Montreal is one of Canada’s most romantic and beautiful cities. This remarkable urban center is home to the highest population of French-speaking people outside of France creating a certain European vibe that can only be found in French Canada. Whether you want to take in the historic architecture of the old town or want to explore bustling downtown Montreal you will never be at a loss for fun things to do in this city.
One of the things that we love about Montreal is that is a city that can be enjoyed year-round. The summer brings incredible festivals and outdoor patio season and winter in Montreal lets you enjoy ice skating and relaxing at the unique Bota Spa. Regardless of what time of year you are planning a visit, there is something for everyone in the family.
To make your planning a little easier we have highlighted the best things to do in Montreal including shopping, outdoor activities, historical places, and top museums to visit on your stay. We do recommend at least a long weekend in the city to take advantage of all the main attractions, but you could easily spend up to 5 days here to get a real feel for the French-Canadian culture.
Top Things to do in Montreal
Located on the St. Lawrence River, Montreal is one of the best cities in Canada to visit. Cafés line the sidewalks of Old Montreal, bicycles are readily available to explore the waterfront, and grand historic buildings have stood the test of time.
Montreal is a five-hour drive from Toronto and just 3 hours from Ottawa. You can also get to Montreal by train. Traveling by Via Rail Canada – Toronto to Montreal Train
Mark Twain once called Montreal, “The City of a Hundred Steeples” and it’s clear to see why once you arrive. There are more than 650 churches in Montreal. The old cathedrals are the cornerstone of French culture and site seeing. With its European flair and old-world charm, there are so many things to do in Montreal, you won’t want to leave.
1. Explore the History of Old Montreal
Exploring Old Montreal is about taking your time and enjoying the moment. The city itself was founded in 1642 so there is a lot of historic significance to the area, but they have done a great job in combining the old with the new. Old Montreal is the perfect place to slow down and take in the vibes. You will feel like you have stepped into a little slice of Europe as you enjoy your café au lait with a soft croissant.
With well-maintained cobblestone streets, Victorian architecture, and classic street lamps lining the walkways it is easy to see why Old Montreal is such a popular attraction. Visit Place d’Arms – One of the oldest and nicest public squares in the city and watch street performers and musicians as you enjoy a drink on the terrace of a fine café. Or check out the market and go shopping in one of the many boutiques or souvenir shops in the old part of the city.
If you are planning on visiting in the winter then make sure you strap on some skates and go ice skating at Natrel Skating Rink. It is incredibly picturesque as glide by the Ferris wheel or jump on the loop that goes under the bridge. It is quite a unique ice skating experience.
Le Bateau Mouche Day Cruise – A good way to experience Old Montreal from a different perspective. Le Bateau Mouche offers classic urban cruise experiences through day and evening tours that include dinner.
First time to Montreal? Check out Beyond the Basilica. This highly-rated tour is for those who want a good overview of the city, including history, architecture, art, and favorite local spots. It starts at the Notre Dame Basilica in Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal) and ends in Plateau Mont-Royal.
Looking for accommodation, check out the complete guide of Where to Stay in Montreal for more information. Or check out try one of the hotels below our top three picks in the city.
- Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth Montreal – Loved staying in this historic Hotel where John Lennon and Yoko Ono had their bed in, Great location and full amenities. Our favorite places to stay in Montreal.
- Place Bonaventure – We loved our stay here, rooftop swimming pool, excellent modern rooms, great lobby and location. One of the best hotels in Montreal.
- Hotel Nelligan – A great stay in Old Montreal, one of the most popular hotels in Montreal for value and location.
Running through the center of Montreal, Saint Laurent Boulevard, or “Main Street of Montreal” as the locals call it, is the perfect place to do all of your shopping. With stores that range from brand-name clothing to retro and vintage choices, you can spend hours just checking out all that is on offer.
Being located at the center of Montreal Saint Laurent Boulevard is also frequently used as a reference point for directions and navigation around the city. So when you are planning out all the cool things you can do in Montreal you can use this street as your starting point.
Don’t forget to stop by one of the many local artisans that sell their wares along the sidewalk. You can be sure that you will leave with a one-of-a-kind piece that you will treasure forever and it really helps support the local artist community.
After you finished shopping on Saint Laurent Boulevard make sure to pop into one of the many cafes or restaurants and enjoy a drink or some great food. Don’t forget to visit the famous Schwartz’s Deli for the incredible Montreal Smoked Meat. If you haven’t tried this make sure you do it while you are in Montreal.
3. Attend a Festival
Montreal is a city of festivals and there always seems to be something going on. Especially in the summertime. From the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Just for Laughs Festival, Montreal Fireworks Festival, and the Cirque Festival, there’s always a celebration going on. See our complete list of the events like Fetes de Neige in Montreal, Canada here at Montreal Festivals – Celebrate Canada’s Coolest City.
Many of Montreal’s festivals take place in the Quartier des Spectacles, the city’s main culture and entertainment district featuring outdoor events and installations year-round. And a cool fact, Like Paris, France, Montreal has a Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter) It is where you’ll find plenty of cinemas, theatres, restaurants, and bars.
4. Marvel at Notre Dame Basilica
It may not be as famous as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, but Notre Dame Basilica is a proud monument in Montreal. Located in Old Montreal on Saint Paul Street (rue Saint Paul) the Montreal Notre Dame Cathedral is just as impressive inside as it is outside. This Gothic Revival basilica from the 1800s may be one of the most beautiful churches in North America and with more than 11 million people visiting it each year it is definitely one of the most popular. Make sure to go inside to witness its ornate displays of religious events.
It is worth it to take a 20 minute guided tour to get the history behind the church and the area. Admission to Nore Dame Basilica cost $4 CAD per adult and includes the guided tour. Well worth it in our opinion.
5. Hike up to Mount Royal Park
Mount Royal is one of our favorite places to visit in Montreal and is known as the go-to if you are looking for a gorgeous view of the city. Hike up the mountain to Mount Royal Park for a picnic above the city or jump on a bike. Mount Royal isn’t only a park, it’s a trendy neighborhood of Montreal offering great dining and shopping.
If you visit Montreal in the winter then you will not want to miss a visit to Mount Royal Park either. It offers some fantastic snowshoeing, ice skating, cross country skiing, and snow tubing. You can rent gear at Beaver Lake if you are unable to bring your own. It is a great place for some family fun in Montreal.
Looking for some adventurous things to do in Montreal? Book a Zipline ride in the Old Port where you’ll soar over Bonsecours lagoon and zip down a 1200-foot steel cable. With your advance ticket in hand, you’ll skip right to the front of the line of this popular Montreal attraction.
6. St Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal
While you are up in the Mount Royal area, be sure to check out another great Montreal Basilica, St. Joseph’s Oratory. Located on the west side of Mount Royal and at the highest point in the city, this Roman Catholic minor basilica is Canada’s largest church and is not to be missed. It has one of the largest church domes in the world and it is a National Historic Site of Canada.
The Basilica receives up to 2 million visitors a year, so it is extremely popular. Even if you don’t go inside it is worth it to stroll around the Garden of the Way of the Cross. This beautiful garden is decorated with 17 impressive sculptures and is the perfect escape if you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It certainly reminds us of Sacre Couer in Paris, France and like Sacre Couer, it is one of Montreal’s most iconic landmarks.
7. Eat a Fix Prix Meal
After you have explored a bit of Mount Royal Park head over to Rue Rachel and have a fantastic 5-course dinner at Apres Le Jour. Make sure to bring your own bottle of wine! One of the best things to do in Montreal is dining out. It has a passionate food culture just like they do in France.
You can find restaurants all over Montreal where diners can bring their own bottle of fine wine to enjoy while eating their Fix Prix (set meal.) Experience French Cuisine at its finest without having to think very hard about what you are going to eat. Just pick a selection off of each course and enjoy as the staff pours your wine and keeps the food coming.
8. Place Jacques Cartier
Gather at Place Jacques Cartier. This is the place to be in Montreal with outdoor terraces and views of the old port it has a feel of the Montmartre area of Paris. Street performers and artists gather in the square to entertain around the Nelson Monument, a 35-meter column erected in 1809. The square was once a public market and it has kept the flower market going paying homage to the early days of the city.
9. Crescent Street
Go out on the town for some dining and dancing on Montreal’s most vibrant street. This is where the kids and party-goers hang out. Montreal is famous for its nightlife in Canada and here is where you will find it. The drinking age in Montreal is 18 years old, so you will find a lot of Americans and youth from neighboring Ontario coming over to enjoy an early drink.
Village au Pied-du-Courant – A fun and colorful man-made beach and community spot near the water that pops up in the summer, only a short walk from the Village. Puts on events, concerts, and outdoor movies throughout the summer.
Quartier Latin and Gay Village Self-Guided Tour – If you’re more of an independent traveler, this self-guided walking tour takes you around two important and diverse neighborhoods – the Latin Quarter and the Gay Village.
10. Take a Cruise on the Saint Lawrence
From the Old Port in Vieux-Montréal, hop a riverboat to view Montreal from the Saint Lawrence River to take in the views of lovely Montreal, Canada. It is a romantic and relaxing way to enjoy the city. Different companies offer brunch, dinner, and site seeing cruises daily. There is even a tour that offers an exciting ride through a Jetboat tour through the Lachine rapids.
The St. Lawrence River is Canada’s main waterway shared with the United States, you will be sailing on one of the most important trade routes in the world. Book this St. Lawrence Sightseeing Cruise leaving from Jacques-Cartier Pier in the heart of Old Montreal as you enjoy panoramic views of the Clock Tower, Biosphère, Jacques Cartier Bridge, and Habitat 67.
11. Spend an Afternoon at the Waterfront
Pathways and parks line the waterfront. Rent yourself a quadricycle to explore the area or bring your inline skates. You can bring a picnic lunch or enjoy a famous Montreal bagel. Catch an afternoon performance of Cirque de Soleil (Montreal is where it was founded) or enjoy the most recent Imax movie before heading for dinner at one of the many restaurants.
Montreal is filled with exciting and interesting things to do. Head out of the city for excellent hiking, mountain biking, and paddling. The Laurentian Mountains are a hop skip and a jump from Montreal and are an adventure seeker’s dream destination.
12. Rent a bicycle
Montreal is a very bike-friendly city. Like many European cities, you can rent a bike with the swipe of a credit card and start exploring. You can then drop your bike off at any other rental location with are many and easy to find.
Make sure to ride along the Lachine Canal a 14 km cycling, inline skating, and walking route starting just west of the Old Port. There are bike lanes and bike paths everywhere and cyclists are aplenty in the active city of Montreal. You can also book this highly-rated cycling tour to see Montreal’s most popular attractions on two wheels including a ride on the Formula 1 track.
Beyond the Bike Lanes – This tour shows you why Montreal is one of the best biking cities in North America through local hangouts and sights that span different neighborhoods, starting from the Plateau.
13. Jean Talon Market
Follow the lead of the French and shop at the market. When in France, we love going to the market for bread and cheese, and when in Montreal, Canada, we love doing the same. Jean-Talon Market dates back to 1933 and is one of the oldest markets in Montreal. Located in Little Italy it is a lovely open-air market where you can buy locally grown fruits and vegetables, Montreal smoked meats and regional cheeses. Don’t let winter slow you down, when the weather drops, the walls go up so you can shop in warmth and comfort.
14. La Grande Roue
What city doesn’t have a giant observation wheel these days? And Montreal is no exception. Hop aboard Canada’s largest observation wheel, as you admire the city views from 60 meters in the air. The climate-controlled gondolas can be ridden year-round. Located in the Old Port on the St. Lawrence River, this offers beautiful views of the historic buildings and cityscapes. Get your entry ticket in advance here. It can be canceled at any time for a full refund.
15. Visit Montreal’s Museums
16. Château Ramezay
Located in a former governor’s residence, this museum explores 500 years of history in Quebec and Montreal through various exhibits, artifacts, and art galleries.
17. Pointe-à-Callière – Montreal’s archeology and history museum
Pointe-à-Callière (aka Montreal’s archeology and history museum) is thought of as one of the best museums in the city, and a good place to get an in-depth overview of the lengthy history of Montreal.
18. Montreal Science Centre
Located in the Old Port, The Montreal Science Centre is an interactive science and technology museum for kids and adults. It also houses an IMAX theatre. If you have kids, this is one of the best things to do in Montreal.
19. Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal (MAC)
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) ia Located on the Quartier des Spectacles which is the art and cultural centre of Montreal, MAC was Canada’s first contemporary art museum.
20. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is the largest museum in Montreal, showcasing 41,000 works of art that span centuries and a variety of different cultures, from ancient to modern. The permanent collection features an interesting look into Canadian arts but the exhibitions that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts hosts is really the star attraction. Make sure you check out what collections are being featured as they have had works from artists like Rodin and Warhol just to name a few.
St. Helen’s and Notre Dame Islands
21. Parc Jean Drapeau
Spend a day at Parc Jean Drapeau just five minutes from downtown Montreal. It is made up of two islands Saint Helen’s Island, Notre Dame Island. The islands were the site of the Expo 67 World’s Fair and it continues to attract visitors with Six Flags La Ronde Amusement Park operating here as well as the Montreal Biosphere, Montreal Casino and the Victorian Era fortifications at Saint Helen Island Fort.
One of the most unique things to do here is to get your bike and hop on the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, a 4,361-metre long car-racing track that hosts the Canadian Grand Prix. Cyclists and inline skaters take advantage of its smooth surface to do some training. There’s a great water complex and 25 km of hiking trails. Be sure to catch the Week-ends du monde which is a festival that happens every Sunday celebrating French culture and traditions through music and art.
22. Olympic Park
I love visiting Olympic parks around the world. Montreal hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics and it is still attracting visitors. Here you’ll find Olympic Stadium and the Montreal Tower, the Biodome, and Olympic Pool.
Here’s a cool fact, the Biodome plus three other buildings – The Montreal Botanical Garden, Montreal Insectarium, and the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium make up the largest natural science museum complex in Canada.
23. Montreal Botanical Garden (Jardin Botanique)
One of Montreal’s top attractions is the Jardin Botanique (Botanical Garden). Even if you are not a horticulture lover, this impressive garden has a beautiful Chinese garden reminiscent of the gardens in Suzhou, China complete with pagodas and rock gardens.
Sprawling among 185 acres, there are an impressive 20,000 plant species on display plus 10 greenhouses to explore. There is also a natural history museum and an Insectarium, which is always fun for the kids. Located in northern Plateau-Mont-Royal in Parc Maisonneuve, Jardin Botanique is at the top of many people’s things to see in Montreal.
Enjoy Montreal’s Urban Spaces
Montreal has many parks and quiet urban spaces. It is a big city with that small-town feel where you can easily get away from it all. Sneak away and enjoy some solitude at one of the below places.
24. Laurier Park
Laurier Park is another expansive urban park in the neighborhood that is the perfect spot for a picnic, or a stroll under the shady trees. There is plenty of takeaway restaurants and beautiful architecture on the streets nearby. Whenever we’re in a beautiful French city, our favorite thing to do is to slip away with a bottle of wine and have a picnic with cheese and bread to soak in the atmosphere.
25. Parc Lafontaine
An 84-acre urban park with ponds, leafy paths, outdoor swimming pools in the summer, and an outdoor ice skating rink in the winter. One of the best things to do in Montreal is to get outdoors and this is a great place to do it. Plenty of festivals take place here, there are outdoor concerts and it’s a great place for cycling.
26. Lachine Canal
The Lachine Canada is a 14.5-kilometer canal that runs from the Old Port to Lake Saint-Louis. Rent a bike from one of the local bike stands and have a beautiful ride along the canal. This National Historic Site runs between the Old Port of Montreal and Lake Saint-Louis. If you are looking for romantic things to do in Montreal, consider packing a picnic and enjoying some quiet time at one of the picnic tables along the canal.
27. Explore the Underground City
Montreal can get mighty cold in the winter and very hot in the summer but that doesn’t keep people at home. Wander the halls of the world’s largest underground city. Many Canadian cities have underground malls and walkways due to the cold weather, but Montreal takes it to the next level with over 32 km of tunnels containing restaurants, bars, shopping malls, and even concert halls!
Summers can be very hot in Montreal. Just because it is located in Canada, doesn’t mean that temperatures don’t rise in the warm months. Take a break from the heat in the cool underground and find some excellent deals in the shops. Lose yourself and see where you end up in this massive complex.
If you are in the underground city and looking for a great view of Montreal then we suggest checking out Place Ville Marie. This shopping center is connected to the underground city and it has an observatory named Au Sommet. The views of downtown Montreal and the rest of the city are amazing. And if you are up for it why not grab some dinner at Les Enfents Terribles, which is the highest restaurant in Montreal.
28. Montreal Food Tour
You simply cannot come to this city and not do a Montreal Food Tour. It is one of the best ways to explore the city and this particular food tour is the one we recommend. It lasts 3 hours and gives you a sample of a variety of cuisines from Poutine to those famous Montreal Bagels.
You explore cool restaurants in the Mile End area as well as along Saint Laurent Boulevard. What we loved most about this particular Montreal Food Tour were all of the insider tips we got from the guide. It really helped us plan what we were going to do each day. Book this food tour now!
29. Best Day Trips from Montreal
Montreal is a great central location. While visiting the city, make sure to check out some of the more popular day trips from Montreal. While I would recommend spending the night in each of the below they can be done in a day as they are only a couple of hours from the city. These are a few of our top recommendations.
Mont Tremblant is Montreal’s outdoor playground. With world-class skiing, endless hiking trails, and fantastic cuisine, there is plenty to do in Mont Tremblant for the Outdoor Lover. Read all about our tips for visiting Mont Tremblant.
Only two hours from Montreal, pop into Canada’s Capital City to see the parliament buildings, the views of Gatineau and take a cruise on the Rideau Canal. Ottawa is one of our favorite cities in Canada. While it can definitely be more than just a day trip, seeing its highlights can be done if you are short on time.
Just two and a half hours from Montreal, Quebec City is Canada’s most European city. It is Montreal to the nth degree. While I recommend staying overnight it can be done as a day trip if you want to see the highlights. Enjoy reading more about all the things to do in Quebec City.
Check out this Eastern Townships Day trip from Montreal – One of the most beautiful day trips from Montreal is to the Eastern Townships. Not many people think of this destination but this area is a popular retreat for Montreal residents. Step back in time to explore its picturesque towns in the French countryside.
Îles-de-Boucherville National Park is closer to home and is a great place to get out and see nature. This chain of islands is great for outdoor adventures like hiking and canoeing in the summer or snowshoeing and cross country skiing in the winter.
And these are the best things to do in Montreal, Quebec. Have you been to Montreal? What are your favorite attractions and day trips from Montreal?
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