This is it; our last stop on what has been an epic adventure through Canada. Montreal; so quirky, colorful and unique, seemed like the perfect place to round off our trip and this is one city we knew wouldn’t disappoint. We were lucky enough to be staying at the beautiful W Hotel. An establishment dedicated to innovative design and providing unique experiences, it was the perfect backdrop to our time in a city that boasts trendy bars and restaurants, streets adorned in spectacular street art and some incredible museums and galleries. If there were a mini Montreal in London, it would be the sort of place everyone would want to be seen. Effortlessly trendy, Montreal is without a doubt one of Canada’s most exciting cities.
After an easy drive from Ottawa, we checked into our stunning rooms at the W before heading back out into the darkness to experience the Gardens of Light exhibition that runs for a time each year in Montreal’s Botanical Gardens.
The ethereal light that streams from hundreds of handmade lanterns transforms both the Japanese and Chinese gardens that lie within this popular city oasis. Staying true to these two enchanting cultures, the Chinese gardens are a riot of color from elaborate lanterns of every shape and size. The Japanese gardens, in contrast, are illuminated by subtle lighting from simple lanterns. It was a beautiful experience wandering through the gardens at night and the perfect introduction to Montreal.Read more
With only half a day to scratch the surface of the city, we were lucky enough to have had a private bike tour with Fitz & Followel arranged for us. Bike paths cover pretty much every route through the city, so it is, without a doubt, one of best and most immersive ways to discover Montreal’s highlights. Walking into the bike store, we were bowled over by the rows upon rows of beautiful bikes and accessories. And the best bit? We got to choose which bike we wanted to ride. I went for a blue Linus, with matching helmet (of course). Before long, we were cycling the streets of Montreal with our guide Martin, a guy with years of experience and an endless passion for his hometown.
It’s incredibly easy to cycle through Montreal. Of course, there are fewer cars, but the cycle paths, too, are clearly marked and extremely efficient, making the whole experience that much easier. Heading downtown, Martin often asked us to stop so he could give us a bit of background information on the area. The variety of architecture was incredible. Influenced by the colonizations of both the French and the British, as well as the city’s time as an industrial center for Canada, we spotted everything from century-old cathedrals to disused mills and warehouses to old refineries and, of course, some beautiful modern architecture. The clear divide between old and new Montreal was also a delight to behold. Riding down cobbled lanes that lie minutes from a modern financial district really gave us a sense of the city’s history (Montreal is older than Canada itself, after all) as well as its ongoing development.
For lunch, we cycled to Atwater Market. Located in the southwest of the city, the market is open all year round selling a range of fresh and local produce as well as beautiful flowers and some tasty craft beers. Sitting by the river with a locally brewed beer and some food, we listened eagerly to Martin’s tales of the city. Every Canadian we’ve met has been so passionate about where they live, and Martin was no exception.
After lunch, we decided to go and seek out the street art I’d heard lots about. On our way, we could see the iconic Habitat 67 across the river. Stopping to get some shots of this ‘Lego’ building, Martin explained how this architectural landmark was an integral aspect of Expo 67, which is considered one of the most successful world fairs of the 20th Century. Ok, so Habitat 67 isn’t exactly easy on the eye (and it may have been voted as one of the ugliest buildings in North America…) but the actual design is incredibly interesting, with apartments in the complex now worth millions.
With the creativity of this venture in mind, we carried on cycling until we found ourselves in the Saint-Laurent Boulevard area, surrounded by giant works of art down side streets and in car parks. Each year, this part of the city plays host to the MURAL Festival, which sees local and international artists take to the streets to exhibit their urban talent on vast wall spaces. It’s made the whole district so colorful and you get the feeling that the locals truly appreciate these pieces. Far from seeing street art as a form of vandalism, urban art is embraced here as a sincere and beautiful form of expression that, in my opinion, has only added to the beauty and charm of what has become one of my favorite cities in the world.
From here, it was time to drop off the bikes, say au revoir to Martin and head back to the hotel to catch a cab to the airport. A trip that has seen us travel from west to east, through mountains, across lakes, over vast and empty plains and into unique and innovative cities, it’s safe to say Canada has proven itself to be a spectacular country. All we can hope is that these pictures and words have been enough to convince you to see it all for yourself, because you need to.