July 23, 2012 ─ For a travel experience that goes beyond the usual, Montréal is an excellent destination. Even with little or no experience in certain activities, you can enjoy a safe and rewarding soft adventure that will nourish your spirit, body, and mind in an exceptional urban environment. From surfing on the waves of the mighty St. Lawrence River to hiking up the paths of majestic Mount Royal to cycling through bustling, architecturally diverse neighbourhoods comprising 120 different cultural groups, you will find endless opportunities to discover the outdoors, among many other treasures, within a vibrant 21st century city.
First, here are some basics. The BIXI biking system is one of the best ways to visit Montréal landmarks at a low cost. The service allows you to rent a bike from one station, travel to your destination, and dock the bike at any other station across an extensive network, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from May to November. Montréal has over 560 kilometres of bicycle paths, perfect for safe exploration and discovery.
DAY 1 – TWO-WHEEL ISLAND HOPPING
Old Montréal is home to Montréal On Wheels, which rents out a vast array of bicycles and accessories, including tandems, road bikes, cruisers, child trailers, and rollerblades. Take one of centre's accredited guided city bike tours for an amazing introduction to Montréal attractions.
For lunch, head to the nearby MUVBOX, a recycled shipping container that unfolds to become a fully functional, portable, bistro with an outdoor terrace. Here you can enjoy delicious seafood specialties, including those made with Îles de la Madeline lobster, as an alternative to street hot dogs and fries.
After lunch, since you still have access to your bike, you can bring it with you on the shuttle boat to Parc Jean-Drapeau, a unique mix of green space, architecture, history, and a wealth of activities for you to choose from. Comprising two islands (île Ste-Hélène and île Notre-Dame) that make up the former site of Expo 67 (as witnessed by the Biosphère, Environment Museum, the old American pavilion), Parc Jean-Drapeau is now home to La Ronde, a Six Flags Family amusement park offering more than 40 rides and attractions; the Casino de Montréal, which has nearly 100 gaming tables and around 3,000 slot machines and the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve (on which you can bike freely), home of the F1 Grand Prix of Canada. You can cycle around the islands, pick out some options that appeal to you, and take it from there. For the fish among you, there is even a filtered-water beach and an aquatic complex that offers three recently renovated pools for all kinds of amphibious fun.
After your day of island exploration, return your bike to Montréal On Wheels and check out one of the numerous fine eateries in the neighbourhood.
DAY 2 – BODIES ON WATER
Located just 15 minutes from downtown Montréal, KSF in the heart of the Parc des Rapides (Lasalle), is a one-of-a-kind sports club, school, and rental centre that offers tours, courses, and equipment rental for river kayaking, river surfing, Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP), and yoga activities. Choose one of these for the morning and hang loose on the city’s shores.
When hunger calls for lunch time, head to the resto-bar Brasseur de Montréal. In a relaxed atmosphere, you can recharge with comfort food and quench your thirst with a selection from the range of beers brewed on site. If the weather is right, take advantage of the outdoor terrace.
Once you have well digested your midday meal, you can choose to go jet boating with Les Excursions Rapides de Lachine or Saute-Moutons, or if you have had enough of the water, you can hike up to the top of the majestic natural landmark watching over the city, Mount Royal Park. Affectionately referred to by locals as "The Mountain", it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect behind New York City's famed Central Park. Notable landmarks in Mount Royal Park include Smith house, which is a heritage building constructed in 1858 that has become an education, exchange, and cooperation centre devoted to the conservation of Mount Royal, and the outdoor Kondiaronk lookout at the Mount Royal Chalet, where vistas of the downtown area will take your breath away.
Rafting, jet boating, and hiking, can certainly create a healthy appetite, so for dinner proceed to Beaver Hall and enjoy updated traditional cuisine in a chic atmosphere reminiscent of Parisian bistros, or head to Andiamo, where you can indulge in sautéed mussels with chorizo and white wine, or perhaps a pesto chicken breast with croquette potato over sun dried tomato coulis? These are just some of the mouth-watering dishes the restaurant has to offer.
For an adventurous after-dinner cocktail, Le Sarah B., named after the Divine Sarah Bernhardt, will give your taste buds a try at the mysterious green elixir known as absinthe! From the art of decanting to mystic hallucinations, Le Sarah B. revisits absinthe’s rites and tales in a hip, 19th century-inspired décor. For some privacy, the venue even offers two intimate, plush rooms each with its own relaxing fireplaces. Santé!
DAY 3 – OLYMPIC FEATS
Located in the city’s Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (HoMa) district, the Horizon Roc Climbing Centre is one of the largest indoor climbing centres in the world, with over 2,600 square metres of climbing surface for top-rope or lead climbers of all ages and abilities. The centre boasts a wide variety of interesting and complex climbing surfaces, from verticals to overhangs to caves to an impressive bouldering centrepiece, all for you to reach new heights in a safe and family-friendly environment.
As midday approaches, make your way to the nearby Maisonneuve Market, one of Montréal's main public markets, which offers a variety of local produce—fruits, vegetables, meats, cheese, fish, and baked goods—that can serve as lunch for your hungry belly.
Next, head to the Montréal Biodôme, which comprises four Ecosystems (Tropical Rainforest, Laurentian Maple Forest, Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Sub-Polar Regions), over 4,800 animals from 230 different species, and 750 plant types. Experienced nature interpreters will take you on a memorable journey through the Americas.
When you exit the Montréal Biodôme, look up to the sky and you will undoubtedly see the Montréal Tower rising above the Olympic site (most of which was built for the 1976 Summer Games). Take the funicular-type elevator up the tower (the tallest inclined tower in the world) to the three observation floors to catch awe-inspiring views of the city.
If you are hankering for some outdoor activity, a jog around the picturesque Parc Maisonneuve will get the blood pumping nicely through your system, as can a refreshing swim at one of seven pools in the Olympic Park.
When you are ready to head back downtown, grab a BIXI and ride to the Quartier des spectacles (Entertainment District) to take in some of the sites and sounds of Montréal’s dynamic cultural heart. Within one square kilometre, the site is home to more than 80 venues offering an exceptionally diverse array of activities, including festivals, movies, plays, dance performances, art exhibitions, technological art displays, music concerts, operas, and comedy shows.
The Quartier des spectacles has almost everything, including supper spots, like Brasserie T!, renowned for its culinary elegance and finesse; F Bar, which carries a rich Potuguese-inspired menu; Le Balmoral, the official bistro of the Montreal Jazz Fest which has a lovely patio directly overlooking the Place des Festivals; or the Café du Nouveau Monde, a theatrically inspired eatery at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde which serves updated classics. As you can see, choices are aplenty for satisfying all kinds of palates and moods. Bon Appétit!