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9 reasons Montréal is a perfect city for the bleisure traveler

By: Claire Litton-Cohn

Photo: Eva Blue

If the highlight of your last business trip to Montréal was the spinning chairs in the boardroom, you never got the chance to see how the city is cornering the market on business+leisure travel. The vibe here is unmistakable — there’s a youthful energy and dynamic spirit that shine through in one of the world’s best foodie scenes, an impressive tech culture, and a sense that the city itself is a canvas, awaiting your creative touch.

So when that next free trip courtesy of your boss pops up, tack on a few extra days. Here are nine reasons Montréal is a perfect city for the bleisure traveler.

This guide is proudly produced in partnership with Tourisme Montréal.
Where can you trade ideas with execs from Facebook over breakfast and collaborate with members of Cirque du Soleil over lunch? Montréal’s C2 Conference is where. The two Cs are “commerce” and “creativity,” and this world-class event brings both in spades.

Why should you go? Sponsored by forward-thinking companies like Solotech (entertainment technology specialists) and Element AI (artificial intelligence), the goal of C2 is to encourage community, networking, and collaboration through active participation by attendees. If you want to stretch your wings and think outside the box with some top-notch creative innovators, C2 is the place.

What do you do? Tracks are broken down into Conference Blocks (more traditional presentations on a wide range of topics), Collaborative Sessions (participatory, hands-on workshops and development sessions), and Labs (explorations of ideas).

Who do you meet? Francis Ford Coppola, Diane von Furstenberg, Chelsea Manning, Snoop Dogg, and Steve Wozniak have been just some of the conference’s A-list speakers. You’ll also engage in “Braindates,” one-on-one meetings where discussion partners are matched based on an expertise they want to share or learn.

Photo credits: Agnieszka S., Jimmy Hamelin, Sebastian Roy, and Myriam Baril-Tessier.
A seemingly endless supply of tiny coffee shops adorn just about every street of the city, and Montrealers take their caffeine seriously. These spots are great for squeezing in a little work among the sightseeing or grabbing a quick bite, and you’ll be inspired by all the local young professionals you see doing the same.

For a community hub: Nope, no string lights and hardwood and well-placed pillows here — the brutalist architecture of Café OSMO, its cement surfaces and fierce angles, is what highlights the softness of your house-made brioche and matches the strength of your espresso.

For a funky design: Le Cagibi brought all the flavor and funk of its original Mile End location to a new spot in nearby Little Italy. The homey, mismatched decor sports comfy chairs and tables that are perfect for eyeballing glass shelves of vintage knick-knacks while you sip an espresso or a local microbrew.

For something unique: Café Résonance is a small performance venue that serves vegan dishes and a mean cup of coffee. Open until midnight, you’ll often find local artists showing their work, listening to live music, and sipping fair-trade cappuccinos.

Photo credits: Tourisme Montréal/Madore/Daphné Caron and Tourisme Montréal/Madore/Maude Chauvin
Where the creative inspiration of C2 Montréal leaves off, the city’s art and culture scene takes the baton. The attractions here are cutting edge, and the experiences you have might just help you generate that next big idea.

For a night of theatre: In the heart of Old Montréal, Centaur Theatre Company has been hosting innovative and expansive performance since 1969. This English-language company puts on contemporary works and encourages creativity in young and old alike through salons, festivals, and other specialized events.

For Instagrammable street art: Montréal wouldn’t be the same without its blocks of striking, original street art. Most common in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood along Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Rue Saint-Denis, and Rue Duluth, the building-sized murals are half blazoned for all to see, half tucked away in quiet corners. Many are done by professional artists; MURAL Festival, an annual graffiti festival, showcases new works.

For everything else: Sprawling through multiple stories of a heritage building, the Phi Centre houses performance venues, art galleries, makers’ labs, a cinema, and production studios. On any given visit, their eclectic programming could include a VR look inside famous oil paintings, Inuit throat-singing, or a visit from Yoko Ono.

Photo credits: Halopigg and George Fok
All the benefits of an urban landscape without the drawbacks — it’s safe for solo travelers to explore Montréal on foot, getting around is easy, and with a “mountain” in the center, nature is never far away.

Travel by metro: Montréal’s transit network is comprehensive and regular; service runs till 1am (1:30am on Saturdays). You can get a one-day transit pass for $10 from any metro station, where you can hop on one of the multicolored lines to give yourself a tour around the city. Visit Place des Arts, the cultural hotspot in the heart of downtown, or hop the yellow line to the Biosphère, an ecological museum originally built for the ’67 International World Fair.

Wander the markets: If you don’t feel like hitting up a restaurant — or just want some brightness in your life — self-cater at one of Montréal’s indoor/outdoor markets. Marché Atwater and Marché Jean-Talon offer a wide selection of local fruit and vegetables, delicious baked goods (looking at you, macarons!), and cheese shops that are to die for.

Stroll the canal: Little is more pleasant than walking along the Lachine Canal, an eight-mile waterway running from the Old Port towards the hipster neighborhoods of Griffintown and Little Burgundy. The clear pathway winds past five locks, outdoor art installations, a multitude of green spaces, and Bota Bota, a floating spa.

Photo credits: Alexis Monerville, Linda Turgeon, and Tourisme Montréal/Madore/Daphné Caron
Montréal’s outdoors are incredibly accessible compared to most cities of its size. When you’re done with work and don’t want to see another screen for a while, get outside and get moving.

Hike Mont Royal: Commonly called “the mountain” even though it’s more of a large hill, Parc du Mont-Royal has a network of trails and pathways great for a run or hike. You can take a more leisurely stroll or challenge yourself to climb the several flights of stairs that lead to the top, where a stunning view of the Montréal skyline awaits.

Do some yoga: Chill out after a long day with some restful yin or break a sweat with vinyasa flow — Montréal’s yoga studios are all over the place. Current literal hotspot Modo Yoga offers a range of styles in heated rooms for the extra bendy.

Hop a BIXI: Most business travelers can’t bring their bicycle in their carry-on, but Montréal has your back with BIXI. The bike-share service has stations all over the city, offering one-way, one-day, or multi-day ticket options. Take the bike wherever you like on Montréal’s comprehensive bike paths, and then leave it when you’re done.

Photo credits: Fitz & Lowell Co. and BIXI Monteral
You can always tell when it’s springtime in Montréal — the terrasses fill up and Kem CoBa opens its doors, slinging ice cream cones like no one’s watching. Even in winter, the city distracts from the cold with a long list of festivals and fun traditions.

Summer: “Ephemeral villages” pop up around Montréal through September, then disappear until next May. These clusters of food trucks, beer gardens, live music venues, and artisan markets transform industrial, underutilized pockets of town into summer paradises. If you need evidence of the city’s creative spirit, look no further.

Winter/Spring: Cabanes au sucre aren’t unique to Montréal, but they’re a fundamental part of Quebecois culture. Traditionally held in “sugar camps,” the feasts involve maple-syrup-flavored desserts, ham and pea soup, and copious amounts of hot apple cider. All it takes to become a Quebecois paysanne is a tromp through the woods to a sugar shack.

Autumn: As if the Montréal Botanical Garden isn’t beautiful enough year-round, every fall it hosts the Gardens of Light festival. Based on a Chinese tradition, glittering lanterns illuminate the walkways, inviting visitors to explore this ecologically friendly and mesmerizing display in a way not seen the rest of the year.

Photo credits: Jean-Michael Seminaro, Sucrerie de la Montagne, and Anderson de Vargas Lange
You are not your job, even on a work trip, and the food and nightlife of Montréal provide a full escape. Lining up for hot bagels fresh out of the oven, Hugh-Jackman-approved meat pies, splurging on late-night poutine, and bars open until 3am — you won’t run out of reasons to stay out on the town…or to eat your way through it.

For the fine diners: French restaurant Au Pied du Cochon prides itself on its meat-heavy fare; aside from desserts, only two items on the menu are vegetarian, and even the french fries are cooked in duck fat. Every item is prepared with mouth-watering style, and their foie gras is out of this world.

For the views: When you walk into the Four Seasons Hotel Montréal, look up. Marcus sits atop the stunning lobby, and while cozy corners proliferate, the best seats come with downtown views out on the terrasse. Expect amazing seafood, always locally sourced, and an impressive raw bar.

For the introvert: If you prefer to recharge in peace and quiet, consider a trip to Camellia Sinensis, a calm teahouse in the midst of Montréal’s famous Latin Quarter. Another option is Else’s, a tiny bar/restaurant with a cozy, whimsical vibe and a packed menu of various comfort foods to fuel you from the inside out.

Photo credits: Au Pied de Cochon, Camellia Sinensis, and Two Food Photographers
As a hub for creative innovation, every corner of Montréal seems to be crammed with entrepreneurs, activists, and artists looking to make a difference (and succeeding).

Indigenous cultures: Mikw Chiyâm is an interdisciplinary arts program and creative residency aimed at indigenous youth, commissioned by the Cree School Board. Educational director Melissa-Ann Ledo teams up creative kids with First Nations artists all across Canada, and in her spare time runs The Rainbow Story Hour, an event for kids featuring storytime with drag queens and queer artists.

Creativity and activism: Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté has been changing the face of circus for years with his unique and poetic shows, but his latest project is all about promoting the creative spirit of Montréal and the greater region. Lune Rouge brings together a team of accomplished executives to mentor and invest in the next generation of local entrepreneurs.

Neuroscience and machine learning: Yoshua Bengio is the scientific director of MILA (Montréal Institute for Learning Algorithms) and co-founder of Element AI, and his 130,000+ citations on Google Scholar prove him to be an absolute expert in the field of machine learning. Interested in studying how machines display intelligence, he’s a frequent public speaker and graduate supervisor at the institute.

Photo credits: Camile Gladu-Drouin
Montréal caters to your accommodation needs, whatever they may be — and that includes perks aimed squarely at the bleisure traveler. With neighborhoods ranging from French colonial to Bohemian to ultra-modern, you might want to start dropping hints at work to get your favorite corporate-approved.

For a quirky chateau: The vibrant Latin Quarter offers all kinds of amenities for both business and leisure travelers. One of the best hotels around is Hôtel Château de l’Argoat, a charming, small-but-professional space with unique artwork gracing every corner. The owner runs a nearby gallery, and the hotel offers comfortable and unusual rooms, free parking, and a variety of concierge services to suit your needs.

For a home away from home: Every room in Hôtel Anne Ma Soeur Anne has a kitchenette for the self-catering traveler, and you can enjoy relaxing in their leafy central courtyard. Located inside a typical house in Plateau Mont-Royal, some rooms also have a private terrace, while others offer a Murphy bed/desk combo that allows you to convert your room to an office for maximum work time.

For streamlined comfort with style: While every tourist crowds into the Old Port, Le Petit Hôtel is on a more peaceful side street, close to the action but not overwhelmingly so. The many amenities, including a 24-hour coffee bar, 24-hour gym, and concierge access, make this a great overnight for those who know exactly what they want when they travel.

Photo credits: Hôtel Château de l’Argoat and Chloé Crane Leroux
This guide is proudly produced in partnership with Tourisme Montréal.
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