The economic and cultural capital of Quebec, Montreal is a cosmopolitan city that has an eclectic mix of old European charm and modernism. It is often pegged as the ‘Paris of Canada’ and it is not hard to see why. It is one of the liveliest cities in all of North America, has some stunning architecture and is a haven for foodies, shopaholics and sports fans.
Montreal is one of the most visited cities in Canada, having something to offer everyone. It is split into 19 large boroughs, though most tourists tend to not stray too far from Ville Marie. Still, there are plenty of things to see and do all over the sprawling city.
Lets explore the best things to do in Montreal:
1. Make your way up Mont-Royal
This small hill sits just to the west of Downtown Montreal between the Appalachian and the Laurentian Mountains. Mont-Royal is part of the Mount Royal Park, which is a magnificent park that was designed by the same guy that designed New York City’s Central Park.
Hike or cycle up the winding path to the top if the hill for some breath-taking views of the city. The views span even beyond the city limits to the St Lawrence River.
In the winter, don’t miss the chance to go tobogganing or tubing down the 233 metre high hill. If you are visiting in the summer, be sure to come on a Sunday to watch the ‘Tam Tam Jam’.
2. Wander around Old Montreal
The oldest area of the city, Old Montreal is an impressive neighbourhood that dates back to the 17th century. It is home to Montreal’s largest concentration of historic buildings.
Wander around the area and see some of the most magnificent buildings, including the Gothic Revival Notre-Dame Basilica. The church sits next to Saint-Sulpice Seminary and faces the Place d’Armes.
The old cobblestones streets in Old Montreal are lined with excellent French restaurants, boutique shops, and numerous museums. You can also enjoy views of the city centre from Champ de Mars.
Recommended tour: Old Montreal: Traditional Ghost Walk of the Haunted City
3. Listen to Jazz
Come to Montreal in July to go to the world’s biggest and best jazz festival. The Montreal International Jazz Festival features around 3,000 musicians from around the world, attracting nearly 3 million people each year.
There are around 650 concerts during to 10-day festival, more than half of which are free! Head to one of the 10 outdoor stages for free jazz, or buy a ticket to see a famous musician in one of the indoor concert halls.
A few big names that have performed at the festival over the years includes Ray Charles, Diana Krall, the Liberation Music Orchestra, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Ahmad Jamal.
4. Visit a market
The open-air Jean-Talon Market is a colourful market in the Little Italy district of Montreal. The farmer’s market is stretched along two city streets and is open every day starting at 7am.
There are over 300 venders that sell local fruits, vegetables and meat from farms outside of the city. Nearly all of the venders are the farmers themselves.
It is a great place to shop for fresh food, cheese, spices and bulk items. Even if you are not in need of these things, it is just a great place to wander around and mingle with the locals.
5. Explore the Old Port
Vieux-Port in French, the Old Port is a large green space that sits along the waterfront in Old Montreal. The port dates back to 1830, but since then it has been redeveloped into a recreational area that attracts more than 6 million people each year.
In addition to being a lovely area, the Old Port is also home to attractions like the Montréal Science Centre, the Montreal Clock Tower and Plage de l’Horloge (Clock Beach). It also hosts many shows and events. In fact, every 2 years Cirque du Soleil un-veils a new show at the Jacques Cartier Quay.
During the winter, don’t miss the chance to go ice skating at the outdoor Natrel skating rink. In the summer, jump aboard a ship and sail along the St Lawrence River.
6. Eat Poutine
Although this French Canadian dish does not look appetising, it most certainly is. What is it? It is chips with cheese curds and gravy.
Poutine is similar to chips, cheese and gravy, but instead of graded cheese it is curds. Plus, the gravy in poutine is a light brown gravy made from meat gravy, a mix of beef and chicken stock, and vinegar.
Poutine is a fast food dish that can be found in diners and pubs all over the city. It is also served out of food trucks and at sports arenas.
7. Gaze at the city from above
Au Sommet Place Ville Marie is Montreal’s second tallest skyscraper. Its observation tower offers visitors the change to see Downtown Montreal, Mont-Royal mountain, the St Lawrence River and the Olympic Stadium from above.
Head up to the 46th floor and see the city from 185 metres above. On a sunny day, the terrace on the 44th floor opens up and is an especially good place to watch the city’s annual festivals.
The 45th floor of the skyscraper houses a museum that displays 55 videos and 500 images that show the history and culture of the city. There is also an exhibit that features famous Montreals, including choreographer Marie Chouinard, Olympic athlete Jennifer Abel and restauranteur Martin Picard.
8. Get trendy on Mile End
Mile End is a small neighbourhood that it filled with trendy boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops and cafés. It is also an artist enclave, with galleries, studios, and workshops.
Walk around the neighbourhood and shop, eat and sip on coffee. Be sure to stop in at St-Viateur Bagel or Fairmount Bagel; two of Montreal’s most famous bagel shops.
Shop for used books, thrift clothing or local designer duds along Bernard Street and St-Viateur Street. Finish the day off at the Dieu du Ciel brewery or one of the great restaurants in the area.
9. Go underground
Throughout Downtown Montreal is a network of underground malls, boutiques and food courts. Not only is it an easy way to zip through the busy neighbourhood, but it also is a great way to escape the rain and the cold winter.
Passageways connect seven metro stations, with the shops and eateries being in between them. It also links some of the downtown area’s major buildings, like the Central Station, Montreal Exchange, Place des Artes, McGill University and Windsor Station.
A number of the downtown luxury hotels are linked to the Underground City (Montréal souterrain), so it is great for tourists. But even if you are not staying in one of these flash hotels you will find the passageways are a great way to get around.
10. Go back in time
There are numerous fantastic museums in Montreal, some of which are dedicated to Canadian history and art. Visit any of these museums to learn more about the city, the province or Canada.
Many of the most popular museums are in the city centre, like the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, McCord Museum and Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal. Other museums around the city include Pointe-à-Callière Museum and Galerie de l’UQAM.
11. Try your luck at the casino
The Montreal Casino is open 24-hours a day, so you really have no excuse not to go, even just for a look. It is the largest casino in the country, having three interconnected buildings.
There are over 3,000 slot machines at the casino, as well as over 100 gaming tables, speed lotteries, virtual games and Keno facilities. There are also four restaurants, three bars and a cabaret.
Games offered at the Montreal Casino include blackjack, roulette, baccarat, Caribbean stud poker, ultimate Texas hold’em and craps, amongst plenty of others.
12. Go on a few thrill rides
Head to La Ronde to go on rollercoasters, a carousel or a massive swing. Plunge headfirst into water, defy gravity or go skydiving.
La Ronde is the second largest amusement park in Canada. It sits on Saint Helen’s Island, which is just southeast of the Island of Montreal.
Visitors of all ages can enjoy the amusement park, as in addition to its thrilling rides it also has family rides and kids rides. There are also shopping and dining facilities onsite.
13. Go on ‘the Amazing Race’
If you have ever wanted to compete on the popular reality TV show, don’t miss the change to enjoy the Amazing Race Montreal. It is a self-guided tour that involves solving clues to make your way through the city.
This is one of the most unique experiences you can have in Montreal. It is a fun and exciting way to visit some of the city’s top landmarks and a great way to get to know the city.
Unlike the show, it is not a race, but a fun way to enjoy the city as its key attractions. And, there are a few themed tours to choose from.
14. Walk through lovely gardens
The Montreal Botanical Garden is a 75 hectare garden that sits in Montreal’s Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough. It is a National Historic Site of Canada, as well as being one of the most significant botanical gardens in the world!
One of the main features of the garden is the massive greenhouse complex that contains plants from all over the world. It also has numerous outdoor gardens, many of which are theme based.
Stroll around the 2.5 hectare Chinese Garden to see bonsai and penjing, feed koi in the Japanese Garden or look at tiny alpine plants in the Alpine Garden. There is also a garden that focuses on the preservation of indigenous plants, including medicinal plants of the First Nation.
15. Dance the night away
Montreal has always been known as a party town, especially considering that the legal drinking age is 18! It is home to numerous bars, lounges and nightclubs, some that are dress to impress type places and others that are holes in the wall.
Sainte-Catherine Street East is where some of the city’s most popular clubs can be found, which are open until the sun comes up. Crescent Street is the place to head to to mingle with the English speaking locals.
If you are more of a pub type of person, be sure to spend an evening in the Plateau area. This area is filled with watering holes that are busy every night of the week, particularly along Boulevard St-Laurent.