Think of Montreal and you might picture a scene that looks straight out of Europe. This Canadian city is complete with cobblestoned streets, gothic cathedrals, and sidewalk cafes. And, while Montreal’s nearly 400 years of history are evident everywhere, so is its love affair with contemporary art and architecture, which led it to be named a UNESCO City of Design.
Here, modern art can be found anywhere. Montreal prides itself on its street art, and Saint Laurent Boulevard serves as an open-air gallery where you'll find some of the best vibrant murals. Each June, as part of the Mural Festival, the city invites a group of artists to come and create new murals over the existing ones. Some of the 2019 artists included duo PichiAvo of Spain, who blends classical motifs in urban art, as well as Insane51, a Greek artist best known for his 3-D works.
Architecture and design lovers should book a guided tour of Habitat 67 ($18 per adult) to learn more about the building's history; you'll even have the chance to visit an unoccupied apartment. This apartment complex was Moshe Safdie's debut project. (He also designed the futuristic Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.) Habitat 67 champions community and nature, and the urban village features connected walkways and terraces that offer serene views of the Saint Lawrence River. Be sure to look at the stretch of river in front of the building — you may spot surfers in the break.
The 1967 International and Universal Exposition led to the construction of the Biosphere, which was designed by American architect Buckminster Fuller. Today, a museum is housed inside the 20-story geodesic dome. Exhibits highlight the environment, climate change, and sustainability ($11 per adult).
Devote the better part of a day to explore the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which spans five buildings. Don’t miss the concrete Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion, where you'll find an eye-catching display of decorative works and designs. For contemporary art, head to Arsenal Gallery, which is located inside a former shipyard.
Some of Montreal’s can’t-miss shops include SSENSE, a five-story department store, and Frank and Oak, a menswear store, coffee bar, and a barbershop all-in-one (a separate location sells women’s clothing and furniture). Pop inside Vertuose to view sculptural house plants and creative moss wall hangings. Fashionistas will appreciate a visit to Unicorn, a women’s boutique that sells a mix of Canadian and international labels.
One of the most Instagrammable places to eat in Montreal is Pastel Rita, which features bubblegum pink and green décor. Come for brunch and order the avocado toast. Take advantage of the strong exchange rate and try the seven-course tasting menu at Restaurant Jérôme Ferrer — Europea ($70 per person). Settle in for a few hours to enjoy a theatrical meal, where courses are presented alongside virtual reality goggles and dance parties. At the end, you'll toast your own marshmallows over a flame at your table.
Finish your day with a nightcap at Bar George, which looks like an elegant British townhouse. Cocktails have fun names like Bitter Aunt (Pimm’s and aperol) and Lady Stephen No. 1 (sparkling wine, rum, pineapple, and green tea).
Ask for a room with a view at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth. If you’re lucky, you may overlook the dome of Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, which is modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Guest rooms here are vibrant and colorful, and the property itself plays an important role in history: it's where John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their Bed-Ins for Peace 50 years ago. Toast them with a cocktail at the on-site Nacarat bar.