For first-time visitors to Canada, spending one day in Montreal is one of the best introductions to the country. Located in the Canadian province of Quebec, Montreal is one of the most-visited travel destinations in Canada. Embarking on a Montreal itinerary will reveal a city that’s often known as the cultural capital of Canada.
As you walk the cobblestone streets during your first 24 hours in Montreal, you’ll pass by French colonial buildings and entire neighbourhoods where you won’t hear a single English utterance. A layover in Montreal feels like old Europe with a contemporary twist.
Need help planning where to go in Montreal in one day? Get started with this complete 1-day Montreal itinerary…
Table of Contents
- Where to go in Montreal in one day: A complete 1-day itinerary
- Start your day with fresh treats from Jean-Talon Market (Marché Jean-Talon)
- Browse exotic flowers at the Montreal Botanical Garden
- Shop local boutiques at the Old Port of Montreal
- Stroll through Old 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 Quartier des Spectacles
- Where to stay: The best hotels for 24 hours in Montreal
- More Montreal itinerary ideas
- When to visit Montreal
- Getting there
Where to go in Montreal in one day: A complete 1-day itinerary
As with most of our city travel plans, your first 24 hours in Montreal includes stops at the most significant cultural sites, attractions, and shopping and dining destinations in Montreal.
To begin your Montreal itinerary, you’ll 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 of Montreal and shop at busy public markets.
With your time mostly spent on foot in the centre, you (obviously) won’t see everything in Montreal in 24 hours. Consider coming back for a longer trip itinerary to truly immerse yourself in the Quebecois culture.
Start your day with fresh treats from Jean-Talon Market (Marché Jean-Talon)
Start your one day in Montreal, fuelling yourself up with something to eat at Jean-Talon Market (Marché Jean Talon), a large open-air market with an abundance of food options.
The market opens at 7am, making visiting one of the first things to do 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.
Marché Jean-Talon 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, continue your 1-day Montreal itinerary by checking out the plants and insects of 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 to the Montreal Botanical Garden, located in Parc Maisonneuve.
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 24-hour 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 gone through renovations and reopened 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 (Vieux Port de Montréal).
The Old Port of Montreal 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 Old 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 Montreal, you won’t have time to fully explore the area.
It has a wide variety of activities including an IMAX theatre and the incredibly tall Montreal Clock Tower. The area also home to the Montreal Science Centre, a fun spot for kids and families, and the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History (Pointe-à-Callière Museum).
Since you’re tight on time, instead of visiting these attractions, spend a little time shopping as you stroll through the port area.
Stroll through Old Montreal
Located adjacent to Vieux Port to the west is the city’s most visually impressive neighbourhood: Old Montreal (Vieux Montréal).
The historic district dates back to the 17th century when it was settled by the French in establishing their New France colony.
Walking around Old Montreal feels more like hanging out in Belgium or France than in Canada. The architecture here is nothing short of spectacular and is understandably charming for visitors.
Start your exploration of Old Montreal at Place Jacques-Cartier, the district’s main square, located close to the entrance to Old Port. To the north and south of the square, runs Rue Saint-Paul, the main pedestrian artery surging through the area’s core.
Walking either direction along Rue Saint-Paul, you’ll discover a barrage of cool restaurants & bars, small souvenir shops, and a handful of attractions worth a quick look including the Bonsecours Market and Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel.
Once you’ve finished exploring Old Montreal, walk south along Rue Saint-Paul towards your next stop.
Step inside the intricately constructed Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
As you were walking through the port area, you may have caught a glimpse of a basilica in the distance to the southwest. Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal is located on the southern edge of Vieux Montreal on Place d’Armes.
The exterior of Notre-Dame Basilica (Basilique Notre-Dame) 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 of Notre-Dame Basilica 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 Montreal itinerary. The site isn’t fully developed with lots of empty spaces and hallways.
The subterranean walkway includes a network of tunnels that link 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, several hotels, and the Complexe Desjardins shopping mal. 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 continue your day in Montreal by travelling 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 (Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal).
Your trip through Montreal in one day isn’t complete without a few cultural stops. This museum 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.
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most popular museums in Canada, 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 Quartier des Spectacles
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 former red-light district of Montreal, now known as the Quartier des Spectacles.
The Quartier des Spectacles starts just north of the Ville-Marie borough.
Historically, the district had numerous cabarets and strip clubs, mostly centred around Rue Sainte-Catherine (Saint Catherine Street). As with other former 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.
The Quartier des Spectacles is still the centre of the nightlife scene in Montreal and a fun place to explore in the evening.
The northern edge of the area is known as Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter) and is one of the livelier places to hang out in Montreal at night.
Centred around Rue Saint-Denis, the Latin Quarter is known for its terrace restaurants & bars, and is a great alternative to the nightclub scene of Rue Saint-Catherine and Boulevard Saint-Laurent.
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.
More Montreal itinerary ideas
One of Montreal’s most interesting neighbourhoods, Le Plateau-Mont-Royal is a fantastic place to wander about if you’ve got some spare moments in your Montreal trip.
With its colourful historic townhouses, beset by wrought-iron staircases and terraces, this ultra-liveable area is super charming for visitors. There’s also a handful of great greenspaces here (like Parc La Fontaine and Jean-Mance Park) for your unwinding pleasure.
Wherever you happen to be in Le Plateau (as it’s known by locals), you’re never far from trendy restaurants, coffee shops, bistros or cafés.
The Mile End neighbourhood, in the area’s southwestern corner, is particularly popular. Mile End is home to two of the most famous Montreal bagel joints in the city—St-Viateur Bagel and Fairmont Bagel—as well as a handful of great international & local eateries.
While roaming around Le Plateau, find a few moments of patience to stand in the perpetual line-up at Schwartz’s Deli, the (sometimes disputed) birthplace of the world-famous Montreal smoked meat sandwich.
Mount Royal Park (Parc Mont-Royal)
If you’ve got a little extra juice in the tank, try to carve out an hour or two to check out Mount Royal Park (Parc Mont-Royal).
This massive urban greenspace, blanketing the city’s namesake hill, offers a relaxing escape from the city buzz with its numerous hiking trails, relaxation spots, and activities.
While you could spend an entire day on Mont Royal digging into all of its activities (especially in winter), short-term visitors should set their sights for the Kondiaronk Belvedere. This main panoramic viewpoint, set on top of Mont Royal, offers unmissable views of downtown Montreal and beyond.
While exploring Mount Royal, architecture-buffs should also check out Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal (Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal), located just outside the park.
This Roman Catholic basilica, registered as a National Historic Site of Canada, is the largest church in Canada and home to one of the world’s largest & tallest church domes.
Its Renaissance Revival exterior, Art Deco interior, and neoclassical-style crypt makes Saint Joseph’s Oratory a unique find—even if you feel as if you’re “all-churched-out” from all your travels.
If you’re looking for a relaxing way to explore Montreal, carve out some time for the Lachine Canal National Historic site.
Running through several boroughs in southwest Montreal, the Lachine Canal is a favourite relaxation spot for Montrealers and a great place to catch a breeze to a historical backdrop of old red-brick industrial buildings.
Aside from strolling or biking along the 14.5-kilometre path between the St. Lawrence River and Lac Saint-Louis, there’s a number of cool attractions & points of interest along the way including Atwater Market, Lachine Canal Park, Arsenal art contemporain Montréal in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood.
If a steady diet of Montreal smoked meat and poutine isn’t to your liking, pop over to Montreal’s Chinatown, located just minutes from Old Montreal.
Although it’s not quite as large as other Chinatowns in Canada (particularly in Toronto or Vancouver), Chinatown in Montreal is a great historic place to grab a bite to eat and wander about (especially at night).
Some delicious Chinatown restaurants to check out include:
- Restaurant Orange Rouge (106 Rue de la Gauchetière Ouest): Not just a great place to eat in Chinatown, this hip Asian-fusion restaurant also serves superb cocktails and Quebec craft beers.
- Nouilles de Lan Zhou (1006 Boulevard St-Laurent): Serving up Lanzhou-style hand-pulled noodles in a hearty beef broth, this restaurant in one of the most popular in the area.
- Pho Bac (1016 Boulevard St-Laurent): Offering some best Vietnamese fare in Montreal, this restaurant’s famous pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) is perhaps one of the best in the city.
Sprawling out over Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River, Parc Jean-Drapeau is one of Montreal’s great outdoor escapes.
Like at Mount Royal, locals love taking to the hiking & biking trails at this popular park. What makes a walk through Parc Jean-Drapeau so interesting are the works of art from local artists lining the paths along the way.
Besides the relaxation opportunities, there are a number of tourist attractions within the park boundaries including the Stewart Museum, Jean-Doré Beach, the Biosphère, Casino de Montréal, and La Ronde amusement park.
Montreal Olympic Park
If you find a little extra time while visiting the botanical gardens, head next door to Montreal Olympic Park. Built for the 1976 Olympic Games, the park features a number of attractions and events scattered throughout the year.
The most recognizable landmark at Montreal Olympic Park is the Montreal Tower. Tilted at a 45-degree angle and soaring 165 metres into the sky from the Olympic Stadium, the tower is one of the city’s most defining features. Be sure to scoot up to its Tower Observatory for some of the city’s most incredible 360-degree vistas.
One of the most interesting times to visit the park is on Fridays between May and October when food trucks roll in to serve up some of the best food in Montreal. (If you’ve ever got a hankerin’ to try Canada’s most famous national dish poutine, this is your chance!)
When to visit Montreal
Like most Canadian cities, Montreal sports a typical four-season climate ranging between hot & humid summers to sometimes bone-chillingly cold winters. Truthfully, even with the big temperature changes, there’s isn’t a time of year where Montreal is completely off limits to visitors.
The best time to visit Montreal is from March to May and from September to October. In these shoulder season months, you’ll enjoy mostly mild to warm weather without the extreme heat of summer or the major chill of winter. Occupancy rates also tend to be more favourable during these months, and is reflected in lower-than-normal accommodation prices.
Outside of the shoulder seasons, summer is another great time to visit Montreal. The summer season sees plenty of awesome festivals taking place around the city including the Montreal Jazz Festival, Just for Laughs, and Montreal Cirque Festival.
By road: Montreal is located on the Trans-Canada Highway approximately two hours east of Ottawa and about three hours west of Quebec City. Via Autoroute 20 and Highway 401, it’s a 5.5-hour drive to Toronto.
By air: Montreal is served by Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in the suburb of Dorval. There are regular direct flights to Montreal from most major Canadian cities including Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver.