3 Charming + Low-Key Institutions in Montreal

Most people—especially New Yorkers—fly south for the winter. You know, to those sunny climes where shedding clothes and getting tan is de rigeur. Miami, Puerto Rico, the DR.

Not us.

Inexplicably, me and Ian love the cold, but more precisely, we love being where people aren’t.


Spending the first few days of the new year away from home is a spontaneous tradition we started for ourselves, and something I’m grateful for. Having done it now two years in a row, these trips are a chance to assess our personal and dual goals, while also indulging us in adventures.

Which is why on New Year’s, we packed our bags and fled to Montreal. 

I’m shit at French, and Ian is un peu better than me, but that didn’t stop us from walking the city’s low-line streets. In the infamous Quebec chill. On a goddamn sheet of ice.

I can positively report that reports of Montreal’s good looks are not an exaggeration. Neighborhoods like Mile End, Plateau and Petit Italie (where we stayed) reminded me of the best parts of Chicago, Boston and Brooklyn, processed through a Francophile filter: urbane, tree-lined and welcoming. Despite the holiday weekend and freezing temps, a buzzing commingling of French and English filled the frozen air with an easy-going energy. Shops like the famous Drawn & Quarterly were inviting, and restaurants seemingly pumped out their delicious kitchen smells, enticing us to stop and stay awhile.

Foie gras poutine at Au Pied du Cochon
Foie gras poutine at Au Pied du Cochon

Plenty of folks have treaded on Montreal bagel-and-poutine territory, so I’m loathe to revisit similar paths here. That’s for a different post, but needless to say, we weren’t disappointed.

No, we were keen on exploring Montreal’s other parts, those corners not explored in full by the Internet at large.

Economusee du Violin

Some stops: The Economusée de Violin, a tiny-but-whimsical museum dedicated to the violin, tucked above the shop of violin-maker, Jules Saint-Michel. A number of cases display early forms of the instrument, depicting its creation, historical timeline and, most impressively, the art of the craft.

Redpath Museum Montreal

The Redpath Museum at McGill University was a free excursion focused on natural history, near the Place des Artes area of downtown. Exhibits include anthropological finds owned by the museum, including three mummies, but also an impressive (and shiny!) rare minerals collection.


The Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, the city’s oldest chapel (located in Old Montreal) was a nice break from skate-walking the icy streets. It is also brimming with history. Founded by colonist Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys in 1678, it houses a museum dedicated to the work of the pioneering woman in both the Catholic church and the newly-established Canada. The chapel itself still welcomes pilgrims and travelers, who visit and soak up hundreds of years of religious history.

As I get older and more comfortable in my travel style—slow, deliberate, food-and-wine-oriented—I’ve also noticed my tendency to play “would I live here?” with every locale I’ve been through. Santiago: I’d consider it. Copenhagen: Enthusiastically! Amsterdam: In my wildest, most pie-in-the-sky dreams.

As for Montreal, there was just something so… comfortable and cozy, like I’d just met a friend-of-a-friend. The initial meeting was cold but not frigid, and once we got through the small talk, it was all warm, familiar banter. Saying goodbye to Montreal was surprisingly hard—returning home, even to my wonderful corner of NYC, generally bums me out—but knowing that I made a new friend helped getting through the post-vacation blues much easier.

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