Canada’s second most populated city and Quebec’s economic and cultural capital, Montreal is known for its rich history and high standard of living. The city has a distinct four-season climate, with warm-to-hot summers and cold snowy winters. Every year thousands of tourists flock to Montreal to partake in a host of year round festivals and events, musical performances, theatre shows, and fireworks competitions. Regardless of when you come or for how long you stay there is something to do for everyone.
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Day 1 Itinerary: If you have only one day in Montreal
Today, wander through one of North America’s oldest urban areas at Old Montreal. First established by French colonialists in the mid-17th century, the neighbourhood retains much of its old-world charm and you can lose yourself in the web of cobblestoned streets and laid-back atmosphere.
Watched over by the proud statue of Montreal’s founder, Paul de Chomedey, the square of Place d’Armes provides a perfect starting point for today’s self-guided walking tour of some of the city’s historic sights. Located in Old Montreal, the square, including the Notre-Dame Basilica, Canada’s first bank- The Bank of Montreal, and the oldest building in Montreal, the Saint Sulpice Seminary. The square buzzes with history and is the second oldest public space in the city.
Next Stop: Notre Dame Basilica
The first sight to visit today is the jewel of Canada’s religious heritage and one of the world’s most dramatic examples of Gothic Revival architecture, the Notre Dame Basilica. This stunning church boasts hundreds of intricately carved wooden statues, stained glass windows narrating the history of Montreal and a majestic blue ceiling speckled with gold stars. The grand interior has enough seating for up to 4,000 and regularly hosts musical events with the main concert on Christmas when thousands come to attend the performance of Handel’s “Messiah”.
Leaving the Notre Dame, follow Rue Saint-Sulpice south to Rue Saint-Paul, one of Quebec’s oldest streets. Situated in the heart of the city’s Old Town district, the street was named after the city’s first governor, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve. The cobblestone-paved street is lined with historic buildings and serves as a spot where you can immerse yourself in the lively old city vibe. Check out the multitude of restaurants, bars, and cafes; admire the old Chapel; or visit the public market. Filled with shops and galleries, the street boasts a fusion of history, culture, and entertainment.
Next Stop: Pointe-a-Calliere Museum
When you reach Rue Saint-Francois Xavier, turn right and walk to the end where the Pointe-a-Calliere Museum is. Founded in 1992, built on top of excavated buildings and water systems, you can view relics and artifacts from almost every historical period. Take advantage of interactive displays to learn about key moments in the city’s history. Not to be missed is a unique 3D introductory movie of Montreal with a fantastic light display. Look on the website to see if the museum is hosting an interesting temporary exhibit during your visit. Closed Mondays.
When you finish at the museum return to Rue Saint-Paul and continue walking east. You will end up at Place Jacques Cartier, a large, pedestrian-only square. Here you will see street artists, restaurants, cafes and many ice cream shops. At the top of the square you will see City Hall and Chateau Ramezay.
Next Stop: City Hall & Chateau Ramezay
City Hall, is one of Montreal’s most spectacular buildings, fashioned in the French Second Empire style. Marvel at the ornate balconies, grand turrets and attractive mansard roofs that decorate the exterior. Something truly spectacular at night when the building comes alive with hundreds of lights. The Hall of Honour inside, is of special interest with its striking portraits of every mayor who has held office in Montreal. Free guided tours Mon – Fri. No weekend visits. Check the schedule for times.
Chateau Ramezay: Built in the 18th century as a prestigious residence, it is now Montreal’s portal to the past and considered by UNESCO as one of the must sees before you die. Restored to its original splendor, you can relive more than 500 years of history and heritage through numerous exhibits featuring an estimated 300,000 documents, uniforms, printed works, art, paintings, furniture and more. Enjoy a breath of fresh air in the national award winning and beautiful French colonial Governor’s gardens.
Continue back east along Rue Saint-Paul and the cobblestone street will lead you to Bonsecours Market.
Lunch: The gleaming silver roof and marble façade make the Bonsecours Market a great lunch rest stop. Inside you will find three stories of galleries, artistic boutiques and restaurants offering local fare.
Next Stop: Vieux Port
When you are finished your lunch, walk down to the Vieux Port. This old historic port stretches over two kilometers along the St-Lawrence River and offers a wide variety of activities including the Science Centre with IMAX Theatre, Clock Tower, cycling paths, an urban beach, skating and Segway rentals. Or just take a rest as you watch the ships and boats coming into the harbour and enjoy the views of the river and islands. Throughout the year many festivals are held here including Matsuri Japon, Igloofest and Montreal en Lumiere.
Dinner suggestion: For a Montreal experience, try Café Cherrier. This classic French bistro has been around since 1931 and has a fantastic terrace, reasonably priced menu and an extensive wine list. 3635 St Denis St.
Tonight, for an incomparable entertainment experience spend some time at the Montreal Casino “Loto-Quebec” on the Notre Dame Island. Besides gaming you can enjoy comedy, music, theatre, live shows and more.
Day 2 Option: 2nd Day Itinerary
A great way to start your day is from the top of Mont-Royal. Being the highest point in the city (234m) the views are spectacular. This city jewel is where locals come to get a breath of fresh air on a hot day, cross country ski, walk, picnic, jog, ice skate or look out over the horizon and dream. To get to the top follow the trail from Cartier monument on the Park Avenue side for about 15 minutes or take bus #11 from Mont-Royal metro station.
You can easily spend a few hours in the 200-hectar park visiting Beaver Lake, the sculpture garden, an interpretive center and just taking in the views.
Optional: Saint Joseph’s Oratory
Optional: On the North hillside of Mount Royal is Saint Joseph’s Oratory. One of Montreal’s best kept secrets with colorful flower beds, wide lawns, towering trees and the exquisite Garden of the Way of the Cross. A unique place for peace and tranquility.
Next Stop: Rue Crescent
When you are ready to leave, walk or take the bus back down to the bottom and make your way to the lively and soulful, Rue Crescent. Popular among locals and tourists for its vast array of restaurants, cafes, art galleries and trendy clothing stores. In the evening, the area comes alive with bars, pubs and clubs. Take your time browsing and enjoying a nice lunch.
Optional: The Montreal Museum of Fine arts
The Montreal Museum of Fine arts is located at the corner of Rue Crescent and Sherbrooke. This bold, innovative museum is Montreal’s largest and one of the most prominent in Canada.
Lunch suggestion: Burger Bar Crescent (1465 Crescent St.) is famous for crafting adventurous, stacked burgers, comfort fare plus pitchers and cocktails.
Dessert suggestion: If you LOVE chocolate, pop into the quirky De La Pendulerie (2080 Crescent St.) and try one of the more than 30 varieties of hot chocolate or milkshakes.
After you’ve satisfied all your food cravings, walk east down the city’s busiest street, Rue Sainte-Catherine and enjoy the action. On Rue Peel turn south to Dorchester Square and admire the impressive Sunlife Building. This is a great photo stop as you will have a lovely view of Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral and Montreal’s tallest skyscraper. 1000 de la Gauchetiere.
Return to Rue Sainte-Catherine and continue east till you reach the McCord Museum. This research and teaching museum is dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of Canadian history using engaging old photographs and videos. Note: Wednesdays the museum is free from 5pm to 9pm.
When you finish up at the museum continue walking east along Rue Sainte-Catherine, passing by St. James church until you reach Place des Arts. From this point on the street becomes pedestrian-only.
Place des Arts is a renowned performing arts center and the largest cultural and artistic complex in Montreal. During the summer, there is always music festivals and events happening.
*Note – If you’re visiting in the winter the downtown is also famous for its underground city. You can navigate most of downtown through a network of tunnels, corridors and plazas that connect the various shopping centers and office buildings.
Tonight, take a stroll through Chinatown. Thanks to special city regulations, this vibrant nightspot for tourists and locals can continue operations well into the evening. The main street de la Gauchetiere is pedestrian only and you can experience firsthand the beautiful culture. In addition to Cantonese seafood, barbecue and dim sum you will also find Vienamese Pho eateries and merchants offering great gift ideas such as kimonos, lingerie, crafts and china. Or maybe you would like to be entertained by one of the fortune tellers!
Dinner tonight: Restaurant Beijing (92 Rue de la Gauchetiere) is a classic in the area and has been serving locals and tourists since 1989. A magical blend of Cantonese, Sichuan and Hong Kong cuisines.
3 Day Option: 3rd Day Itinerary
This morning, board the subway going east to Pie-IX station. Or take bus 185 (to Sherbrooke). In this area, you will be able to spend most of your day exploring the Biodome de Montreal, Botanical Gardens/Insectarium, Olympic Park and Tower Observatory.
Botanical Gardens & Insectarium: Contained within Maisonneuve Park, this is one of the city’s jewels and is recognized as one of the world’s greatest botanical gardens. Find yourself surrounded by over 20,000 species of flora and fauna. The expansive gardens, established in 1930, offer a mix of botany and wildlife, with the insect exhibit taking a place of pride among a host of floral displays. Reserve your tickets in advance to avoid having to queue at the entrance.
Biodome de Montreal: Just across from the Botanical Gardens is another oasis of greenery in the heart of a big city. Originally erected as one of the venues for the 1976 Olympic Games, the building now features exhibits showcasing the natural world of North and South America, including rainforests, subpolar islands, and the Atlantic oceanfront. Five different ecosystems within the biodome support thousands of plant and animal species, including reptiles, birds, mammals, and amphibians.
Tower Observatory: Next to the Biodome is the entrance to the Tower Observatory. Recognized as the “tallest man made leaning tower in the world” by the Guinness book of records. It’s awe-inspiring 45-degree angle will take your breath away when you consider the tilt of the Leaning Tower of Pisa is only 5 degrees! After taking the 2-minute, glass-encased funicular ride to the top you can admire the entire Greater Montreal region and the St. Lawrence River valley.
Also in the area to visit are the Olympic Stadium, Athlete’s Village and Olympic Pool. Home to the 1976 Summer Olympics, it has become one of the most recognized Montreal landmarks. Throughout the year, you can find lively outdoor events focused on culture, recreation and physical activity as well as some of Montreal’s best food trucks.
Lunch: The Botanical Garden Restaurant has one of the cities loveliest settings with an outdoor patio offering a visual feast of flowers, greenery and stunning Turkish tiles.
Home to the famed, Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, Montreal has a vibrant comedy scene and no evening would be complete without visiting one of the famous comedy bars. Housed in the legendary Montreal Forum is the classic “Comedy Nest”. This 160-seat cabaret style venue features well-known comics every Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Dinner: It may not be fine dining, but a must when visiting Montreal is to try the smoked meat sandwich. Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen (3895 St. Laurent Blvd) is a landmark in Montreal. Be sure to allow plenty of time for your visit as the line is often out the door.
4 Day Option: 4th Day Itinerary
Voted as the best city in North America for cycling, why not explore on a bicycle today! (Don’t’ worry, if you don’t like cycling an alternative suggestion is offered at the end) A good place to rent a bike is on Avenue del Commune at the Old Port. From here you can start right off on the bike path and they will even supply you with a suggested route map. You will pass by Place-Royale and Pointe-a-Calliere museum before you are on Lachine Canal leaving Old Montreal behind. Enjoy the views along the canal of refineries, port facilities and some of Montreal’s most exclusive condos. On the other side of the canal you will have views of Old Montreal and the high-rises of downtown.
Atwater Market is a good place for a rest stop. In this market you will find plants, flowers, vegetables and tons of specialty shops, cafes and restaurants. Pick up some food to take with you for lunch.
Notre-Dame Island can be visited as you make your way back to the city. When you cross over the bridge, get out at Notre-Dame Island. There you will find the Montreal Grand Prix (Circuit Gilles Villeveuve), a popular beach and the Casino. The island is small and can be discovered in about 30 minutes. There is a little lake, beautiful gardens and gorgeous weeping willow trees. A nice place to stop for lunch, rest and maybe cool off with an ice cream!
Getting back on the bridge, cross over to Ste. Helene Island. Here you can find the La Ronde amusement park, Stewart museum and the Biosphere as well as more great views of the city.
As you head back to Montreal over the Jacques Cartier bridge, take some pictures of the city and the St. Lawrence from this great vantage point.
Once over the bridge head back to Old Montreal and drop off your bike.
Finish off your last day with a local perspective in “The Plateau”, the cities most diverse and distinctly authentic experience. This European looking neighbourhood, with shades of Portuguese, Greek and Hebrew, attracts Montreal’s artistic elite, young painters and inspiring fashion designers. The Mile End district has an array of great restaurants including BYOBs (bring-your-own-wine restaurants), chic boutiques, colorful cafés, and decadent pastry shops.
If you take the subway to Sherbrooke station, exit and walk up one block to Cherrier. Follow this pretty street lined with trees and Victorian homes to Parc Lafontaine. This is one of Montreal’s nicest parks with lots of trees, a man-made lake (skating in the winter), ducks and many spots to sit and people watch.
Walk through the park and exit at the corner Rue Rachel and Avenue Christophe-Colomb, you will see a fire station on the corner. Avenue Christophe-Colomb is one of the prettiest streets on the Plateau. When you get to Avenue du Mont-Royal turn right. Enter this young and trendy neighbourhood full of restaurants, bars, cafes and boutique stores. Take your time browsing, enjoy a drink or sample a yummy cupcake. When you reach Rue Fabre, turn left and walk until Rue Gilford and turn left again. This street is home to the popular “green alley”. The colorfully painted doors and local art installations make it a great photo stop.
At the end of the alley you will be on St. Joseph. Continue walking two blocks east passing St. Stanislas church until you reach Avenue Laurier. This is one of the most interesting streets on the Plateau where you will find a world of style, prestige, flavours, beauty and good food. The place to see and be seen.
To celebrate your last night, take in a show at Montreal’s Mainline Theatre. Referred to as “the hippest venue” in the city, this indie theatre shows a variety of eccentric productions from improv to one woman shows and it’s located in the heart of the Plateau.
Things to know before you go:
MTL Passeport: A 2 or 3-day pass that allows access to 23 must-see attractions and unlimited public transportation. A value of over $300.
If you plan to only visit the sights mentioned in Day 3, then you can select from various packages for just those sights and a few others. A better value than paying individual entrances.
Public Transit: The public transit system in Montreal is very good and by far the best way to move around. The offer several pass options that are a great value.
Free Montreal Tours: If you would like a guided tour of the city “Free Montreal Tours” offers by donation tours of the city that give you a great introduction. The also offer paid food, culture and pub tours.
Where to stay:
Luxury: William Gray is a boutique hotel in the center of Old Montreal. Featuring local artwork, curated furnishings and stunning views of Montreal It’s the perfect balance of modern design and historic architecture.
Midrange: Hotel Manoir Sherbrooke is housed in a historic Victorian home and offers 30 unique and tastefully decorated rooms keeping with the buildings character.
Budget: Hotel St-Denis, formerly known as Hotel Pensylvania, was opened in 1929. This perfectly located hotel offers comfortable, clean rooms equipped with everything you need for an enjoyable stay at a reasonable price.