Montreal in 48 Hours

Photo by Peter Blanchard

Above and below the skyscrapers: Mount Royal and Downtown Montreal

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With 2 days to explore Quebec’s biggest city, follow our Walk Old Montreal in a Day itinerary around Old Montreal, then pick up here for Day Two. This begins at the hip Plateau neighborhood then moves to exploring Mount Royal park and enjoying views of the Downtown skyline before you descend to wander the city’s liveliest streets.

Morning: The Plateau & Mount Royal

If your hotel doesn’t provide breakfast start the day in a Plateau café. Head to Metro station Mont-Royal to find a prime hunting ground along Avenue du Mont-Royal Est. Afterward, head south along this street, eyeing all the chic and livable bohemian side streets en route to Boulevard Saint-Laurent, aka The Main. If the weather is good pick up picnic items for your trip up Mount Royal at Schwartz’s deli, one of Montreal’s finest purveyors of its famous smoked meat sandwiches.

From here it’s three city blocks south to Montreal’s namesake Mount Royal, the city’s own mini-mountain, which rises 200m above its port and provides splendid views over everything. It’s regularly dubbed Montreal’s Central Park, which is more appropriate than many realize. Mount Royal was designed by the same man (Frederick Law Olmsted) who created its New York cousin. The path up the mount’s northern side is named after him and provides a well-graded route up to a lookout at the top. Just shy of the summit is Lac des Castors, a lake where, depending on the season, you can rent paddleboats or ice skates.

Afternoon: McGill University & Downtown

A series of hairpins on a marked path from the summit lead down the east side of Mount Royal to land once owned by Scottish fur trader James McGill until he donated it to help found Montreal’s prestigious McGill University. The grand early-19th-century Victorian campus is worth viewing from along Rue Peel en route to downtown. You might like to check out the creaky old Redpath Museum, the free university museum that boasts a dinosaur skeleton and some Egyptian mummies far from home.

Downtown skyscrapers rear up beyond McGill, from which it’s two blocks to Rue Sainte-Catherine, Montreal’s most revealing and intriguing street. This stretch is a prime shopping strip, as the presence of the Apple store and Ogilvy’s, the city’s premier department store, suggest. But Sainte-Catherine also travels far beyond: south to the ritzy anglophone Westmount neighborhood; north to a fairly sleazy part of town where strip clubs rub shoulders with chic Gay Village haunts. Back at the shopping strip though, this part of Saint-Catherine also is a major hub for the malls of the Underground City. Look out for blue signs at street level to find entrances.

Otherwise the major sight in this part of town is the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, arguably Montreal’s finest museum. The number of European heavyweights and Old Masters (Rembrandt, Picasso, Monet among them), make it a must for art lovers. It’s also a great place to see well-respected Canadian art. Paul Kane and the Group of Seven are well-represented and there are  Inuit pieces too. 

Evening: Crescent Street

The best place to end the day in this part of town is Crescent Street, a busy pub-and-restaurant strip that intersects with Sainte-Catherine at Downtown‘s southern end. A committed anglophone haunt, this is one spot in Montreal where there’s no need to make any effort to speak French.

Note: If the weather’s terrible, do the day in reverse: start Downtown and even skip Mount Royal entirely in favor of taking the metro and hanging out in cafés and bars along The Main or in The Plateau.

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