Of all the cities in the Americas, Montreal possesses a uniquely European feel, apparent in both its Old World charm and modern international sophistication. From romantic city strolls and world-class architecture to decadent dishes and a vibrant LGBTQ community, there is plenty for two love birds to do in this city, even on a quick weekend getaway.
Built in 1656, the Notre-Dame Basilica is the oldest church and landmark in Montreal. It’s a beautifully detailed structure where you can take a break from sightseeing to commune with your higher power or simply enjoy an organ recital or choral performance.
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A five-minute walk down Rue Saint-François-Xavier will lead you to the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, which houses First Nation and early settler artifacts. This archaeology and history museum introduces visitors to the city and province’s unique history. Just a short drive north will lead you to La Prison des Patriotes Exhibition Centre. Located in the heart of the former Pied-du-Courant prison, the institution commemorates the 1,300 patriots who were imprisoned — some, even executed — during the rebellion of 1837-1838.
For a bit of more recent history, head across town to The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, which educates visitors about the Holocaust while promoting respect for diversity and human life.
Artists and Montreal go hand in hand. The creative spirit is woven into the very soul of the city. If art is what you crave, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is a great place to start your day. Scheduled until June 2017, the Chagall: Colour and Music exhibit features 400 works by the modernist master, including paintings, sculptures, maquettes, stained glass windows, photographs, films and even puppets.
Film lovers can catch a cult classic or an international movie at the Centre Phi, which also hosts concerts, plays and exhibits. And if you and your sweety prefer something a little more risqué, Cinema L’Amour shows vintage erotic films nightly.
Montreal Botanical Garden is an excellent place for a little relaxation in a natural setting. The lush garden boasts more than 20,000 species and includes a rose garden, as well as Chinese and Japanese bonsai trees.
Visitors who like to explore at their own pace can pick up a bike at any one of the 400 Bixi Stops across the city. Rent one for the day and head to Parc La Fontaine. Named after political activist, Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, the stunning grounds are best appreciated during a leisurely ride. If you like to pursue heart-racing activities and water sports are your passion, try whitewater rafting on the Lachine Rapids, near downtown Montreal on the Saint Lawrence River.
With all the activity and excitement, you must eat, and in Montreal you can eat very well indeed. For breakfast, Eggspectation on Chemin de la Côte-des-Neiges, offers diners 101 variations of eggs Benedict.
You can elevate your dining experience at Les Deux Singes de Montarvie. The gastronomic delight specializes in international, French, Canadian and vegetarian fare.
Give your fine dining experience an international spin at Damas, which serves up Syrian-inspired dishes. Le Virunga has become a trendy foodie destination. The pan-African restaurant gives local dishes an African twist. Plantain and poutine anyone?
Le Bird Bar features 13 different sauces for fried chicken and faux chicken for vegetarians vegans, too. The ever-famous Tuck Shop’s sophisticated menu creations — think: stuffed courgette flowers and jerk hen — should not be missed.
Sure there are amazing restaurants everywhere, but you can also try your own dishes by taking a French cooking class at Ateliers and Saveurs or an Indian cooking class at Masala Indian Restaurant.
Besides the fantastic food, Montreal is also known for its fashion sense, especially when it comes to haircuts. For a great cut and style, go to Haas Hair Salon in the Gay Village. Then kick back and relax as you get an fabulous foot massage while you sip on a nice hot tea at Happy Foot.
Mutt and Jeff is a couture boutique that offers that latest European fashions from Turkey. A visit to the Underground City will reveal a network of underground malls, hotels and art venues that will undoubtedly result in a full shopping bag. Department stores and small boutiques line a 12-block stretch of Rue Saint Catherine.
In 1996, the Canadian Human Rights Act added sexual orientation to its non-discrimination laws. In 2004 marriage equality was written into law across the land. While discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression is illegal in the province of Quebec, Canada as a whole has yet to follow suit. Federal bill C-16, proposed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, would address this disparity.
As with any metropolitan city, the place where an LGBTQ traveler can find out more about the queer community is the local LGBTQ Center, which in Montreal is the Centre Communautaire LGBTQ de Montreal. It has been serving the community for 26 years. Along with a host of resources, the Center is also home to a library with more than 12,000 documents on sexual diversity.
Queer visitors can have access to everything from LGBTQ AA meetings to a host of health services, including HIV testing and safe-sex support at the Clinique Medicale Quartier Latin (cliniquequartierlatin.com).
Nearby, Le Village is a thriving and diverse neighborhood with restaurants, bars, shops and other attractions. This is also where Montreal’s annual Pride parade, known as Fierté Montréal, takes place in August. The week-long celebration hosts cultural events promoting LGBTQ awareness, visibility and inclusivity. An LGBTQ Human Rights Conference is also part of the Pride program, as is a Community Day.
Last August, a team from World OutGames Miami attended the festivities to promote and market the World OutGames in the city that first organized that event. “Attending Pride in Montreal was special last year since it was the 10-year celebration since World OutGames was hosted in Montreal,” says Bruce Townsend, chair of the board of directors of World OutGames Miami. “It was monumental to be in the city where World OutGames started.”
Diversity and inclusion are deeply cherished values in the city. Queer Tango Montreal is a tango group for the LGBTQ community that offers classes four nights a week. At the classes, students are taught to dance and gender roles are switched, explored, shared and played with.
The group hosts a three-day festival in early May that explores gender roles, promotes tango dancing and organizes a welcome dinner for festival attendees.