One of the best things about living in Toronto is being able to do weekend getaways to big cities without having to spend too much. After weeks of working, my cousin and I decided we needed a break. So we chose Montréal for a weekend getaway. It started with me driving to Ottawa, where my cousin lives, and staying there a night before leaving for Montréal early next morning. Like 7:30am early. I know it's really early, but I had lots planned :)
I've been to Montréal many times before, but it was always a family trip to visit relatives, so I never truly explored it. I vaguely remember visiting the Olympic Stadium but that's about it. So this time I wanted to see the city for what it really was, and it was a bonus that both my cousin and I have similar interests.
Our morning started off by driving to the Airbnb place we booked to drop off our car since we were too early to check in. The apartment we stayed at was a 5 minute walk to the city's main subway station, Berri-UQAM station. There were also plenty of restaurants and nightlife nearby, including one particular "secret" bar we went to (more on this later).
Our first stop was the Visitor Centre, but to get there required taking the subway (or metro in Montréal). I'm always nervous about taking public transportation as it differs from city to city, and I don't want to stand out as a tourist. However, thanks to Google maps, my limited knowledge of French, and my cousin who speaks fluent French, we were able to get around easy enough. We got a day pass and I was in complete awe that all you had to do was "tap" your day pass (or ticket) and go through the turnstile. No tokens, no showing your day passes to subway staff, or having to wait around until one showed up to purchase tickets (because machines in Montréal sold regular and day pass tickets). The Toronto Transit Commission can learn a thing or two from Montreal...
After getting maps and information from the Visitor Centre we were ready to explore. Next stop: Barbie Expo
This permanent Barbie exhibit is located in the heart of downtown Montréal, and it is FREE. There are hundreds of Barbie's styled by famous fashion labels such as Givenchy, Versace, Christian Dior, and more. You can also find Barbies with the likeness of famous actors, musicians, superheroes, and fictional characters. My favourite were the Lord of the Rings barbies.
Following the exhibit, we walked to Old Montréal to Pointe-à-Callière Museum, which focuses on archaeology and history. Spanning two buildings connected by an underground tunnel/exhibits, this museum was well worth the $20 adult admission I paid. I learned a lot about Montréal's history, archaeology, and about Asian art (there was a special exhibition featuring objects from Asia from a private collection).
After a short stop at a cafe, we walked to Place Jacques-Cartier where we came upon a Montréal 375 tent. The staff there were hosting a scavenger hunt, and if we got all the correct answers we get free hot chocolate or maple taffy at a nearby cafe. Fun, right?! Well, the quiz was really hard (we cheated a little by googling things) and by the time we were finished, the tent and staff were gone :( This activity is part of Montréal 375 and will be around for a while, so if you're in the city look out for them, do the quiz, and get free things! Near Place Jacques-Cartier are also a few attractions that may be of interest: Montréal City Hall, Château Ramezay (historic site), Jacques-Cartier Pier, and many restaurants and cafes.
Following this, we went back to our Airbnb place to rest and get ready for a night out. Our first stop of the evening was a "secret" underground speakeasy, Le 4e Mur (The 4th Wall). Speakeasies were underground bars common during the Prohibition in Canada and the United States in the 1920s. Le 4e Mur's website revealed little about their location, so I had to sign up for their mailing list before I was emailed their location. Sounds cool, right? There's more! Turns out it was only a block from where we were staying, so after getting dressed up we headed out to find this bar. On the door was a sign that said "Agence de Detectives". As soon as you stepped inside, there is a "brick" wall (more like brick wallpaper). We opened the brick door and there were stairs leading down to the basement. Upon arriving at the bottom (after walking through a black curtain), we were greeted by handsome waiters dressed in 1920's fancy clothing. Oh la la. Being a bar, they had bar food, but their cocktail drinks were also expensive (cheapest was $12). If you stay late enough, some nights they have burlesque shows. Overall, we had a great time there. Excellent staff, cozy, and good vibes.
Our next and final stop was Luminothérapie, an outdoor temporary art experience. There was one particular installation I wanted to see, which were the zoetropes.
The zoetropes are like flipbooks. When you flip it fast enough, it looks like a moving image. Likewise, if you moved the bar in the middle of the zoetrope fast enough, a moving image appears, which is visible to you (sitting on the inside) as well as passerbyers (on the outside). There were 13 zoetropes and each one had an image from a fairytale. Not going to lie, I was looking forward to this the most on my trip, and although it was a short experience, it was worth it. Especially because all the beautiful lights and video projections (on nearby buildings).
There was so much more I wanted to do, but one full day is not enough. It's a good thing I live only a few hours drive from Montréal, because I will definitely be going back.
What is your favourite place to visit in Montréal? Let me know below!