Seasoned tourists will tell you that guided tours are often the best way to get to know a city or region. Montreal is especially tour-worthy, given that it’s fairly compact, its centre sitting on an island. Here’s a rundown of some of the best tours you can sign up for in the world’s second-largest francophone city.
Montreal’s magnificent food is one of its biggest draws. Fitz & Follwell offers an excellent tour of “The Main” — the city’s central dividing line, otherwise known as St Laurent Boulevard. This walking tour offers up the storied history of the street and the various neighbourhoods it trails through — illustrating the waves of immigration that have given the city its unique ethnic makeup, including backgrounds on French, British, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Latin American, North African and Eastern European cuisines. The tour can be sampled in two segments or in one back-to-back marathon. It includes a trek through the city’s compact-yet-colourful Chinatown (or Chinablockandahalf), the former Jewish Quarter, Little Portugal, Mile End and Little Italy. Experienced guides pepper their foodie tour with anecdotes and bits of history about shopkeepers, striptease dancers and Leonard Cohen. The tour culminates with a lunch where visitors can savour the flavours they’ve just learned about. Taking one tour costs $69, with the full tour only $119, and includes eight food and drink samples, a bottle of water, a bus ticket for a brief bus ride and several inspired resto recommendations. These tours are very well organized and come highly praised.
The same company also offers bike tours. For $89, you get a “Montreal Highlights” tour of some of the city’s most intriguing ’hoods, including the Plateau, Old Montreal, the Lachine Canal and McGill’s campus. The tour guides have thoughtfully planned around the city’s notoriously insane drivers, favouring bike paths and quiet side streets as a way to get around. Other bike tours include “Hoods and Hidden Gems” (complete with obligatory bagel-shop pit stop), “Summer Nights” (includes a stopover at whatever cultural event is happening at the time), “Downhill all the Way” (which involves cruising down Mount Royal), “Bike & Yoga” (cycling followed by Zen relaxation) and “F&F Family Friendly Tour” (for those who’ve brought kiddies along).
Also a blast are guided moped tours, run by Dyad Cycles. For $89, you get to cruise around the city in the morning, afternoon or evening. Treks include food tastings, tips on out-of-the-way places and plenty of local lore. The Night Flight is, understandably, the most popular of the series. No driver’s licence is needed for these tours, but you have to be over 18.
The city itself hosts a guided tour of Little Italy, a neighbourhood most famous for its food. For $55, you can join a small group and wind your way through the quaint streets of this gorgeous district, witnessing the architecture as well as the sights, smells, and dining and shopping. The tour includes a visit to the Jean-Talon Market — a stopover guaranteed to induce epic salivation — the largest open-air market in North America. The tours run every Saturday afternoon from May to October.
Getting totally and completely wasted is a part of life in Montreal. In fact, if you don’t get shitfaced regularly, a special sobriety tax kicks in, to let you know you’re doing something that’s just plain wrong. The city’s buoyant leisure economy is fuelled in part by the gaggle of microbreweries that are as ubiquitous as Catholic churches. Booze enthusiasts can partake in a walking tour of various brewpubs, spots that serve up their own unique alcoholic concoctions. Each guided tour varies, as do prices.
More family-friendly (and less likely to lead to a hangover) are Guidatour’s walking sessions throughout downtown and Old Montreal. The old city does feature some stunning architecture — it’s a favourite for Hollywood studios looking to recreate centuries-old European locales — and the Old Port is a must-see.
Guidator also offers an otherworldly look at the city’s dark side, with an entirely fun and kid-friendly ghost tour, titled simply “Montreal Ghosts.” Learn about who and what is haunting parts of Old Montreal. Horrifying crimes! Curses! Lost legends of Montrealers past! It’s a creepy look at the city through Halloween goggles.
These tours are all highly recommended, but the fantastic thing about Montreal is just how visually engaging it is, and how pedestrian-friendly. That means that with a map, a good pair of shoes and a bottle of water packed in your backpack, you can set off on your own tour and find something fascinating to look at. Neighbourhoods worth checking out include Outremont, Westmount (both feature epic mansions), Mile End, West Montreal, Old Montreal and (of course) the Village.
As it stands, there is no queer tour of the city, and that’s too bad. Given the city’s rich LGBT heritage and the Village’s own evolution (from west to east downtown, a migration that took place during the 1970s), much of the city’s complex, distinct history can be mapped out over its geography. Someone needs to get on this, clearly. Bon voyage!