Question: you’re visiting Montreal a few days before Christmas and it’s below thirty degrees Fahrenheit. The wind is so strong that you’re about to turn into a kite. You have to start driving back home in a few hours and only have time for one or two attractions. What do you do?
In any other city, you might just remain in bed or huddle up at a small coffee shop – but in Montreal, you climb a mountain.
Honestly, when my alarm went off at 7:30 a.m., I seriously considered staying at the hotel and sleeping for an extra hour. I was still thawing out from the day before, when Kevin, my sister, and I had spent all day outside exploring the beautiful city of Montreal. It had been blustery and cold, and finally, I was starting to have some feeling come back to my toes. My bed was cozy, soft, and warm – the complete opposite of the conditions outside.
What would we miss? On our itinerary for our final Montreal morning, I penciled in a drive up Mont-Royal and a stop by St. Joseph’s Observatory before hitting the road. Both of these sites are fairly popular – but visiting them would ensure we’d be extra sleepy for our six-plus hour drive back to Connecticut.
I thought of the photos I’d seen of Mont-Royal, the small mountain that overlooks Montreal, and knew I’d regret it if I decided to skip the sight. Now, I’ve been in this position once before. When I visited Paris, I spent sixteen hours walking around the city, and decided to sleep in the following morning before catching my train to London. I’ve since rued my decision to catch up on sleep instead of stopping by Sacre Coeur, and I suppose I’ve learned my lesson. With the Paris regret on my mind, I apologetically woke up an exhausted Kevin and a newly-twenty-year-old Jen (it was her birthday, after all!) and convinced them that Mont-Royal would be worth it.
After a delicious breakfast of sweet crepes at a small joint near our hotel, the three of us loaded up the car and drove up Mont-Royal. In the summer, Mont-Royal would make for a lovely hike, but in the winter, I’d recommend driving. Unless you’re a Quebec native, of course, like the many cold-resistant locals we saw biking and running up Mont-Royal’s main thoroughfare wearing only sweatpants and a fleece sweatshirt.
Whether you decide to drive or hike, the view is absolutely worth the trek out of downtown. While the mountain’s most popular lookout offers an unbeatable panorama, neighboring Chalet du Mont-Royal (complete with arguably offensive paintings of Native Americans) is itself nothing special. The view, though, is the prime attraction, and is the best way to appreciate the city’s unexpected height. Montreal has one foot in Europe and the other in North America, and this is something that might be easy for visitors drawn to the Old Town to forget or overlook.
Did you know that Montreal had so many skyscrapers? I didn’t! Montreal’s rich history can best be experienced in its charming Old Town, with its elegant harbor and breathtaking Notre Dame Cathedral. However, Montreal is a thriving, modern city, and at the top of Mont-Royal, I felt as though I could see the city grow in front of my eyes.
Despite the cold, we were gifted with quite the beautiful blue sky. I definitely recommend visiting Mont-Royal on a clear day, so that the full view can be enjoyed. The lookout near the Chalet makes for a wonderful photo opportunity and can be done in a half-hour for travelers short on time. One of the shortest, most budget-friendly activities during my trip to Montreal wound up becoming one of the most memorable, and without a doubt, Mont-Royal is worth getting out of bed for.
- The Chalet du Mont-Royal has an expansive parking lot, where you pay just a few dollars to park you car. You can use a credit card! There’s a short, relatively flat walk to the lookout that can be completed with a wheelchair, although using crutches might be more tough.
- The Chalet has a public restroom for those who prefer not to use the woods (which is most of us).