After hearing several people rave about the city of Montreal, this past October I decided to check the city out for myself. What I found was a beautiful metropolis molded between European and Canadian roots; fantastic food; architecture that brings you back in time; the friendliest people; and nature in every corner.
If you’re planning to visit the city yourself—and I hope you are!—here are the top things to do in Montreal, Canada.
Why visit Montreal?
It’s easy to get to. Montreal is a seamless 55-minute flight from New York City, making it an easy weekend getaway for people based here. It’s easily accessible from all parts of the U.S., too. It’s a three-and-a-half-hour nonstop flight from Miami or Houston, two and a half hours from Atlanta, and five from Los Angeles.
More bang for your buck. For U.S. residents specifically, the U.S. dollar is valued more in Canada so you’ll have the upper hand, currency wise.
The European influence. There are parts of Montreal that will instantly transport you to Paris. Cobblestone streets, historic buildings and French-influenced cafes give the city a certain charm that’s hard to find outside of Europe.
The food. Montreal is a fantastic dining city. I was blown away by nearly every meal, which cost a fraction of what it would cost me in New York—yet it was just as good.
It’s a walkable city. You don’t need to rent a car unless you want to venture outside the city. Public transportation is efficient and easy to use.
How many days should you spend there?
Anywhere from two to five days. It’s doable for a weekend getaway if you live in New York and won’t lose much time traveling, but if you’re coming from farther away, I’d suggest at least three full days. There’s enough to see and do for five days, and if you venture outside the city into the mountains or nearby Quebec City, you can extend it even more.
Basic tips for visiting Montreal
- 1 USD currently equals about 1.30 CAD
- Montreal is a French-speaking city, though most people also speak English
- The cheapest way to get to downtown Montreal from the airport is to take the 747 bus. Purchase tickets (10 CAD) at the airport when you arrive
- U.S. citizens don’t need a visa
- Happy hour is called “5-à-7”
- There are festivals happening year-round, so check to see what’s happening when you visit
- Drinking in public is allowed in parks—but only if you’re consuming a meal
Best time to visit Montreal
Both the summers and winters can be quite intense in Montreal. The best time to visit is when the weather starts warming up in the spring, or in autumn, when the city is painted in orange and gold.
Where to stay in Montreal
Most of the city’s big brand-name hotels are located in downtown Montreal, making it one of the primary regions where visitors stay. The downtown area has plenty of traveler-friendly amenities like restaurants, subway stations, cafes and convenience stores.
It’s also close to Old Montreal, the historic center of the city where you’ll find a lot of tourist attractions like the Notre-Dame Basilica, the Old Port, the Clock Tower and the Observation Wheel. There are beautiful luxury boutique hotels in Old Montreal itself, albeit pricier than staying downtown.
Two wonderful hotel options in downtown Montreal include Hotel Monville and Hotel ZERO1—both have comfortable and spacious rooms as well as on-site restaurants and lounges. My favorite part of my stay at Hotel Monville was the ultra-hip room and rooftop terrace. Meanwhile, my room at Hotel ZERO1 came with sprawling city views, a full kitchen and plenty of closet space.
Hotel ZERO1 is also located on the cusp of Montreal’s Chinatown near a ton of great restaurants and bakeries—head to one for a warm pineapple bun, my personal favorite. This hotel is also a good option for travelers on a budget as there are basic rooms available at lower rates, which still come with a microwave, mini fridge and WiFi.
For more detailed information, check out my post about where to stay in Montreal.
Top things to do in Montreal
Below are my recommendations for the top things to do in the city—including a ton of free things to do in Montreal, such as walking around the historic Old Montreal district and hiking up Mount Royal.
Stroll through Old Montreal
Take a stroll around Old Montreal and let the neighborhood take you back in time. Here you’ll find European-influenced cafes, the Notre-Dame basilica, the lively (albeit touristy) Place-Jacques Cartier, and Bonsecours Market. Over at the Old Port, you’ll find the Observation Wheel and Clock Tower.
Wander around Mount Royal
Mount Royal is like the Central Park of Montreal, except it’s a small mountain with sweeping views of the city, hiking paths, a lake, picnic areas and more. It was my favorite place in the city, especially at sunset.
There are two main viewpoints worth checking out: the popular Belvedere lookout, where you get a bird’s eye view over the entire city from a large open square, and Camillien-Houde, from which a small bar with swinging chairs plays reggae music in the afternoon.
Buy local food at Jean-Talon Market
Jean-Talon Market is a massive outdoor farmers market that also has on-site restaurants dishing out some incredibly fresh food, including French crepes, oysters shucked in front of you, charcuterie, cheese, pastries and coffee.
We grabbed a block of cheese from La Fromagerie Hamel, prosciutto from a charcuterie stand, and a baguette for a picnic in the market itself. We finished the meal off with a caramel and banana crepe from Crêperie du Marché.
Picnic at Angrignon Park
Angrignon Park is a quick metro ride away from downtown Montreal, and it’s a lot less touristy than Mount Royal. The vast park has a ton of picnic tables and feels very local. It’s especially beautiful in the fall.
Explore the neighborhoods
Montreal is so much more than the historic Old Montreal neighborhood. Head to the Mile End district for thrift shops, trendy bars and restaurants, and Montreal’s famous bagels.
Head to Plateau Mont-Royal to check out Montreal’s colorful residential architecture and the popular French bistro L’Express. Stop by Saint-Louis Square to see the whimsical, castle-looking homes lining the block, and grab a pastry at nearby croissant haven Mamie Clafoutis.
Visit the Instagrammable cafes
Montreal’s cafe culture is strong, and you’ll find endless quirky and charming offerings throughout the city. Two of the more visually stunning ones include Tommy Cafe, which features an all-white interior and hanging plants in its location near the Notre-Dame, and Crew Collective Cafe, located within a stunning gold-tinted building that was once a working bank.
Where to eat in Montreal
The best thing I did in Montreal was … eat! Montreal has become one of my favorite dining cities in the world, particularly thanks to the following restaurants:
- St-Viateur Bagel or Fairmont Bagels for the city’s famous bagels—they’re rivals!
- Drogheria Fine for to-go gnocchi in a carton
- Chez Delmo for a finer seafood meal at unbeatable prices
- Fiorellino for wood-fried pizzas
- Olive et Gourmando for sandwiches and breakfast pastries
- Leméac for a top-notch French bistro experience
- Schwartz’s for iconic smoked meat-stuffed sandwiches
- Beautys Luncheonette for a big, Montreal-style diner breakfast
- Greenspot, Montreal Pool Room or Patati Patata for the classic poutine dish
Montreal Day Trip Ideas
There are plenty of options for fun day trips from Montreal. The popular ski town Mont-Tremblant, for example, is just a two-hour car ride away. It’s a haven for snow sports in the winter, but there’s also plenty to do in warmer months, from hiking or biking to swimming and paddle boarding. The town itself is adorable, and if you have more than four days to spend in Montreal, I’d definitely suggest this as a day trip.
I hope you enjoyed reading about the top things to do in Montreal—if you have any questions about what to do or where to stay, please let me know in the comments!
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