The best things to do in Montreal! These are the places to eat, visit, and local experiences to have around my favorite city in Canada.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Montreal? Is it poutine? Francophone culture? Maybe cold weather? The aspect that I love about Montreal is that it doesn’t fit into one box.
Yes, the poutine is wonderful, but you can find authentic cuisine from all over the world throughout the city.
Yes, it is very Francophone compared to other parts of Canada (outside of Quebec), but it’s also a multilingual and multicultural cosmopolitan city.
Yes, the winters are freezing and the city goes into hibernation for a good part of the year, but as soon as summer hits, it’s one of the most vibrant cities in Canada. There’s always something going on.
I’ve now been to Montreal in the dead of winter as well as at the end of spring.
And, what I experienced during those trips were two very different cities, with the common thread of friendly locals, a love for preserving history, and a bustling foodie scene.
I also picked up quite a few suggestions for what to see in Montreal, from my personal experiences and my friends who live in the city.
The beauty of Montreal is that every time you visit you can have a completely different experience. It’s a testament to the city’s versatility and ability to be a home for people from all different backgrounds and walks of life.
There are more than 101 things to do in Montreal, by a long shot, but these are my favorite things in Quebec’s largest city that you should experience at least once.
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101 Best Things to Do in Montreal, Canada
I broke down this list by the best things to do in Montreal, local attractions, outdoor activities and hikes, museums, food and drinks, tours, day trips, and events. Feel free to navigate from the table of contents above.
Top Things to do in Montreal
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
Located in Old Montreal and potentially the #1 Montreal tourist attraction, the dazzling interior of the Notre-Dame Basilica alone makes this church worth a visit.
Built in 1656, this is Montreal’s oldest Catholic church (there are a lot of them in the city). The church is most famous for its colorful interior, full of stained glass depicting the history of Montreal as a city.
Inside the church, there are guided tours offered in both French and English. This is one of those Montreal must see attractions, even if you’re only in the city for a day.
An Old Montreal attraction, Chateau Ramezay is another must see in Montreal for anyone who is into history. Built in the 18th century, this was the first building in Quebec to be classified as a historic monument.
Inside, you’re able to walk through 500 years of history through multiple exhibits and stories of historical figures who once lived and visited the chateau, including Benjamin Franklin.
Once you’re done touring the building, head outside to explore the French Colonial style garden.
Montreal Botanical Garden
One of the top sights in Montreal for good reason. The Montreal Botanical Garden is seen as one of the best botanical gardens in the world, covering over 185 acres and featuring 22,000 plant species, 20 themed gardens, and 10 exhibition greenhouses.
If you want to get lost somewhere beautiful while surrounded by nature, this botanical garden is one of the best attractions in Montreal to visit.
Give yourself a decent chunk of time to explore the many gardens and greenhouses, I’d say at least a few hours. June is usually the best time to visit the gardens, although later in summer and the fall season can be nice too.
La Grande Roue de Montreal
A lot of major cities around the world, including London and Seattle, have a huge ferris wheel that gives you sweeping views over the city. Well, Montreal has one too, called La Grande Roue de Montreal.
Riding La Grande Roue is one of the more touristy activities in Montreal, but if you love good city views from high up it’s hard to beat what you get from the wheel.
One tip is to go right around sunset. This will also you to see Montreal’s best features in natural light, but also the beautiful lit up Montreal skyline at night.
Pro tip: when I rode La Grande Roue it was in the middle of winter and freezing, so make sure to pack appropriately. The little boxes you sit inside are technically closed, but not well insulated and they don’t have any heating.
Luckily, there’s a cafe right near the wheel to grab a hot chocolate from once you get off.
Le Bateau Mouche Cruise
Another one of the top attractions in Montreal, La Bateau Mouche Cruise is one of those quintessential tourist activities that is fun to do at least once.
It’s worth it to take in Montreal from the water to see the city skyline and learn more about its waterways.
La Bateau Mouche cruises last for 60-90 minutes and depart multiple times throughout the day. One of the prettiest times to go is at sunset on their late afternoon cruise.
Included in each cruise is a tour guide full of local anecdotes and history as you cruise around.
Au Sommet at Observatoire Place Ville Marie
If you’re still craving some good views and wondering what to do in downtown Montreal, head over to Au Sommet at the Observatoire Place Ville Marie for one of the best views in the city.
Place Ville Marie is a shopping center that’s connected to the Underground City, and since 2016 it’s also where you can find one of the best views of Montreal.
The center offers an observatory called Au Sommet and the highest restaurant in Montreal, Les Enfants Terribles. If you’re looking to view Montreal from a different perspective, head up to the 46th floor and enjoy.
Olympic Park has a lot to offer tourists in Montreal. This is where you’ll find the 540-foot Montreal Tower, Olympic Stadium, and the Esplanade, which features local outdoor events year round (ex: First Fridays).
This is also where the Montreal Biodome is located, which allows you to experience five ecosystems from around the world in one building. Note: the Biodome is currently closed until summer 2020.
Another worthy experience to having at Olympic Park is catching a game or show at Olympic Stadium.
Some of the most entertaining events that come through the stadium include Toronto Blue Jays games, monster truck shows, auto shows, and other important sporting events (like the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2016).
When events aren’t happening, you can go on a guided tour of the stadium to learn more about this popular Montreal icon.
If you fancy a swim, Olympic Park offers some of the best indoor swimming facilities in Canada at the Olympic Pools. Or, head over to the Montreal Planetarium to learn about the universe in a fun, interactive way.
Jean Talon Market or Atwater Market (or both!)
Some of the best places to visit in Montreal are the many markets around the city. A good way to spend an afternoon in Montreal is to head to the vibrant Jean Talon Market or bustling Atwater Market.
At the Montreal markets, you can grab a delicious lunch, walk amongst the colorful produce, smell the flowers, and maybe even find a local souvenir from one of the artisan stalls.
Perhaps it has to do with the influence of francophone culture, but Montreal definitely has a thing for fresh markets. To really get a feel for local Montreal culture, make sure to spend at least a couple of hours walking around one or two markets in the city.
Best Free Things to do in Montreal
Mont Royal Park
Mont Royal Park is one of the best free tourist attractions in Montreal, most notably because it gives you sweeping views of the Montreal skyline.
On a clear, warm day, it’s hard to beat spending an afternoon up at Mont Royal, either walking its paths or climbing up to the viewpoint.
This is one of best places to go in Montreal for good views and an easy escape to nature. It’s also a popular place for snow tubing, tobogganing, and cross country skiing in the winter.
Fun fact: the same guy who designed Central Park in New York City also designed Mont Royal in Montreal.
Recommended: Go on a bike tour up to Mont Royal Park
Vieux-Montreal (Old Montreal)
If you’re wondering what to see in Montreal and you only have a short amount of time, spend at least one afternoon walking around the oldest part of the city.
This is one of those must see places in Montreal, if only for the 17th century European architecture and that magical feeling of walking back in time as you explore the cobblestone streets.
I’d recommend going on an inexpensive walking tour to get a full overview of the history of the neighborhood and the best things to see in Old Montreal.
Once you’re done learning about this part of the city, spend time getting lost in the narrow streets and plazas.
A few sights not to miss in Old Montreal are the Notre Dame Basilica, Pointe-à-Callière Museum, Place Jacques-Cartier, Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours, and Marche Bonsecours.
Recommended: Walking Tour of Old Montreal
Located in Old Montreal, Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours was built in 1771 and is one of the oldest churches in the city. When you step into the chapel, it feels like stepping into 18th century Montreal.
If you want to dive into more history about the church and the importance it has had on Montreal’s past, make sure to grab an audio guide when you enter.
This historic spot is a must see in Montreal and worth a visit while you’re walking around Old Montreal.
Nearby, you’ll find another historic site (this is Old Montreal, after all), called Marche Bonsecours.
Today, the interior has been turned into boutique upscale shops. However, the building itself is where City Hall was once housed, as well as Montreal’s most famous market in the 1800s.
It’s a good place to pop into on colder days in the city, especially since there is a cafe upstairs with warm drinks and pastries.
Although more on the touristy side, Place Jacques-Cartier is the most famous square in Old Montreal and one of the best places in Montreal to grab a coffee and people watch.
There are usually quite a few street performers doing their thing at the square, as well as plenty of restaurants to try and shops to stop in at. If you’re looking for souvenir shops, this is also one of the best areas to find the usual Montreal souvenirs.
If you’re looking for cool things to do in Montreal, biking along the Lachine Canal is one of my favorite ways to spend a nice afternoon in the city.
You can rent bikes from Ça Roule Montréal in Old Montreal (my preferred bike shop in the city), or from one of the Bixi Bike share racks along the waterfront.
From Old Montreal, take your time riding along the canal and taking in the beautiful scenery along the way.
Good stops to include are Atwater Market for lunch and Terrasse St-Ambroise beer garden for a pint before turning around to ride back to Old Montreal.
Alternatively, you can walk along the canal. There are various green spaces and it’s a popular place for locals to come and walk along the water, especially around sunset.
This is a fun activity to experience in Montreal that is completely free (minus the bike rental) and also a very local thing to do in the city.
Square Saint-Louis and Rue Denis
Being a historically French city, Montrealers loves a good European-style square. One of the best ones to walk around if you want to get away from the more touristy nature of Place Jacques-Cartier, is Square Saint-Louis.
Square Saint-Louis is located in the more local and trendy neighborhood of Le Plateau and has been around since the 1800s. It’s a park that is loved by artists and writers, probably because it’s in such a picturesque location.
One of my favorite things to do in the square is to take in the colorful Victorian houses that border it. The houses in this area are seriously some of the best of Montreal.
After spending some time relaxing at the square, walk down Rue Denis. This is a main thoroughfare in Montreal and a good place to go shopping, find a tasty meal, or grab an espresso from one of its many cafes.
Village au Pied-du-Courant
One of the best things in Montreal for those looking to experience an urban beach, Village au Pied-du-Courant is a man-made village that is rebuilt every year during the nicer months in the city.
This is one of those local places to see in Montreal to experience the festive atmosphere that takes over the city in the summer.
The village is a testament to Montreal’s artistic nature and includes a boardwalk, food trucks, views of the St. Lawrence River, beer garden, and an artisan market on Sundays.
Village au Pied-du-Courant is especially beautiful to visit at night when there’s music, cocktails, and views of the Jacques Cartier Bridge lit up nearby.
Every summer, Saint Catherine Street East in Montreal’s Gay Village becomes a pedestrian-only street. This is the hub of various summer festivals, temporary art installations (like the popular canopy of pink balls), and an overall place of celebration and art.
If you’re looking for free things to see in Montreal and you’re visiting Montreal in the summer, head over to Saint Catherine East during Aire Libres to admire the most recent art installation and enjoy the welcoming LGBTQ neighborhood of the city.
St. Joseph’s Oratory
St. Joseph’s Oratory is Canada’s largest church, with one of the largest domes in the world, and an important religious site for Roman Catholics.
People come from all over Canada and the world to pray here for their deceased loved ones or for their own healing. This is because Saint Joseph is the patron of a happy death, and the oratory is the largest shrine in the world dedicated to him.
Also, Brother Andre, who founded the oratory, was said to have healed countless crippled people.
Even if you’re not religious, this is one of the most interesting churches I’ve visited in Canada. You’ll find an actual human heart displayed in a vault from Brother Andre, and a wall of crutches and canes from the people who were healed by him.
The most beautiful part of the church is the votive chapel full of 10,000 candles. This is also another good spot for panoramic views of the city.
Note: the oratory is free to enter but there is a suggested donation of $5.
Local Things to Do in Montreal
Tam-Tams is a beloved free festival that happens every Sunday during the summer at the at the foot of Mont Royal. This is a must do in Montreal for anyone who wants to experience a more local side to the city.
The festival has been running since 1974 and tends to lean into its bohemian side with drum circles galore. With that said, Tam-Tams brings a wide assortment of people to the foot of the mountain, and it’s a popular family-friendly event in Montreal too.
Besides the drum circles, you’ll find capoeira demonstrations, picnickers, bocci ball, hacky sack games, and a pop-up marketplace.
If you’re in Montreal on a Sunday, Tam-Tams is one of the best ways to start a lazy afternoon.
Compare Montreal Bagels
Montrealers take their bagels seriously. If you’re looking for local stuff to do in Montreal and you’ve never tried a Montreal bagel, this should be one of the first things you do in the city.
Montreal bagels are different than New York bagels. They’re sweeter, smaller, and have a slightly different consistency. The two most popular bagel companies in the city are St. Viateur and Fairmount.
And believe me when I say that you have to choose one side or the other if you’re a local. People get very heated about why either their choice of St. Viateur or Fairmount is better. Compare and contrast the two and choose your favorite.
Recommend: Montreal Bagel and Jewish Food Walking Tour
One of the best things to do in Montreal in July, or really anytime in the summer, Picnik Electronik is a weekly music festival that happens every Sunday in Parc Jean-Drapeau. The festival features electronic beats, dancing, drinks, and food truck eats.
I went to Picnik Electronik on my 29th birthday last time I was in Montreal, and it was the perfect way to celebrate another a new year and sunny weather in Montreal. Plus, the local and international DJs are great if you’re into electronic music.
Probably the most popular place for poutine in Montreal, La Banquise is an establishment that serves poutine at all hours of the day to tourists and locals alike. One of those Montreal rites of passages is grabbing late night poutine from La Banquise.
They have every type of poutine imaginable. If it’s your first time trying poutine, I’d recommend starting with the traditional poutine that just comes with cheese curds, fries, and gravy to introduce yourself to the magic of this Quebecois treat.
Another favorite local hangout in Montreal, Cafe Olimpico is a small Italian-style cafe located in the trendy Mile End district.
They’re most well known for their freddo coffee, which is all kinds of delicious on a warm day. It’s the perfect place to stop in at before or after a full day of sightseeing in Montreal.
They also have a cute back patio that is nice to sit out on when it’s good weather.
Gibeau Orange Julep
Established in 1932, Orange Julep is one of those local spots that has been around for so long that it can’t not be an iconic part of the city.
The most striking aspect of Orange Julep is that it’s housed in a gigantic multi-story orange ball, making it not only a fast food restaurant but a roadside attraction.
Grab a greasy bite to eat here at some point during your trip in Montreal, and make sure to try the ‘Orange Julep’ drink that the restaurant is named after. It’s a close cousin to the Orange Julius but slightly different.
What is there to do in Montreal that you haven’t done yet? This might surprise you, but one of the more unique and weird things to do in Montreal is to go surfing!
You might not correlate surfing with the freezing waterways of Montreal, but surfing has actually become a favorite local pastime for the brave souls who get a kick out of surfing the standing waves of Saint Lawrence River.
Because the rapids can be quite dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s recommended to go with a professional guide if you don’t know the river like the back of your hand.
If you’re not keen to surf the rapids, it’s still pretty fun to see the locals try to. Head over to Des Rapides Park for a good viewpoint.
Grab a Pint at a Beer Garden
One of the best local things to do in the summer is enjoy the terrace life. Tons of cafes and restaurants have outdoor terraces around the city that people take full advantage of once the long winter disappears and the sun comes out.
Montrealers love enjoying outdoor terraces in the summer. It’s not unusual to see people leaving work early and terraces to be bustling well before five o’clock during the summer. But, can you blame them with the brutal winters in Montreal?
Some of the best terraces to enjoy in the city are the outdoor beer gardens. A couple favorites that are worth checking out are Terrasse St-Ambroise beer garden or Le Sainte-Élisabeth terrace.
When the weather is nice, grab a pint and enjoy terrace life in the city.
Shop the Boutiques in Mile End
If you’re looking for good shopping in Montreal, Mile End is the place to go for cute local boutique shops that cover a wide range of products.
For clothes, head to Boutique Unicorn, Frank & Oak, General 54, or Ruse Boutique. Other stores to pop into include Boucle & Papier for adorable stationary, Lowell for locally made leather goods, VdeV for home goods, or Vertuose for plants.
Use the Underground City to get Around
One of the best things to do in downtown Montreal is getting lost in the Underground City. At over 20 miles long, Montreal has the largest underground city in the world.
About 500,000 people use it every day and you’ll find that it connects to pretty much anywhere you would want to go in downtown Montreal.
To give you an idea, the underground network connects to 10 metro stations, two bus terminals, 2,000 stores, 200 restaurants, 40 banks, multiple movie theaters and other entertainment venues.
The Underground City can be a lifesaver when temperatures dip below freezing and you want a comfortable way to get to and from different places in downtown.
As a tourist, it’s fun to wander around the underground network just to see how much there is to do above and below ground by using the walkways. My favorite part of the Underground City is the beautiful World Trade Centre Montreal.
It can be a good idea to go on a tour of the Underground City to have a local take you around the best parts since it’s so huge.
Recommended: Montreal Underground City Tour
Art Gallery Hopping
Being a city that supports creative and artistic expression on a regular basis, there are tons of quality art galleries to explore in Montreal, especially around Saint-Catherine St.
If you’re into art at all, even if you don’t plan to buy any on your trip, this is one of the best things to see and do in Montreal, in addition to hitting a couple of the popular art museums.
A few art galleries to start with include Galerie Blanc, Galerie Luz, Fofa Gallery, Galerie B-312, Marc Gosselin, and Fondation Guido Molinari.
Habs Game at the Bell Centre
Have you even been to Canada if you haven’t seen a hockey game? One of the more fun things to do in Montreal to get into the Canadian spirit, is to go to a Habs (aka Montreal Canadiens) professional hockey game at the Bell Centre.
This is where you’ll be able to witness just how seriously Canadians take their hockey and get into the game with local fans.
If you’re really into hockey, the Bell Centre offers tours when games aren’t on. Tours go through the history of the stadium and the more behind-the-scenes areas where players and coaches hang out.
Hunt for Street Art Around Saint-Laurent Boulevard
One of my favorite free things to do in Montreal is to take in the colorful street art around the city. This is actually one of the top things to see in Montreal because elaborate street murals have become such a big draw to the city.
There’s an annual festival called Mural Fest that adds more art to Montreal’s streets every year, and the city has some of the best street art I’ve come across in my travels.
The talent is comparable to another one of the best street art cities in the world – Melbourne, Australia.
If you’re wondering what to visit in Montreal, get lost in the streets and hunt for the best murals around town. Or, go on a tour to have a local take you around some of the best open-air pieces of art.
Le Plateau and Saint-Laurent Boulevard is a good area to start.
Here are a few murals to add to your street art hunt:
- Graffiti Granny – Saint-Laurent Boulevard
- Five8 – Between Rue Napoleon and Rue Roy
- House of Meggs – Between Saint-Laurent Boulevard and Rue Saint Dominique
- Jackie Robinson – 3907 Saint-Laurent Boulevard
- Buff Monster – 3685 Saint-Laurent Boulevard
Recommended: Montreal Street Art Tour
First Fridays at Olympic Stadium
From May to October, you’ll find First Friday events happening at Olympic Stadium in Montreal on the first Friday of each month. This is one of the best things to do in Montreal on the weekend if you happen to be in the city during the warmer months.
First Fridays showcase the best of Montreal street food from an assortment of food trucks. It’s actually Canada’s largest street food gathering, with over 40 food trucks that come out at the Esplanade Sun Life.
The event features DJs and drinks as well, making it a festive way to spend a Friday night in Montreal.
Experiencing the Nightlife on Rue Crescent or St. Laurent Boulevard
Two of the best spots in Montreal for nightlife are Rue Crescent and St. Laurent Boulevard. Since Montreal is known to have the best nightlife in Canada, it’s worth experiencing the bar scene on one of these streets at least once.
Rue Crescent is in downtown Montreal and definitely caters to a younger 20-something vibe that are looking to dance the night away and maybe get a bit messy in the process.
A few of the best bars and clubs to visit on Rue Crescent are Hurley’s Irish Pub, Mad Hatter Pub, Brutopia, and Club Electric Avenue.
St. Laurent Boulevard is a nightlife area that caters more to young professionals. This is where you’ll find some of the most hipster and cool places in Montreal to go out. You’ll still find spots to dance but a better mix of ages.
A few good places to experience the nightlife on St. Laurent are Casa Del Popolo, Bar Le Mal Necessaire, Barbossa, and McKibbins Irish Pub.
Thrift Store Shopping on St. Laurent Boulevard
Thrift store shopping in Montreal has become somewhat of a pastime for locals in recent years. It’s not unusual to spend your Saturday hunting through the best thrift stores in town for new vintage finds.
It can be a fun thing to do as a tourist as well because the thrift stores in Montreal are next level.
One of the coolest thrift stores I’ve visited in Montreal is the multi-level Eva B, which offers a wide selection of affordable vintage clothes and goods and a vegan-friendly cafe.
Other favorite vintage thrift stores to shop at include Cul-de-sac, Lost & Found, Citizens Vintage, Les Folles Alliees, Annex Vintage, and Empire Exchange.
Ice Fishing at the Ice Fishing Village
If you’ve never been ice fishing before, Montreal is a good place to try it. In the Old Port, you’ll find the urban Ice Fishing Village set up in the winter.
This is one of those unique Montreal sights to see and experience if you’re visiting the city in the winter.
You can choose from a tent or cabin shelter, which are both heated (still you should dress warm!!) and set up with fishing equipment and pre-drilled holes in the ice.
For those who have never been ice fishing before, there are local guides ready to teach you how.
If you want to experience ice fishing at the village, it’s recommended to make reservations well ahead of time, especially if you plan to come on the weekend. The Ice Fishing Village welcomes all types of groups to stop by, including families with children.
Speaking of things to do in Montreal in the winter, ice skating is one of the best activities to do in Montreal, which makes sense with how freezing the winters are.
Unsurprisingly, there are multiple places to lace up your skates and hit the ice around Montreal. For outdoor ice skating, head over to Mont Royal, Parc La Fontaine, or the Old Port’s Natrel Skating Rink, all of which you can rent skates from.
For a good indoor rink, Atirum Le 1000 is one of the best in the city.
Outdoor Activities & Hikes
The French love their parks and you can see that love for urban oases all over Montreal. One of my favorite aspects about the city is how many well maintained green spaces there are to be found around Montreal.
These are a few favorite parks that are worth a visit.
Parc Jean Drapeau
Park Jean Drapeau is located about five minutes from downtown Montreal and covers two islands – Saint Helen’s Island and Notre Dame Island.
At the park, you’ll find countless activities to while away an afternoon.
These include the Biosphere, Floralies Gardens, Jean-Dore Beach, Casino de Montreal, Stewart Museum, as well as a peaceful walking path through the islands and over fifteen miles of hiking trails.
This is the place where the Canadian Grand Prix happens, as well as some of the city’s most popular summer festivals, like Picnik Electronik.
Parc la Fontaine
An urban park situated in Le Plateau, Parc la Fontaine is a relaxing oasis for a picturesque stroll.
This area of Montreal actually used to be a farm, but it was transformed into a public park in the late 1800s. It’s now surrounded by tons of good eateries in Le Plateau and it’s a popular park in Montreal to visit year round.
In the summer, you can watch a show at the outdoor Théâtre de Verdure, stroll around the park and read a book, or play tennis. In the winter, ice skaters take to the frozen pond and snowshoers and cross country skiers use the snowy paths.
Des Rapides Park
Des Rapides Park is the best spot to view the Lachine Rapids. On a nice day, spend some time laying out in the sun and taking in the wildlife watching opportunities.
This is very much a local park and where you’ll find the second largest heron colony in Quebec, as well as 225 bird species, 66 fish species, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.
Nature Park of Île-de-la-Visitation
With over 300 years of history, this is one of Montreal’s most historical parks to wander around. Nature Park of Île-de-la-Visitation used to be the home of Canada’s first industrial site, which you can still explore through the park’s old windmill and apple press.
The park features over five miles of walking paths, fishing, and wildlife viewing opportunities, including quite a few different species of shore birds. There’s also a spot where you can grab a cup of coffee and a quick bite to eat.
At over 155 acres, Parc Maisonnueve is one of Montreal’s largest parks and an ideal place for a wide assortment of outdoor activities. This is a great park to bring the whole family and enjoy Montreal nature on a nice day.
At the park, you can go biking, rollerblading, running, or bring a picnic, and it’s right next to the Montreal Botanical Gardens. Parc Maisonnueve also features ice skating in the winter and a nine-hole golf course.
Bois-de-Liesse Nature Park
Another spot to enjoy nature that’s not too far from Montreal, Bois-de-Liesse Nature Park is one of the best places to immerse yourself in local wildlife and the peacefulness of Montreal suburbs.
The nature park features a black maple forest that is over a century old, as well as eight miles of hiking trails, five miles of bike trails, birdwatching opportunities, and picnic areas.
Best Outdoor Areas that are a Close Drive from Montreal
Îles-de-Boucherville National Park (30 min)
A short drive from Montreal, you’ll find Îles-de-Boucherville National Park in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River. This group of islands offer plenty of wildlife viewing, waterfront trails, and green spaces.
This is an ideal place to get away from the city without having to drive too far. Popular activities at the national park include walking, cycling, and canoeing. During the winter, Île Sainte-Marguerite is a good place for cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
Cap-Saint-Jacques Nature Park (40 minutes)
As the largest regional park in Montreal, Cap-Saint Jacques Nature Park has a lot to offer the average outdoor enthusiast. Located in the West Island, most of the park is bordered by water, so it’s not surprising that water-based activities are a popular thing to do.
If you’re visiting Montreal in the summer, this is a good park to visit since there’s also a family-friendly sand beach at the park. They also offer watercraft rentals (SUP, kayak, and pedal boat) at the beach starting in mid-June.
If water activities aren’t your thing, the park offers 10 miles of hiking trails, five miles of bike paths, and it’s an ideal spot to have a picnic with the amount of picnic tables around the park. In the winter, this can be a good park for cross country skiing.
Best Museums in Montreal
If you’re looking to experience some fun and informative indoor activities in Montreal that aren’t dependent on good weather, the many world renowned museums are a good place to start.
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA)
One of the best museums in Montreal, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is the largest art museum in Canada and the eighth most visited museum in North America. Since it was founded in 1860, it’s also well over 100 years old.
The museum showcases a wide variety of different types of art, from fine art to film, fashion, and design from various cultures. In total, there are 43,000 works of art from ancient history to modern day.
Make sure to take time to walk around the sculpture garden after a visit to the museum. It’s one of Montreal’s largest collections of public art.
Centre d’Histoire de Montreal
Appropriately located in Old Montreal in an old fire station building, Centre d’Histoire de Montreal gives you a good overview of everything you would ever want to know about the history of Montreal.
At the museum, there are three floors of permanent and temporary exhibits that take you through the city’s history from the 1600s to present day.
Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal (MAC)
If you’re looking for an alternative art museum to the MMFA, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal is a good option. This Montreal museum is where you’ll find some of the best examples of local and international contemporary art in the city.
Located in the Quartier des Spectacles and founded in 1964, MAC was the first Canadian museum dedicated to contemporary art.
It’s a fairly small museum, usually only running a few exhibits at a time, but it’s worth spending an afternoon here if you’re interested in contemporary art.
Museum of Archeology and History (Point-a-Calliere)
If you’re a history buff, you should include both the Centre d’Histoire de Montreal and the Point-a-Calliere in your Montreal to do list.
While the Centre d’Histoire de Montreal goes through the history of Montreal once it became a city, the Point-a-Calliere is more focused on how the city was founded in the first place.
Point-a-Calliere is located in Montreal’s Old Port, so only a short distance away from the Centre d’Histoire de Montreal if you want to see both in a day.
One of the coolest aspects of this interactive museum is that you’re able to stand on the birthplace of Montreal in the permanent underground exhibition.
The Phi Centre
One of the more underrated Montreal tourist attractions, The Phi Centre is a multimedia art and culture center that explores the intersection of art, film, music, design, and technology.
The centre is always offering trendy exhibits that usually incorporate virtual reality to tell a story and give you an eccentric experience.
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Montreal, The Phi Centre is a good place to start.
Montreal Holocaust Museum
The purpose of the Montreal Holocaust Museum is to educate people from all ages and backgrounds about the realities of the Holocaust and its lasting impacts from the perspective of survivors who lived through it and ended up in Canada.
It’s a moving museum that directly confronts the horrors of bigotry and hate. Make sure to do the audio tour to hear the stories of survivors, and give yourself at least a couple of hours to take everything in.
The Redpath Museum is is a natural history museum run by McGill University and located on campus. The museum was built in the 1880s and features a collection of fossils, a historic mummy, and gemstones.
This is one of the best free museums in Montreal and takes about a couple of hours to walk around.
Montreal Biosphere Environmental Museum
A museum that is dedicated to teaching more people about the environment, the Montreal Biosphere is an interesting museum to visit for its 12 interactive exhibits that talk about the environmental issues we’re facing today.
If you’re looking for things to do in Montreal with kids, the Biosphere is a museum that is definitely more geared towards children. Just note that it can be hot and stuffy at times inside, so I’d recommend visiting in the late afternoon/evening.
Admission to the museum is free for anyone who is 17 and under.
Montreal Science Centre
The Montreal Science Centre is a kid-friendly museum that features an IMAX theater and interactive exhibits on science and technology.
This museum can be fun for adults who are into science as well, but there are usually a lot of school groups visiting and kids running around.
Another interesting history museum in Montreal, the McCord Museum is a research and teaching museum that is located at McGill University in downtown Montreal.
The museum is home to one of the largest historical collections in North America, with more than 1.4 million historical artifacts. These include artifacts from the First Nations, costumes, textiles, photographs, and artwork.
Canada Railway Museum (Explorail)
Located about a 30 minute drive outside of Montreal, the Canada Railway Museum is one of the best things to do near Montreal.
This is where you’ll get a full overview of Canadian railroad history and how important it has been to Canada’s growth as a nation. The museum features over 150 locomotives, cars, and railway vehicles and it’s good for both kids and adults.
Make sure to give yourself at least two to three hours to walk around the museum, and look into doing a guided tour to get a full background of the history of rail in Canada.
Food & Coffee
Coffee & Tea
- Crew Collective & Cafe
- Cafe Oui Mais Non
- Banc Public
- Les Affames
- Allô! Mon Coco
- Schwartz’s Deli
- Beauty’s Luncheonette
- Olive & Gourmando
- LOV (100% plant-based, 100% delicious)
- Satay Brothers
- Maison Christian Faure
- Kem CoBa
Looking to experience the Montreal food scene with a local guide? These are the top Montreal food tours in the city.
- Beyond the Bagel: Montreal Jewish Food Walking Tour
- Flavors of Old Montreal Walking Tour
- Montreal Ultimate Chocolate Tour
Nightlife & Live Music Venues
Looking for things to do in Montreal at night? These nightlife options are a good place to start.
- Bar George
- Brouepub – Dieu du Ciel!
- The Coldroom
- La Voûte
- Cabaret Mado
- Casa Del Popolo
Best Tours in Montreal
Quebec Wine Tour from Montreal
One of the best things to do around Montreal besides eating is drinking wine, this is a francophone city after all.
Being the foodie capital of Canada, it’s not surprising that there are quality wine regions not too far from the city. One of the best ways to tour the local Quebec wineries is through a local tour, especially if you want to do some tastings.
The Quebec Wine Tour from Montreal explores the best parts of Quebec wine country with a local guide. You can choose from an afternoon or full day tour and visit two to three local wineries. The full day tour also includes a gourmet lunch.
Old Montreal Walking Tour
Old Montreal is one of the coolest spots in Montreal to walk around for an afternoon. The neighborhood oozes all kinds of layered history and beautiful European architecture.
One of the best ways to learn more about the history of Montreal’s oldest neighborhood is through a Walking Tour of Old Montreal.
This 1.5-hour tour takes you around the most popular attractions and things to do in Old Montreal, such as the Notre-Dame Basilica, Place Jacques-Cartier, City Hall, and Champ de Mars, all while giving you an engaging history lesson about these spots.
Montreal Architecture & City Bike Tour
One of the best ways to get around Montreal is by bike, so it’s no surprise that the Montreal Architecture & City Bike Tour is a good tour to see a lot in the city in a short amount of time.
This four-hour tour includes history, architecture, local culture, and stops for food, beer, and wine tastings.
From popular attractions to more secret hotspots in Montreal, this is a good tour to give you an overview of what makes Montreal such an intriguing and special city.
Short Day Trips from Montreal
Domaine Labranche (30 minutes)
Domaine Labranche is A family-run historical maple sugar shack just south of Montreal. The shack offers guided tours, as well as hiking trails, a farm, and wine tasting.
Although it could be considered a bit of a tourist trap, if you want to experience the wonderful world of maple-infused foods and get a better idea of why maple syrup is so good in Quebec, this is the place to visit.
Granby Zoo (1 hour)
The largest zoo in Quebec, thanks in large part to its roomy animal enclosures, Granby Zoo is a good family day trip option from Montreal.
The zoo houses almost 1500 animals from 225 different species and can easily take up a half day of exploration. If you’re traveling in Montreal with kids, this is an ideal day out with the young ones.
There’s also a popular water park that’s worth checking out across the street during the warmer months.
Parc National d’Oka (1 hour)
Although it’s first and foremost one of the best places to see herons in their natural habitat, Park National d’Oka also offers a lot more than just bird watching.
The park has a complex of historical buildings called the The Calvaire, some of which date back to the 1700s.
And, there’s a popular local beach at the park that fills up in the summer, as well as numerous hiking trails to enjoy the stunning wetlands around the park.
Hike to the top of the Calvaire d’Oka trail for expansive views looking out over Lac des Deux Montagnes and the Adirondacks.
Mont-Tremblant (1.5 hours)
Besides Whistler, Mont-Tremblant is the most popular ski resort in Canada. It’s also a popular weekend trip for Montrealers at any time of the year.
Driving up to Mont-Tremblant, you’ll find rolling mountains, beautiful lakes, and small traditional Quebecois villages nestled into the mountains. Make sure to stop by the colorful village of Sainte-Adèle on the way up from Montreal.
Mont-Tremblant is a year round ski resort and one of the best places to go snowboarding and downhill or cross country skiing near Montreal.
The resort also offers tubing, sleigh rides, dune buggy tours, ice skating, dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice climbing, ice fishing, alpine touring, paintball, helicopter flights, and spas and massages.
If you’re looking for more things to do near Montreal, just north of Mont-Tremblant, you’ll find hiking trails, lakes, canoeing, and additional winter activities in Mont-Tremblant National Park.
Ottawa (2 hours)
Looking to hit two Canadian provinces on your trip to Montreal? Ottawa, Ontario is only a short drive away and the capital of Canada. This is where you’ll find Parliament Hill, the location of the Canadian government.
Besides politics, Ottawa is known for its cultural events and outdoor markets year round. Don’t miss out the Rideau Canal, the National Gallery of Canada or Canadian Museum of History, and ByWard Market while you’re there.
Pro tip: if you don’t want to drive or worry about public transit, you can hop on this private tour to Ottawa from Montreal.
Quebec City (3 hours)
Traveling to Quebec City from Montreal is probably better as a weekend trip. However, if you really want to see Quebec’s other most famous city and you’re short on time, you can do Quebec City in a day.
It will just be a long day of driving as it’s three hours each way from Montreal.
Quebec City is one of the oldest European settlements in North America and you can sense the city’s historical nature as soon as you arrive. Make sure to take some time to walk around and admire the historical architecture, especially in Vieux-Quebec.
And, don’t miss out on a meal at either Snack Bar Saint-Jean for the best poutine in town, or Buvette Scott for a nice sit-down farm-to-table meal.
Pro tip: if you don’t want to drive and you’re looking for an affordable day trip option from Montreal to Quebec City – this tour is the best option.
- Igloofest (Jan/Feb)
- Francos de Montreal (June)
- MURAL Festival (June)
- Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day (June 24th)
- Montreal International Jazz Festival (June/July)
- Montreal Complètement Cirque (July)
- Just for Laughs Comedy Festival (July)
- Fantasia International Film Festival (July)
- L’International des Feux Loto-Quebec fireworks (July/August)
- Osheaga Festival (August)
- Montreal Pride Parade (August)
Where to Stay in Montreal
With over 10 million tourists that visit Montreal each year, there’s accommodation for every budget in this city.
If you’re looking to travel on a budget, Montreal has one of the best hostels in Canada. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a luxe stay for a romantic weekend getaway, the city has plenty of options for that too. As well as everything in between.
These are my picks for the top three places to stay in Montreal, no matter your budget.
If you’re looking for an affordable central stay in Montreal, I highly recommend HI Montreal. I stayed here for three nights in a private room and loved the location, staff, and activities offered.
They have both private and dorm-style rooms, free tours every day, free breakfast, and a safe space for solo travelers. It’s a great place to meet other people if you’re traveling by yourself or in a small group.
*Note: I was hosted by HI Montreal last time I visited Montreal, but I seriously loved the vibe and how comfortable my stay was at the hostel. I would recommend it as a good budget option in the city in a heartbeat.
This historic accommodation is located at the edge of Le Plateau, right in the midst of all the great coffee shops that the neighborhood has to offer but still close enough to walk to various popular sights in Montreal.
Expect unique old-world themed decor in the rooms as well as free breakfast, coffee, tea, and snacks.
If you want to experience that summer ‘terrace life’ without having to leave your hotel, the luxe Hotel Birks is a great option as they have a highly-rated terrace and street-level restaurant, Restaurant Henri Brasserie Française onsite.
Some rooms offer a private terrace, as well as a desk, and flat-screen TV.
There’s a relaxing spa at the property and a continental, buffet or à la carte breakfast offered in the mornings.
This is a good option for those who are in Montreal for a romantic getaway or the business traveler who’s looking for a bit of luxury during their work trip.
Looking for more ideas on where to stay in Montreal and a full guide to the best neighborhoods in the city? Check out my post on where to stay in Montreal.
What is Montreal known for?
So, if you’ve reached this far down in the post, I’m sure you’re well aware of how much there is to do in the city. But, what is Montreal famous for that first put it on the map as a popular tourist destination in Canada?
Here are a few things that the city is most well known for:
- Home to the Cirque de Soleil.
- Hosting the Summer Olympics in 1976.
- Second largest French speaking city in the world after Paris.
- Highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada and the second highest in North America (after New York City).
- The #1 host city for international events in North America and three of the largest festivals in the world: Montreal Jazz Festival, Montreal International Fireworks Festival, and Francofolie.
- Largest underground city in the world with around 20 miles of interconnected tunnels.
- Huge student population and home to four universities.
- One of the best metro systems (and busiest) in Canada.
- Second largest amusement park in Canada.
- Arguably the best poutine in all of Quebec (although this is contentiously debated).
Best Time to Visit Montreal
It depends on what you’re looking for, but, in general, the best time to visit Montreal is in the summer. This is when the city truly comes alive and there are events happening every weekend.
Drinking on the terraces around the city is a favorite pastime for locals and one that is fun to join in on as a tourist.
If you don’t mind humidity, some of the best things to see in Montreal can be found throughout this season, such as the many music, comedy, and film festivals (aka some of the most fun things to do in Montreal during the summer).
The aspect that makes summer such a magical time in Montreal is the fact that locals truly appreciate it. After having to deal with cold weather and frigid winter temperatures for a good part of the year, people don’t take the nice weather for granted.
There’s camaraderie in the air and the mindset of wanting to enjoy all that life has to offer while the weather is nice.
Summer is also the best time to experience one of the most popular Montreal things to do, the Botanical Garden, because flowers bloom in the summer here as opposed to spring when it’s still too cold.
If you’re okay with braving the cold temperatures that Montreal sees in the winter, I’d say that winter is another great time to visit the city because of how beautiful it looks in the snow.
If you walk around Old Montreal, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to a European village from the 1800s. And similar to Europe, Montreal is big on Christmas markets, complete with hot mulled wine. It’s one of the top things to do in Montreal in winter.
If you’re big on fall foliage, mid-September to early November is the perfect time to enjoy the colorful yellows, oranges, and reds that are prevalent on the trees around the city.
Where is Montreal, Canada?
Montreal is the largest city in the Quebec province in Eastern Canada.
The city is located on an island in the Saint Lawrence River and only about three hours from Quebec City, two hours from Ottawa, and a six hour drive from New York City.
Because of its location, Montreal has distinct seasons, long winters, and humidity in the summer.
How to Get from Quebec City to Montreal
The quickest way to get from Quebec City to Montreal is to rent a car and take Autoroute 40 O. It usually takes about three hours without heavy traffic. If you’re coming from Trois-Rivières, it takes an hour and 45 minutes. You can book your rental car here.
If you want to save money or you’re not interested in driving, you can take the train to Montreal from Quebec City using Via Rail Canada. The journey is just over three hours and costs CAD $30 for a one-way ticket. You can book tickets here.
If you’d prefer to take the bus to Montreal from Quebec City, you can hop on the Orléans Express (Montreal-Quebec Express). This also takes around three hours and costs CAD $25. You can purchase tickets here.
How to Get from Ottawa to Montreal
If you’re coming from Ottawa to Montreal, it’s a slightly shorter journey. You can rent a car and drive down Autoroute 50 E. The journey takes about two and a half hours without much traffic. You can book a rental car here.
Alternatively, if you want to take public transit, Via Railway Canada is the best option. For only CAD $30, you’ll get to Montreal in about two hours from Ottawa. You can book tickets here.
How to Get from Toronto to Montreal
If you’re traveling to Montreal from Toronto, I’d recommend renting a car and hopping on ON-401 E to Autoroute 20 and 720 E.
The drive takes around six hours and it’s pretty much a direct shot from Toronto, with only a couple of freeway changes along the way. You can book a rental car here.
If you don’t want to drive, you can also take a train with Via Railway Canada. The journey takes around five hours and usually costs CAD $49. You can book tickets here.
Another good option to get to Montreal a bit quicker is to fly. There are multiple flights from Toronto to Montreal daily and the trip duration is usually just over an hour, costing around CAD $60. You can find affordable flight options here.
Montreal Travel Tips
If you’re going to be in Montreal for a few days, grab the 3-day Opus Card for CAD $19. One of the best ways to quickly get around Montreal is via one of the city’s 220 bus lines or 68 metro stations.
The Opus Card can be used on both the metro and the bus. One way tickets are CAD $3.25, so if you’re going to be traversing the city for a few days get the 3-day card for CAD $19. You can grab these cards from a fare vending machine or ticket booth attendant at any metro station.
If you plan to do a ton of sightseeing, purchase the Passeport MTL for more value – If you plan to spend at least three days in Montreal and you want to experience the top things to do in Montreal, I’d suggest getting the Montreal attraction pass (Passeport MTL).
The pass is good for three days and it gives you access to 28 attractions and unlimited public transit. You can find out more about the pass here.
There’s Uber in Montreal now but no shared or express rides available – If you prefer to get around the city with Uber, it’s not going to be as cheap as US cities like San Francisco, where you have options for shared and express rides that lower the cost. In Montreal, the only option is a private ride so it’s best to use it if you’re sharing the ride with a friend or two.
Montreal is one of the best foodie cities in Canada – Yes, definitely try the poutine, as Quebec is the province where it originated from, but also make sure to try the diverse culinary scene that’s all over the city (starting with the recommendations listed above!).
I’ve never had a bad meal in Montreal. Take advantage of the fantastic foodie scene here and taste test your way through the city, either on your own or through a food tour.
Take public transit to the airport instead of Uber – If you want a cheaper option that is almost as convenient as taking an Uber, hop on the 747 bus that takes you from central Montreal directly to the airport in 40 minutes. You can simply grab a day pass for $10 and get whisked away to your flight.
Keep taxes in mind when purchasing anything – This isn’t anything new coming from California where the sales tax is 7.25%, but for other travelers where that’s not the usual, be mindful that the tax on goods and services in Quebec is a whopping 9.975%. So, don’t be surprised if that maple syrup costs a bit more once you get to the register.
PRACTICAL INFO FOR MONTREAL
Book a vacation rental on AirBnB (and get $40 off your first booking).
Buy your Montreal Guide here.
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