This time 2 weeks ago, Adam and I were traipsing through a Canadian winter wonderland, popping into cute cafes for coffee and hot chocolate (and okay a few cocktails.. basically anything to keep us warm) along the way. The city of Montreal has long since been on our travel ‘wanderlist’ both for its proximity to New York and all the rave reviews we’ve heard from friends. So when Adam got news that he was being sent for a couple of days on business – I jumped at the chance to tag along. Couple that with the fact that it was Valentine’s Day and under a fresh blanket of snow and the beautifully European-feeling city had us under it’s spell.
When we looked at ways to travel from NYC up to Quebec there were a variety of options (driving, bus, plane..) but I can’t say enough how happy I was to have chosen the train on the way there. Although the Amtrak trip will take you most of the day – you can sit back in spacious side by side seats (equipped with free wifi) as you enjoy scenic views of the Hudson River, upstate New York and Lake Champlain. While the ride was honestly gorgeous in Winter, I can only imagine how good it would be in full foliage Fall. I seriously can’t recommend it enough. 2 insider tips? Eat breakfast before you get on the train and pack a lunch. I’m not a fan of the pre-packaged sandwiches and snacks you find on trains, so a healthy breakfast beforehand and the gourmet deli sandwiches we packed picnic style in a small insulated cooler bag meant we spent $0 on the train and really added to the overall experience. And my second tip – fly back to save yourself travel time.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Now – we’re there. The upside – February is definitely not tourist season, so we really felt like we had the city to ourselves with just friendly locals to act as our guides (they’re not kidding when they say Canadians are nice – everyone went out of their way to offer kind and helpful tips throughout our stay). The downside – freezing cold and so much snow. Without shoveled sidewalks or plowed roads we truly ice skated our way through most of the city. That said, there is something pretty magical about being inside of a living snow globe. Pack warm and waterproof if you choose to go at this time of year with comfortable and sturdy boots.
PLACES TO GO
Despite the weather conditions we did our best to see the outdoor sights – the scenic lookout point atop Mont Royal (the city’s namesake mountain), the Notre-Dame Basilica and Rue Saint-Paul in Old Montreal (you guessed it – the most historic and oldest area of the city), and window shopping along Boulevard Saint Laurent in the trendy Le-Plateau-Mont-Royal borough. And when we were in need of warming up – the Underground City – a huge series of connected shopping centers, commercial buildings and hotels that sits below downtown offers every shop you can imagine and even an ice skating rink!
THINGS TO DO
While we didn’t have time to partake in any winter sports, Montreal offers a plethora and if we go back in the Winter ice skating, skiing (for me)/snowboarding (for Adam), and trying snowshoeing are all on our list! And after all of that? You eat. We barely scratched the surface of Montreal’s foodie scene but if I had to recommend just a few places: Melk for coffee and pastries convenient to downtown, C’Chocolat for a decadent hot chocolate or crepe stop and Dominion Square Taverne for pre-dinner drinks. And if you only make one dinner reservation? Le Bremner. Aside from the fact that everything we tried on the inventive, seafood heavy menu was delicious and the cocktails were perfectly crafted – it’s the people and the space that really took our experience over the top. It’s a true hidden gem that was recommended by locals and sits tucked away in a basement entrance filled with cozy, wine bottle-lined booths – and once you’re in there you immediately feel at home. Like taking shots with the wait staff at the end of the night kind of home. It’s a must visit.
I think the same could be said of Montreal in general. We’ll be back… perhaps in warmer months.