When it comes to planning a girls getaway, hot spots like Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York City are typically the go-to destinations. However, there’s one city that feels like you’re a world away, yet just so happens to still be in North America: Montreal, Quebec.
Famous for its fashion, cuisine (hello, poutine!) and being the largest French speaking place in the world after Paris, the island of Montreal does not disappoint. From underground malls to four-level spas built right on the water, the city has something to offer any group of ladies looking to let loose, whether it’s for a stagette or simply mom’s night out.
Here’s how to plan the perfect girls getaway in Montreal.
Wander the streets of Old Montreal
As long as you aren’t wearing heels (those cobblestones can be rather unforgiving), start off by exploring the famed streets of Old Montreal. Take in the gorgeous stone buildings which were built as early as the 18th century, which now house art galleries, restaurants and boutiques.
While Place Jacques-Cartier is overrun with tourists, there’s no denying the beauty of the central plaza, especially during the summer months when vibrant flower beds are overflowing.
For one of the most unforgettable views, duck into the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, a grand cathedral featuring steeples adorned with angels. Not only is the stained-glass interior beautiful to look at, but a winding, narrow staircase leads visitors up to a balcony overlooking a huge swath of the city, including Old Montreal and the port.
Instagram the heck out of it, then head back down the staircase and continue to the waterfront. Meander along the Old Port where you can rent a paddleboat, check out the science centre, or get your heart racing with a speedy trip along the zipline which goes right over the water.
Shop ’til you Drop
With a whole weekend ahead of you, why not dress to impress? Montreal is one of the best cities in Canada for shopping, thanks to its countless boutiques featuring hometown talent and the pop up shops that keep fashionistas on their toes.
Saint-Denis Street and Laurier Avenue are always popular, as is Saint Catherine Street West where you’ll find the Montreal Eaton Centre, which has nearly 200 retailers. Or, literally head underground where the “Underground City” made up of 32 kilometres of connecting passageways below downtown hosts two-thousand stores.
Champagne at La Champagnerie
Champagne is always a good idea, so kick off the evening by heading to La Champagnerie for some bubbles. The trendy restaurant in the heart of Old Montreal boasts an extensive champagne list, great outdoor patio, chic décor and a savoury, locally-sourced menu.
Add to that the chance to sabre your own bottle (and triumphantly drop the cork in their wall of fame), a live DJ and dancing on the weekends, and it’s impossible not to have a fantastic time.
Get your fitness fix on Mont-Royal
The best way to get rid of a champagne hangover is to head outdoors, so start off day two with a trip to one of the most treasured spots in the city: Mount Royal (Mont-Royal en français).
“The Mountain” as the locals affectionately call it is a 200-hectare park designed by the same planner behind New York City’s Central Park. Boasting numerous running trails, a lake and staircases perfect for burning calories, there’s no shortage of ways to get a workout in while enjoying the view.
If your group is large enough, hire a private yoga instructor from a nearby studio such as Enzo Yoga, find a private patch of grass and master Tree Pose while enjoying all of the trees around you. Just be sure to watch out for mosquitoes. Namaste!
Paddle boarding on the Saint Lawrence River
Now that you’re feeling zen, it’s time to put your balance to the test by heading out to the Saint Lawrence River to try your luck at stand up paddle boarding (SUP). KSF’s operation is set up on Notre Dame Island along the banks of the unusually warm river (a welcome temperature as you’re sure to fall in despite your best efforts), and the company has numerous options available for all skill and comfort levels.
Try the Discovery course, a two-hour excursion lead by instructors like the buff Pierre-Philippe (PP for short) who will make you test your limits as he demonstrates techniques like criss-cross stepping around the board, transferring all your weight to the back so the board swivels around on its tail, and even hopping backward while standing up. See? Told ya you were going to fall in!
Be sure to practice your new-found skills by using short strokes to race across the river, to an area affording a view of the famous Lachine Rapids which are credited as being the reason the city’s founders settled in Montreal.
If your arms aren’t burning yet, get PP to demonstrate some of the moves he uses during his weekly paddle-boarding fitness classes. As if pushups weren’t hard enough, try doing it on a moving platform while wearing a lifejacket!
Relax at Bota Bota
End the day on a high note with some much needed pampering. While no girls getaway would be complete without a trip to the spa, this next one comes with a twist.
Bota Bota, which is also on the Saint Lawrence River, is actually a luxurious facility crafted out of a refurbished ferry. The nautical theme is apparent in everything from the metal catwalks that usher ‘passengers’ between floors, to the portholes in the massage rooms. Incredibly, it also uses energy from the river to heat its sustainable facilities.
Bota Bota’s Water Circuit boasts three piping hot saunas, two steam rooms, freezing cold tubs meant to give your pores a wakeup call, large swimming pools and two large hydro-pools with epic views of the city’s Old Port.
Unlike many other spas, Bota Bota was made with couples and groups in mind. Popular for romantic getaways and bachelorette parties, there are a number of common areas scattered throughout the facility where visitors can chat, whether it’s while lounging in a hanging chair or daybed, or enjoying a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc at the restaurant while wrapped in a cushy white bathrobe.
Tip: Schedule a signature Bota Bota massage, where the massage therapist relaxes tired muscles with choreographed movements set to music.
Cycle the City
Start off your last day with a boozy brunch, then head back to the Mont-Royal area to pick up a cute cruiser bike any hipster would be proud of at Fitz & Follwell Boutique.
The store is stuffed with cute accessories like artsy helmets, cute wicker baskets and even a contraption for fastening a bottle of wine to your bike (a necessity as far as I’m concerned).
Fitz & Follwell offers hourly bike rentals as well as guided tours, including ‘Montreal Highlights’, ‘Mountainside to Riverbank’ and ‘’Hoods and Hidden Gems.’ If you go that route, ask for Françoise Bâby (“Françoise like a nicoise salad” and she won’t let you forget it) who not only has an uncanny knowledge about Montreal’s history and best areas, but also flawlessly speaks both English and French with no hint of an accent—a talent that’s surprisingly hard to come by.
The ‘Hoods and Hidden Gems tour will have your group leisurely peddling the pathways around Mont-Royal before heading to posh Outremont, which loosely translated means ‘other side of the mountain.’ Its commercial streets are lined with designer boutiques and gourmet restaurants, while the residential part sees family-friendly, sheltered parks surrounded by grand brick houses draped in lush vines.
It’s not too far from there that you’ll suddenly find yourself in Mile End, an area often compared to NYC’s Greenwich Village. The eclectic area seems a world away from ritzy Outremont, thanks to its second hand bookstores, vintage clothing stores and buildings covered with murals.
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Foodies will appreciate Mile End, as the district is famous for its bagel shops and cafes. Be sure to stop in at St. Viateur Bagels, which dates back to 1957 and pumps out thousands of baked goods every day—no small feat for such a tiny shop. The joint is usually lined up out the door, so be sure to grab at least a few sesame bagels, which are outstanding especially when hot out of the oven.
The ‘Hoods and Hidden Gems tour wraps up with a trip through Little Italy and a farmer’s market, before returning to Fitz & Follwell.
Find a Festival
It wouldn’t be a girls getaway without at least one good party, so cap off the weekend by finding a festival. Montreal hosts events all year round, whether they revolve around comedy, fashion, food or music.
One event that runs throughout the summer is Piknic Electronik, which features live DJs on two separate stages—including one that’s tucked under the soaring L’Homme (“Man”) sculpture built for Expo ’67 that now serves as the symbol of Piknic.
Not only has Piknic Electronik served as a launchpad for big names like Diplo and Tiga, but organizers also look to showcase hometown talent.
Festival-goers enjoy dancing and losing themselves in the beat, or wandering over to the food trucks, bars (be sure to grab a bucket of your favourite booze), or lounge areas that include comfy chairs and hammocks.
Piknic Electronik takes over Parc Jean-Drapeau, and runs every Sunday from May through September.
And there you have it…the perfect girls getaway in Montreal!
Do you have any great ideas to add to this list? Share them in the comments below!
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Globe Guide travelled to Montreal as a guest of Tourisme Quebec. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.