While Montreal remains an important centre of commerce, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, technology and world affairs, Montrealers “work to live” as opposed to “live to work.” The city’s year-round joie de vivre is contagious, and visitors can plug into the local Zeitgeist quickly and easily, even between business meetings.
Take a Tall, Cool Drink on Crescent Street
Established in 1967 by the “Father of Crescent Street,” Johnny Vago, the Sir Winston Churchill Pub still anchors the city’s famous nightlife strip. Celebrities and major sports stars are regularly spotted partying at Sir Winston’s and other pubs and terraces on the strip, especially during Montreal’s annual summertime Formula One Canadian Grand Prix. Across the street from Sir Winstons’s is Ziggy’s Pub, popular with local journalists and TV/radio personalities; and Le Newtown, a nightclub/restaurant originally founded by local hero and F1 champ Gilles Villeneuve (thus its name). Celebrities such as pop star Prince have also hosted private parties at Newtown.
Year-round Indoor Skating in the Atrium of the 1000 De la Gauchetiere Skyscraper
Montreal is a hockey city and just everybody here owns a pair of skates. But you can rent skates, helmets and lockers by the hour at the Atrium Le 1000, the ground-floor skating rink inside Montreal’s 1000 De la Gauchetiere skyscraper.
Montreal Canadiens Hockey Hall of Fame
The first recorded indoor ice hockey game took place at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal back on March 3, 1875, and Montrealers have worshipped the sport like a religion ever since. The Montreal Canadiens (also called “The Habs” by locals) have won 24 Stanley Cups, and four other (now-defunct) Montreal teams won an additional 17, for an unprecedented 41 Stanley Cup parades in Montreal. You can see much of that eye-popping memorabilia in the Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame in the downtown Bell Centre, including the goalie mask that launched a hundred Hollywood horror movies, by pioneering Habs goalie Jacques Plante.
Montreal Smoked Meat
Montreal is famed for its smoked meat, a type of kosher-style deli meat made by salting and curing beef brisket with spices. The recipe was brought to Montreal by the Jewish diaspora from Eastern Europe. No smoked-meat deli in Montreal is better known than Schwartz’s on The Main, where everybody from Joan Rivers to Lou Reed have been spotted scoffing on smoked-meat sandwiches over the years. No Montreal trip is complete without a visit to Schwartz’s.
Montreal Grevin Museum
Montreal’s popular Grevin wax museum is located in the downtown Eaton Centre and features over 120 celebrities and Canadian historical figures, many of them native Montrealers like Celine Dion, Donald Sutherland and local drag queen Mado Lamotte. “It’s only logical that the two reigning queens Mado and Celine must share the same spotlight,” says Mado. “It’s like a Barbie doll dream come true! Besides, I always take my inspiration for my make-up from my box of Crayola wax crayons.”
Notre Dame Basilica
Notre Dame Basilica in Old Montreal has been a popular destination for two centuries. Built between 1824 and 1829 atop the original Notre Dame Church (which itself was constructed in 1657), the historic basilica’s Gothic Revival architecture is among the most dramatic in the world. There's also a 7,000-pipe Casavant Frères pipe organ that dates back to 1891.
The Napoleon Galleries at the MMFA
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is the oldest museum in Canada and their Napoleon wing features a hundred works and objects, including the late Ben Weider's breathtaking Napoleonic collection which features a bust-length portrait of Napoleon in coronation robes from the studio of Baron Gérard. The MMFA’s Napoleon galleries constitute one of North America's most important Napoleon collections and are open to the public free of charge at all times.
Coffee and Croissants à la Montréal
Coffee and pastry shops are as Montreal as the two-cheek kiss, but one of the city’s best-known is La Brulerie St-Denis, with a dozen locations across the city. The original outlet was founded in 1985 and remains the best, on Rue St-Denis in the hip Plateau district. La Brulerie St-Denis imports a vast selection of the finest Arabica coffee beans from around the world, then roasts them daily on the premises to ensure freshness and the flavours of each country of origin.
Places des Festivals
Montreal’s “Quartier des Spectacles” entertainment district is anchored by the outdoor “Place des Festivals”, where Montreal's biggest festivals such as the Festival International de Jazz, the Just For Laughs comedy festival, Festival International Nuits d’Afrique and the wintertime Festival En Lumiere (which features an Urban Slide that feels like you’re riding the luge in the Winter Olympics), produce free outdoor concerts and activities. In summertime, Place des Festivals is lit up at night as children frolic in its numerous water fountains. Wander through to take in the sights, enjoy a drink and the free outdoor entertainment.
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Written by Richard Burnett
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About the author: RichardBurnettRichard Burnett
Montreal journalist Richard Burnett self-syndicated his column Three Dollar Bill in over half of Canada’s alt-weeklies for 15 years (Canada’s first-ever and still-only syndicated gay column in the mainstream and alternative press); was Editor-at-Large of HOUR until the Montreal alt-weekly folded in 2012; is a columnist and writer for The Charlebois Post, Fugues and Xtra magazines, and writes the POP TART blog for The Montreal Gazette.