Looking For Things To Do In Montreal? This City is Loaded!
Exploring Canada? Sick of Toronto? (Just kidding) How about Montreal! Whether you are looking for things to do in Montreal during the day or at night – during summer or the winter months – we’ve got a list for you! Montreal is a sprawling, alternative city with loads of free and even unusual things to check out for all kinds of visitors!
To bring you some of the best things to do in Montreal, we asked – once again – for the help of Laura from She Who Wanders. Laura is a Montreal native – so writing a post on things to do in Montreal is fairly simple for her! That said, we’ve also been to Montreal a number of times so we’ve combined our city knowledge to bring you this post!
From historical spots to urban attractions – like exploring the Old Port of Montreal to eating a classic Montreal bagel – here are our top things to do in the beautiful city of Montreal!
If you are planning a larger trip around Ontario/Quebec and/or are heading to Canada for the first time, here are a few more helpful posts to check out:
Things to Consider When Visiting Montreal
If you’re planning a visit to Montreal, there are a few things you should know about before exploring the city. From how to get around to the best time to visit Montreal, and finding a place to stay, we’ve got you covered with these essential facts about Montreal!
General Information About Montreal
For those of you who are new to exploring Canada, Montreal is the largest city in the province of Quebec. However, it’s not the capital – that title goes to Quebec City! Montreal is a city made up of different areas or “boroughs” – each with its own unique vibes. Geographically speaking, Montreal is located along the St Lawrence River, about 6 hours driving from Toronto.
Montreal is a very bilingual city – meaning French is the primary language but you can certainly get by with English more than “just fine”. That said, don’t be afraid to learn a few words in French – there aren’t too many places in North American where French is a common language! Oh yeah, and you can use Canadian Dollars there!
Best Time to Visit Montreal
When asked what the best time to visit Montreal is, I ask what people are hoping to do here. If you want snow globe worthy north pole vibes to duck into cafes, go skating and drink hot chocolate or visit all the museums, then winter is for you! For all outdoor activities, festivals, and generally just warmth and sunshine, summer is for you!
And for those who aren’t quite sure what they want to do, spring & fall generally have decent enough weather to spend time outside. The gardens are lush and the trees golden and amber, but rain could prove a little annoying and send you inside for shopping or museum searching.
Getting Around Montreal
If you’re staying in the heart of Downtown Montreal then you have quite a few options. You can walk to a lot of places first and foremost which is great! You can use the Metro system which connects the city in so many directions, or catch the bus – both cost $3.50 per ride or $10 for a day pass. All maps can be found using the STM website.
If you’re visiting outside of the snowy months then you might want to use the public bike-sharing program called BIXI who even have a free ride day on certain Sundays in the month. In case you’re staying a little further out – maybe closer to the airport – you’ll still be connected to the downtown core by bus or by train but the traffic can prove to be a little bit frustrating.
If you plan on using the metro (which you should because it’s great) then you can always combine that with your sightseeing admission tickets with a Montreal Attractions Pass and metro ticket for 72 hours.
Where to Stay in Montreal
Because Montreal is the second-largest city in Canada, it’s a hot spot for business travellers, tourists, and everyone in between. There are loads of places to stay all across the city – from charming hotels to smaller bed and breakfasts.
We have written a whole entire post on the best places to stay in Montreal which includes hotel and other accommodation recommendations as well as neighbourhoods to look in. Having said that, if you are in a hurry and just want to get searching, you can check here for hotels in Montreal.
Specifically, check out the very popular Ambrose Hôtel & Café for a small charming hotel in a central location and Le Gîte du Plateau Mont-Royal for a great hostel Eric has stayed at and really liked.
Top Things To Do In Montreal
Okay, so you’ve made it this far – it’s time to check out our list full of amazing things to do in Montreal. Now, we’ve combined some of the top attractions with a handful of local/hidden gems. Montreal is a great city for a food lover so we’ve also included a few “must-try” food items in their famous shops across the city. If you know you want to book an activity like a river cruise or walking tour, you can check below for great tours and activities in Montreal!
Mont Royal Park + Beaver Lake
Mont Royal is where Montreal gets her namesake from and one of the quintessential Montreal places to visit. Also known as “The Mountain” by Montrealers, this green space in the middle of the city is actually a large volcanic related hill which is part of the Monteregie Hill situated between the Laurentians and the Appalachian Mountains.
The summit can be reached by foot or bike, but not by car. So while you can drive up or take the bus, you’ll be using your legs the rest of the way. Never fear, the paths are paved and only with a slight incline so it’s a good bet for visitors of any age and fitness level.
The views from the lookout are some of the most incredible of the city and change with the seasons so it never looks the same. There’s also a great chalet at the top where you can warm up in the winter or relax with a beverage in the summer! Continue onwards and up to the Summit where you’ll find the infamous Cross that sits atop Mont Royal which lights up at night as a beacon for the city.
Enjoy the summit, the lookout, and the park but be sure not to miss Beaver Lake. Sadly no beavers live here but it was given the name when built in the 1920’s because of a beaver dam that was found here during the construction. Bring a picnic in the summer or your skates come winter. New fountain and water feature installations make it a vibrant place in the warmer months for all kinds of activities.
Old Montreal / The Old Port
Without a doubt, Old Montreal is one of my all time favourite places in Montreal and maybe one of the most touristy come summertime, but still worth it! Dating back to the 17th century, Old Montreal’s narrow cobbled streets will have you thinking you’re in Europe.
The charming shop fronts and gorgeous apartment building line the streets, and the main concourse houses most of the cafes, pubs & restaurants which are incredibly beautiful, too. Exploring Old Montreal on a VIP walking tour can be well worth the money for the history and knowledge!
Founded by French settlers in 1642 as Ville Marie, this part of the city runs along the St. Lawrence river giving you views of the theme park La Ronde (discussed below), and Habitat 67 built for Expo 67.
This part of the city is bustling in the summer months with food trucks, street performers, classic cars, a newly installed zip line across the water, and the new but still iconic Grand Roue (ferris wheel) that creates a magical scene when the sky grows dark.
In the winter the waters freeze in the center and you’re able to rent skates. Or checkout IglooFest in January and get your rave on with thousands of others dressed in old school neon one-piece snowsuits. When I’ve been away for a long time traveling this is always the first place I want to come back to when I get home. (Side Note: Eric has BEEN to IglooFest and it was absolutely freezing but super fun!)
Location: Champ De Mars Metro Station
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
Located in Old Montreal, the Notre-Dame Basilica is possibly one of the most visited monuments in North America hosting nearly 11 million people per year! Classed as a minor basilica, there is really nothing minor about it though, with its grandiose exterior. One would be happy just to admire it from the outside, but trust me, the $8.00 entrance fee (which goes to the upkeep of the Basilica) is well worth it.
The vaults of Notre Dame Basilica are coloured deep blue and covered in golden stars, while the rest of the sanctuary is decorated in multiple shades of blues, reds, purples, and accented in silver and gold. Filled to the brim with an ornate amount of wooden carvings and statues, some parts of the upper level look like they belong in Harry Potter.
And while a tad uncommon, the stunning stained glass doesn’t depict common scenes from the Bible but scenes from Montreal’s religious history. It’s open for mass or for visits but there are also special events hosted throughout the year, especially over the holidays so take a look at their website for timings before visiting.
Address: 110 Notre-Dame St W, H2Y 1T2
Montreal Botanical Garden
Located in the same area as Montreal’s Olympic stadium, Montreal’s Botanical Garden gives you the perfect combination of green and industrial. It really makes you wonder how a garden of 190 acres could be hidden in such an urban city.
Considered to be one of the most important gardens in the World, the Montreal Botanic Gardens are home to several different gardens – The Chinese, Japanese, Alpine & First Nations Gardens.
One of the most popular and, in my opinion, most beautiful aspects of the gardens come in the fall when you can experience the Chinese Lanterns. Between September and October the gardens welcome you to experience a spectacular sight when the grounds are lined with magical hand made lanterns along with music to set the tone.
While you may not be able to see many plants as it can be dark this time of year in the evening, the lanterns being lit up is something so beautiful you may not even notice you’re in a garden at all. The 2019 Chinese Lantern dates are September 6 – October 31, 2019. You can learn more about the Montreal Botanical Gardens here.
Address: 4101 Sherbrooke St East, H1X 2B2
Place Ville Marie Observatory
While the building – Place Ville Marie – itself might just be another office building in downtown Montreal, you’ll want to head for the top for the incredible views. Standing at 185 metres, the “Observatoire” is a top attraction that not only includes views across the city – but includes a restaurant/bar, as well! You can even download an audio guide so you know what you are looking at.
You can buy your Observatory ticket in advance so that you can just skip the lines and head up for amazing views. The nice thing about this ticket is that you can be flexible since its good for entry within 48-hours on either side your booked date. So if you know which days you’ll be in the city, you can just get it and use it when you’re in the downtown area!
Address: 1 Place Ville Marie, Montreal, QC H3B 3Y1, Canada
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Spread across 5 different pavilions over 522,350 sq ft, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is Montreal’s largest museum and one of the most prominent in Canada. The pavilions all house different types of art and exhibitions depending on the time of your visit. The museum welcomes touring exhibitions from artists and creatives from around the world.
The museum is located on the historic Golden Square mile of Sherbrooke street where you’ll be able to feast your eyes on amazing works of art including giant red hearts, incredible colourful blown glass sculptures and event a pedestrian street covered in tiles or paint depending on the time of year you’re visiting leading up to the museum itself. It’s one of the only art galleries I’ve visited where you can see all of that before even walking through the doors! Check out the official website for ticket prices and hours.
Address: 1380 Sherbrooke St Ouest, H3G 1J5
This annual International street art festival came into existence just a few short years ago in 2013 and has since exploded, leaving the city with some seriously amazing pieces of art to enjoy. Over 11 days in June artists from all over the world and from Montreal gather together along with hundreds of retail and food stalls, street performers and musicians to celebrate the urban art movement.
Start from the metro station at St. Laurent and make your way up the hill while darting into side streets to capture the scenes on the sides of buildings – or start at the top and work your way down. During the festival, there are tons of signs pointing you in the direction of the work going on, so there’s no real need for a map. However, one can be downloaded from the website if you’re visiting after the festival to see all the finished pieces of art.
If you want to check out MuralFest, you can learn all about it at the official website.
Poutine at La Banquise
If you are in Montreal, you have to sample a classic Quebec dish that Canada is known for – poutine! This mix of fries, cheese curds, and gravy can be found all over the city but a great place to go is La Banquise. This popular place for poutine and drinks is up in the Plateau!
What makes La Banquise great is their extensive menu of poutine combinations, as well as the fact that they have vegetarian and even vegan options. Their beer menu also helps the poutine go down nicely. Eric has been and it’s really, really good – but expect a line up if you go for poutine as a late-night snack! You can check their website here for more information.
Address: 994 Rue Rachel E, Montréal, QC H2J 2J3, Canada
St. Joseph’s Oratory
Claiming the title of Canada’s largest church, this minor Roman Catholic Basilica claims to have one of the largest domes in the World and can’t be missed with its gorgeous green colour. Construction on the Basilica began in the early 1900’s and was only completed in 1967. In more recent years updates and renovations have been completed on the monument as well.
Depending on which side you enter from, you might be greeted with an immense (283 to be exact) amount of stairs that some opt to go up on their knees in prayer, which is quite a spectacle to see. Several levels, including a crypt, exist at St Joseph’s and house the remains of Brother Andre who was the one who established the oratory. On the top level you’ll find his heart – okay well, his heart in a box but still.
Take in views from the different levels, stroll around the gardens or light a candle for a loved one. Whether you’re religious or not this is a part of Montreal history not to be missed. Check out the website to learn more and plan a visit.
Address: 3800 Queen Mary Rd H3V 1H6
St. Viateur Bagels
If you come here with an empty stomach, there is a good chance you’ll leave with several dozen freshly made bagels, so don’t say I didn’t warn you! With multiple locations dotted around Montreal, this location on St. Viateur Ouest is the original storefront where a clueless non-baker from Poland first set up shop and created what is now a famous Montreal tradition. There are a few cities out there who claim to have the best bagels, but trust me as a Montrealer, these are the best!
Fresh made throughout the day you can smell them a block away. Once you walk into the shop you can see just how passionate about bagels the team there is. Piles and piles of all different kinds – from plain to sesame or poppy seed – are waiting for you. You can buy a one off, but trust me you can’t just have one – so pick up a dozen or two, or three, and you won’t be disappointed! Check out the website to learn more about the shop!
Address: 263 St. Viateur Ouest, H2V 1Y1
Located in the Borough of Lachine, you can actually access part of the canal from Old Montreal by bike, or else by bus from Downtown. This National Historic Site of Canada is the home of the Fur Trade in Quebec and there is now a Fur Trade history museum that is open in the summer for visitors.
Back in the 17th century, the French Canadian voyageurs would use this location to launch their canoes and transport trade goods over thousands of miles into North America.
Now, this part of Montreal is the perfect place for a bike ride following over 13 km of trail along the canal and all the way into the Old port downtown, or even a picnic with friends on the bank of the canal. If you’re lucky enough to have a boat, you can sail down into the locks. There are lots of restaurants and cafes along the roadside with views of the canal, too, if you fancy a night out and stroll to the locks.
Address: 1255 Boulevard Saint-Joseph, Lachine, H8S 2M2
The Village is located mainly on St. Catherine Street East extending along Amherst making it the largest Gay Village in North America. With mainly a pedestrian-only section of St. Catherine street, you’ll find – for lack of a better term – a happy go lucky atmosphere here with tons of street art lining the walls, club music coming out of the shops, and smiling faces.
And when parts of the city go to sleep, this part of Montreal comes to life. With an incredible amount of nightclubs, drag bars & everything in between, you might just meet your Mr. or Mrs. Right or even Madonna herself along here on any given night.
If your visit falls over the first half of August, you’ll find the Village hosting Montreal’s Pride Festival which is a sight to be seen by all. Be sure to look for the sky being full of rainbow balls to know that you’ve arrived at the village – they extend for blocks. Now there is even a brand new walkway to take you up to roof level so you can see all the way down – it’s something pretty incredible.
Address: St. Catherine Street East
The Biodome is located at Montreal’s Olympic Park, where its exhibits are housed inside the former velodrome which was used for the cycling and judo events of the Summer Olympics in 1976. The Biodome allows visitors to experience the 4 ecosystems of the Americas (north & south) and each of the four environments takes up a portion of the stadium.
Separated into 4 sections, the tropical forest is a recreation of the South American rainforest where you get a real feel for the rainforest. Don’t forget to look out for tropical birds and animals! The Laurentian Forest is a replica of the North American Wilderness where you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for the infamous Lynx.
This continues on into the St.Lawrence Marine Eco System modelled after St. Lawrence gulf where you’ll find tons of different fish & birds. And then one of my favourite sections, the Sub Polar Region is where you’ll experience Arctic & Antarctic visuals and animals. Time it right and you’ll see a penguin feeding!
While the Biodome is currently closed to get a huge renovation it is set to be open again December of 2019. You can visit the website for updates on when it’s open! And while it was incredible during the years it has been opened, I’m almost sure that the renovations will have it even more incredible for its visitors.
Address: 4777 Pierre de-Coubertin Ave H1V 1B3
Montreal Olympic Park + Olympic Stadium
If you’re in Montreal, you might want to visit one of the most iconic area/structures in the city – Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. It was built in 1973 and opened in 1976 for the Summer Olympics, which were a huge deal for the city of Montreal. It was also a huge deal for Canada since this was the first time we were hosting!
Currently, you can do tours of the Olympic Stadium but going up the tower is closed indefinitely. However, you can still photograph the tower because it’s a feat of engineering. Outside the stadium, there is always something going on at The Esplanade – a very unique outdoor events space.
Beyond the Olympics related buildings, the Botanical Gardens (mentioned above) are also in the larger surrounding green space, as is the Biodome (also mentioned above). There’s even just a “normal” park called Parc Maisonneuve which has many trails in the summer with cross-country skiing and an ice rink in the winter!
In short, there’s PLENTY to keep you busy if you head up there to the Olympic Park – just take the metro to Pie-IX or Viau station. You can read more here to plan your visit to Montreal’s Olympic Park. Oh, and there is lots of parking should you be bringing a car.
Address: 4141 Pierre-de Coubertin Ave, Montreal, QC H1V 3N7, Canada
Montreal Smoked Meat at Schwartz’s Deli
As we’ve mentioned, Montreal is known for food. So, you might want to check out one of the most famous spots in the whole city (and in all of Canada): Schwartz’s Deli. The famous deli was founded back in 1928 as Charcuterie Hebraique de Montréal and their classic dish is – of course – a Montreal smoked meat sandwich on rye. Be sure to get a dill pickle, too!
When you head for Schwartz’s, don’t be surprised if there’s a large line up down the sidewalk (especially in the summertime). It’s worth the wait! There’s actually two options: a sit-down deli and a takeaway shop which is right beside the sit-down. Give Schwartz’s Deli a try if you like meat. You can check out the website for all the information!
Address: 3895 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, QC H2W 1X9, Canada
Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History
If “digging” into history is more your thing, then head to the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History. Known as Pointe-à-Callière in French, this museum is dedicated to retelling Montreal’s over 370-year-old history! Eric has actually been to the museum – but years and years ago when he was in grade school.
These days, the museum is spread out over a variety of historic buildings and archaeological sites of significance like the old Fort Ville-Marie. They have over 1 million artifacts in the collection – so there’s a lot to learn if you decide to go. The Museum complex is right in the heart of Old Montreal and near the water so you might end up walking by it anyways! If you want to visit, you can learn more about the Museum here.
Address: 350 Place Royale, Montreal, QC H2Y 3Y5, Canada
Jean Talon Market
This farmer’s market is one of a kind. First opened in 1933, it has grown to become the largest in Montreal and one of the largest open-air markets in North America! Today, the market is one of the most popular attractions/places to visit in the whole city – with numbers that swell in the warm summer months.
If you want to make the trip up to the Little Italy area, you’ll find stall after stall offering everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to flowers, honey, coffee, and more. It’s easy to see why the market is so popular! You can learn all about Jean Talon Market on the official website. To get there, head for Jean-Talon or De Castelnau metro stations.
There are loads of other markets scattered all around the city. If you are interested in exploring other markets, be sure to check out Bonsecours Market in its massive building with iconic dome right down at the old port/waterfront.
Address: 7070 Henri Julien Ave, Montreal, QC H2S 3S3, Canada
Up for a bit of amusement? Then head to Montreal’s own tiny amusement park – La Ronde. Located on St. Helen’s Island (the same island which once housed Expo ’67), La Ronde has something to offer everyone – from kids to adults. Eric has been and had a blast there – there are a few rides, smaller roller coasters, and plenty of games and carnival-themed food and treats.
While you’re on St. Helen’s Island, be sure to wander about Parc Jean-Drapeau. This south end of the island is a nice green space with walking paths and great views of the city from the middle of the river. You can also find the Biosphere Environmental Museum (in the old geometric dome from Expo ’67) on the island which is neat.
To get to La Ronde, take the metro to Jean-Drapeau station. You can then hop on a bus to take you to the entrance of La Ronde. Otherwise, you’re right in the middle of the green park when you exit the metro! If you want to visit La Ronde, you can have a look at the website to learn more here.
Address: 22 Chemin Macdonald, Montréal, QC H3C 6A3, Canada
La Fontaine Park
Last, but certainly not least – we have La Fontaine Park. This green space is a gem located over in the Plateau/Mont Royal area. For an urban park, there are 34 hectares of green space to be explored. There are winding walking paths, a small pond/lake, a theatre, and even a restaurant/cafe in the park!
If you have a dog with you, there’s even a section serving as a dog park. Oh yeah, and La Banquise (the really good poutine place) is JUST around the corner from one end of the park – so maybe you’ll want to walk off that poutine meal here?
If you are looking for other green spaces to hang out in, Montreal is full of great parks. We’ve mentioned a few in this post already (like the green spaces around Olympic Park) but you could also check out Jeanne-Mance Park which is just to the north of the base of Mont Royal. Eric has hung out here with friends many times and it’s always a good time!
Address: 3819 Avenue Calixa-Lavallée, Montréal, QC H2L 3A7, Canada
And there you have it – some of the greatest things to do in Montreal! Another well-deserved shout out to our friend Laura for helping us put this one together! Two sets of city knowledge are always better than one – right?! Check her out over at She Who Wanders for up-to-date travels, photos, and more!
As always, Happy Montreal Tourist Waddlin’,