The island of Montreal offers the contemporary cruise ship passenger innumerable possibilities for their own three-hour stopover tour of the city. Or make it a three-day tour, depending on how long you’re docked…
Montreal is becoming an ever-more-popular destination for cruise operators, in large part due to its top-rated, full-service Iberville Cruise Terminal (complete with on-site customs clearance and tourism representatives), in the historic Old Port. The winding cobblestone streets, centuries-old European architectural ambiance and overall French laissez-faire feel of directly adjacent Old Montreal don’t hurt either.
The Three-hour Tour: If time isn’t on your side and you want to make the most of your few hours ashore, an expansive array of options exists just steps away from the water in Old Montreal.
To get your food and drink fix, start out at L’Appartement, an intimate resto/cocktail lounge complete with couches piled high with pillows, apartment-style. Or maybe an old-world feel is more to your taste, in which case the stone walls and wood furniture of Accords wine bar (the largest in the city) will do the trick. After that, mosey over to the crafty and classy Méchant Boeuf Bar & Brasserie, a perennial favourite of food lovers, or duck into the comfy confines of Garde Manger, the creation of celebrity chef Chuck Hughes. And the Les Éclusiers, at the mouth of the history-laden Lachine Canal, offers both impeccable dining and design courtesy of renowned chef Giovanni Apollo.
Hungry for entertainment? Montreal’s premiere IMAX theatre is situated in the Old Port, while for those in search of nightlife, Le Piano Rouge Bistro Lounge features live musicians playing soul, world, R&B and jazz to a lively dancefloor while Le Balcon Cabaret Music Hall offers up dinner and a show with top-ranked entertainers in a sophisticated setting. Or if you want to sample authentic Quebecois culture, live music, good food and fun are staples of the popular Deux Pierrots.
For the culturally minded, the towering Notre-Dame Basilica, a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture, is host to a spectacular, 35-minute multimedia show most evenings, while just a few short blocks away the Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History offers a fascinating view of Montreal through the centuries, complete with an excavated graveyard and underground river in its subterranean levels (show your boarding pass and get your second admission ticket free). If authentic objets d’art are calling, then a stroll through the gorgeously restored Marché Bonsecours (considered one of Canada’s Top 10 finest heritage buildings) will tickle all manner of fancies. Or if it’s simply your brain that’s on the brain, the harbour front Montreal Science Centre has all manner of interactive exhibitions for all ages.
Three-day Tours: For cruise ship visitors lucky enough to have a few days at their disposal, Montreal can fill itineraries of all tastes and means, and this also applies to accommodations. A world-class selection of spa hotels, family hotels, boutique hotels and more awaits. Seasonal “Sweet Deal” packages are offered year-round at close to 30 participating hotels (this includes an exclusive coupon booklet with discounts worth up to $500). With a roof over your head, it’s time to head out on the town…
Day 1: For those looking to get the lay of the land on their first day, guided tours provide an immediate connection. VDM Global DMC offer personalized tours as well as neighbourhood culinary tours of multiple descriptions, while Local Montréal provides walking tours of many of the city’s most colourful cultural, gourmet and microbrewery hotspots, including the epicentre of seasonal fresh food, the sprawling Jean-Talon Market (be sure to stop by the oyster bar!). And if less walking, more gawking is more to your liking, Grayline City Tours offer a Hop-On Hop-Off Double-Decker Montreal tour as well as a range of coach tours.
After a day of touring, it’s time to relax with tea at the elegant Birks Café, or perhaps take high tea at the Ritz-Carlton (every day from 1:30 to 5:30 pm) before settling down to dinner at its attendant restaurant, Maison Boulud, the brainchild of renowned French chef Daniel Boulud. Speaking of the top tables in town, one would also want to consider the always innovating, world-class Toqué! (the creation of Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux Normand Laprise), the top-rated, self-explanatory Aix Cuisine du Terroir, or the spacious elegance and inventive French menu of Decca 77.
Day 2: If you’d prefer to strike out on your own, hop a ferry from the Jacques-Cartier Quay in the Old Port to Parc Jean-Drapeau on the pastoral Île Ste-Hélène for one of the most spectacular views of the Montreal city skyline. Île Ste-Hélène is also host to La Ronde, a Six Flags amusement park with more than 40 rides.
And the fun doesn’t end there: the Casino de Montréal, located right next to Île Ste-Hélène on Île Notre-Dame (home of the old Expo 67 site, the remnants of which are open for exploring), is Canada’s largest casino. Open 24 hours a day, the Casino – in the final stages of an extensive redesign – also features a range of live entertainment and eating options, such as the “buffet gourmand” Pavillon 67. With winnings in hand, that afternoon strike out for two of the city’s key must-see destinations: the Biodôme (comprised of four fascinating “Ecosystems of the Americas” featuring more than 4,800 animals representing 230 different species), and Botanical Garden (over 22,000 plant species makes it one of the world’s largest). If time isn’t an issue, opt for the three-attraction package which includes the Biodome, the Insectarium and the Montreal Tower Observatory, which rises above the awe-inspiring Olympic Stadium.
And whether for lunch or dinner, Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen – internationally renowned for their smoked meat sandwiches, situated on Montreal’s historic St-Laurent Blvd., known to locals as “The Main” – is a must when it comes to completing your quintessential Montreal experience. For a nightcap try cocktails on the cosmopolitan Crescent Street (also prime shopping territory during daylight hours) in the downtown core, known for inviting pubs like Hurley’s Irish Pub, Brutopia and Winnies, popular with both Montrealers and visitors alike.
Day 3: On this, the third and final day, you’ve got some decisions to make… Perhaps a little exercise is in order after all the primo eating, in which case bike rentals from Montreal on Wheels or My Bicyclette may be in order. Or for even more fun, take a three-seat or six-seat quadricycle for a spin in the Old Port, or a pedal boat in the secure Bassin Bonsecours amidst the quays, with the help of Ecorecreo.
Conversely, if shopping is calling, you’re only limited by your bank account… or how far you want to walk. Montreal main artery Ste-Catherine Street is a discriminating buyer’s paradise, but still just the tip of the commerce iceberg: below ground, the city’s much-discussed “Underground City” is comprised of no less than 33 km of underground passageways, lined by stylish stores and restaurants, connecting virtually all of the downtown’s shopping hotspots, including Complexe les Ailes, Cours Mt-Royal and Complexe Desjardins among others.
All that simulating works up an appetite, and Montreal’s years-in-the-making Quartier des Spectacles – a strikingly-designed entertainment district with approximately 30 venues of all descriptions – has good eats to go with the good seats. The centrally located Place des Festivals, with its 235-jet fountain, seasonal concert stages and interactive installations (like the current Megaphone project), is lined by top-tier restos such as Brasserie T (the “little sister” of Toqué!), F Bar and the Bistro Le Balmoral, offering French cuisine during the week and live jazz Thursday through Saturday. Be sure look into performances at the Quartier’s many classy and classic venues, such Metropolis, Théâtre de Nouveau Monde, Monument National and, monumental in its own right, the five-theatre Place des Arts complex which anchors the whole. Or maybe, before setting sail, it’s a simple Calèche (horse-drawn carriage) ride – they leave from Old Montreal – that will be the cherry on your Montreal memory.