A Montreal Walking Tour with Small Groups and No Scripts
If you want to get to know a city hang out with a local. That is especially true with a city like Montreal which is made up of 19 boroughs, that can further divide into smaller neighbourhoods like “little Italy” and the “gay village”. Teaming up with a knowledgeable tour guide can give you insights into some of the hidden gems you may not discover on your own. That is exactly why I chose a Montreal walking tour with Spade & Palacio. They offer city cycling and food tours along with walking tours that are customized and adjusted in real time. It’s time to put on my walking shoes, I’m going for a stroll.
My guide happens to be one of the owners, Danny Pavlopoulous. We begin our tour in the hip Mile End neighbourhood at Cafe Olympico. This Italian cafe has been serving classic Italian espresso and pastries since it opened its doors in 1970. You will want to order a coffee to take with you on your tour so bring cash because they don’t take credit or debit cards.
The Mile End is a fascinating neighbourhood with an eclectic and multicultural mix of residents along with plenty of cafes and cocktail bars. As Danny and I walk through to our next stop I see plenty of restaurants that pique my interest. I may have to come back this way for Saturday or Sunday brunch.
The #1 reason most tourists visit the Mile End is to visit the two most famous Montreal bagel shops. St Viateur and Fairmont Bagel. Locals take their bagels very seriously and you will soon discover where their bagel loyalty lies. Are you team St Viateur or Team Fairmont.
Fairmont Bagels started in 1919 when Isadore Shlafman arrived in Canada. It was called Montreal Bagel Bakery and was called that until 1949 when his grandson moved the business to its current location on Fairmont Street.
St-Viateur Bagels opened in 1957 and the two bakeries have competed for the title of “best bagel in Montreal” ever since.
What makes a Montreal Bagel so special? It is hand-rolled, honey-water boiled, then baked in a wood fire. If you have driven to Montreal be sure to stock up and as soon as you return home slice the bagels and freeze them. This will keep the bagels fresh and allow you to enjoy real Montreal Bagels for days and days after your visit.
You are probably wondering which was my favourite? I am team St-Viateur.
Our next stop was to refill my coffee at Le Depanneur Cafe. Across the street from this bohemian cafe/live music venue were two very cool shops. One called Phonopolis and the other Drawn and Quarterly. The first is a record store offering new and vintage vinyl records and CDs for sale. Do you remember what a CD is?
Drawn and Quarterly is not only a bookstore with a wide variety of English and French publications for sale but also a publishing house of the world’s best cartoonists. For a full list of who they publish check here.
All of these great finds are in the neighbourhood called the Mile End.
The next destination on this Montreal walking tour is to another classic and must visit institution, Schwartz’s Deli, but before we arrive there is street art to see.
Montreal is famous for The Mural Festival. What started in 2012 has turned into an internationally acclaimed festival celebrating street artists from all over the world. What better use is there for a blank wall on the side of a building.
Every year the artists change and so do the works on display. Streets are shut down and live music entertains thousands from day to night. Today it is just us walking down the streets admiring the talents of Kevin Ledo and Ricardo Cavolo. The Leonard Cohen painting at the top of this post is an homage to one of the city’s foremost artists. I hope that mural stays for many years.
We have arrived at Schwartz’s Deli. There is normally a huge lineup at this Jewish deli, but as I’m with Danny we are able to jump ahead a little bit.
What to order? There is only one thing. A Smoked Meat Sandwich, side of French Fries and a Pickle. This istheh classic order and for your first visit it is a must.
Don’t think the sandwich is big enough for you? How about this angle? It is beast and oh so good.
This is the end of my Montreal walking Tour with Spade and Palacio. It was a custom tour based on my likes and interest. You can request a custom tour for yourself (inquire about special pricing) or you can sign up for one of their scheduled walking, biking and food tours. You’ll discover some of the best spots in Montreal and perhaps make friends along the way.