America,  Canada,  TDM,  Travel Journal

A day in Montreal (Canada): Notre-Dame Basilica, Underground City, Chinatown…

Today, I will take you on a tour of Montreal. We’ve taken time to explore each neighbourhood, but I’m putting them all together in one article, so if you’re short on time, you can explore them all in one long day.

Part 1: Travel Diary Part
2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

Our airbnb

For a month, we were in an Airbnb filled with green plants, next to the Lionel-Groulx metro station (orange line). The location isn’t super central, but we are only 20 minutes from downtown by subway. The neighborhood is quiet, full of restaurants. The only constraint is the mezzanine (where the bed is) and the staircase leading to it always scares me. To see the video of this airbnb, click here For info, we paid 1400€ for 33 nights (42€/night).

The neighborhood where we are isn’t one of the prettiest, but from time to time we see small streets with small 2-3 storey houses, typically Montreal. What I like too much is that you can access each floor via the massive staircase in front of the house. This allows each house to be divided into 3 (or 4) apartments with independent access.

Note: It was ugly all month of May, so we show you rather the beautiful pictures taken in June, when the trees are green and the weather is sunny.

The brunch

Breakfast is an institution here. There are plenty of restaurants that serve breakfast all day long. Brunch is offered in a lot of restaurants, and not only on weekends. However, you have to be careful what you order. Once, I ordered 3 pancakes thinking they would be small and cute, and I was served 3 huge pancakes the size of a small pancake ! Anyway, if something costs at least 15$CA, it’s a complete dish.

Karen (who has been living in Montreal for 15 years), recommended the following addresses:

  • Régine Café: Montreal institution, you have to wait a bit on the sidewalk (no reservation) but really a place to try out
  • Ship yourself : For lovers of good waffles and excellent accompaniments (reservations possible, less typical)
  • Faberge 514 : Another classic (no reservation) so a little wait
  • Le Sain Bol: An organic place, and a lot of love in their dishes, less typical
at Régine Café

I have the impression that the brunch here is a little bit different than what we are served in France. Basically, there’s salt-sweet on the menu, and we order what we want. This allows a better personalization of the brunch.

It is important to know that personalization is something very important in restaurants, customers have a lot (too much) of choice about what is on their plate. For a very simple dish, it is quite possible that we are asked a multitude of questions about ingredients to put in more/less, about the type of bread we want, or the type of chocolates to put in our fondant. Sometimes there are so many choices that we really don’t know what we want/prefer – and the waiter doesn’t help too much either when we ask “what do you recommend?” 😛 And we feel silly not knowing our own preferences haahahah

Underground City

We go in search of the underground city of Montreal. A network that connects several buildings to downtown. These buildings may be skyscrapers of large companies, such as shopping malls. In any case, like Toronto, this network looks like a network of subway corridors, where the air is more breathable, and we see food courts & a few stores from time to time.

It’s this famous network that I was sold as an essential argument to counter the cold in Canada. Another urban myth! Because it doesn’t cover the whole city, and if you don’t live in one of the buildings underneath it, you still have to go outside when it’s -20°C. To find out, just type Underground City, Montreal (in Toronto, look for the PATH logo).


The metro Mc Gill and everything in the surrounding area is my favorite in Montreal because all my favorite stores are concentrated there. I spent a lot of time at the Montreal Eaton Centre and the stores next door (Kielh’s, Simons…)

Next door is The Keg Steakhouse + Bar – Place Ville Marie, which I find a bit noisy, but I love their steak. The bbq is a real institution in North America, they know how to cook a rare steak perfectly. In supermarkets, the BBQ department (marinated meat & sausages for the BBQ) is more stocked than the “meat” department at all. People also barbecue in Montreal parks when the weather is nice. There are even Barbecue contests in Canada and the USA, and participants come with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. It doesn’t equal Japanese beef, or South American (Argentinean, Chilean, Uruguayan) beef, but I rank them right behind. If you only want to eat burgers, they recommended La Belle et la Bœuf, which is cheaper, but I find the taste less refined than here.

My favorite pastime when it’s ugly in Montreal is shopping and especially a little trip to the bookstores. In Renaud Bray bookstores, you can find mainly French books (most of them imported from France). So I prefer the Indigo bookstore, which has a floor dedicated to French books, and another, larger floor dedicated to English books. However, the books are very expensive because they are almost all imported, and they add quite a few dollars to the original prices. It’s when I go to Canada that I realize how lucky we are in France to have Pocket Books, at 5-6€. Maybe that’s why they put a lot of emphasis on Kobo here. As for the English books, I continue to buy and read on Amazon Kindle at the same time.

At the Indigo bookstore, you can also find pajamas and special “reading” socks

There is a lot of work going on all over Montreal, since the election of the Mayor of Montreal a few years ago. Work that lasts for months, where they dig very deep. Since the work cannot take place in winter, the concert of noise and dust starts all over again every summer. Driving downtown is a real nightmare because there are too many closed roads. If you have the car, open the Waze app. So in the middle of this noise, we come across Christ Church Cathedral. And inside, absolute calm. We stayed there for long minutes to recharge our batteries.

Walking towards the Peel subway, and hidden in a shopping mall, is the Barbie Expo. Access is free, and there are hundreds of collectible Barbies. I think they were all on sale at one time because I recognize some Barbies I’ve seen in the stores.

I really like the Anthropologie store, for its design and pastel universe. This store is smaller than the ones you can find in the USA. This is where I stock up on Mario Badescu products. The clothes are very expensive, but it’s a very shared brand on Pinterest 😀

Speaking of shopping, other than at the supermarket, pharmacy and restaurants, I don’t think I’ve ever paid full price for anything before. When I get to the checkout, the cashier always finds a way to give me a 10%, 15% discount – without my asking for it… Just give my email address and voilà, as a “VIP customer”, I get a discount. I’ve looked a little bit at loyalty programs – at Sephora for example – and I find that you can get gifts much more easily than in France. Note: Canada doesn’t offer a detax program for tourists anymore, so take advantage of VIP offers while you can to pay less.

People seem to be well versed in new technologies e.g. almost all restaurants have a website with an up-to-date menu. Even the small beauty salon in the area sends out newsletters that make people want to do it TOO much!

Mont Royal neighborhood

I think that if we were richer, we would have rented an Airbnb in the Mont Royal district instead. It is always animated, there are very good restaurants and there is a huge park next to it to go jogging (well for JB, I am a sports disabled person). Montreal isn’t basicly crappy, and Mont Royal is even safer than any other neighborhood.

Nearby, there is a band that plays drums every weekend (? or only on Sundays?) in a hippie, cannabis, zen atmosphere (cannabis is allowed in Canada).

According to Karen, the best view of the park is near theChalet du Mont-Royal. There are other lookouts accessible by bus (Belvédère Camillien-Houde, Belvédère Soleil). We made the mistake of walking to this belvedere from Mount Royal Avenue (elevation gain + 1 hour walk), I couldn’t take it anymore under this heat (Editor’s note: this same person talked a few days ago about the – utopian – ascent of Mount Fuji and/or to the base camp of Everest).

Not far from here, we can go, by bus, to the superb Japanese restaurant Noren which serves rare but typically Japanese dishes like okonomiyaki, takoyaki. Ah yes, here, the chirashi are called “poke bowl”.

On the same street is the Replika café, I saw many students/nomads staying there for hours with their computers to work. You will love their homemade iced tea/lemonade (thanks to Karen for these two nice addresses).

100% chocolate

With these multitudes of 100% breakfast restaurants, we also discovered two chains where we could enjoy chocolate at any time of the day. They are Juliette & Chocolate and Choc olats Favorites. Take it easy because the portions are very generous. Here, you will be asked many (too many) questions about the type of chocolate, the topping, fondant not fondant, fondant how, with strawberries, without strawberries, with flowing, without flowing….

Juliette & Chocolate
Juliette & chocolate

At Favourite Chocolates, discovered thanks to A. (a friend of JB’s who has been living here for 8 years, thank youii), you can buy ice cream and add a layer of chocolate on top. The ice cream is held upside down and dipped with a professional hand in melted chocolate. The chocolate is immediately cooled by the ice cream, we have an equivalent of Magnum – but personalized – because there are a multitude of melted chocolates as well as the toppings imaginable. I recommend that you choose a SMALL one, don’t have your eyes bigger than your stomach 😛

Chinese Quarter

To satisfy my need for bubble tea, I often go to the Chinatown (near the Place des armes subway station).

You can find the best bubble tea in the city at Prestotea. Opt for the Jasmine Milk Tea with pearls, my favorite.

Even if you aren’t hungry, you still have to drool in front of the windows of Lan Zhou – Noodle Shop, where you can see the noodles being expertly cooked in front of your eyes. Opt for a small bowl, the noodles of the size you want (I opted for the smallest size), the portions are monstrous and not expensive (9$CA). Right next door is my favorite Asian cosmetics store: Nanami Japanese Cos metics (to know what to buy, get inspired from this list)

Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal

From Chinatown, you can get there on foot. The access inside the basilica is paying anyway, so we prefer to pay a little more for its sound and light show in the evening (20$CA/person). That way, we can visit the interior, but also attend the show. We place ourselves where we want. The ideal place for me is in the middle and just after the 4th column. Because the lights don’t go further than this column, and that way we have the vision on all the lighting effects. It’s super nice and I highly recommend it !

Every detail of this basilica is highlighted with light. For example, the portrait of Mary is illuminated by a light that continues to the statue of Jesus, and then from the heart of Jesus emanates an all-powerful light that encompasses all the drawings around it. It’s super well done!

In Niagara, a driver from Uber told us that the Montreal Basilica was a carbon copy of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris (which had just burned down). And when we got there, the disappointment was huge ahahhahaha we wondered if he had ever been to Montreal at all. What’s certain is that he never went to Paris 😀 Speaking of Uber driver, I once ran into a Syrian refugee. He has only been in Canada for 8 months, but he already speaks very good French (the courses are free), he has the chance to become Uber driver while waiting to have the sufficient level to retake his accountant’s diploma within a year. He was very happy to practice French with me. It’s heartwarming to see that these people still have a future and are still getting help somewhere in the world (cuckoo France). One day, it could be me, you… you never know.

Let’s go back to our walk: You should not hesitate to walk the small streets around the basilica, there are too funny stores, and super cute little parks.

If you still have some money left over, in the evening, you can attend the Cirque du soleil show (travel journal here) and take the opportunity to visit the old port of Montreal. The restaurants in this area are a bit too touristy, why not come back next to Mont Royal to taste the best poutine in Montreal at La Banquise inc (even if it’s the best, I don’t guarantee that it will be to your taste, considering the recipe of this caloric dish).

For more information

For other fun activities in Montreal, check out our other travel diaries:

And check out our roadtrips around Montreal:

Part 2: Practical Tips

  • Transportation : opt for a day pass. 10$CA (profitable after 3 uses).
  • Car : Avoid taking the car, there is too much work and not enough parking spaces. The lane on the right is always for the bus, even if it isn’t clearly indicated.
  • Restaurants : The prices indicated are exclusive of tax (15% must be added). As in the USA, you should always leave at least 15% tip (unless you buy take-away). At the time of payment (on the payment terminal) you can indicate the percentage.

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