Group Leisure focuses on Montreal and all of its best bits, including hotels to bed down in, group-friendly tours and where to find tasty traditional food.
Notre-Dame Basilica: The imposing basilica is reckoned to be Montreal’s top sight – and rightly so. The interior of the Gothic-Revival church, with its stained glass, carved woodwork and gold-plating, is mind-blowing. Log on to basiliquenddm.org/en/visits/groups.aspx for a group tour (with guide) reservation form.
Olympic Park: Built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, the park area includes the Montreal Tower – the tallest leaning tower in the world – the Biodome (the “House of Life”, with 4,800 animals and 750 plant species), an Instectarium, Montreal’s Botanical Gardens, which include Chinese and Japanese gardens, an arboretum, a Mexican desert, and the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. Group rates apply to tower visits and one other Olympic Park attraction.
Saint-Joseph’s Oratory of Mount-Royal: Canada’s largest church and a National Historic Site of Canada. The dome inside is 97 metres high (second only to St Peter’s in Rome), but it’s the spectacular views over the city from the church’s steps that really take the breath away. Venture further into Mount Royal park and there are more wonderful views.
Pictured: Saint-Joseph’s Oratory of Mont-Royal, Montreal.
Food and drink
Smoked meat is a Montreal speciality but Schwartz’s, the oldest deli in Canada and a Montreal landmark, is a bit small for groups, so head to either Reuben’s Deli (where the “time-honoured art of hand carving is a mainstay”) or Brisket Montréal, which has been around since 1901 and is one of the oldest brasseries in the city.
Pick up freshly-rolled bagels at either St-Viateur Bagel (“hand-rolled since 1957”) or Fairmount Bagel, which claims to produce “the tastiest bagel in the world”. They are located a street apart, which makes them ideal for a taste-off to determine which is your group’s favourite.
While La Banquise is recognized as the best place to try poutines (chips, gravy and cheese curds), it, like Schwartz’s, is a bit small for groups, so head for Poutineville, where, on Tuesdays from 5pm, they offer all you can eat for a fixed price.
Pictured: The Marche Jean-Talon, Montreal.
Where to stay
Hotel Bonaventure: A family-and-group-friendly downtown hotel, the Bonaventure has a landscaped rooftop garden, heated outdoor pool and free wi-fi.
Ritz-Carlton Montreal: It reopened in 2012 after four years of renovations and, with Liz Taylor, the Rolling Stones and the Queen as past guests, you know what standard to expect.
Hotel Travelodge Montreal Centre: Located in the Chinese Quarter, the Travelodge has 242 freshly-renovated rooms and is close to shopping centres and restaurants.
Live like a local
Montreal is a real festival city – from film and arts to blues and food, with Igloofest, indie music and circus gatherings as well. Time your group’s visit well and you could enjoy a fabulous, fun atmosphere, such as the Just for Laughs comedy festival, which runs for three weeks every July.
Marché de Jean-Talon in the city’s Little Italy district has been around since the 1930s and is a colourful, atmospheric place to spend a few hours, pick up some fruit or cheese – or grab some lunch at one of the nearby restaurants.
You don’t have to be gay to enjoy the Gay Village – or The Village, as it is more generally known. There are loads of restaurants and one-off speciality stores, as well as plenty of clothing, book and coffee shops. It’s also pretty lively at night.
Pictured: The Gay Village, Montreal.
Best for groups
A jump-on, jump-off bus tour is a great way to get to know the city. The Gray Line’s Montreal Sightseeing Tour – on a London-style double-decker bus – packs in most of the best sights and tickets are good for two consecutive days, enabling people to return to places they liked.
Benjamin Franklin is alleged to have said that “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”. If your group likes a pint or two, take the Montreal Brewpub Experience, a three-hour walking tour of the city, which includes a drink and bite to eat at each stop. Ten is the maximum group size, so larger parties might have to stagger their trips.
Shopping in Montreal is quite an experience, no more so than in the Underground City, which links multi-level shopping malls and major buildings in the downtown area. Sheltered from the elements, it has food courts, cinemas and entertainment and a huge range of shops, of course.
Journey time: Heathrow to Montreal, 7 hours 30 mins.
Currency: Canadian dollar.
Best time to go: For a winter festival, February’s Festival of Lights is a big draw. In the summer, the International Jazz Festival is known worldwide. It takes place in July, which is also the best month to visit, weatherwise.