Montreal by Bike: A Local's Guide
by Samuël Langlois, Communications Coordinator for Hostelling International-Canada-St. Lawrence Region
Montreal hasn’t escaped the cycling craze that has taken over North American cities. Over the last few years, bike paths have multiplied, making it increasingly easy to cycle to the city’s main neighborhoods and attractions. To get a true Montreal summer experience, wake up early and get on your bike: there’s a lot to see! And even if you don’t bike, this local’s guide may be just as useful.
1. Jean-Talon market & Little Italy
Start your day in the northern part of Montréal at colourful Jean-Talon market, North America’s biggest open-air market. Fill up on warm pastries and fresh fruits (note: you can even taste them before you buy!) While you’re in Little Italy, get your morning boost in style at any caffè you’ll come across.
You’ve had enough caffeine and vitamin C? Head south on rue Clark. The bike path starts just before the railway overpass.
2. The Mile End
Right after the overpass is the hip Mile End district. That’s where Arcade Fire and Leonard Cohen live, among many other artists. Your first stop is on rue Bernard, a street thriving with cafés, vintage stores and cute hangouts. Peek into Drawn & Quarterly, a bookstore featuring quality prints and a wide range of local, international and indie graphic novels. For a souvenir not featuring a wolf or a beaver, stop by Montréalité, a boutique that sells t-shirts with prints of iconic Montréal landmarks or expressions. Cycle one block down and you’re on avenue St-Viateur where you’ll find the famous St-Viateur bagel shop and the café Olimpico which serves one of the best espressos in town. One block further down brings you on avenue Fairmount where you can sample St-Viateur’s competitor, conveniently called Fairmount bagels.
When you’ve had your share of coolness and hipsterism, get back on rue Clark’s bike lane and keep cycling southbound until you get to Place-des-Arts.
3. Quartier des spectacles & Belgo
Lock your bike at Place-des-Arts (down the big hill) and visit the heart of Quartier des Spectacles, a neighborhood known for its numerous cultural venues. Among these, the Contemporary Art Museum and the Belgo on rue Ste-Catherine are notable addresses. The latter is an old industrial building which now hosts art galleries and craftsmen’s studios. Everybody is welcome to walk in, enjoy the artwork and talk to the creators.
Cycle south from Quartier des Spectacles to Chinatown. Don’t expect too much: Montreal’s Chinatown is quite small compared to other metropolitan cities. However, it’s nonetheless a good place to get a bit of exoticism, cheap food and good luck. Yes, walking under one of the four Chinese gates is said to bring you good luck. Why not give it a try?
5. Old Montréal
Head further South to get to the city’s historical quarter. Despite the touristy feel, it’s always nice to stroll the cobbled streets of the old town. Rue St-Paul hosts many art galleries while rue McGill offers high-end shopping. Notre-Dame Basilica is at Place-d’Armes and the modern building with a clock on the riverfront is the Pointe-à-Callière museum. That’s the very place where Montréal was founded and you can visit the ruins of the first settlements such as the first cemetery.
A local’s favourite in Old Montreal is undoubtedly Olive+Gourmando. This sunshine-filled bakery boasts all the ingredients for a perfect lunch or breakfast: wooden chairs and tables, full-flavoured coffee, homemade panini breads and delicious pastries.
6. Lachine canal
When you’re ready to leave Old Montréal find the cycle path near the railway tracks and head west to get to the Lachine canal. Once the birthplace of industrial Canada, it is now a lovely park with factories converted into lofts and businesses. The views over downtown and the mount Royal are stunning.
Stop at Atwater market and grab a picnic. That’s also where you’ll find the provincial wine shop SAQ, where you should grab a bottle for step number 8. Relax along the canal, you deserve it.
Behind the market explore the up-and-coming surroundings of St-Henri along rue Notre-Dame. Drink a pint at the Burgundy Lion or Drinkerie Ste-Cunégonde or trade your picnic for one of Joe Beef’s famous burger. Window shop antiques and artworks.
8. Cycling to La Fontaine park
When you’re ready to hit the road again, cycle back to the Old Port. Stay on the bike lane until the end, turn onto rue Berri lane and up to rue Cherrier. You’ll shortly arrive in La Fontaine park. Sit by the lake and do like Montrealers do, watch passersby while enjoying a glass of wine. Might it be sax, guitar or cello, there’s always someone playing music somewhere.
9. Have dinner on the plateau
You’re now on the plateau and it’s dinner time. The neighbourhood has hundreds of restaurants and boast the best of Montréal’s nightlife. Finish your day in style and don’t forget to come back to this neighborhood during daytime!
HI-Montreal – The hostel offers bike tours twice a week ($25 including bike rental and activity leader)
Bixi – Montreal’s public bike system
Ça Roule – Bike rental centre and bike tour company (HI discounts available)
Fitz & Follwell – Montreal Cycle Tours (HI discounts available)