I have dreamed of jetting off for some solo travel for almost two years but have always been a little afraid to bite the bullet. There are so many things to do in Montreal (in the province of Quebec) that it made the perfect choice.
After moving into a studio flat in May and realising how much I like to be alone – please think of me as a lone wolf rather than a hermit – I knew I was ready for a long weekend away and once I got a taste of solo travel, I wanted more.
So I realise Canada is very far away for a first timer, but it turned out to be the ideal location for a lone traveller because there are so many things to do in Montreal.
Despite Montrel being in the province of Quebec, Canada’s French-speaking region, everybody speaks English – albeit at different abilities – which enabled me to feel very much like I was in a foreign land without struggling to get around or to meet people.
After exploring the incredible Hotel Benaventure with its rooftop gardens and swimming pool, the first thing I did was visit the observation deck Au Sommet Place Ville-Marie, 46 floors up, offering an unparalleled view of the island city.
I realise 46 floors may not seem that high, but no building in Montreal is allowed to be taller than their mountain, Mont Royal – which isn’t actually that high despite its misleading regal title, but it is another incredible spot for city viewing.
In the observation deck you can immerse yourself in Montreal’s daily rituals through 55 video portraits and more than 500 images from the City of Montreal’s archives and social media. These can be seen on interactive screens which then create a personalised itinerary according to your likes and dislikes.
On Saturday, my first full day in the city, I did what most of us do and walked around exploring my new surroundings. I came across St-Viateur Bagel, a genuine Montréal establishment that has been preparing oven-baked bagels since 1957, a process you are able to see while you wait with baited breath.
Another discovery was Jean-Talon Market in Little Italy, which made me wish I was not staying in a hotel so I could have bought an abundance of fresh produce to cook with. Thankfully there were plenty of samples available to try.
After less than 24 hours in Montreal I felt drowned in culture, areas named little this and little that celebrate the various cultures that accumulate in its people, as well as the various galleries celebrating artists near – in the Artists’ Quarter of the city for example – and artists far.
As the night closed in I wasn’t ready for bed yet but felt a little uneasy about drinking alone in a bar. What would people think of me?
I roamed the streets for a while, even considering throwing caution to the wind and visiting the notorious burlesque club Café Campus.
Instead I ended up over the road in l’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle. I got myself a seat at the bar and ordered a local beer. I people watched for a while before making friends with two people who had been observing me, trying to guess whether I was alone or had been stood up.
The next day I was not only proud of myself for being brave and sociable, I was pleased I had not had too much to drink.You see, existing alongside the creatives of Canadian’s French province are the health conscious Canadians, this has given way to a huge popularity in water sports and I had a two-hour paddle board lesson booked.
The Pavillon des Activités Nautiques, located a stone’s throw away on the Island of Montreal, which sits alongside the port, is a beautiful place where you can learn to surf, kayak or stand up paddle boarding.
The session started with learning how to fall, so fear was immediately overcome, then moved to paddle boarding down a lagoon, and ended with some yoga moves. It is hard work for your thighs but easier than other water sports on offer, making it a lovely way learn something new without a frustration of struggle.
To relax afterwards I made my way to the Bota Bota Spa. It offers an indoor and outdoor thermal spa experience in the unparalleled setting of the Saint Lawrence River and the Old Port.
Built using recycled shipping containers it is an idyllically industrious location and from almost anywhere in the complex, you can drink in the spectacular view of the river, the skyline, and the historic trade buildings that dot the edge of the cityscape.
On my final day I ticked off a few must-see sights including the biodome, where over 4,800 animals from 230 different species and 750 plant types coexist under the same roof with the recreation of the four ecosystems of the Americas. It also offers a planetarium, linking earth and beyond through science, art and poetry.
This was the one time I felt a little out of place, a solo traveller surrounded by families gave way to a few confused Canadian’s trying to figure me out, but it was an enjoyable experience nonetheless.
I then returned to the port to visit the MTL zipline and take in the sights one last time before heading home begrudgingly, yet with a restored sense of independence and self-esteem.
Throughout my weekend I discovered an abundance of places to eat. In fact I was told three times that there are more restaurants in each square mile of Montreal than in New York, but here are my favourites…
- The Foodlab, located within the Society for Arts and Technology, which has a rotating monthly menu with a different theme.
- Brasserie T! which offers seasonally fresh products, homemade charcuteries, tartars, seafood platters and other delicacies found in a typical brasserie and is located round the corner from the museum of contemporary arts.
- Tapas 24, which infuses traditional Spanish tapas with Canadian flavours, in other words maple syrup tapas.