With its sidewalk cafes, cobblestone streets, sumptuous Gallic cuisine and a certain je ne se quois, Montreal is a perfect city for couples — and not just because its first language is French, the quintessential language of love.
The menu of romantic treats in Montreal is endless. Want to splurge? Indulge in a five- to seven-course menu degustation, or tasting menu, at one of the city’s gourmet French restaurants. Traditional romantics can cuddle in a “caleche,” or horse-drawn carriage, on a leisurely ride through the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal. More active duos can rent bikes and explore the mountain for which the city is named. Looking for night life? Enjoy a concert during the city’s annual jazz festival, or dance into the wee hours at a club on Rue Crescent. Montreal welcomes gay couples too, particularly in the Village, lined with colorful row houses, sidewalk cafes and bars. No matter what kind of couple you are, romantic Montreal will serve up a getaway to remember.
Home Away From Home
The elegant Hotel Nelligan enjoys an ideal location in the heart of cobblestoned Old Montreal, with both the waterfront and the Notre-Dame Basilica just a few blocks away. The hotel is named after French-Canadian poet Emile Nelligan; if you’re feeling especially sentimental, ask the concierge for a book of his poetry to read aloud to each other. Warm cherry wood furniture, exposed brick or stone walls and soft lighting make all the rooms havens for romance; spring for a suite and enjoy a fireplace and a double Jacuzzi too.
La Loggia is a cozy B&B located on a residential street in Montreal’s Village neighborhood. There are five guestrooms, including the large Art Studio room where Modernist painter Marcel Barbeau once worked. In the warmer months, breakfast is served outside in the lovely courtyard garden.
Step out of the 21st century into the intimate, narrow streets of Old Montreal, lined with galleries, restaurants, cafes and boutiques. Your first stop is the 3,800-seat Notre-Dame Basilica, which may look impressive from the outside but is absolutely breathtaking within, its delicate wooden carvings frosted with gilt and its deep blue ceiling strewn with golden stars. Montreal’s own Celine Dion was married here in 1994, and later had her baby christened in the Sacre-Coeur Chapel behind the main altar.
After your visit, head outside onto Place d’Armes, where you can check out the monument to Montreal’s founder, Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve. Then — if you’re feeling romantic — hop into a horse-drawn carriage to clip-clop your way through the Old Town; most drivers will point out the major sites of interest along the way. If you’d rather explore on your own, proceed on foot down Rue St-Sulpice to Rue St-Paul, making a left toward Place Jacques-Cartier. Bounded by the Old Port at one end and the 19th-century City Hall at the other, this square is the heart of Old Montreal, lined with sidewalk cafes and crowded with street performers. If you’re here during the summer, you’ll also see vendors sporting carts overflowing with flowers.
Break for lunch in the neo-Classical Marche Bonsecours building. Built in 1840 as the city’s principal market, it now houses upscale boutiques, an exhibition hall and several restaurants. Options include Sushi Ya (for Japanese cuisine), Forget (a cozy bistro) and La Cabaret du Roy (where servers in period costumes offer traditional French favorites).
After lunch, if the weather allows, head south along the waterfront on Rue de la Commune, where you’ll find bikes for rent at Montreal On Wheels. You’ll be given a free map of Montreal’s bike trails with your rental, but guided tours are also available if you’d rather not go it alone. Either way, choose the route that runs along the Old Port to the Lachine Canal trail. If you need a breather (the total roundtrip is about 20 miles), great places to stop include Atwater Market, home to gourmet goodies of all kinds; Parc Rene-Levesque, for lovely views over Lac St-Louis; and the Musee de Lachine, which has a lovely outdoor sculpture garden. When you start to get hungry, head back to the Old Port to return your bikes and grab dinner.
If the weather isn’t conducive to biking, take shelter at the upscale boutiques at Marche Bonsecours and in the small art galleries scattered along Rue St-Paul. There are also a number of shops peddling postcards and other tourist goodies if you want to stock up on souvenirs.
For dinner, enjoy Mediterranean fare at Modavie, where the risotto melts in your mouth and live jazz bands play every night of the week.
Today you’ll be exploring the many faces of Mont Royal, the mountain for which Montreal is named. Start by hopping on the metro, the city’s subway system, to the Cote-des-Neiges station. A few blocks’ walk will bring you to St. Joseph’s Oratory, a massive Catholic church on the side of Mont Royal, capped by the second largest dome in the world (St. Peter’s, in Rome, holds top honors). As you climb its 300 steps, you may see penitents working their way up on their knees, stopping to pray along the way. Inside there are upper and lower basilicas, two museums, and the crypt of Brother Andre, the man responsible for the Oratory’s construction in the early 1900’s. Don’t miss the terrace outside the upper basilica for panoramic views across the surrounding neighborhoods.
After leaving the Oratory, retrace your steps to the Cote-des-Neiges metro station and take a ride over to the Mont-Royal station. There you’ll transfer to Bus 11 for a journey up the mountain along Voie Camillien Houde. Hop off at Observatoire de l’Est, where you can snap a few photographs of the city’s rooftops before heading up the mountain even further to the Chalet du Mont-Royal. Grab some munchies from the snack bar and wander through the surrounding park — designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York’s Central Park — to find a perfect spot for a casual al fresco lunch under the trees.
When you’re ready to leave Parc Mont-Royal, head back down the way you came, catching Bus 11 to the Mont-Royal metro station. This is your starting point for a stroll through one of Montreal’s loveliest residential neighborhoods: Plateau Mont-Royal. Start by walking east along Avenue du Mont-Royal. At each intersection you’ll see small residential streets branching off to the right — pick any one that strikes your fancy (Rue Fabre is particularly charming) and imagine that this street is where you live. Visualize yourself coming home each day to one of these classic brick apartment buildings, climbing a graceful, wrought-iron staircase to your second-floor balcony. Continue along “your” street till it ends at Rue Rachel Est, which borders Parc La Fontaine — a perfect place to mingle with local residents out walking their dogs or taking advantage of the street’s bike path.
Make a right on Rue Rachel and admire the apartments overlooking the park on your way to Rue St-Denis, a wide thoroughfare lined with boutiques, shoe stores, bookstores and restaurants. Do a little window shopping before settling down to an intimate dinner for two at Fonduementale. Try “La Romantique” — you’ll start off with an appetizer of traditional or pink peppercorn cheese fondue, followed by beef and/or chicken Chinese fondue with seafood, and a dessert of chocolate or maple syrup fondue.
Hop on the metro to Berri-UQAM in the heart of Montreal’s hip and trendy Latin Quarter. Montreal has more students per capita than any other city in the world, and here you’ll find one of its four main universities, the Universite du Quebec a Montreal. (The new building for the Grande Bibliotheque is also in this neighborhood; if you’re interested, stop in to survey some of the nation’s most important books and other documents, including the Quebec heritage collection.) The presence of some 40,000 students lends a youthful energy to the surrounding neighborhood, especially this part of Rue St-Denis; walk north along the lively street and browse funky clothing shops and used bookstores. Need a mid-morning break? There are plenty of Internet cafes if you need a cyber fix, or you can simply sip a coffee and enjoy the view from a sidewalk terrace.
Continuing north on St-Denis, you’ll arrive at a pretty green square surrounded by elegant stone residences — complete with Montreal’s classic outdoor staircases. Spend a few moments here in Square St-Louis, a prime spot for people (and pigeon!) watching. At the opposite end of the square, take a quick detour down Avenue Laval to the right to see beautifully restored historic buildings — including number 3688, where poet Emile Nelligan once lived. Then retrace your steps and make a left onto all-pedestrian Rue Prince-Arthur. Once a haven for 1960’s hippies, today this cobblestone street bustles with street musicians, artists and visitors drawn to its historic ambience and cheerful BYOB restaurants.
Prince Arthur runs into Boulevard St-Laurent, a k a “The Main,” which marks the city’s historical boundary between its east, or French, side and its west side, populated by English speakers and other immigrants. Though the two halves of the city are not as markedly different as they used to be, the cultural diversity found at their intersection makes for a fabulous selection of restaurants here on St-Laurent; for lunch, sample the cuisine at any of the ethnic eateries on this section of the street, like the elegant Thai Grill, the trendy Buonanotte (Italian) or the refined Mezze (gourmet Greek).
Heading south on St-Laurent, you’ll reach the Musee Juste Pour Rire, or Just for Laughs Museum. You’ve probably heard the old relationship adage “Those who laugh, last” — put it to the test at the world’s first museum dedicated to humor. Named after Montreal’s annual comedy festival, the Just for Laughs Museum features an exhibit with 100 clips of famous comedians, from Johnny Carson to Woody Allen, doing their best bits. (Note: You must call ahead or go online to make a reservation for the exhibit.)
After your visit, head for the nearby St-Laurent station and take the metro to the McGill stop. Walk from the metro station north along Avenue McGill College and enjoy the view of Mont Royal, topped by its famous metallic cross. Placed there in 1927, the cross commemorates the day in 1643 when Montreal’s founder, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, placed a wooden cross there to thank the Virgin Mary for saving the fledgling village from flood. On your right you’ll see the Tour BNP, a modern, blue glass building fronted by a distinctive sculpture by Raymond Mason entitled “The Illuminated Crowd.”
You started your day at the francophone Universite du Quebec a Montreal — now it’s time to see how the other half lives at the English-speaking McGill University, Montreal’s oldest. Wander the university’s tree-lined paths, pausing to admire the neo-Classical Arts Building, the oldest structure on campus. If there’s time, McGill’s museum of natural history, the Redpath Museum, is worth a look.
End your day by soaking up the atmosphere of Montreal’s bustling downtown en route to dinner at Julien, a favorite for French dishes like duck confit and escargot. If you’re in the mood for something lighter, the lobster salad scrumptiously fits the bill. Top it all off with an order of creme brulee for two.
–written by Sarah Schlichter; updated by Christina Livadiotis