Montreal City Guide, Tours & Things to Do, Canada inner banner

Montreal City Guide, Tours & Things to Do, Canada

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos.
Montreal city guide
Montreal city guide: Explore the fascinating old city.

When 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier set foot on the river island that would become Montreal, its place as a major centre of Francophone language and culture was assured — even after the British took possession in 1760.

Today, French-Canadian joie de vivre and sophistication, mixed with a striking sense of collective creativity, plenty of gritty street art, and the odd dash of student-fuelled mayhem, makes Montreal the Great White North’s undoubted cultural capital. The city is also a hotspot for distinctive food and fashion, and there’s ample outdoor fun within easy reach.

This Montreal city guide is packed with ideas for things to see and do. Enjoy your visit.

Watch our video of ten top things to do in Eastern Canada:

10 Great Things to Do on an EASTERN CANADA ROAD TRIP | Toronto to Quebec (with Niagara Falls)

Welcome to Top Oz Tours’ YouTube Channel! In this episode of our online travel series, we bring you ten amazing things to do on a road trip through Eastern Canada from Toronto in Ontario to Quebec City in the province of Quebec.

Montreal for history lovers

With its centuries-old architecture, cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages, Old Montreal — the city’s historic heart — is a living museum.

The highlight is Gothic Revival Notre-Dame Basilica, whose sky-blue ceiling glitters with gold stars, but other places worth stopping in on a heritage stroll include Pointe-à-Callière. Layers of Montreal’s rich history are revealed at this excellent archaeological site and museum.

Montreal city guide
Montreal city guide: Notre-Dame Basilica

A deeply conservative Catholic society for centuries, Montreal was transformed in the 1960s, and showed off its fresh, modern outlook by hosting the 1967 World’s Fair, and then the 1976 Olympics. The striking geodesic dome that was Expo 67’s American pavilion (now the Biosphère environment museum) has become a symbol of Montreal, as has the Olympic Stadium. Take the funicular to the dramatically inclined torch tower’s tip for the best views in town.

Montreal city guide
Montreal Olympic Stadium. Image: Bigstock

Top cultural activities in Montreal

For many Montrealers, the city’s cultural make-up begins and ends at another stadium — the Bell Centre — where their beloved Canadiens play.

Try to catch a game while you’re in town. It’s quite an experience!

Montreal is crazy for festivals — especially in summer when the world’s biggest jazz and comedy festivals take over the city. This is the hometown for several circuses (including Cirque du Soleil), and the Montreal Cirque Festival in July is also well worth attending.

Montreal city guide
Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Image: Canadian Tourism Commission

Summer days are long and nights are often balmy, so take advantage of thousands of free alfresco festival events, as well as the international fireworks competition when the best-of-the-best pyrotechnicians dazzle over several weeks.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is a must-see, especially the collection of Inuit sculptures and Canadian landscapes by the pioneering Group of Seven. Also check out the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal’s abstract paintings by Les Automatistes. They kick-started the city’s embrace of art modernity.

Montreal city guide
Image: Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

As you explore the city, you’ll soon discover that Montreal is all about art. It’s everywhere — on alley walls, in shop windows, and on the easels of the many portrait artists in Place Jacques-Cartier. Join a two-hour street art tour along Saint Laurent Boulevard and learn about the city’s most prolific street artists and their work.

Montreal city guide
Montreal has a vibrant street art scene. Image: Bigstock

Great places to eat in Montreal

The three Montreal culinary specialities are poutine, smoked meat and bagels.

That’s right, bagels, and they’re so good they’re exported to New York. The best places to try these distinctively crisp, ever-so-slightly sweet edible hoops are the original Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel stores. At both locations you can watch the bagels being pulled from the oven 24 hours a day.

Montreal city guide
Montreal city guide: Enjoy great bagels. Image: Canadian Tourism Commission

Another gift from the Jewish community is smoked-meat sandwiches, best enjoyed at Schwartz’s Deli. But the ultimate Montreal fast-food experience is poutine at La Banquise. Also open 24/7, it’s the global epicentre for this homegrown hot mess of French fries, cheese curds and gravy.

Fine dining options include one of Canada’s most celebrated French restaurants, Toque, under the stewardship of Chef Normand Laprise. Maison Boulud at the Ritz Carlton hotel is renowned for its elegant setting and service. In the warmer months rooftop wining and dining is de rigueur, though it often eludes visitors. Ask your concierge to call and book. My insider recommendation: Terrasse Nelligan, among Old Montreal’s heritage architecture.

Montreal city guide
Image: Toque

Three-quarters of the world’s maple syrup is produced near Montreal, and the March-April harvest tempts city slickers en masse to the countryside’s cabanes à sucre (sugar shacks) for a traditional feast with free-flowing maple. Sucrerie de la Montagne is among the most charming sugar shacks. It’s open all year round.

Where to shop in Montreal

Anywhere, anytime, you can buy maple syrup in Montreal.

From candy to tea, Délices Érable et Cie is dedicated to everything maple. Le Marché des Saveurs du Québec also has an extensive maple range, along with many other regional gourmet goodies — including ice cider (a divine dessert tipple similar to ice wine).

Downtown’s Rue Ste-Catherine is one of North America’s top fashion destinations, hosting international brands including Victoria’s Secret, Zara and Sephora, as well as department stores: luxe Holt Renfrew Ogilvy, always-on-trend Simons, and Hudson’s Bay Company — founded in 1670 as a fur-trading business.

This UNESCO City of Design’s more quirky and unique retail temptations tend to be found in the inner-city neighbourhoods of Mile End and the Plateau. Good bets are Avenue du Mont-Royal (shop for stylish souvenirs at Artpop), Rue St-Denis (check out Fluevog’s funky footwear) and Boulevard St-Laurent (try Eva B for vintage clothing).

Montreal city guide
Shop up a storm in Montreal. Image: Canadian Tourism Commission

Ways to relax in Montreal

For things to do in Montreal that will leave you feeling revitalised, pretty parks and green spaces abound.

Most notable is the Montreal Botanical Garden — a vast, fascinating place well worth the entrance fee — especially during autumn’s stunning Chinese lantern display.

Mount Royal — the mini-mountain on downtown’s doorstep — is an easy option for picnics, winter sports, autumn colour and amazing city views.

Montreal city guide
Montreal city guide: Take in the city view from Mount Royal. Image: Bigstock

Hundreds of boutique breweries thrive in and around Montreal, and locals love relaxing over a sampling paddle at microbreweries like Dieu du Ciel and Messorem. Book a craft brewery tour and let someone else take care of the driving.

If you prefer high-energy relaxation, head for La Ronde amusement park and its heart-pumping rides. The park is located just one Métro stop from Downtown.

Montreal city guide
Image: La Ronde

Alternatively, take a short stroll from Old Montreal to the Clocktower Pier at the Old Port and join Jet Boating Montreal on their extremely wet and wild Lachine Rapids adventure.

For more inspiration, visit www.mtl.org.

Canada Tours & Experiences

Canada Tours, Activities & Attractions

Do you have any tips to add to our Montreal city guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Patricia Maunder

About the writer

Patricia Maunder is a freelance travel writer and arts journalist, and has worked in print, radio, and digital media. Currently based in Melbourne, she considers the Canadian city of Montreal to be her ‘other’ hometown — having lived there from 2012 to 2016. Patricia has visited all but one of the continents, and Antarctica continues to beckon — as it has done since she was a child. She enjoys culturally themed journeys and nature-based adventures.

 

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