Americans tend to have an image of Montreal in their heads as a sleepy city which is more French than English. That is indeed true: some of the neighborhoods feel like they were taken straight from the old country, and are joys to stroll through. Don’t make any mistakes, however; Montreal as a city is quite “awake.” The original commercial capital of Canada, it still remains one of the most important commercial centers in the country and in the hemisphere. With over 50% of residents fluent in both French and English, Montreal is one of the most bilingual cities in Canada.
It is also one of the world’s most livable cities as rated by The Economist, and it is considered North America’s leading host city for international events. Look no further than the 1976 Summer Olympics, where Comaneci and Jenner won their golds, to see what Montreal is capable of. Let me tell you what you should see and do in the city the locals call “La Métropole.”
HOW TO GET THERE
Montreal is accessible by both land and air from Florida. Take Interstates 87 (from Albany, New York) and 89 (from Manchester, New Hampshire) and both roads will lead you to Montreal. Remember, American visitors must have their passports in-hand when entering Canada.
Air Canada flies daily direct flights to Montreal’s main international airport, Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood, Miami, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Orlando and Tampa. AmericanAirlines, Air Transat, WestJet and other airlines also fly direct flights from Florida to Montreal. AmericanAirlines usually offers the cheapest one-way flights from Florida, with airfares priced at around $150 per person. WestJet and Air Canada are also competitively-priced, with fares starting at approximately $200 per person.
WHERE TO STAY
The massive Centre Sheraton has nearly 800 guest rooms ready for you, all with the trademarked Sheraton Sweet Sleeper pillow-top beds. Club members can enjoy the 37th floor Club Lounge, and all guests can enjoy the invigorating health spa, which has a whirlpool, sauna, and massage studio. (1201 René-Lévesque Blvd. W., 514-878-2000) If you’re looking to stay in the city for a longer period of time but you don’t want to give up luxury, stay at the La Tour Belvédère Apartment Hotel. They offer studios and one-bedroom suites, with such amenities as a fitness center, an indoor swimming pool, and satellite television. Weekly and monthly rates are available upon request. (2175 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W., 514-935-9052)
If you want something in the same neighborhood that’s a little larger but just as cozy, consider the Hôtel St-Paul. Visit the on-site restaurant, Hambar, for fresh, local ingredients and stay for the wines, with the list designed by a famous Canadian sommelier. (355 McGill St., 514-380-2222) If you want local charm infused with the world-class experience you expect from Loews Hotels, book your stay at the Loews Hôtel Vogue. After a busy day in the city, you can relax in your ensuite whirlpool tub or you can have a drink at the Opéra bar or Le Lux Lounge, both great places to people-watch and soak in the city’s infectious energy. (1425 de la Montagne St., 514-285-5555)
WHERE TO PLAY
Fanning out over a mile from the Beaudry Metro station on Saint Catherine Street East, Montreal’s Gay Village is one of the largest in the world, and is the hub of gay life in the city. The Montreal Pride parade, scheduled for August 16, will take a path from René-Lévesque Boulevard towards The Village. Transgender American actress and activist Candis Cayne will be one of the four grand marshals of the 2015 parade.
Montreal is very well-known for its lax attitudes toward bars with exotic dancers. Nude lap dancing is legal and encouraged in select Montreal clubs, such as Campus (1111 Saint Catherine St. E.), which offers a roster of young twenty-somethings during the day and older, more muscled dancers at night. Don’t forget Stock, right down the block (1171 Saint Catherine St. E.), which employs over five dozen dancers of all races, sizes and tastes.
In the same building, at the same address, as Stock is Unity, the largest gay club in the city. With three dance floors, a terrace and a VIP room, there truly is something for everyone at this famous nightspot. Complexe Sky (1474 Saint Catherine St. E.) is similarly large, also offering three different floors of fun. What’s unique about Sky is that it also hosts two restaurants and a spa. Who doesn’t love a spa with their nightclub?
Bar Le Cocktail (1669 Saint Catherine St. E.) caters to the French-speaking gay crowd but you won’t be left in the dark if you come in as an Anglophone tourist. You’ll love their lounge, private rooms, karaoke nights and glamorous drag presentations. (Montreal, like New York, is a big drag city.) If you want a cruisy all-male environment, check out Stud (1812 Saint Catherine St. E.), with a narrow dance floor (the better for ‘brushing past’ the hot men) and televisions playing steamy adult films.
Enjoy food and karaoke at the cozy Club Date (1218 Saint Catherine St. E.), which also has a patio that’s great for prime summer people-watching. Another cozy bar is the fun Code Bar (1351 Rachel St. E.), a former tavern, which now hosts many art-related community events. Studio Backstage (1661 Saint Catherine St. E.) is another artsy bar, which regularly hosts paint nights and even live full-nude body painting.
WHERE TO GO
If you’re a fan of modern art, you are sure to spend countless hours inside the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC), the first museum in Canada to be completely devoted to modern art. The MAC is located on the edge of the Entertainment District, so once you’re done exploring the museum, you can take in a show or see a live music festival. If you want to get tickets to any cultural show in the city, a stop at “La vitrine culturelle” (the cultural window) is absolutely essential.
Old Montréal showcases the earliest vestiges of Canadian life, as it was lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Notre-Dame Basilica is absolutely stunning; you can’t visit Montreal without stopping in the old quarter to see it. After you’re done experiencing the past, stop at the Place Ville Marie and see Canada’s present and future: consisting of five skyscrapers, a shopping center, and the entrance to Montreal’s underground pedestrian network, the Place Ville Marie is a shrine to the modern-day metropolis as only Canada can build it.
Close to Rue Sherbrooke is the Montreal Botanical Garden, which houses an extensive plant collection from around the world and is considered one of the world’s most important botanical gardens. Also nearby is Maisonneuve Park, 290 acres in size, which Montrealers of all ages enjoy year-round. If you’re in this area, you have to stop by Olympic Stadium; in 1976, Canada was given the opportunity to host the Summer Olympics for the first time, and delegates from all over the world once filled the stands.
Find out more about what Montreal has to offer by visiting their official tourism website at tourisme-montreal.org.