Text — Marie Charles Pelletier & the BESIDE team
Photos — Simon Couturier
Summer in Montréal will be different this year. Fewer planes will be crossing the pink Villeray skies at sunset and more deck chairs will dot the city’s back alleys. We’ll be catching our breath, perhaps planting herbs in pots and mastering the art of balcony dinners. Perhaps we’ll finally have time to paint a couple layers of white over that questionable calamine colour on the bathroom walls. We’ll go out and chat with our neighbour when we hear the squeak of her clothesline. The summer of 2020 in Montréal will be one of long walks. It will be the summer of park parties stretching out into the evening, the summer of portable speakers and conversations while waiting in line, the summer when we’ll take more notice of the people in our neighbourhood. This summer, we’ll explore our big island that was waiting for us all along, like a parent happy to see their kids home for dinner. This summer we’ll linger in our own backyard, and our table will be large.
For BESIDE, a good staycation also means learning to live more slowly. Summer, by its very nature, is already effervescent. Be careful not to jostle it too much: take the time to savour the bubbles, especially the most delicate ones.
So, here’s a list of things to do and places to go, from hidden gems and the oft-forgotten to our very favourites, in the hopes it gets your own ideas fermenting! Perhaps this summer we’ll gain a new appreciation for our city and forget all about our previous plans to vacation in Casablanca or Cartagena.
Spend some time in Montréal’s seasonal markets. Taste local products, sip a fresh lemonade or iced coffee, and strike up a conversation with the merchants. The list of the city’s public markets is long. We will never tire of Atwater and Jean-Talon, but we also recommend checking out the Marché Fermier on Laurier Avenue East, Marché 4751 on Ste-Catherine East, Marché Maisonneuve, Marché Lachine, and all the Marchés de Quartier et aux Fleurs (Square Victoria, Place Jacques-Cartier, Carré Saint-Louis, Metro Papineau, Metro Mont-Royal, Jean-Brillant). Pick up some flowers, fruit, and vegetables, make a salad and sangria, then invite your friends to feast.
The Marché des Éclusiers in Old Montréal is back and its patio bar and restaurant are open for a third season, with a special emphasis on local Québec products. On Saturdays they host a farmers’ market, featuring vegetables from La Fermette, among other vendors. You can also buy La Fermette’s produce at La Buvette chez Simone on Wednesdays.
Perfect Picnic Combos
Here’s a list of great take-out that you can eat on a bench or in a nearby park.
Casgrain BBQ (by Vin Mon Lapin): Enjoy the best fried chicken in town under a shady tree in Parc Dante.
Néo-resto Méli-Mélo: Pick up your griot and head up to Parc Gabriel-Sagard.
Romados: Eat Portuguese chicken on the steps of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste church on Rachel. A Montréal classic!
Tacos Frida: You’ll enjoy this Mexican family restaurant. Find yourself a bench on Notre-Dame—it’s a beautiful street.
Maquis Yasolo: Walk to the Parc des Corroyeurs, located along the canal, to enjoy some Afro-Québebois dishes.
Lloydie’s: On St-Viateur or Crescent, observe passersby while eating your jerk chicken.
Thammada: Head on over to Parc Saint Viateur to enjoy the most flavourful Thai street food the city has to offer.
Vin et Levain (by Candide): Have a seat near the Écluses Saint-Gabriel (Saint-Gabriel Locks) and indulge in this light, gastronomic picnic by Candide restaurant.
Casserole Kréole: Take your Carribean eats to the bleachers and have fun commentating on the baseball game in Parc Charleroi.
Satay Brothers: Eat these bright Singaporian dishes along the Lachine Canal.
Chez José: Enjoy your breakfast sandwich on a bench along the charming cobblestones of Duluth.
Lundis au soleil: These salads are best eaten in Parc Villeray next door, or in Parc Jarry, just a quick bike ride away.
Pumpui: Head to Parc de la Petite Italie with some classic Thai dishes, pantry staples, and local beer and wine.
Kwizinn Express: Pick up a Haitian classic and have a seat on a bench along Plaza St-Hubert.
Janette’s Spicy Island: Delicious Carribean dishes to take with you to the Parc-Nature du Cap-St-Jacques or the Parc-Nature du Bois-de-l’Île-Bizard.
Palme: Pick up a picnic BBQ basket and lounge in Parc Charles-S.-Campbell.
Hélico: Pick up small dishes from this wonderful restaurant or their pastry shop and enjoy them at Place Gennevilliers-Laliberté, near Marché Maisonneuve.
Nouveau Palais: From their location on Papineau, take your comfort food to Parc Lorimier in Petit Laurier
Sandwicherie Sue: Eat a banh mi in Parc Molson and make sure to look up: the BESIDE office patio overlooks the park 🙂
Moleskine: Savour your delicious pizza on Mount Royal.
Go to Orange Julep for their namesake drink: it’s nice to have a cycling destination and, frankly, the prospect of a hot dog with sauerkraut and mustard doesn’t hurt either. The ride through Côtes-des-Neiges is beautiful and will sculpt your calves, so you can clearly display your allegiance to this steep city!
From July 1 to August 20, the Mural Festival returns to Montréal. Artists will be painting 12 temporary murals live on canvasses set up along the sanitary corridor on Saint-Laurent.
From July 4 to November 15 at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), you can explore the universe of post-impressionist Paris and learn about the social issues that prompted Signac and his fellow artists to form the Salon des Indépendants in 1884. Or wind your way through the “Diaspora and Painting” exhibition at the Phi Foundation.
For a complete list of museums and galleries running exhibitions this summer, look here.
To enjoy the summer weather and art at the same time, go check out Galerie Blanc. It returns this summer with an outdoor exhibition accessible day and night. Or stop at the Place des Montréalaises, behind the city hall at Champ-de-Mars metro station, to see the Citoyennes Inspirantes photo exhibit, featuring portraits of 21 exceptional women in social, scientific, and cultural fields.
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The bike lanes have multiplied, and the best way to explore the city is on two wheels. You’ll cover more ground than by foot and notice plenty of details that you wouldn’t in a car—like the smell of lilacs or a barbecue. Every neighbourhood has its own distinct character. Ride through the small streets of Saint-Henri, remark on the mid-century architecture near the Montréal Heart Institute, head north to the outskirts of Rivière-des-Prairies, and take a break at the Parc-Nature de l’Île-de-la-Visitation. Smile at people gardening or sunning on their front porch; buy lemonade from children—or stop by the Racer Café on the lovely Gouin boulevard for a sorbet or iced coffee.
Travel through time in Parc Frédéric-Back with its futuristic spheres that glow at dusk, then grab an ice cream at Iconoglace. Explore Parc Jean-Drapeau now while it’s peaceful. Have a seat near the Olympic Basin and watch the cyclists racing by at 100 km/hour on Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. Take the Concorde bridge to return to Montréal; it offers a beautiful view of the Old Port.
Explore Mount Royal by mountain biking or jogging through it. Some paths start from Mont-Royal Boulevard (not avenue!), not far from the Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Music. For a change, enter the park through the cemetery or from Westmount and you’ll have the mountain to yourself.
Another nice option is to ride along the Lachine Canal to Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue at the western tip of the island. The Saint-Anne-de-Bellevue Canal is a National Historic Site and faces lac Saint-Louis; if you’ve never been, it’s worth the trip. Wander along the canal, enjoy a picnic, then let yourself be lulled by the water lapping against the boats in the marina. Stroll through the streets of this centuries-old village, which served as a transit point for the fur trade as well as a holiday resort.
Whether you surf or not, hop on your bike and head to Habitat 67: there’s plenty of other reasons to visit! See the grandiose building designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie and watch people from all walks of life surfing the waves; there’s a great view of the surfers from right in front of Habitat 67. Parc Dieppe, right next door, is a little-known park that offers a new perspective on the city. For surfing, there’s also Vague à Guy (Guy’s Wave) in the Parc des Rapides, along Boulevard LaSalle between Gagné and Raymond.
On the water
Back in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, hop in a kayak and navigate the waters of Lac Saint-Louis. You can rent one at Paddle Mac, on the banks of the McGill campus in Saint-Anne.
Grab your vessel and admire Montréal from the river while letting yourself be carried away by the current. If you don’t have one, the LaSalle branch of the nautical activity centre KSF has reopened. You can rent a kayak, surfboard, or stand-up paddleboard (SUP) for urban excursions. The Lachine Canal Nautical Centre, Espace NAVI, and the Club de Canotage de Cartierville areother options for exploring the water.
A trip to the north shore
If one morning you feel like a change of scenery—or a change of island—cross the Rivière des Prairies to spend a bit of time in Laval. On the other side of the Pie-IX bridge lies the Centre de la Nature, a 50-acre urban park. Picnic under the shelter of a willow tree, wander through the flower carpets of the Jardin Nomad, and get inspired by the Halte Environmentale’s green rooftops and urban vegetable patches. Be sure to wander through the Jardin Alpin, Jardin de la Détente, and the Jardin d’Essai (alpine, relaxation, and experimental gardens, respectively). The park is home to 13 gardens and five kms [about three miles] of path, giving you a wonderful peek into nature.
Rent a kayak, canoe, or SUP at the Parc-de-la-Rivière-des-Milles-Îles. This protected wildlife area is the largest in the metropolitan region. Gently observe the fauna as you paddle down the river, enjoying the sun reflecting off the water. With your entry fee, you’ll also be contributing to the protection and rehabilitation of the 92 species that call the park home.
A trip to the south shore
Spend the day in Chambly walking or cycling along the Chambly basin. Watch the boats and check out the locks at the Chambly Canal National Historic Site. An old towpath has been transformed into a bike path that goes all the way to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and is well worth the ride. If your calves would rather a vacation, though, spend the day at the water’s edge near the Fort in Chambly and enjoy an ice cream in the village. End the day watching the sunset from the patio of Au coin de la Baie restaurant.
Just a 30-minute drive from Montréal, the Parc national du Mont-Saint-Bruno is a forest oasis. With 30 km [18.6 miles] of cycling, walking, and birdwatching paths, mature forests, and five lakes where you can dip your feet, it’s a perfect summer getaway. Don’t forget to stop at Cafellini on your way there or back for a coffee, hot or iced.
Île Saint-Bernard in Châteauguay is also a great destination for a day trip. Check out the wildlife refuge and the flora. Come face to face with an American mink, turtle, or white-tailed deer as you round a bend along a path. We’ve also heard that the local amphibians deliver exceptional musical performances.
Taking it slow
Don’t forget that being a flaneur is also an art. When you’re doing it right, you can reach an almost meditative state. Walk or ride to the Jardin Botanique and lie on a blanket near the water in the First Nations garden. Wander the streets of the Mile-End, and buy yourself a book at Drawn & Quarterly on Bernard or a Québec wine at Butterblume. Cross the city from north to south, taking only the alleyways.
Go check out the Biquette eco-grazing project in Parc Maisonneuve. You can watch sheep and chicken, masters of the art of slow living, every day between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
La Pépinière Co will also open several of its sites this summer. First and foremost, the Village au Pied-du-Courant, an urban beach for anyone interested in feeling the sand beneath their feet. Les Jardineries, their project at Montréal’s Olympic Park, features a bistro with a large illuminated terrace, a greenhouse, and a circular beach.
For a morning of berry picking, the Ferme Marineau in the western tip of Laval island offers a you-pick option, and is even accessible by public transit. Strawberry season runs from mid-June to mid-July, and blueberry season from mid-July to September.
stroll + ice cream combos
For those who need a goal, or perhaps a reward, for their walks: ice cream pairs well with a leisurely wander. Here’s a little list to help you discover new corners of Montréal with a cool treat, day or evening.
Outremont + Bilboquet
Mile End + Kem Coba
Boul. Gouin + Crèmerie Gelato
Villeray + Les Givrés
Petite-Italie + Monsieur Crémeux
Verdun + Bar laitier Wellington
Pointe-Saint-Charles + Mollo
Notre-Dame-de-Grâce + Ca Lem
Ahunstic + Virevent
Pointe-Claire + Wild Willy’s
Hochelaga + Hoche Glacé
Plateau + Bo-Bec
BESIDE Parents’ Favourites
Children are aces of observation and appreciating the present moment. They live at their own pace, stop to smell the flowers, and take naps. Here are some suggested ways to let them soak up their surroundings and create wonderful memories.
Parc-nature de l’Île-de-la-Visitation: The banks of Rivière des Prairies offer the perfect place for your children to observe wildlife, especially ducks and geese.
Parc-nature de la Rivière-des-Milles-Îles, parc-nature du Cap-Saint-Jacques, parc-nature de la Pointe-aux-Prairies, and parc-nature du Bois-de-Liesse: Montréal’s nature parks are perfect places for your kids to stretch their legs and for you to relax.
Parc national du Mont-Saint-Bruno: Take them for hikes where they can observe birds, insects, and small animals, including garter snakes and snails.
La Biquette: With this eco-grazing project, your kids can experience the countryside in the middle of the city, and watch sheep munching on the lawn and resting in the sun with their own children.
The Ecomuseum Zoo: This zoo in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue is a foray into the world of Québec wildlife, where animals can be observed in specifically adapted, mainly outdoor habitats. The zoo was developed in the spirit of conservation and rehabilitates lost or injured animals.
La Caverne de Saint-Léonard: Take your kids to discover the secrets of the cave’s immense underground tunnels. (For ages six and up.)
MMFA: The Fine Arts museum offers exhibitions for all ages, as well as activities and workshops for children.
Splash pads and park fountains throughout the city: These water features can be found Parcs Jarry, Lafond, Père-Marquette, Alphonse-Télesphore-Lépine, Baldwin, Lhasa-De Sela, Gilles-Lefebvre, Saint-Pierre-Claver, and Saint-Michel. Endlessly joyful and refreshing, splash pads offer lots of laughter. And you’ll sometimes see ducks in the fountains!
Disclaimer : The content in the Away with BESIDE section has been thoroughly verified by our team. Still, in this rapidly changing moment, we recommend that you check the accessibility of activities first before hitting the road!