48 perfect hours in Montreal

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For many of us, Montreal is a slice of “other places” thanks to cobbled streets, narrow alleys, and shop signage written in French. But Quebec’s largest city isn’t just a warehouse for escapism—after all, two million people call it home, which means the food, culture, and resources of a big city are at your fingertips, too. Considering that it’s only a short plane ride pretty much pretty much anywhere in the US, you can see so much in just one weekend. Here’s how to run on the ground.

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day 1

11 a.m.: Check-in

Photo courtesy of Le Germain Hotel

Work on an early check-in at Le Germain. The newly renovated digs of this boutique property feature fabrics, shapes, and even swing chairs in the room chosen to evoke the glamor of the 1967 World and International Fair. Avoid falling on their oversized beds (that’s later). Instead, take a shower and freshen up with a woody soap and shampoo that features a scent made by Canadian model Ruby Brown.

Noon: fuel

Flickr CC: Chuck Moravec

If you are looking for the authentic city served with a side of meat, head to Schwartz’s Deli. (Vegetables, try LOV, Foodchain, or Aux Vivres instead.) This ghetto staple has been serving up oversized sandwiches and bowls of french fries cut straight from the oil for over 90 years. Lines can be severe, so consider sitting at the table where you can watch the show unfold. Or grab a quick bite and head to one of the many parks ready for a picnic.

1pm: Art tasting outdoors

Since 2012, the Plateau neighborhood off Saint Laurent Boulevard has hosted Moral, a festival where street artists from around the world create original wall-sized art. Even if you’re not there during the June festivities, it’s worth wandering to see a tribute to the late Montreal-based artist Scanner, in honor of Jackie Robinson (who first played for the Montreal Royals), and purple-tinged Kevin LeDoux, don’t miss the tribute to the city’s patron saint, Leonard Cohen.

3 p.m.: Reward yourself

Just because you’re a runaway doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice a little pampering. Holt Renfrew Ogilvy’s newly renovated store is Montreal’s high-end boutique; It not only hosts the largest selection of luxury brands in the city, but also offers personal shoppers and car service between satellite locations. But the real treasure is the skincare-focused basement. Book a free facial, where an expert will work in one of the completely dark and relaxing treatment rooms.

5 pm: Take a picnic at sunset

Flickr CC: London Road

Head to the Parc du Mont-Royal to see the mountainous expanse of nature for which the town is named. If you prefer skiing, jogging, or hiking, be sure there is plenty of ground to make it happen. But even if you’re not in training, a five-minute stroll to the lookout area, located 764 feet above the city, offers stunning sunset views that include a Leonard Cohen Crescent Street mural. (That’s right, Montreal has two honors for the poet-musical.)

8 p.m.: Dinner by the campfire

Even short trips should contain at least one sumptuous meal. Foxy combines fine dining and cooking over an open flame to create delicious steaks, salads, and desserts that are equal parts campfire, nostalgic and upscale.

10pm: Sip a tropical cup

Do you still have some life left in you? Head to Ti-Agrikol for an alcoholic drink. Owned by Win Butler and Régine Chassagne (yes, of Arcade Fire fame), Gay Village Restaurant and Bar is a tribute to Chassagne’s Haitian heritage, which pays homage to everything from its brightly colored walls, to its fruity rum cocktails. Looking at the owners, expect a consistently great soundtrack.

midnight: crash

Get some rest – you earned it. Additional hotels include the ultra-chic Monville, a high-tech accommodation that features room service robots. If old-world charm is your bag, enjoy the Nelligan Hotel, which features plush bedding, exposed brick walls, and easy access to the Old Port.

the second day

9 a.m.: Carbohydrate Loading

Flickr CC: Tmab2003

Join the ongoing baking battles in Montreal. For Mile End residents, it’s about two bakeries – Fairmount and St. Viator Bagel. While loyalists will argue passionately about the franchises of their chosen store, both establishments have been serving hot, delicious bread rings 24 hours a day for nearly 100 years. (And honestly, you can’t go wrong with choosing one of…or both!)

10 a.m.: Hit the road

Cycling is a lifestyle in Montreal and with bike lanes plentiful, it’s beginner-friendly too. Rent a bike or join a guide from Fitz and Follwell, who offer seasonal themed tours such as family-friendly or even spa-friendly tours. Bonus: Montreal is one of the few cities where guides must be licensed, which means any tour will be of great help with history as well as fun personal facts.

2 PM: Load the carbs again

Popular in the 1950s, poutine is a Quebec-born staple that combines french fries, gravy, and cheese curds. While everyone and their tourist cousin swear by La Banquise (which for the record offers multiple forms of the good stuff 24/7), consider stopping in instead at L’Gros Luxe in the Mile End, a vegetarian dream with multiple varieties around that Theme, and a seemingly infinite number of add-ons.

3 p.m.: Soak

Why rush when you can indulge in a little passive sightseeing? From the hot tub at Bota Bota, a floating boat resort anchored in Old Montreal Harbor, see a number of the city’s most iconic sites without lifting a single finger, including the brutal Habitat 67 Building, the Farine Five Roses sign, and the biosphere from the 67th World Expo . Complete the water circuit (hot, cold, rest, and repeat), then toast the city with a glass of roses from the spa’s bar and restaurant.

7 p.m.: Let the good times roll

Flickr CC: Christina Maid

Take your newly comfy self a little further down the Old Port to the Montreal Lookout Wheel, located off the Saint Lawrence River. (Don’t worry – you’ll know it when you see it.) The high-tech Ferris wheel features climate- and sound-controlled cars that lift guests 60 meters into the air. (Read: the perfect bird’s-eye view.) Craving a next-level adventure? Order the 42 car with a glass base!

8 p.m.: Get it all… then eat it

Skip the “where to eat” battle and head to Le Central, one of Montreal’s newest food courts, located downtown off the Quartier des glassesles. Taco, Indian, pizza, pasta, mini donut, and a bar? This place has All. (I read it in a file Saturday Night Live-An adjacent voice, right?)

10 p.m.: Have a drink bye

A staple in the Old Port, The Cold Room is a darkened hall with the kind of bartenders who can’t and won’t bother with your order, no matter how complex the cocktail. For the best local experience, be sure to try ‘Montreal’, a cocktail of gin, whiskey, aperol and sous, all chosen to represent the multicultural nature of the city.

Wait, there’s more: Montreal is a city of festivals, and it’s rare that a month goes by without some kind of celebration, even in winter. Foodies will appreciate Yul Eat, music lovers will flock to Pop Montreal and Osheaga, and winter fanatics and art appreciators will enjoy Nuit Blanche and Montreal Snow Festival, both of which light up the colder months with quirky creative combinations.

Landmark: Canada, Montreal

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