Montreal is one of those cities that defies expectation. With a mix of North American swagger and Euro-cool, the city has a cutting-edge culture that outshines its Canadian brethren. Though a day is nowhere near enough, here are our suggestions to see some of the best of Montreal in 24 hours.
Start your day by slowly partaking in a local ritual – a long and leisurely brunch. Weekend brunching in Montreal is de rigueur, and usually gets started at around 10 am, although at some of the city’s hot spots the long lines – full of late-night revellers not long out of bed – will linger until 2 pm. L’Express serves up scrambled eggs and pain perdu (French toast) in a classic Parisian bistro atmosphere, Beauty’s is worth the legendary long queue for toasted sesame bagels, Senzala is perfect for a Brazilian brunch and Eggspectation has several variations on eggs benedict.
If you are still hungry, grab some portable snacks from Marché Jean-Talon, the city’s largest market, located in the heart of Little Italy. There are several hundred market stalls in a huge square, surrounded by shops that stock all manner of produce year-round, including fruits, vegetables, potted plants, herbs and (of course) maple syrup. Food stalls whip up fresh juices, tender crepes, baguette sandwiches and more. Do not miss the Québécois specialty store Le Marché des Saveurs.
When you are ready to work off all that food, hike up Mont Royal, stopping to catch your breath and snap the cityscape from the Kondiaronk Lookout. Montrealers are proud of their “mountain”: Mount Royal Park, the work of New York Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted. It is a sprawling, leafy playground that is perfect for cycling, jogging, horseback riding, picnicking and, in winter, cross-country skiing and tobogganing.
In fine weather, enjoy panoramic views from the Kondiaronk lookout near Chalet du Mont Royal -- a grand old white villa that hosts big-band concerts in summer -- or from the Observatoire de l'Est, a favourite rendezvous spot for lovebirds. It takes about 30 minutes to walk between the two. En route you will see the landmark 40m-high Cross of Montreal, which is illuminated at night. It is there to commemorate city founder Maisonneuve who single-handedly carried a wooden cross up the mountain in 1643 to give thanks to God for sparing his fledgling village from flooding.
If outdoor rambling is not your style, you can explore the cobblestone alleys of Old Montreal. Get a dose of history at Musée d’Archéologie etd’Histoire Pointe-à-Callière. Visitors should start with Montreal, Tales of a City, a 20-minute multimedia show that illustrates the centuries with the aid of hologram characters.
For the most part, the museum is underground. Head to the archaeological crypt in the basement where you can explore the remains of the city's ancient sewage and river system and the foundations of its first buildings and first public square. Interactive exhibits include video monitors that allow visitors to ask questions of the hologram-like figures from the 17th and 18th Centuries about their lives in the colony.
By now you have certainly worked up a thirst, so as the sun sets join the cinq-à-sept (5 pm to 7 pm) crowd for outdoor drinks at Cafe des Éclusiers and wind down with a decadent meal at L’Orignal .
You may not see all that Montreal has to offer in a day, but you will see some of the best.
The article 'Montreal in one day' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.