You haven’t really visited Montreal until you’ve stayed in Old Montreal.

Montreal is the best city in Canada to visit. It’s a perfect place for a girls’ weekends, its music festivals are the best in Canada, and as one of the oldest cities in the country, where French is the first language spoken, it can feel like going to Europe without needing a passport.

I’ve been to Montreal many times, but I tend to hang out in the same neighbourhoods – the Plateau, Mille-End, or the Latin/Gay quartier downtown. They’re great, but they are also a lot like the west end of Toronto or the lower east side of Manhattan. Very familiar.

Street in Old Montreal
Photo by G. Yancy via Flickr

Old Montreal (or as they would call it Vieux-Montréal) is an entirely different vibe. An historic neighbourhood next to the Port of Montreal, its narrow cobblestone streets date back to the 17th century. It’s full of art galleries, chic boutiques, great restaurants, and beautiful people. Toronto may be bigger, but we don’t have anything like this.

Staying in Old Montreal is like going to Europe without leaving Canada

So after a year and half of staying close to home waiting to travel internationally again, I decided that staying in Old Montreal and dedicating a weekend to exploring that specific neighbourhood was the perfect way to truly get away. Here are 13 things I learned.

The Indigenous name for Montreal is Tiohtiá:ke.  When the French settled in 1642, the city we now call Montreal was already a metropolis and gathering place for several First Nations. The Mohawk called it Tiohtià:ke. More information on Indigenous history can be found at Pointe-à-Callière, a history and archeology museum located down by the port, the site where the city began.

It’s expensive. There’s no question, staying and playing in Old Montreal is not a low-budget trip. Boutique hotels, fine restaurants, designer clothing. A $14 pineapple juice at the Hawaii themed coffee shop. But for your money you get the feeling of going to Europe with none of the jet lag. And if you just want to walk through, the atmosphere is free.

Place d'Armes at night
Notre Dame Basilica is a 30-second walk from Hotel Place d’Armes

Hotel Place d’Armes is right where you want to be. Directly across from the Place d’Armes square and Notre Dame Basilica and a 10-minute walk to anywhere else in Old Montreal on your list, Hotel Place d’Armes is a boutique hotel run out of four 19th century buildings, which have been designated historic sites. World-class service and spacious rooms made staying here a treat, and the prime location means there zero excuse not to get outside and see it all.

Cobblestone does not equal pedestrian only. Look both ways before crossing the streets!

Flat shoes are your friends. I mean, you can wear high heels while staying in Old Montreal. But I guess have reached the point in my life where spraining my ankle tripping over cobblestones because I want to look cute going out for dinner isn’t worth the trouble. This time I wore only flat boots and confirm I was 100% happier and better able to wander at leisure.

Posting with the Scandinave Spa sign
Post-sauna happy face!

You are walking distance to two blissful spas. If you like hydrotherapy – hot tubs, saunas, a cold plunge or two — you’re so close to two of Canada’s best spas.

Scandinave’s Old Montreal location is an intimate indoor space with a classic water circuit, a most excellent Finnish sauna, and lots of little lounge spaces for total zoning out. Silence is golden, so come here for quiet relaxation. BotaBota is a floating spa on a converted ship anchored in the port of Montreal with a gorgeous garden space and restaurant. Did I soak in all 7 of their hot tubs? Yes, yes I did. The views of Montreal are spectacular. And it’s all very popular with couples having a romantic night out. Whichever you choose, you can just float back to your hotel after.

Some people realllly like rubber ducks. There’s an entire gift shop devoted to rubber ducks. Every design imaginable including celebrities like Ziggy Starduck.

Les chuchoteuses (The Gossipers") by artist Rose-Aimée Bélanger
“What’s that smell?”

If you put a sculpture on the street here, it will smell like pee. Rue Saint-Paul is the oldest street in Montreal. I can only assume that in normal times at night it’s also a place to party. It sure smells like it. I stopped to admire a bronze sculpture of three women tucked into a corner and was hit with the odour of a thousand urine-soaked nights. Les chuchoteuses (“The Gossipers”) by artist Rose-Aimée Bélanger is thus best appreciated at a bit of a distance.

Maison Christian Faure pastries are heavenly. The French in general make superior baked goods. But I don’t think I’ve ever had a pastry treat as perfect as their chausson au pommes in Canada before. I may never eat anyone else’s apple turnover ever again, actually. This lovely shop with a warm all-white Parisian decor is right near a bunch of public Muskoka chairs and picnic tables with waterfront views, perfect for a take-out breakfast or brunch.

Everything is brown. So maybe don’t pick leopard print as your wardrobe if you don’t want to blend into the scenery in all your photos. This is actually a reminder to me to just stick with my basic blacks!

Slice and Soda pizza place in Old Montreal
Best way to spend $10 in Old Montreal is a slice and a soda

At Slice & Soda, get a Slice and a Soda. A pizza joint with photos of the Sex Pistols on its walls, a pinball machine to play while you wait, and black pizza boxes? This place seemed meant for me and did not disappoint. There’s something to be said for having a small menu done well. Their homemade “Bae” soda was the best drink I had all weekend and it was just $5.

Old Montreal view from the Terrace Place d'armes
Views aplenty from the rooftop bar at Terasse Place d’Armes

Terrasse Place ’Armes is the perfect place to end your night Views! Vibes! Reserve in advance for a spot on this rooftop patio and enjoy a 5-star experience that’s urban chic without being too-cool-for-school.

I really should have bought this Poutine T-shirt.

Posting in Old Montreal

What are your favourite places and memories in Old Montreal? Do tell in the comments below!