TRAVEL GUIDE TO MONTREAL
Montreal. It’s a city known to be the “Paris of North America”, standing out from other cities in Canada like Toronto and Vancouver with Montreal’s blend of French and English culture so unique from other cities on the continent. If you are in town for a week or a weekend, this is a guide filled with things to do in Montreal. An LGBTQ-friendly, historically rich city (just let the architecture speak for itself) with a trendy, progressive, and hip culture, Montreal offers plenty to discover. Accessible by plane, train and bus, all centrally-located within the island of Montreal make it an ideal stop on any North American trip.
Read: 7 Reasons to Visit Montreal (Despite the Cold)
What to see in Montreal
Mount Royal: This is the heart of the city and where Montreal got its name. There are hiking paths along the mountain for any level of experience. Be sure to get to the Mount Royal Chalet for excellent views of the downtown area for sunrise or sunset. Along the eastern slope of the mountain is where the city’s beloved Tam-Tams take place on Sunday afternoons. Montreal’s Tam-Tams is open to people of all ages to enjoy the outdoors and sounds from the drum-circle which forms around the George-Etienne Cartier monument overlooking Avenue du Parc. Held weekly from April to October, weather permitting.
Old Montreal: Home of the historic Old Port of Montreal, or “le Vieux-Port”. The early French colonists used this area of the St-Lawrence River for their fur trade and it transformed into one of the country’s major trading ports. It’s now one of the city’s biggest tourist draws and hosts a number of activities and cultural events in the winter and summer by the water. Come and explore the huge Marche Bonsecours and Notre-Dame Basilica, venture a block or two from the port to experience some of the art galleries, walk along the cobblestone roads, and see where this European-feel truly comes alive.
Ste-Catherine Street: This main street in downtown Montreal is home to The Underground City, which is a series of over 1600 shops and services in a few large underground malls. You can connect to it from the street or via the Montreal Metro system, between Peel and Place-Des-Arts stations.
Montreal Botanical Gardens: Large botanical garden with four main gardens, along with a variety of plants from around the world in greenhouses that are open to the public year round, even in winter. The most notable of the gardens is the Chinese Garden which features the Gardens of Light, a nightly lantern exhibit that takes place every fall. General admission tickets are $20.50 which includes entrance to the neighboring Insectarium.
Museums and Markets
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: The MMFA is the most popular art museum in the country. There are rotating exhibitions from international to Canadian, Quebec, and Inuit artists, they host some of the city’s biggest cultural events and have the best collection of art in the city. Free admission the last Sunday of every month for the collections and discovery exhibitions. $23 general admission for 31 and older and $15 for 15-30 gives you access to all exhibitions.
Centre d’Histoire de Montreal: This is a museum dedicated to telling stories that helped define Montreal as a city. Temporary exhibitions vary from the history of brothels and organized crime to a current immersive exhibit which recounts the time during Montreal’s Expo 67 through the experience and eyes of the youth. $7.50 for adults/$5 for students & seniors.
Montreal Museum of Contemporary Arts: This other art museum is located right next to Place-Des-Arts in the center of the Quartier des Spectacles. Free entrance with a student card and half price for everyone else between 5-9 on Wednesday evenings. General admission is $19/14 for students.
All 3 museums are a part of the Montreal Museums Pass.
Atwater Market: Only a block away from the central metro station of Lionel-Groulx, this beautiful outdoor market houses local farmers selling a variety of produce available in season. There are lots of organic options, small food stalls and little shops as well. Just past the market is the Lachine Canal – a scenic spot for a bike ride or walk with a path that stretches miles along the southern edge of the island.
Jean-Talon Market: One of the city’s largest outdoor markets. Jean-Talon Market is a foodie’s dream and a frenzy of local farmers selling local and international products, excellent restaurants, and shops around the produce stalls from third wave coffee, spices, baklava, crepes – the list goes on. This market is a great place to sample fresh fruits and vegetables in season. The vendors are so friendly and eager to strike up a conversation. Some speak English and it’s also a good place to practice your French. Open daily starting at 7 a.m.
Where to Eat in Montreal
Schwartz’s Deli: Schwartz’s serves one of the city’s best smoked meat sandwiches in a no-frills setting. This is a popular tourist spot deli and a wait for a table any time of the year can be over an hour. The real draw of this place is the location – right in the heart of “The Main”.
Lester’s Deli: An alternative choice for smoked meat and classic deli dining is Lester’s along Bernard Avenue in the Mile-End. More seats, less waiting, and more variety when it comes to spices and charcuterie.
Frite Alors: Specializes in Belgian fries, this restaurant serves excellent poutine. Poutine is Quebec and Canada’s signature dish and it isn’t hard to find in Montreal. There are a few locations throughout the city.
Fairmount: After poutine, the bagel is what Montreal’s best known for when it comes to food. This bagel bakery on Fairmount just off St-Laurent Boulevard is the only branch in the city and it was originally opened in 1919. The bagels are made fresh and right in front of your eyes. Be sure to purchase some of their homemade cream cheese. No seats here – just grab a brown bag filled with this glutinous goodness and go. Open 24 hours a day.
Atomic Cafe: In search of something a little more underground? This cafe in Montreal’s Hochelaga district, just east of the downtown core, is a great place to start. They host music events and serve vegetarian fare and coffees all day long. Welcoming environment to sit and work for a few hours.
Montreal Vegetarian and Vegan Food
Aux Vivres: One of the best restaurants in Montreal for vegetarian and vegan fare. This restaurant has become an iconic eatery for foodies. They’ve recently expanded and Aux Vivres now sells their own line of foods, soups, and sauces. There’s a weekend brunch menu and delicious sandwiches served on chapati wraps.
Montreal Coffee Crawl
Au Kouign-Amann: If you are truly looking for a taste of France in Montreal, this little bakery is the place to go. A secret even with locals, their specialty is the kouign amann, a pastry from Brittany. They have a soup of the day, cafe au lait, and a lot of delicious pastries. There are only a few seats by the window and it’s a cozy spot in the middle of the Plateau.
Caffe Della Pacce: Wholesome and homemade vegetarian food in a simple and cozy cafe setting in Outremont.
Where to Drink in Montreal
Bar de Courcelle: This is a trendy watering hole in St-Henri, a neighborhood that’s undergone a revival in recent years. There’s often a live DJ on weekends, and they have plenty of local and international beers on tap. A great choice if you are looking for a local place in Montreal.
Atwater Cocktail Club: One of Montreal’s hottest bars and the spot to start if you want a taste of Montreal nightlife. They serve upscale and excellent signature cocktails. Go early because any night of the week it starts to fill up at 8 p.m.
Sir Winston Churchill Pub: Affectionately known as “Winnie’s” with locals, this pub has been around for years and located smack dab in the middle of the busy Crescent Street. The two-floor terrasse is perfect for people watching, especially during the summer months in Montreal. They have happy hour specials with a free buffet inside with a spread of simple snack food.
Montreal’s iconic for being a party town. The province of Quebec has the lowest legal drinking age in the country, at 18. Clubs and bars typically close by 3 a.m., which is an hour later than in neighboring provinces.
Where to Stay
Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth: This is where John Lennon and Yoko had their infamous “Bed-In for Peace” and located just a few blocks from Central Station. The Queen Elizabeth l is sandwiched between two of the city’s most notable churches – Mary Queen of the World and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Montreal used to be known as the city of churches and a walk down Rene Levesque towards the Old Port and you’ll see why.
Auberge Bishop: A welcoming hostel centrally located in a historic building along Bishop near Crescent Street, just a block away from Concordia University’s downtown campus. They host nightly events and is within walking distance to all the restaurants and pubs in the downtown core.
Alexandrie Hostel: While other popular hostel chains are coming to the city, this hostel prides itself in creating a homey atmosphere with plenty of space to cook and allow outside food and drinks to be consumed on the premises. Located close to the Latin Quarter, as well as a few metro stations and bus lines.
How to Get Around Montreal
The STM is Montreal’s bus and metro system. There are three main metro lines that serve most districts of the city center and beyond. One ride on a bus or metro is $3.25 (exact change required) and they also have a variety of offers from an unlimited weekend pass for $13.75 and weekly passes go for $25.75. The 747 bus runs from Montreal’s Trudeau Airport to Lionel-Groulx station for $10.
Bixi Bikes: The city’s public bike sharing system and the first of it’s kind in North America. There are numerous charging stations in the downtown core and it’s becoming an increasingly popular way to get around the city. The starting rate is $2.95 for a one-way trip of 30 minutes or less. The pay stations only accept credit cards.
Get In and Out
Trudeau Airport (code YUL) is Montreal’s international airport located only a 15-minute drive from the city center. The central bus terminal at Berri-Uqam station has services to other parts of the province, such as Sherbrooke and Quebec City. There’s a popular overnight bus trip between Montreal and New York City, with a stop in Albany. Plattsburgh Airport is the closest U.S airport and less than a two-hour drive from the city.