One day in Montreal is plenty of time to experience this unique city. Located in Quebec, it’s one of the most visited travel destinations in Canada.
The city is known as the cultural capital of Canada. As you walk the cobblestone streets, you’ll pass French colonial buildings and entire neighbourhoods where locals refuse to speak English. It feels like old Europe with a contemporary twist.
The food, the arts, and architecture all contain a unique blend of English and French influences, creating the distinct Quebecois style that brings in millions of visitors each year.
Known as a hotspot for festivals and culinary delights, as well as a fun winter destination, Montreal is a city with lots to see and do any time of the year.
Need help planning your trip? Get started with this complete 1-day Montreal itinerary.
Table of Contents
- What to do in Montreal in 24 hours: A complete one-day itinerary
- Start your day with fresh treats from Jean Talon Market
- Browse exotic flowers at the Montreal Botanical Garden
- Shop local boutiques at the Old Port of Montreal
- Step inside the intricately constructed Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
- Travel the barren tunnels of the Underground City
- View the city from the observatory at Place Ville-Marie
- Browse priceless works of art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
- Grab drinks near the river or explore the red-light district of Montreal
- Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Montreal
What to do in Montreal in 24 hours: A complete one-day itinerary
As with most of our city travel plans, your 24 hours in Montreal includes stops at the most significant cultural sites, attractions, and shopping and dining destinations.
Start west of the city centre before working your way through the downtown area near St. Lawrence River. You’ll visit museums, historic sites, and botanical gardens. You’ll also have the chance to taste the local flavours and shop at busy public markets.
It’s a full day, mostly spent on foot in the centre of the city, but you won’t see everything. Consider coming back for a longer trip to truly immerse yourself in the Quebecois culture.
Start your day with fresh treats from Jean Talon Market
When you first get to Montreal, you’ll likely need something to eat. Jean Talon Market is a large open-air market with an abundance of food options.
If you arrive in Montreal via bus, you’ll start at the main bus terminal near La Fontaine Park. If you arrive via plane, you’ll reach Montreal from the west. No matter how you arrive, travel directly to Jean Talon Market.
The market opens at 7 am, making it one of the first things to do & see in Montreal while you wait for everything else to open.
The market includes indoor and outdoor space with about 300 vendors during the peak season between May and October. You’ll find just about every type of food including meat, fish, cheese, snacks, baked goods, and more.
The market also has a few shops with 20 specialty boutiques located in an underground parking area.
Above ground, it’s mostly whole foods such as meat and produce. You’ll also come across vendors with prepared meals and street style delicacies. Find something tasty to start your day as you soak up the smells and sounds of the bustling marketplace.
Browse exotic flowers at the Montreal Botanical Garden
With food in your belly from the market, it’s time to look at plants and insects at the Montreal Botanical Garden. You’ll need to take a taxi or walk as the bus line doesn’t provide a convenient route.
It’ll take a little over an hour on foot or 20 minutes via taxi. The path takes you through several residential neighbourhoods with charming little homes. The garden is located on the other side of one of these neighbourhoods, next to Montreal Olympic Park.
After looking at the plants, you can either examine insects at the Montreal Insectarium or explore different ecosystems inside the Biodome. You won’t have time for both unless you skip one or two of the stops on this Montreal itinerary.
Note that the insectarium is behind the botanical garden but it’s going through renovations. It’s expected to reopen in 2020 or 2021.
The Biodome is just a short walk from the garden and insectarium. As with the insectarium, it’s going through renovations and expected to reopen in December 2019.
If you miss out on both attractions, you could check out the Montreal Olympic Park site. It’s mostly used for local festivals and events. On Fridays, you’ll catch live music and food trucks.
Shop local boutiques at the Old Port of Montreal
After spending your morning around the outskirts of the downtown area, it’s time to explore the heart of Montreal. Walk east to the riverfront and then travel south until you reach the Old Port of Montreal.
The old port covers about two kilometres along the shore of the St. Lawrence River. It’s no longer a major port for trading but includes a few historic sites and lots of commercial developments.
The area surrounding the port has dozens of small shops and cafes. It’s a kitschy area with lots of gift shops and souvenirs but you’ll also find impressive antique stores and boutiques.
With just one day in the city, you won’t have time to fully explore the port. It has a wide variety of activities including an IMAX theatre and the incredibly tall Montreal Clock Tower. It’s also home to the Montreal Science Centre, a fun spot for kids and families.
Instead of visiting those attractions, spend an hour or so shopping as you stroll through the old port area.
Step inside the intricately constructed Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
As you walk through the port area, you’ll probably catch a glimpse of the basilica in the distance. Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal is right behind the old port.
The exterior of the building stands out with its symmetrical Gothic Revival-style architecture but you need to step inside to truly appreciate the basilica. The interior is incredibly detailed, featuring a wide range of colours and hundreds of intricate carvings.
The main hall is massive with a domed stained-glass ceiling and dozens of large statues of religious figures.
The best way to experience the basilica is with an English tour. You’ll get to see the light show featuring live organ music and a dazzling display of lights across the stained-glass windows.
Travel the barren tunnels of the Underground City
The Underground City is just down the street from the basilica. It’s one of the more interesting destinations to include on your Canada itinerary. The site isn’t fully developed with lots of empty spaces and hallways.
The subterranean walkway includes a network of tunnels that links various shopping malls and buildings in the downtown area. The main entrance is a short walk from the basilica, next to Victoria Square. You’ll also find 120 other access points throughout the city.
While large portions of the underground network remain undeveloped, the Underground City contains an assortment of shops, cafes, and restaurants. It covers over four million square metres and stretches for over 32 kilometres.
The central segment is the most populated. It contains access to Place Ville-Marie, Central Station, and several hotels. Explore this central area and find something to eat or buy a few more souvenirs.
View the city from the observatory at Place Ville-Marie
After spending time below the earth, you’ll travel 46 storeys into the sky to get a better view of the city. The Underground City connects to Place Ville-Marie where you’ll find the observatory with panoramic city views.
Place Ville-Marie (PVM) is a shopping and office complex. You’ll need to take an elevator to the top but the ride doesn’t take long.
When you reach the observation deck, you’re greeted with 360-degree views of Montreal. You can walk around all sides of the building and point out the landmarks that you’ve visited throughout the day.
The entrance fee for the observatory is a bit expensive but it’s included with the Montreal Tour Passport.
Browse priceless works of art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
When you reach the ground level, step outside and head toward the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Your trip through Montreal in one day isn’t complete without a few cultural stops. The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most prominent museums in Canada.
The permanent collection in the museum includes over 44,000 works. You’ll find thousands of paintings on display, mostly from European artists. It also contains various decorative arts and historic artifacts if you’re into history or archeology.
The only drawback is the size of the crowd. It’s one of the most popular museums in the country, receiving millions of visitors each year. Depending on the season, you may find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder with other tourists as you browse the galleries.
Grab drinks near the river or explore the red-light district of Montreal
Depending on your preferences, you have a couple of different options for ending your tour of Montreal in 24 hours. If you’re looking for a relaxing end to the day, travel down to the river for fine dining and wine. For those looking for excitement and entertainment, travel north to the red-light district.
The red-light district starts just north of the Ville-Marie borough. Historically, the district had numerous cabarets and strip clubs. As with other red-light districts throughout the world, the city has cleaned up the area in the past couple of decades.
As part of an urban renewal project, some of the strip clubs were moved out of the area. It’s a little more family-friendly with less prostitution and gambling compared to the past. It’s still the centre of the nightlife scene in Montreal and a fun place to explore in the evening.
Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Montreal
Although it’s Canada’s second-biggest city, choosing where to stay in Montreal is relatively simple. For most travellers with a quick layover in Montreal, the city centre (including Old Montreal) is the best place to start looking for accommodations as it’ll put you in close proximity to most of the stops on this itinerary. Here are few ideas…
- Hotel Epik Montreal: Occupying a historical building in Old Montreal, this lovely boutique hotel features one of the best locations in Montreal for sightseeing. You’ll absolutely love the decor, blending contemporary elements with more classic European motifs, as well as the terrace and common area.
- Courtyard by Marriott Montreal Downtown: This popular high-rise hotel is surprisingly affordable for a city not normally known for bargain accommodations prices. The indoor rooftop pool and on-site restaurant offer excellent views over the CBD.
- Renaissance Montreal Downtown Hotel: Located just steps away from Place Ville-Marie, this hotel draws plenty of guests thanks to its superb location. The rooms here are not just super stylish but spacious for Montreal standards. The rooftop bar is a brilliant perk.
- W Montreal Hotel: Located in the former Banque du Canada building on Victoria Square, this sleek luxury hotel charms with its eye-popping modern style and host of amenities including a well-stocked fitness centre; several on-site bars, restaurants & lounges; and a spa.