Montréal is the coolest old city in North America, and by that we don’t mean cold. Yes, it’s full of history, churches and monuments, all the things you’d expect to see in a city settled in the 1600s, but blow away some of the dust and you’ll find that Montréal is a magnet for all things chic and fun. A short hop from New York City and Chicago, Montréal makes an ideal weekend getaway.
Old Montréal is the historic heart of the city. You could spend weeks here soaking up history, but if time is limited you can limit the history lesson to Notre Dame Basilica, a 3,800-seat ecclesiastical goliath on rue Notre Dame Ouest. Everything about Notre Dame is over the top—check out the blue-vaulted ceiling’s 24-carat gold stars.
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In good weather, Place Jacques-Cartier (right), off rue Notre Dame, is a non-stop fair with outdoor terraces offering a front-row view of the peripatetic musicians, magicians, and mimes. Looking for a hair wrap or a tattoo? This is the place to go. Oh, the monument at the top of the square commemorates Lord Nelson’s triumph over Napoleon’s French navy at Trafalgar.
Got a sweet tooth? Indulge it at Les Délices de l’Érable (84 rue St.-Paul est), where you can gorge on goodies like maple-syrup mousse and truffles filled with maple-syrup ganache.
Shopaholics hover around Marché Bonsecours (350 rue St-Paul est) like moths to a flame. Recognizable by its hundred-foot-high silver dome, Bonsecours is an upscale shopping center where high fashion meets the frontier. At Boutique Diffusion Griff 3000, trendoids can salivate over prêt-à-porter from Quebec couturiers. The Galerie de l’Institut de Design de Montréal has swanky, designer-y consumer products, and the Conseil des métiers d’art du Quebec is the bee’s knees in crafts media.
If the shopping bags are weighing you down, stop in for a pick me up at Jello Bar, where the martini menu has 52 poisons to choose from.
Pooped? Hit the hay at Auberge du Vieux-Port (97 rue de la Commune est). The charm isn’t manufactured and the food is délicieuse.
Downtown and Le Plateau
Rue Saint-Denis is the place to go for fashion, food, and nightlife. Fashionistas size things up at Mains Folles (4427 rue St-Denis), which carries goofy retro rigs and tropical skirts and dresses from Bali. Window displays at Scandale (3639 blvd. St-Laurent) are kind of lurid, but the fashions are made on site by the talented Georges Levesque and prices don’t break the bank.
If aromatic pleasures are your thing, pay a visit to Bella Pella (3933 rue St-Denis), where the luscious soaps, shampoos, and body lotions are made with organic ingredients (photo right).
Head-turning looks are the stock in trade at Jean Airoldi, the shop bearing the name of one of Quebec’s most-talented clothing designers (4455 rue St-Denis).
If under matters more than outer, check out the lighter-than-air lingerie at Deuxième Peau (4457 rue St-Denis), and nearby you can ogle the latest cuttings by style-setters Simon Chang and Jean-Claude Poitras at Revenge (3852 rue St-Denis).
Design of a different sort is on display downtown at Le Centre Canadien d’Architecture (1920 rue Baile), where a vast collection of architectural drawings, designs, photographs, and models are housed in a sleek, ultramodern building.
A few blocks north of rule Baile is the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (1380 rue Sherbrooke Ouest). The busy decorative arts collection includes prototypes of designs by, among other modernists, Frank Gehry and Charles and Ray Eames.
Hungry? Make a beeline for luxe Caprices de Nicolas (2072 rue Drummond), where you can nosh on poached sea bass and sip champagne in high style (pictured right).
Hipsters in search of all things up-to-the-minute head to Mile End, where fashion runways showcase furniture not models. Sauriol (5253 boulevard Saint-Laurent) has minimalist Scandinavian furnishings, and Hectarus (5329 boulevard Saint-Laurent, pictured right) carries gleaming and glamorous sinks, countertops, doors, tiles, and handsome accessories in an array of colors and materials (including trendy vitrified glass).
Phil’z (5298 boulevard Saint-Laurent) has furniture heavy on kitschy American styles.
When hunger strikes, Rotisserie Laurier (381 avenue Laurier ouest) has stick-to-your-ribs favorites like roast chicken and mashed potatoes. Afterward, stroll to Pâtisserie de Gascogne (237 avenue Laurier ouest) for a pecan tart.
End your day with a cocktail at swish Mile End (5322 boulevard Saint-Laurent), a tri-level café and bar that’s become all the rage with Montréal’s prettiest boys and girls (pictured right). À ta Santé!