For first-time visitors to Canada, spending one day in Montreal is a must. Montreal is the largest city in the province of Quebec, the epicentre of French-Canadian culture. It’s among the most-visited travel destinations in Canada. And many will agree: Montreal is Canada’s most fascinating urban introduction.
Embarking on a Montreal itinerary reveals a Canadian city with no rival. During your first 24 hours in Montreal, you’ll walk along cobblestone streets. You’ll pass by French colonial buildings in Old Montreal. You’ll stroll through neighbourhoods where you won’t hear a single English word spoken. A layover in Montreal reminisces of old Europe—with a contemporary Canadian twist.
Need help planning where to go in Montreal in one day? Get started with this complete 1-day Montreal itinerary.
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Where to go in Montreal in one day: A complete 1-day itinerary
As with most of our one-day city travel plans, your first 24 hours in Montreal will be jam-packed with fun. It includes stops at significant cultural sites & interesting attractions throughout Montreal. We’ve also included a few shopping & dining destinations to even things out.
To begin your Montreal itinerary, you’ll start west of the city centre. You’ll get acquainted with a typical central Montreal neighbourhood. Afterwards, you’ll work your way through the downtown area near St. Lawrence River. This is where much of the magic lies for tourists.
You’ll visit museums, historic sites, and botanical gardens. You’ll also taste the local flavours of Montreal and shop at busy public markets.
With your time mostly spent on foot in the centre, you won’t see everything in Montreal in 24 hours. Return for a longer trip itinerary to 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 up with delicious food at Jean-Talon Market (Marché Jean Talon). This large open-air market in Little Italy offers an abundance of local food options. Both visitors and locals alike love roaming the stalls here.
The market opens at 7am. Visiting should be one of the first things to do in Montreal while you wait for everything else to open. The market includes both indoor and outdoor space. About 300 vendors set up shop here 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. About 20 specialty boutiques set up shop in its underground parking area. Above ground, whole foods, such as meat and produce, are most common.
You’ll also come across vendors with prepared meals and street food-style delicacies. Find something tasty to start your day as you soak up the smells and sounds of this bustling marketplace.
Browse exotic flowers at the Montreal Botanical Garden
Got some 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. The bus line doesn’t provide a convenient route here.
It’ll take a little over an hour on foot or 20 minutes by taxi to the Montreal Botanical Garden. The garden is located in Parc Maisonneuve in the Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie area.
The path here winds through several residential neighbourhoods bursting with charming homes. The garden sits to the northeast of these neighbourhoods, next to Montreal Olympic Park.
After marvelling at the plants, you’ll have a couple other options. You can check out the insects at the Montreal Insectarium. Or, if that’s not to your taste, explore different ecosystems inside the Biodome. Unless you skip one or two of the stops on this 24-hour Montreal itinerary, you won’t have time for both.
The Insectarium is located behind the botanical garden. Take note, however, that it’s currently undergoing renovations. It’s expected to reopen in 2021.
The Biodome is a short walk from the garden and insectarium. As with the insectarium, it’s been renovated. It reopened to visitors in December 2019.
If you miss out on both attractions, you could check out Montreal Olympic Park. 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. Today, it includes a few historic sites and several commercial developments.
The area surrounding Old Port is home to dozens of small shops & cafes. It’s a kitschy area with lots of gift shops and souvenirs. Not far away, though, you’ll also find impressive antique stores and boutiques.
Old Port has a wide variety of activities, including an IMAX theatre and the Montreal Clock Tower. The area is also home to the Montreal Science Centre, a fun spot for kids and families. You’ll also find the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History (Pointe-à-Callière Museum) nearby.
Since you’re tight on time, skip out on visiting these attractions. Spend a little time shopping & enjoying the scenery as you stroll through the port area. You might also want to spare a half hour or so for a spin on La Grande Roue de Montréal. This 60-metre-high Ferris wheel offers excellent views over the city and river.
Stroll through Old Montreal
Located next 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. It was first settled by the French while establishing their New France colony in North America.
Walking around Old Montreal feels more like hanging out in Belgium or France than in Canada. The architecture here is nothing short of spectacular. Understandably, it’s an extra charming neighbourhood for visitors.
Start your exploration of Old Montreal at Place Jacques-Cartier. It’s the district’s main square, located close to the entrance to Old Port. To the north and south of Place Jacques-Cartier, runs Rue Saint-Paul. This main pedestrian artery surges through the area’s core.
Walk either direction along Rue Saint-Paul. You’ll discover a barrage of cool restaurants & bars and small souvenir shops. There’s also handful of attractions worth a gander. Keep on the look out for 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
While walking through the port area, you may have caught a glimpse of a large basilica to the southwest. Head towards it. You won’t be disappointed. (We promise.)
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal (Basilique Notre-Dame) sits on the southern edge of Vieux Montreal on Place d’Armes. It’s impossible to miss. The exterior of Notre-Dame Basilica stands out with its symmetrical Gothic Revival-style architecture. But you’ll need to step inside to truly appreciate the basilica.
The interior of Basilique Notre-Dame is incredibly detailed. It features a wide range of colours and hundreds of intricate carvings.
The main hall of Notre-Dame Basilica is massive. It’s centred by a domed stained-glass ceiling. Dozens of large statues of religious figures ring the church.
The best way to experience the basilica is with an English tour. On a tour, you’ll enjoy a light show timed to live organ music. It delivers a dazzling display of lights across the stained-glass windows.
Travel the barren tunnels of the Underground City
The Underground City is down the street from the basilica. It’s one of the more interesting destinations to include on your Montreal itinerary.
The subterranean walkway includes a network of tunnels under central Montreal. They 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.
Large portions of the underground network remain undeveloped. But the Underground City still 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. Here, you can access Place Ville-Marie, Central Station, several hotels, and the Complexe Desjardins shopping mall. Explore it to find something to eat or buy some souvenirs.
View the city from the observatory at Place Ville-Marie
After spending time below the earth, continue your day in Montreal from above. Way above.
The Underground City connects to Place Ville-Marie, once the tallest building in Canada. Here, you’ll travel 46 storeys into the sky to get panoramic city views at its observatory.
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. It should be a cinch to point out the landmarks that you’ve visited throughout the day.
The entrance fee for the observatory is a bit expensive on its own. It’s included with the Montreal Tour Passport though.
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 art museum is one of the most prominent museums in Canada.
The museum’s permanent collection 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, be sure to take a look.
The only drawback is the size of the crowd. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most popular museums in Canada. Millions of visitors explore its halls 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 different options for ending your tour of Montreal in 24 hours.
If you’re looking for a relaxing end to the day, travel back down to the river for fine dining & wine in Old Montreal. For those looking for excitement & entertainment, travel north to the Quartier des Spectacles. The district starts north of the Ville-Marie borough.
The former red-light district of Montreal, the area was once home to many cabarets and strip clubs. Most were centred around Rue Sainte-Catherine (Saint Catherine Street), the district’s heart. Fortunately, the city has cleaned up the area in the past couple decades.
As part of an urban renewal project, some of the strip clubs were moved out of the area. It’s more family-friendly now with less prostitution and gambling compared to the past.
The Quartier des Spectacles is still the centre of the nightlife scene in Montreal. It’s a fun place to explore in the evening.
The northern edge of the area is known as Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter). It’s 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. It’s a great alternative to the nightclub scene of Rue Saint-Catherine and Boulevard Saint-Laurent.
Where to stay with 24 hours in Montreal
Although it’s Canada’s second-biggest city, choosing where to stay in Montreal is fairly simple. For travellers with a quick layover in Montreal, the city centre is the best place to start your accommodations search. Staying in central Montreal, you’ll be close to most of the stops on this itinerary.
- Hotel Epik Montreal occupies a historical building in Old Montreal. This lovely boutique hotel features one of the best locations in Montreal for sightseeing. You’ll love the decor. It blends contemporary elements with classic European motifs. The terrace and common area are also comfortable & relaxing.
- Courtyard by Marriott Montreal Downtown is a popular high-rise hotel in the centre of town. It’s surprisingly affordable for a city not known for bargain accommodations prices. The indoor rooftop pool and on-site restaurant offer excellent views over the CBD.
- Renaissance Montreal Downtown Hotel is steps away from Place Ville-Marie. This hotel draws plenty of guests thanks to its superb location. The rooms here are super stylish and spacious for Montreal standards. The rooftop bar is a brilliant perk.
- W Montreal Hotel is a sleek 5-star hotel located in the former Banque du Canada building on Victoria Square. This luxury hotel charms with its eye-popping modern style and host of amenities. They include a well-equipped fitness centre; several bars, restaurants & lounges; and a spa.
More Montreal itinerary ideas
Le Plateau-Mont-Royal is one of Montreal’s most interesting neighbourhoods. It’s a fantastic place to wander around if you’ve got some spare moments in your Montreal trip.
This ultra-liveable area is super charming for visitors. Le Plateau-Mont-Royal teems with colourful historic townhouses, beset by wrought-iron staircases and terraces. There’s also a handful of great greenspaces here. Find time to unwind in Parc La Fontaine and Jean-Mance Park.
Wherever you roam 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. You’ll also find a handful of great international & local eateries in the area.
Got a few moments of patience while roaming around Le Plateau? Tough out the perpetual line-up at Schwartz’s Deli. The deli is known as the (sometimes disputed) birthplace of the world-famous Montreal smoked meat sandwich.
Mount Royal Park (Parc Mont-Royal)
Got extra juice in the tank? Carve out an hour or two to check out Mount Royal Park (Parc Mont-Royal). This massive urban greenspace blankets the city’s namesake hill. Mount Royal offers a relaxing escape from the city buzz. You’ll find several hiking trails, relaxation spots, and activities here.
You could spend an entire day on Mont Royal digging into all its activities, especially in winter. Short-term visitors, though, should set their sights for the Kondiaronk Belvedere. Set on top of Mont Royal, the belvedere is the hill’s main panoramic viewpoint. It offers unmissable views of downtown Montreal and beyond.
While exploring the summit, architecture buffs should also check out Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal. Also known as Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, it’s located just outside the park.
The Roman Catholic basilica is registered as a National Historic Site of Canada. It’s the largest church in Canada and home to one of the world’s largest & tallest church domes.
Even in a city full of churches, Saint Joseph’s Oratory is a unique find. Its Renaissance Revival exterior, Art Deco interior, and neoclassical-style crypt are stunning. Even if you feel as if you’re “all-churched-out” from all your travels, it’s worth a stop.
Looking for a relaxing way to explore Montreal? Carve out some time for the Lachine Canal National Historic site.
The Lachine Canal runs through several boroughs in southwest Montreal. It’s a favourite relaxation spot for Montrealers. The canal is great place to catch a breeze to a backdrop of historical red-brick industrial buildings.
If you have time, you can stroll or bike along the canal’s main path. The path stretches 14.5 kilometres between the St. Lawrence River and Lac Saint-Louis. You’ll also find several cool attractions & points of interest near Lachine Canal Park. Grab spices & gourmet food at Atwater Market. Or browse art at Arsenal art contemporain Montréal in Little Burgundy.
If a steady diet of Montreal smoked meat and poutine isn’t to your liking, pop over to Montreal’s Chinatown. The area is minutes from Old Montreal.
Chinatown in Montreal isn’t not quite as large as other Chinatowns in Canada, particularly in Toronto or Vancouver. But it’s a great historic place to grab a bite to eat and wander about. The district is especially colourful at night.
Looking for Chinatown’s best eats? Some delicious Chinatown Montreal restaurants to check out include:
- Restaurant Orange Rouge (106 Rue de la Gauchetière Ouest). This hip Asian-fusion restaurant is a favourite place to eat in Chinatown for locals. Aside from its tasty dishes, it serves superb cocktails and Quebec craft beers.
- Nouilles de Lan Zhou (1006 Boulevard St-Laurent). This restaurant serves up Lanzhou-style hand-pulled noodles in a hearty beef broth. It’s one of the most popular eating joints in the area.
- Pho Bac (1016 Boulevard St-Laurent). This restaurant offers up some of the best Vietnamese fare in Montreal. Its famous pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) is one of the best in the city.
Parc Jean-Drapeau sprawls out over Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame in the Saint Lawrence River. The popular park is one of Montreal’s great outdoor escapes.
Like at Mount Royal, locals love taking to the hiking & biking trails at Parc Jean-Drapeau. Interesting works of art from local artists line its paths. It adds an element of intrigue to a walk or a bike ride here.
Besides the relaxation opportunities, there are several tourist attractions within the park boundaries. The most popular include 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 several attractions. Events are also scattered throughout the year here.
The most recognizable landmark at Montreal Olympic Park is the Montreal Tower. The tower tilts at a 45-degree angle and soars 165 metres into the sky from Olympic Stadium. It’s is one of the city’s most defining features. Be sure to scoot up to its Tower Observatory for incredible 360-degree vistas of Montreal.
One of the most interesting times to visit the park is on Fridays between May and October. During this time of year, food trucks roll in to serve up some of the best food in Montreal. (If you’ve 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. The year ranges between hot & humid summers to sometimes bone-chillingly cold winters. Even with the big temperature changes during the year, Montreal is never 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 mild to warm weather. You’ll also skip the extreme heat of summer and the major chill of winter. During these months, occupancy rates tend to be more favourable. It’s reflected in lower-than-normal accommodation prices.
Outside the shoulder seasons, summer is another great time to visit Montreal. The summer season sees plenty of awesome festivals taking place around the city. Most popular are the Montreal Jazz Festival, Just for Laughs, and Montreal Cirque Festival.
Montreal is located on the Trans-Canada Highway. It’s approximately two hours east of Ottawa and three hours west of Quebec City. Via Autoroute 20 and Highway 401, it’s a 5.5-hour drive to Toronto.
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. Popular air routes include Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver.