As someone who has explored many areas of the world, and called Montreal home for the past two years, I can tell you that this is a city well worth the journey.
Montreal exudes charm, beauty, and culture. It’s widely recognized for its French influence, evident in its native French speakers, exceptional cuisine, and delectable pastries that rival even those found in Paris. However, what often goes unnoticed is the incredible diversity of the city. According to Statistics Canada, one in three residents of Montreal is an immigrant, resulting in a melting pot of communities, composed of individuals from more than 120 countries across five continents.
Given the rich diversity, it comes as no surprise that Montreal boasts some of the most vibrant cultural, artistic, and culinary scenes in the world. And once you visit, it becomes all the more clear.
Here, the Italian community is almost as ubiquitous as the French, and the Italian Cafés, sandwich shops, and restaurants bring some major competition to the already flavorful Quebecois cuisine. Montreal is also home to one of the largest Jewish communities in North America, giving rise to the famous Montreal-style bagel. Unlike its New York counterpart, the Montreal bagel is smaller, thinner, sweeter, and denser, with a larger hole in the middle, and baked in a wood-fired oven. Renowned bagel shops like Fairmount and St-Viateur Bagel are cherished gems of the Montreal food scene and are always sure to have a line around the corner (even in frigid, 20-degree weather).
But it’s not only the culinary delights that define Montreal; it’s of course, the people. Artistic, outdoorsy, and kind-hearted, the people in Montreal have impeccable style and a taste for the finer things in life. Because this city is steeped in stunning architecture, outdoor scenery, and one of the largest fashion scenes in the world, this metropolis knows how to appreciate life's great luxuries.
Unlike the province of Quebec, Montrealers generally speak in both English and French, a charming trait you’ll discover in any boutique, bar, or bakery, with a greeting that has become synonymous with Montreal: “Bonjour, Hi.” Yes, Montreal is a bilingual city, but don’t be surprised when you run into language barriers. Depending on the area, some speakers may only know traces of English; and that goes for Uber drivers and service providers as well. If safety is a concern, rest assured that Montreal is one of the safest cities in the world. With minimal incidents of violent crime or petty theft, and friendly, welcoming individuals at every turn.
This city fuses the hardworking, hustle lifestyle of New York, with a slower, more bohemian cafe culture, reminiscent of Paris. Yet, what sets Montreal apart is the distinct character found in every corner of the city. You have Little Italy, which offers some of the best local markets on the island and an authentic, “old Italy” aesthetic. There’s Verdun, home to what’s been named the “World’s Coolest Street”, Montreal's famed sandwich shop, Bossa, and a plethora of unique restaurants and summer terraces, boasting specials like dollar oysters and local Quebec wines. Then, of course, is the Old Port—one of the most exciting areas of the city, transporting visitors back to 1611 when the port was first built. This part of town is often the most explored by tourists, as it bubbles over with charm and European flare.
While each neighborhood in Montreal comes with its own special appeal, there is one neighborhood that stands out among the rest. And if you ask any local, they will undoubtedly agree—it’s Mile End.
The Sherpani Unmissable recommendation for visiting Montreal: Mile End!
As per the locals of Montreal, Mile End stands out as the coolest and most happening neighborhood, (even ranking 5th coolest in the World) renowned for its rows of dining establishments, trendy hangouts, and hipster vibe. Not only is this trendy neighborhood famous for its music venues and unique bar scene, but it’s also home to some of the most amazing cafes, French bakeries, and iconic food joints, including mouth-watering Montreal bagels. Whether it's a summer day or a snowy winter evening, Mile End is the best locale to explore and enjoy.
Not to worry—we’ve prepared a comprehensive itinerary for you to make the most of your time in The Mile End. Let's get started!
To kick off your day trip in the Mile End, we recommend stopping by Montreal's most iconic coffee shop, Café Olimpico. This old-fashioned Italian-style cafe is more than just iconic, it's legendary. Coffee aficionados from all over the world flock to Montreal in search of the flavors and atmosphere that can only be found at Café Olimpico. This hotspot is not only famous for its Italian coffee and pastries but it's also considered the heartbeat of the Mile End. Rain or shine, this is where locals congregate, and if you're looking to observe the essence of Mile End, here is where you’ll find it.
Now that you’ve secured a strong cup of coffee, (seriously, we mean strong) it’s time for a bagel. But not just any bagel; a Montreal bagel. There are two renowned bagel shops close by—Fairmount and St-Viateur—but we are partial to the unique experience of the latter. Located just a five-minute walk from Café Olimpico, St-Viateur Bagel is not only popular among locals but also frequented by celebrities. And here, you’ll get the full, hand-made, wood-fired oven experience. Heads up—don’t be shocked when they don’t add cream cheese or bacon, egg, and cheese to your bagel. Here, things work a little differently. You can purchase various toppings while there, but it's customary to dress it yourself.
After enjoying an authentic Montreal breakfast, we recommend exploring the Mile End on foot. As the city's artistic hub, Mile End is adorned with vibrant murals and street art that perfectly encapsulates Montreal's creative identity. Take a stroll down St. Laurent Boulevard, nicknamed "The Main," where you'll discover the pulse of the neighborhood, along with its many eateries. Pop in and out of the vintage shops that pepper the street, or grab some of those Paris-rivaled pastries we mentioned above, from Boulangerie Guillaume.
When it comes to lunch in the Mile End, the best spots are easy to point out, usually marked by packed interiors or lines out the door. If you’re looking for a quick, budget-friendly, and flavorful option, Drogheria Fine’s $5 Gnocchi stand is a fan favorite. And in any case, it’s almost impossible to resist the smell of their signature sauce wafting up your nose from blocks away. In search of a sit-down meal? Larry’s is a classic yet casual Quebecois eatery known and loved by Mile End natives. The menu is made up of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, and if it’s lunchtime, everyone there will be sipping on a glass of wine. (We recommend joining in on this practice.)
Once your gnocchi or wine-induced coma begins to hit, a stroll through Park Lahaie acts as the perfect remedy. This quaint park is a go-to for relaxing and people-watching in the summer, or ice skating in the winter. On your way there, you may consider stopping at Le Petit Dep for an afternoon pick-me-up espresso.
To end your day on the right note, head West down Laurier Street to Bar Henrietta. This charming, warmly-lit bar serves delicious small plates that are sure to surprise your taste buds, accompanied by an extensive wine list. The atmosphere is relaxed, fun, and inviting, and has the same type of crowd, to boot. (Pro Tip: order the popcorn!)
If you’ve got one last nightcap in you, then right across from Bar Henrietta is Kabinet. This swanky, classic French bar lights up your more luxurious side with ambient lighting, red velvet seating, and stunning chandeliers—all at affordable prices. Every Sunday, Kabinet hosts a special martini and caviar night. Do with that information, what you will.
As your jam-packed and flavor-fueled Mile End experience comes to an end, we hope you’ll take with you lasting memories and a deeper appreciation for the cultural richness and artistic spirit that makes Montreal a truly special city.
Ready to go?
Have you eaten at any of the spots mentioned in this Sherpani Unmissable guide? Do you have your own favorite foodie spot to add to our Mile End itinerary? We’d love to hear from fellow admirers of this incredible city.
The above post is part of an ongoing segment of the Sherpani Travel Blog. We want to give travelers a singular, tangible recommendation for destinations; something we deem truly unmissable. These recommendations are carefully chosen from the personal travels of the Sherpani team.