Paris is often thought to be the world’s most romantic city. But travelers can still enjoy Old World culture and grace without even having to cross the Atlantic. One particular city that defines itself with its rich, European heritage just so happens to be less than an hour drive from the U.S.-Canadian border. That city is Montreal, with its Parisian-like sidewalk cafes, cobblestone streets and Gothic architecture, making it the most European city in North America. For couples seeking romance without having to travel long distances, this romantic getaway guide removes the guesswork on what to see, where to dine and where to stay for what could be an unforgettable journey.
How To Get There
Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) is the point of all arrival for all domestic and international travelers destined for Montreal. Located 12 miles southwest of the city, the international airport features efficient ground transportation services including car rentals, hotel shuttles and public transportation. Taxis and limousine services are also available at Montreal-Trudeau and drivers charge fixed fare to downtown Montreal. Another convenient and affordable form of reaching the city is with the The Société de transport de Montréal’s 747 Express, which runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and transports passengers to the Gare d’autocars de Montréal bus terminal in the Latin Quarter.
Only one Amtrak route serves the Montreal Central Train Station from the United States. The Adirondack, widely considered one of the world’s most scenic train rides, travels daily from New York’s Penn Station. Connecting routes from other parts of the country can be made at Penn Station including the Cardinal/Hoosier State, Maple Leaf and the Silver Service/Palmetto. The Albany Amtrak station is another connecting point serving four other routes, including the Lake Shore Limited from Chicago.
All rail passengers, particularly those coming off connecting routes, must be mindful that the Adirondack route only departs once a day, at 8:15 a.m. from Penn Station. Conversely, there is one inbound departure from Montreal Central Station at 10:20 a.m.
There are three interstate highways from the U.S. that connects to the Canadian highway system at the Canadian border. Motorists driving from New York City area will take Interstate 87, which turns into Canadian Autoroute 15 when crossing the border. Motorists from Boston will take Interstate Highway 93 to Interstate Highway 91 then to Autoroute 10 after the border crossing. The last interstate highway to the border is Interstate 81, with the southern terminus in Dandridge, Tennessee. This route connects with Highway 401, one of the busiest highways in Canada.
U.S. citizens are not required to present a passport. However, with its RFID technology, a passport is one of the most acceptable and reliable forms of identification.
Part of the appeal of visiting Montreal is the value of the U.S. dollar to the Canadian dollar. Last year, the Canadian dollar hit a five year low of just under 88 cents for an American dollar. Since then, the Canadian dollar has edged even lower and currently stands at about 83 cents to 1.00 USD. Conversely, the U.S. dollar is currently about 1.20 CAD.
The official language in Montreal is French. Two thirds of all residents in the city speak French or Quebec French as the first language. Less than 15 percent of residents consider English as a first language.
With its Old World charm and natural beauty, many overnight accommodations in Montreal can be described as romantic. Yet, of all 19 boroughs, the top recommendation for couples is to stay in the Old Montreal (Ville-Marie) section of the city. With breathtaking 19th century architecture, cobblestone streets, churches named Notre Dame and park’s named Champ de Mars, first time visitors swear they’re in Paris. Here are a few suggested romantic accommodations to consider.
– Auberge de Vieux-Port
– Chateau Vieux Montreal
– Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth
– Hotel Gault
– Hotel Nelligan
– Hotel Le St. James
– Le Saint-Sulpice
– Pierre du Calvet
– Ritz Carlton Montreal
– St. Paul Hotel
Just as with suggested lodging, the most romantic spots for haute cuisine can be found in Old Montreal or its immediate surroundings. Many of Montreal’s finest restaurants are listed below, including one very famous establishment in the Little Burgundy neighborhood with a not so romantic name. Couples won’t be able to dine by candlelight at Joe Beef, but this popular eatery is truly an epicurean delight.
In North America’s most European city, it isn’t difficult to find romance in Montreal, particularly within the historic city center. Of course, candlelit dinners rank high on a list of romantic things to do, as does a couples massage at the hotel.
Day Trip To Quebec City
Quebec City may be 145 miles away, but most everyone who has visited Montreal recommends this fascinating side trip. One of the oldest European settlements in North America, Quebec City is widely considered the most popular destination in Canada and one of the most visited. What makes this trip worthwhile is a tour of Old Quebec featuring the world’s most photographed hotel, Le Chateau Frontenac. Other attractions include the fortifications surrounding Old Quebec (making it the only fortified city in North America north of Mexico), Petit-Champlain District, Notre Dame des Victoires, the St. Lawrence River, Place Royal and the Old Port of Quebec. Before returning to Montreal, couples might enjoy a quick visit to Hotel de Glace, the only ice hotel in North America.
Evening Stroll Through Old Montreal
Located between the St. Lawrence River and downtown Montreal, Old Montreal is one spot that shouldn’t be viewed from a car. With limited parking and narrow cobblestone streets, the better way to appreciate this historic neighborhood is on foot. By day, it’s bustling with activity, with travelers visiting museums like Pointe-a Calliere Museum and historical sites like the Notre Dame Basilica, in addition to dining and shopping. But at night, Old Montreal becomes visually striking as it becomes even more reminiscent of a European city aglow with street and building lights. Other points of interests, day or night, include the magnificent Hotel de Ville (city hall), the public market Marché Bonsecours, Rue Saint-Paul, the city’s oldest street and Saint-Sulpice Seminary, featuring the oldest clock and gardens in North America.
Horse Carriage Rides
It may not be for everyone, but some couples looking to instill added romance on their trip might want to consider a calèche (horse drawn carriage) tour of Old Montreal. Carriages can be boarded at four locations in the historic city center and tours last from 30 to 60 minutes. This tour can be particularly helpful for seniors and people who have difficulty in walking.
St. Lawrence River Cruise
A stay in Old Montreal should also include a visit to the Old Port of Montreal. Located at the confluence of the St. Lawrence River and the Little River, the port has been a center of activity for more than 500 years. Today, there are many things to enjoy in this important section of the city including dining, shopping and boat tours. One recommended attraction for couples is a cruise on Le Bateau Moche (river boat), featuring dining options like a five course gourmet dinner and weekend morning breakfast cruises.
Sunrise At Mount Royal
Known as Montreal’s version of Central Park, Mount Royal is the largest urban park in the city that’s likely also named after this mountain. And there’s a connection to New York City’s largest park – both were originally landscaped by the same architect, Frederick Law Olmstead. The centerpiece of this sprawling park is Mount Royal, the highest point in the city. One suggestion for couples looking for something romantic to do is to hike up one of the mountain’s three peaks to watch the sunrise or sunset. Another great idea is a picnic in the park with groceries from such popular places as Marché Publics de Montreal Jean Talon, Marché Public de Montreal Atwater or Supermarché PA.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.