say for sure.
What to Do on Gabriola Island
With a population of just over 4,000 people spread over 22 square miles, Gabriola is pretty sparse in terms of people. However, the residents that live here are tightknit and have a lovely community established throughout the island. You'll find nicely paved roads, restaurants, shopping centers, museums, and lots of art. After all, Gabriola is known as the "Isle of the Arts" and holds three large annual arts events throughout the year. Even if you're visiting during a non-art event weekend, many artist studios are open and welcome visitors.
In addition to the arts, there are many public beaches and forests offering lots of hikes and opportunities for nature photography. There are three provincial parks on the island: Gabriola Sands Provincial Park, Sandwell Provincial Park, and Drumbeg Provincial Park. There's also Descanso Bay Regional Park located near the ferry terminal. We visited all of these parks during our two-night stay in early July. The weather was a bit wet and chilly for summer. But considering that it was a peak travel time, there were very few travelers that we encountered. This was a huge change from our previous trips to Orcas Island, which is generally packed during this time of year.
The lack of people made it feel as if we were on our own private island. We would walk hours on the rocky beach shores without encountering a soul. Instead, probably due to the lack of people, we saw an abundance of wildlife. There were banana slugs as big as our hands, flocks of cormorants gathering at sunset, families of harbor seals playing incredibly close to shore, more deer than we've ever seen in the Northwest, and our very first sighting of a large, lone sea otter in the wild. The nature viewing was spectacular.
We ended our last day on Gabriola with one last home-cooked breakfast at Marina's, and then caught the BC Ferry back to Nanaimo. From here, it was a long wait to board a ferry back to mainland Canada, and an even longer drive back to Seattle. This was likely because we were joining the flocks of people traveling after a long weekend. As a result, we highly recommend leaving ferry travel in the Pacific Northwest to non-weekend days.
Gabriola Island is a special getaway from Seattle and Vancouver that actually isn't much further than other popular island destinations. It has significantly fewer visitors, which gives you a more intimate, private experience. Have you visited Gabriola Island or any other islands in Canada? Let us know in the comments below!
For those of us who live in the north, the winter season can be a bit tough. There are only so few exciting options for driving and plane tickets are notoriously expensive starting with Thanksgiving all the way past New Year's day. There is a kind of travel, though, which is exciting even in the winter - visiting a modern metropolis. Here at Gemini Connect, we enjoy living and traveling in Washington. Typically, winter gets to our nerves by January and we're itching to make a quick trip to break up the winter slump. Vancouver has become our local getaway destination in Canada. This modern metropolis is located just a quick two and a half hour drive away. Our mission this January was to spend a weekend in Vancouver to discourage us from spending another weekend working away at our computers, to take advantage of the huge post-holiday retail sales, and of course stuff ourselves with ethnic cuisine.
Mission: Refresh winter wardrobe and relax for a weekend in Vancouver, B.C.
Our Trip By the Numbers
- 2 Days
- 286 Miles driven
- $194.50* Cost per person
- 44,4381 Steps walked
- 17.93 Miles walked
*Cost per person is in USD and includes accommodations, roundtrip gas and dining out. **Steps and mileage were tracked by FitBit Flex
Besides the proximity and easy drive up I-5, there are more reasons to visit Vancouver. Here are a few:
1) Gorgeous urban setting and architecture
Downtown Vancouver is surrounded by water on 3 sides and mountains rise immediately to the north. The city itself is famous for its city planning - using residential towers as the standard and is often called the 'North American Hong Kong'. The combination of the two makes it an amazing places to be even if all you do is look. Another great benefit of this city planning is that downtown there are very many offerings on AirBnB which let you experience what it's like living in one of those towers and are quite affordable!
While searching for a place to stay in Vancouver, our one requirement besides proximity to town was a stellar view of the city. We lucked out with a lovely one-bedroom Airbnb apartment located just a few blocks from Vancouver's main strips, Granville and Robson. The apartment was an ideal base for our weekend trip and it came with a stunning 180-degree view of the city.
2) Abundant, diverse ethnic food
Almost half of Vancouver's population is foreign-born. One of the results of this diverse population is in some of the most authentic ethnic food we've been able to find on our travels. In two short days we dined on ten dishes at a traditional Japanese izakaya restaurant, Japanese-style hot dogs, traditional Bulgarian pastries, Transylvanian desserts and Malaysian curries and roti. All made by people from those countries, all very good, and all reasonably priced.
Dining Around Vancouver
We approached this trip to Vancouver plotting out how many meal and snack times we had available and specifically determining which eatery to be at each time. This time around, our standout choices revolved around what we each deemed to be comfort food. [tw-column width="one-half"]
Our first meal was at Guu Original on Thurlow. Located just a few blocks away from our Airbnb apartment, Guu Original is credited as being the very first Izakaya (a type of casual Japanese drinking establishment) in Vancouver. It first opened in 1993 and is famous for serving classic and authentic Japanese foods. Guu's immense success is noted by its long line of customers awaiting tables even before the restaurant has opened. The dishes we tried at Guu included Kabocha squash croquette, kimchi udon, tuna tataki, beef tataki, and oden, the latter of which strongly reminded Suzi of her grandmother's cooking.
Guu Original 838 Thurlow Street Vancouver, BC http://www.guu-izakaya.com
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For brunch the next day, our dining choice revolved around Martin's Eastern European roots. We made our way on foot through Vancouver's West End to Acacía Fillo Bar, a family-owned restaurant specializing in Bulgarian pastries, particularly the banitza. A savory pastry made of fillo dough and stuffed with filling such as leeks or feta cheese, the banitza is similar to the Greek spanakopita, but made with thicker pastry dough. Acacía Fillo Bar's banitza was the best and closest to his own grandmother's recipe that Martin has been able to find in the Pacific Northwest.
Acacía Fillo Bar 1103 Denman Vancouver, BC http://www.acaciafillobar.com [/tw-column]
3) Constant economic growth
Vancouver is regularly noted as an esteemed city. It constantly tops "Best cities in the world" kind of charts like this one by the esteemed Economist Intelligence Unit where it got #3, making it one of the most coveted cities to live in the world. Because of this, since its founding Vancouver's metropolitan area has seen constant high growth of population, often near 10% or above, and constant economic growth accordingly. Being in Vancouver you often get the ritzy vibe and accordingly in downtown, you're never too far from a Prada, Burberry or Hugo Boss store. Shopping is a big draw for American, Asian and European tourists alike, and if you go early in the year like in January, you'll enjoy some of the huge post holiday markdowns and sales that for some reason aren't as common in the USA. As another plus, the drive from Seattle to Vancouver goes right by Seattle Premium Outlets, which makes for a great pit stop while on your shopping binge.
BONUS: Foreign currency values
Vancouver is only 30 minutes away from the US border, but it is still in another country. This means that besides all the cultural differences which give you a feeling of novelty, you are also using a different currency. At the time we went - mid-January 2015, a Canadian Dollar to a US dollar (CAD - USD) was 0.85. This means that if you're using your American card, everything you buy is automatically 15% discounted! This is why AirBnB options in the towers were so affordable and why we didn't sweat covering whole tables in delicious food or shopping in the shiny malls. We still ended up spending in reasonable limits as you can see in the breakdown.