My brother and I planned our weekend away in Montreal weeks in advance. But, the night before we were scheduled to drive up, we both realize we haven’t actually … planned anything.
“Do you speak Canadian?” my brother asks me. (He’s joking.)
“Well, neither of us speaks French,” I reply.
“I thought they only spoke French in Quebec.” (This time, he isn’t joking.)
“Montreal is in Quebec,” I explain.
The extent of our poor planning laid bare, we stuff our luggage in my car the next morning, drive north, and decide to buy two 48-hour “Passeport MTL” attractions passes to see how much fun we can fit into two quick days.
Hour 1 – We valet the car and check into the swanky W Montréal, then follow the concierge’s directions to a tourist information center where we can buy our passes. It’s right next to a Tim Hortons, and we take our coffee and poutine to Dorchester Square park to fuel up before our adventures.
Hour 2 – The nearest attraction covered by our pass is the observation deck at Place Ville Marie. Finding the building is simpler than finding the observation level, which requires us to navigate a series of elevators and hallways, some of which are painted in zany, Willy Wonka-ish patterns. From 600 feet in the air, we can see the entire city, and we point out the spots we might visit over the next two days.
Hour 3 – Next up is the Musée Grévin Montréal, a wax museum located in a large mall on Saint Catherine Street. After a freaky closed-room light show and a dozen or so statues of French Canadian television presenters, my hopes are low. But soon, my brother and I are taking photos of each other standing next to Einstein, Gandhi, Steve Jobs, and Tiger Woods. We have way more fun than we should in the costume room. (I’m now the proud owner of a video of my brother doing the can-can in a red skirt, masquerade mask, and shimmering gold boa.)
Hour 10 – After a rest at the hotel, we stuff ourselves full of Indian food at Darbar and then walk up and down Saint Catherine Street. The city is alive, but we’re fading, and we go back to our room and collapse into our plush beds.
Hour 22 – We wake up late and eat a big breakfast at Nom Nom Cantine, the W’s restaurant, then start ticking activities off of our passes, hoping to find more surprises. The first museum we try isn’t open yet, and so we go to the Phi Centre (whose name offers zero clues about what we should expect). It turns out to be an interdisciplinary arts center, currently exhibiting virtual reality films. My brother and I don goggles and headsets and immerse ourselves in outer space, the surreal world of an animated music video, and even a woman’s grief after losing her partner.
Hour 24 – We pop into the charming Marché de la Villette for coffees, which we drink while strolling through Old Montreal on our way to MTL Zipline. The zipline itself turns out to be a bit underwhelming (the hike up the stairs to the platform lasts several minutes longer than the 30-second ride), but it’s included with our passes, and gives us a reason to explore the Old Port.
Hour 25 – We take the scenic route to our lunch at Le Westin Montréal’s Gazette Restaurant (where I have a delicious spiced grilled chicken salad), stopping to admire street art and tramp through dried leaves at the Champ de Mars.
Hour 27 – The sidewalks on both sides of Saint Catherine Street are packed with crowds, and we soon learn that people are waiting for the start of the annual “Zombie Walk” (it’s the weekend before Halloween). We’re curious, but the Museum of Fine Arts will close soon, and so we soldier onward. The collection – which includes works by Dali, Picasso, Warhol, and other names familiar even to our unschooled ears – is impressive, but all of the costumes and virtual reality of the past two days has spoiled us, leaving us craving more interactivity. My brother walks past a broken glass on the floor and says, dismissively: “That’s the art?”
Hour 31 – We take the Metro (included with our activity passes!) to the Casino de Montréal to claim our $25 in free gaming credits (also included with our activity passes!). The wait for the buffet is two hours, and we burn through our credits in approximately three minutes of video roulette. Then we hit up the craps table, where we go slower, now that we’re playing with our own money. We’ve been walking nonstop, and when dinner finally rolls around, I eat an entire plate of desserts.
Hour 36 – Back at the W, we grab a drink at the bar just before last call, and watch as the last few glammed-up partiers look to make connections before the night is over.
Hour 47 – There’s still a lot we haven’t done, but we only have time for one more activity (before our superb Hour-48 brunch at the Ritz-Carlton). We decide to drive out to the Olympic Stadium – host of the 1976 Olympics, and home to the world’s largest inclined tower. Our GPS directs us into a cavernous parking garage, and we wander the grounds for half an hour in a light rain, dodging mud puddles and trying to find our way into the stadium. When we finally get our tickets and travel to the top of the tower, there’s zero visibility. My brother and I make a joke of it, taking photos of ourselves in front of the foggy lookout windows and texting the snaps to our mom. “Check out the view!!!” we write. We’re not too disappointed, though. When you’re trying to see an entire city in only two days, you can’t win them all.
Where to Stay:
W Montréal – Sleek and centrally situated, the W is sandwiched between downtown and Old Montréal, and sits just steps from a Metro stop. The guest rooms are as spacious and ultra-modern as the inviting lobby.
Le Westin Montréal – Located across the street from the Montréal Convention Centre, the Westin’s excellent Gazette Restaurant is a perfect place to look out on the hustle and bustle of the city.
The Ritz-Carlton – A two-minute walk from the Museum of Fine Arts, in the shadow of Mount Royal Park, the Ritz-Carlton dates to 1912. The hotel lives up to its ritzy name, but the delight comes in the details – such as the freshly baked Madeleines available with brunch.