A Guide to Montreal from Two Sad Grads

Photo by Arly Abramson

When we first arrived in Montreal in September 2017, we knew little about where to go, what to do, and how to make the most of our time here. It’s not until this year, now that we’re about to graduate, that we’ve realized both how much this city has to offer and how much time went by without us appreciating it. So, as two graduating McGill students, here is what we’d like to impart onto students with more time left to discover McGill and Montreal.

THE MOUNTAIN – Every McGill student is familiar with Mount Royal’s lookout, the first destination students in residence get to experience. Exhausted, but excited, we were so impressed with the view. We followed the same route time and time again, without realizing that there are so many other ways to enjoy the mountain. Some of our favourite discoveries include walking the “long way” – beginning at the Rachel entrance or from Dr. Penfield, you can enjoy the wide path that winds up the mountain and makes for a forty-five-minute stroll to the top. Along the way, you’ll find Beaver Lake, the most spectacular spot in the city to enjoy golden hour. In the winter, you’ll find that Montrealers don’t let the snow stop them — grab skates or cross-country skis and take advantage of the winter activities. The city’s namesake is so much more than just the lookouts.

ICE CREAM – One of the best discoveries of our later years has been the abundance of artisanal soft serve in the Plateau. From local ingredients at Swirl, to photogenic cones at Kem Coba, the ice cream never disappoints. Favourites like Ca Lem, Unicone, and Le Blueboy offer unique and exciting flavours that change weekly, making each visit a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience the magical frozen delight. Plus, each of these shops offer options that are vegan, gluten, and lactose-free! Ice cream is the perfect afternoon snack or dessert to end a night time walk.

PARC LA FONTAINE – We spent our first three years at McGill hearing about the beautiful Parc La Fontaine and its immaculate vibes. Filled with picnickers, buskers, and poutine, we thought this oasis was a universe away. Turns out, it’s actually about a thirty-minute walk from McLennan. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your friends and a frisbee, and go to La Banquise to pick up poutine before your adventure. You may be asking, what about during the winter?  Have no fear: the entire pond turns into a free public skating rink, and if you’re lucky, you can catch a spontaneous DJ on the weekend.

BIXI – Hop on a Bixi! You’re living in a city with more than 350 km of bike paths. Bixi is a cheap, efficient, and eco-friendly way to get exploring and get acquainted with all Montreal has to offer. We learned this year that so many neighbourhoods and fun places that we wanted to try are actually a lot closer than they seem, if you commit to biking there. Plus, biking is great exercise to pedal away all your academic stress. 

CHEAP AND QUICK EATS – We discovered first year on a student budget that the city has amazing cheap and quick eats! We’ve been exploring and expanding our palettes ever since. While we have more recommendations than could neatly fit into this list (see: our many other articles on the topic), we recommend the following: Check out Thali Cuisine Indienne for some lip-smackingly good Indian food, Opiano for a quick Korean feast near campus, or Nilufar in St. Catharine West near Concordia University. Want to venture outside the McGill bubble even more? Check out Drogheria Fine Gnocchi in the Mile End, Bao Bao Dim Sum in Montreal’s Chinatown, or grab a slice of pizza from Slice and Soda in Old Port. If all else fails, you can always rely on a good brunch from Bagel Etc.  in the Plateau!

CAFÉS – You’ve probably heard this by now, but nothing beats the Montreal café scene. Whether you’re walking to pick up an iced latte from Nous Sommes Cafe during the pandemic, or you’re spending an afternoon studying in Pikolo or Cafe Osmo when indoor dining reopens, your caffeine fix will always be satisfied. Sometimes it’s nice to leave the library and treat yourself for all your hard work, or to even reward yourself for a day spent entirely on Zoom by getting outside and exploring  one of these atmospheric cafes.

READ FROM LOCAL BOOKSTORES – Like many students, we spent way too much time over the past four years on our screens… This year, our screen time has been amplified with online class, and now more than ever, we’ve needed to decompress by finding different outlets. In our opinion, reading is the optimal form of escapism for unwinding after a stressful day. While we’ve both shared some of our book recommendations, we have only recently discovered how many ways you can get books in this city. The McGill Library, both in-person and online, has an incredible offering of books for students. The city is also full of independent bookstores. Paragraphe across from the Roddick Gates has all the new and noteworthy fiction you could possibly crave and offers a great McGill student discount. Otherwise, check out  The Word on Milton and S.W.Welch in the Mile End for used and rare books. 

GET INVOLVED – Get involved, because it’s worth it! We have found a great community at the Bull and Bear. We have also enjoyed getting involved in many other extracurricular activities and communities, be it for a short time or for all four years of university. From theatre, to buddy programs, to McGill chapters of larger organizations to student government, getting involved is the best way to meet like-minded peers and students of all ages. While we felt overwhelmed by Activities Night in first year, we soon learned that there truly is a place for everyone to get involved here. The SSMU clubs page is a great place to start exploring. Don’t be afraid to try everything–nothing is permanent, and there will always be a new opportunity waiting for you.

GIVE BACK – It’s really easy to get a lot out of your time in Montreal, but it’s important to give back too. There are so many student initiatives and local organizations that are making meaningful contributions to the greater McGill and Montreal community. Students can engage in community outreach through groups like Meals for Milton-Parc and Midnight Kitchen. If you want to venture out and volunteer on your own, Santropol Roulant and Le Magasin du Chaînon are just a few of the many local organizations doing important work for the communities we are a part of.

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So, enjoy what you’ve been offered at McGill in Montreal. You’re not only studying downtown surrounded by exciting sights and sounds, but you’re also close to charming neighbourhoods with parks and happenings aplenty. We spent so much time trying to figure out what to see and do that we actually missed taking advantage of the opportunities at our fingertips. So, look out your window, take a break from studying, and make the most out of what’s in front of you.

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