Take a solo Island Getaway in Montréal this summer

Mark Hamilton

Mark Hamilton is the community director for QueerMTL, an internationally-touring musician with his projects Woodpigeon and Frontperson  and a graduate studies student of history researching LGBTQ+ activism in the city. He’s lived in Montréal since 2015, during which time he’s most often spotted atop a BIXI bike usally running a few minutes late.

Summer 2021 is here and Montréal is in full bloom! And there are few summer pleasures quite so rewarding as a refreshing city break offering limitless options for the solo traveller. Here’s a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood guide of a few of our favourite tips for a recharging party of one getaway – signing up for an invigorating walking tour makes for a great start!

Feel the heartbeat of the city in downtown Montréal and the Village

Did someone say museums? Montréal’s downtown Quartier des Spectacles and Golden Square Mile districts are stuffed to the brim with some of Canada’s finest arts institutions including the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the Museum of Fine Arts, the McCord Museum, Pointe-à-Callière and the Canadian Centre for Architecture whose bookstore is coffee table book heaven. Those in search of a full-body artistic experience need look no further than OASIS immersion in the Palais des congrès de Montréal, name checked as one of the 1,000 buildings everyone should see before they die. No wander through Le Village is complete without a stop at the outdoor Galerie Blanc, while history lovers won’t want to miss the neighbourly displays at the Écomusée du fier monde.

Now who wants to shop? Downtown Montréal is home to the boutiques of Sainte-Catherine Street as well as the major shopping centres Complexe DesjardinsCentre EatonPlace Montréal TrustLes Cours Mont-RoyalPlace Ville-MarieCentre Alexis Nihon and, Holt Renfrew Ogilvy. And on a particularly hot day, you’ll love the local life hack of sticking to the underground city that joins most of these shopping hot spots together.

All that shopping and culture is sure to make anyone hungry, offering the great opportunity of a stop at the area’s numerous Asian eateries (including Ryú sushi) or grabbing a slice at Moleskine or Slice + Soda. Take a load off at the cozy benches and green spots of Dorchester Square and Place du Canada and enjoy!

The trendsetting art and tastes of Old Montréal

Pretty as a postcard, Old Montréal is also home to some of the city’s most forward-looking arts venues and gastronomic hot spots. The Fonderie Darling – Quartier Éphémère presents large scale works in a converted foundry, giving a glimpse into Old Montréal’s industrious past. The virtual reality focus of the PHI Centre makes for a perfect solo immersive experience, while the centre’s sister venue the PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art has hosted exhibitions by such leading lights as Yoko Ono and Bill Viola. Québec’s rich Indigenous history is on show at Galerie d’art Images Boréales, Heritage Gallery and Galerie Le Chariot, each offering sculpture, arts and handicrafts by Inuit and Iroquois artisans for sale.

Once the hunger hits, grab an outdoor perch for some good eats and people watching at gastronomic favourite Olive et Gourmando, cozy cafés Mère-Grand and Paquebot Old Port, hipster hangout Tommy, natural wine specialists NELLI Café + Vin nature or the Wes Anderson film set-esque Le Petit Dep.

Make the scene in the Plateau, Mile End and Outremont

The neighbouring quartiers of Outremont, the Plateau and Mile End give an unbeatable insight into local life, while also home to some of the city’s most beloved restaurants and boutiques. Every visitor is required by local custom to enter their thoughts on the eternal Best Montréal Bagel™ debate by hitting both Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagels (for us it’s an unbreakable tie). There’s a plethora of eating options including the $5 gnocchi at Drogheria Fine, the iconic sandwiches at Schwartz’s (Montréal smoked meat) and Wilensky (salami and baloney), pastries to die for at Boulangerie Guillaume, Toni’s perfect pizzas and Yoni’s filling falafels. The triplet mainstays Lawrence, Larrys and Boucherie Lawrence are a Mile-End cornerstone and example of the area’s homegrown creativity.

Your Instagram followers will thank you for uploads of the MURAL Festival’s sky-high murals (check out their interactive map to catch them all), and any shopper will find their happy place on chic Laurier Avenue West and Mont-Royal Avenue with its views of Mount Royal at one end and the Olympic Stadium on the other. And there’s no better way to unwind than an evening stroll up the mountain for unbeatable views across the island and St. Lawrence River.

Keep your finger on the pulse in Little Italy and Villeray

Home to the massive, mouth-watering Jean-Talon Market, Little Italy and Villeray are stuffed with unique shopping, leafy park oases and tasty Italian eats. The local favourite Pasticceria Alati-Caserta is rightfully famous for its cannoli, while Pizzeria Napoletana and San Gennaro do the neighbourhood proud with the best pizza outside of Italy. Keep on the go with Knuckle’s panzerottis and La Belle Tonki’s unique twist on poutine, and treat yourself by fulfilling your chocolate and goodie fixes at État de Choc and La Boulangerie Jarry. Not in a rush? Settle down for an unforgettable park picnic at Dinette Triple Crown adjacent to Park Little Italy or join the friendly crowds in Parc Jarry with the take-out of your choosing. Stop by Quincaillerie Dante to stock up your kitchen at home with top-notch cooking utensils and grab a little something special from the québécois design hub arloca.

The antiques and markets of Les Quartiers du Canal

Montréal’s Lachine Canal runs through the vibrant neighbourhoods of Griffintown, Little Burgundy and Saint-Henri, each with their own unique flavour. As the city’s Antique District, the area is also home to some of Montréal’s finest vintage finds on its bustling shopping streets. The Atwater Market’s iconic clock tower and hanging lights signal the ideal spot for refuelling on the province’s produce, cheeses and other locally produced foodstuffs. We’d suggest grabbing a spot of grass amongst the locals on the canal banks and taking in the views with a bag of snacks from the market or some tasty take-out from Foxy, Patrice Pâtissier or Le Marché Italien Le Richmond.

Feel at home in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve

The working class neighbourhood of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve has long been an up-and-coming hive of restaurants and shops unlike anywhere else in the city. Beloved cafés like third wave specialists Hélico Café, Club Social Wolfgang (where you can get that MTL tattoo you’ve always wanted while enjoying a cuppa) and the vintage mod spot Atomic Café mark Hochelaga-Maisonneuve as a coffee-lover’s must-see. Feed your appetite at État Major, Pizzéria Heirloom and Antidote Bouffe Végane.

But Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is also a ‘hood of parks and urban wilderness, with the leafy expanses of Parc Maisonneuve, the blooming Botanical Garden and the unforgettable Biodôme all bringing locals and visitors alike at one with nature.

An Island Getaway from your Island Getaway

Between Montréal and the so-called South Shore, the twin islands of Parc Jean-Drapeau offer up hiking trails, epic public art installations, a world class race track (the Formula 1 Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve), the La Ronde rollercoaster park and the Casino de Montréal. It’s the fitting place to wile away the hours in exploration and relaxation at the end of your solo break, backed by beautiful views of the Montréal skyline and the architectural wonder Habitat 67. Time for one last selfie tagged #mtlmoments and some final unforgettable memories to take home with you.

Whichever neighborhood you decide to visit solo, don’t forget that you can take advantage of MTLàTABLE Off-trail edition until October 11 to explore the culinary scene and discover new flavours!

Mark Hamilton

Mark Hamilton is the community director for QueerMTL, an internationally-touring musician with his projects Woodpigeon and Frontperson  and a graduate studies student of history researching LGBTQ+ activism in the city. He’s lived in Montréal since 2015, during which time he’s most often spotted atop a BIXI bike usally running a few minutes late.

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