Need the perfect urban primer for your first trip to Canada? Start with the best things to do in Montreal.
As much as I love spending time in other major Canadian cities, none compels me more than Montreal. The top tourist attractions in Montreal number among the country’s best. Wandering anywhere in Canada’s second-biggest city, you’ll stumble upon upon something worth exploring.
On Montreal’s streets, the French influence is unmistakable. Walking around Old Montreal offers rare European flair in North America. In visiting Montreal, you’ll also sample some of Canada’s best food. Famous Canadian dishes like poutine and Montreal smoked meat will please foodies’ palates. Looking for fine dining? Yep, Montreal’s got that, too.
Not sure what to do in Montreal? Fill out your days with this guide to the best places to visit in Montreal.
Top tourist attractions in Montreal
Wander around Old Montreal
Only got one day in Montreal? Start by strolling among the charms of Old Montreal. Montreal’s historic core is the most interesting quarter of the city. Explore it to its fullest. It’s not an experience you’ll shake anytime soon!
If you’ve got a hankering for Europe, you’ll get your fill in Old Montreal. Wander among the cobblestone streets, lined by atmospheric 17th-century heritage architecture. The historic buildings hide hip restaurants, brasseries, art galleries, and souvenir shops.
Start exploring Old Montreal along Rue St-Paul (Saint-Paul Street). Much the city’s most compelling old architecture radiates from here. (And, of course, some of the most Instagrammable places in Montreal are nearby.)
While exploring, leave time to enjoy a relaxing stroll along the Old Port. The Old Port (Vieux-Port de Montréal) is located along the eastern edge of the district.
In summer, cool down with an ice cold bière artisanale or ice cream at Place Jacques-Cartier. The always bustling square sits at the centre of the historic area.
Stroll around the Old Port (Vieux-Port de Montréal)
Old Port (Vieux-Port de Montréal) sits on the edge of Old Montreal. The historic area is among the top places to see in Montreal for tourists.
The Old Port area stretches about two kilometres along the banks of the St. Lawrence River. In Montreal’s heyday, it was the city’s main trading port.
These days, the Old Port of Montreal is home to a handful of kitschy souvenir shops and food trucks. You’ll also find several amusing attractions here.
Look out for the historic Montreal Clock Tower. Also known as Sailor’s Memorial Clock, the landmark will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2022. (Currently closed to visitors.)
For a most adventurous outing, careen through the Tyrolienne MTL Zipline. Keen on learning instead? The Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History (Pointe-à-Callière Museum) and Montreal Science Centre are also close by. They’re among the top family-friendly attractions in Montreal.
Looking to catch some big views of the city on your trip to Old Port? Hop onto the La Grande Roue de Montréal. This 60-metre-high Ferris wheel is the largest observation wheel in Canada. A spin on it will deliver 360-degree views over the city centre and the St. Lawrence River.
Marvel at Notre-Dame Basilica
Notre-Dame Basilica is one of Canada’s most recognizable landmarks and one of the top things to see in Montreal. Notre-Dame Basilica sits upon Place d’Armes on the edge of Montreal’s old town.
Beautiful churches aren’t rare Montreal, but Notre-Dame is special. The exterior is built in a stunning symmetrical Gothic Revival style. It’s the inside, though, that’ll take your breath away.
Entering the main hall of the church, you’re greeted by a lofty stained-glass dome. It’s flanked by intricate religious sculptures along the walls. You’ll also see a spectacular 7,000-pipe organ.
To get the most out of your visit to the church, book yourself onto a guided tour in English.
Gaze upon the city from above at Mont-Royal
Plenty of greenery awaits in Canada’s second-biggest city. No park in Montreal is more worthy of your attention though than Mont-Royal.
Mont-Royal spreads out over 200 hectares and enjoys the highest point in Montreal. The park presents a relaxing escape from the bustle of the city below. It’s a favourite recreation spot for Montrealers.
Besides strolling around Mount Royal, don’t miss out on the chance to scope out the city from above. For the best views of downtown Montreal, head to the Belvédère Kondiaronk. The popular observation point is located near the centre of the park.
Visit in autumn to catch Mont-Royal at its best under a lovely blanket of fall colours.
Relax in the Montreal Botanical Garden
Looking for more great greenspaces in Montreal? One of the best things to do in Montreal is to explore the Montreal Botanical Garden.
The 80-year-old garden is one of the finest botanical gardens in the world. Within its 30 themed gardens and 10 greenhouses, it assembles over 22,000 plant species.
Wandering about the Montreal Botanical Garden is like taking a trip around the world. The garden’s areas invite you to explore the native flora of several world regions. The largest exhibitions include Asia, and, of course, North America.
In the area next to the gardens you’ll also find a handful of other Montreal top points of interest. Attractions include Space for Life, Montreal Insectarium, the Biodome, and Montreal Olympic Park.
Grab fresh produce at Jean-Talon Market
Jean-Talon Market opened in 1933 in Montreal’s Little Italy neighbourhood. It’s one of the largest open-air markets in North America and among the most interesting places to visit in Montreal.
Jean-Talon Market is the perfect escape in Montreal for culture lovers & foodies. The merchant stalls here offer a wide array from fresh produce and international & local Quebec specialities. You’ll find fresh local fruits & vegetables, artisan cheese & meats, and herbs & spices.
Aside from picking up fresh-to-eat food, Jean-Talon Market offers several workshops and demonstrations. They help get patrons better acquainted with the Montreal food scene.
Browse the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal) features over 44,000 works of art. It’s not just one of the best museums in Montreal, but on of Canada’s most eminent art galleries.
Perusing the museum, you’ll find thousands of paintings from local, national, and European artists. Historical artifacts celebrating the history of Quebec and Canada also await.
Not interested in browsing art exhibitions? The architecture of the museum’s buildings is also worth checking out. It spans several different styles from neoclassical to modern.
After your visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, slip next door to Crescent Street, one of Montreal’s most popular eating & drinking streets.
Stroll along the Lachine Canal
The Lachine Canal flows through southwest Montreal between Old Port and Lac Saint-Louis. The Lachine Canal National Historic Site is one of Montreal’s most popular recreation spots. For locals & travellers alike, it’s a fantastic place to escape the bustle of downtown.
Most visitors experience Lachine Canal Park with a walk or a bike ride. The park’s canal-side path stretches out over 14.5 kilometres.
As you enjoy the fresh air, you’ll wind past several historical attractions. You’ll see several historic red-brick factories that speak to the canal’s industrial past.
Several other more “modern” places to visit also await along the way. For modern art, detour into the Arsenal art contemporain Montréal in Little Burgundy. Or shop for gourmet foods & spices at Atwater Market.
Chow down in Chinatown
So, maybe Montreal’s Chinatown won’t feed your East Asia cravings as well as Old Montreal fulfills your European ones. That doesn’t mean you should miss out on one of the city’s most interesting cultural corners!
Compared to other North American Chinatowns (like Toronto, San Francisco or Vancouver), Montreal’s is a tad cozy. It stretches out little more than a block in either direction.
Of course, the main reason to visit Chinatown isn’t just for sightseeing. Explore the area to get a taste of its Asian delights with French-Canadian twist.
Here are a couple of my favourite places to eat in Chinatown:
- Nouilles de Lan Zhou (1006 St Laurent) is a Chinatown favourite. The restaurant serves Lanzhou-style hand-pulled noodles in a hearty beef broth.
- Restaurant Orange Rouge (106 Rue de la Gauchetière Ouest) is a hip Asian-fusion restaurant. It’s most popular for serving superb cocktails and Quebec craft beers.
- Pho Bac (1016 St Laurent) is a Montreal classic. The restaurant delivers some of the city’s best Vietnamese fare. Pop in for a taste of their famous pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup).
Delight in a Montreal smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s Deli
I apologize in advance to all my vegan friends. But it would be blasphemy to suggest visiting Quebec’s biggest city without trying a Montreal smoked meat sandwich.
Montreal smoked meat is one of the most famous Canadian foods. It’s prepared much like the pastrami of New York. The main difference is that it’s soaked to reduce the salt content. As the name implies, it’s smoked slightly longer to add flavour.
The most famous place to try Montreal smoked meat is Schwartz’s Deli on Boulevard St-Laurent. Their brisket, served on rye bread with Kosher pickles and mustard, is a gem. It’ll leave your mouth-watering for days to come!
Don’t have the patience to wait in the round-the-clock, round-the-corner line-up at Schwarz’s Deli? Try out Lester’s Deli in Outremont, a small family-run diner.
Get some fresh air at Parc Jean-Drapeau
Stretched out over two islands in the St. Lawrence River, Parc Jean-Drapeau is a massive greenspace that’s a favourite escape for locals and one of the best places to catch a breather when you visit Montreal.
The most endearing feature of Parc Jean-Drapeau is the 25-kilometre network of hiking & biking trails lined with artwork and sculptures by local artists.
On the two islands (Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame), you’ll also find several worthwhile tourist attractions. They include Stewart Museum, Jean-Doré Beach, the Biosphère, and Casino de Montréal. La Ronde amusement park takes up the upper half of Île Sainte-Hélène, north of the Jacques Cartier Bridge.
Get a history lesson at the McCord Museum
The McCord Museum offers one of the largest collections of historical artifacts in North America. It’s one of the best museums in Montreal and one of the city’s top cultural attractions.
The museum is located across the street from McGill University. It’s well-known for its eclectic exhibitions. The exhibits cover topics as varied as fashion, hockey, indigenous art & textile materials.
There’s more to visiting McCord Museum than browsing its massive collection. The museum also runs historical walking tours in the summer tourist season. Join in to take in all the sights & sounds of downtown Montreal.
Chase excitement in the Quartier des Spectacles
The Quartier des Spectacles is located just north of the Ville-Marie borough. The area is Montreal’s most famous nightlife & entertainment destination. To experience Montreal at night, it’s one of city’s most electric corners.
The district wasn’t always so savoury. It was once home to Montreal’s notorious red-light district and many—ahem!—”gentlemen’s clubs.” In recent years, The Quartier des Spectacles has moved out most of its less wholesome tenants. It’s shed it’s former shady reputation to become a safe & fun downtown nightlife area.
If you’re visiting in summer, the area hosts several popular festivals & events. The world-famous Just For Laughs comedy festival takes place in the neighbourhood.
Looking for more nightlife options? Check out the Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter), in the area’s northern fringes.
Rue Saint-Denis in the Latin Quater is well-known for its terrace bars & restaurants. The street is a less raucous alternative to the infamously wild nightclubs along Rue Saint-Catherine and Boulevard Saint-Laurent.
Watch a Montreal Canadiens game at the Bell Centre
Disclaimer: I’m fourth-generation Toronto Maple Leafs fan. I can already picture my grandfather & great-grandfather rolling in their graves at this next suggestion. But I can’t, with good conscience, leave it out.
Visiting Montreal in winter? Don’t leave without immersing yourself into the chaos of a Montreal Canadiens game.
Even if you’re not Canadian, I’m sure you’re aware that hockey is like a religion in Canada. And alongside Toronto, Montreal is sacred ground for hockey fans.
Watching a Montreal Canadiens game live will shake the stereotype that Canadians are polite & mild-mannered. (In fact, you might discover quite the opposite!)
Ready to embrace the insanity of hockey in Canada? Check availability for Montreal Canadiens tickets here.
Explore Mile End in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal
On my many visits to Montreal, I try to venture off into unfamiliar parts of the city. On my last trip, I found myself wandering into Mile End. This gem of a neighbourhood is, undoubtedly, one of the chillest places to hang out in Montreal.
Mile End is a small enclave of the diverse Le-Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood. Plying the streets, you’re met with hip restaurants and vintage clothing & record shops. You’ll also enjoy hangin’ out in relaxed cafés and brasseries squeezing out Quebec’s best pints.
At night it’s a whole different story in Mile End with trendy cocktail bars and live bands setting the scene.
To scope out the best shops & hangouts in Mile End, start exploring Rue Bernard, Rue St-Viateur and Avenue Fairmount.
Munch on a Montreal-style bagel at St-Viateur
Like trying smoked meat, eating a traditional Montreal-style bagel should be high on your list of things to do in Montreal.
Let me fight on behalf of my fellow countrymen. The bagels in Montreal trump their brethren in New York City, the other Mecca of the bagel universe.
(This New York vs Montreal food battle seems to be a thing, no?)
Both New-York-style and Montreal-style bagels are boiled in water before getting baked.
The biggest difference—and the critical factor in the taste—is that the bakers here immerse their bagels in water sweetened with honey. The bagels are then baked in a wood-burning oven for a sweeter taste and crispier texture.
To drool over the best bagels in Montreal, head to the famous St-Viateur Bagel Shop (263 Rue Saint-Viateur Ouest). Alternatively, check out Fairmount (74 Avenue Fairmount Ouest) in Mile End. Both shops are open 24/7.
Explore the Underground City
Less mysterious than it sounds, Underground City is a modern network of tunnels underneath downtown Montreal.
The tunnels stretch out over 32 kilometres. They connect various buildings & shopping centres in the city centre. Attractions in the Underground City include Complexe Desjardins and Place Ville-Marie.
The Underground City is still not living up to its full potential. Plenty of development is still underway. Nonetheless, Underground City is still a cool place to wander around. You’ll appreciate the tunnels most if you’re visiting Montreal in winter and need refuge from the cold. (And trust me: It is cold here in winter!)
The main entrance to Underground City is at Victoria Square near Notre-Dame Basilica. You’ll also find 120 other entrances strewn throughout the city centre.
Take a day trip to Montérégie
One of the best day trips from Montreal, the Montérégie region is the perfect escape from the city. It’s great way to see & experience some historical sites and outdoor adventure in the Quebec countryside.
As the region spreads out over 11,000 square kilometres, there’s a ton to see & do in Montérégie.
Among the most popular activities on a day trip is to sip your way through the wineries & craft cideries along the Montérégie Wine Route. You can also learn how maple syrup is made at one of Quebec’s world-famous sugar shacks. Or, for your historical fix, visit the national historic site of Fort Chambly.
Where to stay in Montreal for sightseeing
Although it’s one of the biggest cities in Canada, figuring out where to stay in Montreal isn’t such a challenge. Most travellers would do well to settle within the downtown core. The areas in & around Old Montreal, Quartier des Spectacles, and the financial district are best for visitors. They’re close to many of the top points of interest in Montreal.
- Hotel Epik Montreal is located in the heart of Old Montreal. This boutique hotel is perfect for travellers thanks to its fantastic location. The rooms blend eye-popping modern elements with classic features like exposed wood beams & stone feature walls. The terrace and common areas are super relaxing.
- Courtyard by Marriott Montreal Downtown is surprisingly affordable for the downtown core. This mid-range hotel features comfortable and spacious rooms with great city views. You’ll love a chance to unwind in the indoor rooftop pool and on-site restaurant after a long day of sightseeing.
- Renaissance Montreal Downtown Hotel is located near Place Ville-Marie. This hotel is close to many of the top attractions. It’s a great option for travellers wanting to enjoy the city’s best shopping & eating. Retire to the rooftop bar for a relaxing nightcap.
- W Montreal Hotel is a fantastic luxury hotel located in the historic Banque du Canada building on Victoria Square. W Montreal is in a league of its own with its stunning contemporary style. The amenities here are superb. They include a fitness centre, spa, and several on-site bars & restaurants.