Old Montreal is, undoubtedly, beautiful. But to be honest, our reasons for visiting this part of town is always food, and one restaurant in particular. And it isn’t even for Canadian food. It is however, for the best Vietnamese pho in the world – we have no recollection of the pho we ate in Vietnam but Pho Bac? Whoa… we’ve been going there over 13 years and it’s always amazing, and the prices are easy on the pocket. Take the grilled chicken pho. Do yourself a favour and order a bigger size. You won’t regret it.
Pho Bac Specialite Soupe Tonkinoise is located at 1016 Boulevard St-Laurent, Montréal, QC H2Z 1J3. Closest Metro station is Place d’Armes. Promise me you’ll go!
Like any typical old town with European influence, the streets of Old Montreal are cobbled. And if you’re thinking that all this cobble-stoned old town lacks is the clip-clop of horses, then head down to Old Port, where you’ll find horses with fanciful carriages (not in Cinderella style, no, these horses have got their own style).
We’ve gone on the horse-drawn carriage ride (known as Calèche!) twice, and paid CAD $50 for a half-hour ride (first with 3 people, and 4 years later, as a family of 4). We took both rides in the Winter and the drivers will very kindly tuck you in with a nice thick blanket before leading you through Old Montreal at such a gentle speed that if your kids aren’t wound up with all the maple syrup they’ve had at breakfast, they might just doze off.
Yes, they do stop at traffic lights. No, they do not pay parking fines. We’re told that horses have a really good sense of hearing so they can hear the tiny clicks in the mechanism of the traffic lights, and that’s how they know when to start moving.
I’m not sure if there’s a fixed pick-up/drop-off location because we got our rides at two different spots. Perhaps it’s dependent on weather conditions. I recommend you check the Notre-Dame Basilica (Celine Dion got married here!) first as that is a shorter walk, and if there aren’t any carriages, try walking down to the Old Port, near the Montreal Science Centre.
We enjoyed both our rides tremendously, and so did our kids. It’s a really interesting way to view the city, and a good chance to rest your tired legs. Feel free to chat with the drivers prior, and go with someone you feel comfortable with. The friendlier ones will give really fun commentaries and share anecdotes during the ride, while others may simply take you for the standard route and back. If you can’t speak French, make sure you choose a driver who can also speak English.
On our last trip, after our ride, we saw a public sign which twisted our hearts a little. Sometimes we are so engrossed in our own enjoyment that we fail to see the big picture, and this was a reminder for us.
I thought it would be fair to share that here – we enjoyed the rides, we really did, but if I had seen this sign earlier, I think it would have affected our decision. The horses did not appear to be ill-treated or in distress. In fact, many of the drivers we saw would feed or lovingly stroke their horses’ manes while waiting for customers.
There’s no ticket booth for this; simply approach the drivers and ask for their prices. We paid CAD $50 for a half-hour ride with two different drivers so that could be the standard rate.
Closest metro stations are Place d’Armes or St Laurent, though the former is a better choice if you intend to start off with a really super yummy pho – it’s a really good food choice for a cold Wintery day!