Last Updated on January 23, 2022
Montreal is an incredible city. Still retaining its French charm, you will quickly discover that Montreal is North America’s slice of Europe. You could spend a considerable amount of time exploring all that Montreal has to offer.
Here’s an essential bucket list to help you begin your Montreal adventures. From gorgeous landmarks and vibrant neighborhoods to must-try classic eats, there is much to see when you are exploring a cosmopolitan hub of culture with a rich colonial history. Use these recommendations as a starting point to having the time of your life.
Quebec is well-known as the Francophone province and is the second-largest French-speaking city in the world. Do not get intimidated though, because even if you are English speaking, you will not have any troubles exploring Montreal and finding your way around the city. Much of the city is impressively bilingual.
While we tried to speak in French as much as we could, you are usually greeted with “Hello, bonjour” and how you respond is the language you are spoken to in. Most people are accepting of both French and English Canadian culture. This was even apparent when we had smoked meat sandwiches and the hostess barely spoke any French but loved living in Montreal and learning the language through immersion.
Below is the best of what we saw in Montreal, including a few food recommendations that you will not want to miss.
Table Of Contents
- Mount Royal Park Surroundings
- Hike Mount Royal for Incredible Summit Views
- Visit Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal
- Visit the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
- Admire the Convention Center
- Feel the History in Old Montreal
- Explore Old Port
- Plateau Mont-Royal
- Visit the Olympic Stadium
- Explore Vibrant Crescent Street
- Wander Impressive Street Art
- Cheer on the Habs at the Bell Centre
- Enjoy the Lights of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge
- Ride the Montreal Observation Wheel
- Learn How to Help the Earth at the Montreal Biosphere
- Montreal Classic Eats
Mount Royal Park Surroundings
Mount Royal (Mont-Royal) Park is one of the city’s largest green spaces, affectionally known as “the hill”. With plenty of adventure opportunities year-round, it is one of Montreal’s most popular parks.
The park is believed to be the first officially protected space in Quebec. It opened in 1876, and today welcomes over 4 million people each year.
Mount Royal Park was designed by American architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed the famous Central Park in New York City.
During the summer months, laze under the shade of large trees with a picnic, enjoy a bike ride, or hike Mount Royal to the top of the hill for some of the best views of the city of Montreal.
During the winter, enjoy the ice rink at Beaver Lake and cross-country ski trails.
There are equipment rentals available at the visitor center near Beaver Lake.
Hike Mount Royal for Incredible Summit Views
There are some hypotheses concerning the origin of the name of Montreal. The best-known is that the City of Montreal takes its name from Mount Royal.
This small hill sits just to the west of Downtown Montreal. Mount Royal is part of Mount Royal Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York City’s Central Park.
Hike or cycle to the top of the hill for some breathtaking views of the city. Climb the Mount Royal steps for more city views playing peek-a-boo through the trees. In Fall, the colors are spectacular!
Belvedere Kondiaronk is the most popular and most scenic spot in the city; it is a great spot to help orient yourself with the layout of the city. You can also see the tribute to a Montreal icon, a larger-than-life mural commemorating singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, from the viewpoint.
At the Belvedere Kondiaronk lookout, there is a chalet that has a restaurant and washrooms. It was under construction and fenced off with renovations when we were there.
Another great Camillien-Houde lookout. You cannot miss the great view of the Olympic Stadium and Jacques Cartier Bridge.
Visit Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal
*When we visited in October 2021, much of the area was overtaken by construction. They are constructing a 360-degree view dome, that looks like it will be incredible when complete.
Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal is a Roman Catholic Minor Basilica and National Shrine. It is a National Historic Site of Canada and is Canada’s largest church, with a very impressive and one of the largest church domes in the world.
It was extremely busy when we visited, with a huge line and shuttle busses up the hill to the church. The line moved quickly, but assume you will have to wait for a half-hour to get in.
Admission was free.
Visit the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
11 million people visit the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal every year, making it one of the most visited monuments in North America.
This is a church that will leave you awestruck. The interior is among the most dramatic in the world and is a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture. You will not want to miss walking beneath the impressive, vaulted ceiling of the Notre Dame Basilica.
Inside, you will find unique stained-glass windows, sculptures, paintings, a 7,000-pipe organ, intricate gilded ornamentation, and the story of the founding of Montréal.
You must reserve tickets in advance for a self-guided tour of the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. Your visit will last an hour, and you can explore 24 points of interest. Reserve your tickets in advance as they sell out. You can also buy tickets to a multimedia experience, AURA.
Admire the Convention Center
Located downtown, the Palais des congrès de Montréal (convention center) is impressively linked to 4,000 hotel rooms by the city’s underground pedestrian network. The building serves as a convention center slash public art space slash public shopping center.
It is one of Montreal’s most colorful buildings and is a sight you will not want to miss. You will be mesmerized by the colors, inside and out!
Feel the History in Old Montreal
Old Montreal is one of the most charming and popular tourist attractions in the city. With cobblestone streets and the original site of the city’s French colonial origins, it feels like you have stepped back in time. Well-preserved buildings dating back to the 17th century are filled with boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and some fun kitsch souvenir shops.
As you wander, pass through Montreal’s most famous public squares – Place d’Armes, Place Jacques-Cartier, and Place Royale.
While walking around in Old Montreal, we happened upon a cute restaurant on a corner, Creperie Chez Suzette. We made a reservation for lunch and enjoyed some sangria with bruschetta, french onion soup, and cheese fondue. We were seated in the corner by the windows and loved watching people wander the streets of Old Montreal as the rain fell.
Explore Old Port
Wander the Old Port that extends along the river. We visited in Fall when it was a quieter area, but we have heard that in the summer it is a busy and popular spot to hang out.
This recreational tourism site offers a variety of family, nautical and other leisure activities to more than 6 million visitors annually.
Take a ride on the ferris wheel for a view over Montreal, ride the zipline, enjoy the ropes course, or visit the Montreal Science Center and IMAX.
One of the highlights of Old Port is its iconic Clock Tower, erected between 1919 and 1922. The tower marks the entrance to the port and commemorates the sailors who were lost at sea during the First World War.
Plateau Mont-Royal is known as one of the hippest and most charming areas of the city. With endless colorful and photogenic homes, vivid murals, delicious eateries, and restaurants, you will want to spend at least an afternoon wandering the streets. It is the epitome of cool.
Wander down any streets between Mont-Royal Avenue and Saint Louis Square and you are sure to be mesmerized by the beautiful tree-lined streets, and bold and colorful houses.
*People do live in the houses, so taking photos felt a little awkward. Always be courteous and as efficient as you can with your photos so that you are not invading anyone’s privacy.
Visit the Olympic Stadium
This unique stadium was built for the 1976 Olympics and is one of the easiest recognizable buildings in the city. It was previously home of the Montreal Expos before they relocated to the USA and became the Washington Nationals. Today it is a hot spot for special events.
As part of the Olympic Park complex, you will also find other popular attractions such as the Biodome, Botanical Garden, and the Insectarium.
Explore Vibrant Crescent Street
Victorian architecture and art make Crescent Street a vibrant little strip full of restaurants and bars, high-end specialty shops, haute couture showrooms, designer boutiques, and art galleries. This is also where you can witness the incredible Leonard Cohens mural on the side of one of the high-rises overlooking Crescent Street. The mural is incredibly impressive!
Wander Impressive Street Art
Montreal has a booming street art scene and is a huge player in the street art world. The city has actively promoted street art, so you are not left looking in all the little nooks and crannies to find some. The city is full of gigantic works of art, giving the city a fun personality and making it a vibrant and colorful place to wander.
Montreal also has two art festivals dedicated to it. Under Pressure was created in 1996 and is the largest and longest-running event of its kind across North America. Mural Festival began in 2012 and has grown to be one of the biggest street art festivals in the world.
Montreal’s busiest street, Rue Saint-Laurent, is where you will find most of the murals. Saint-Laurent runs nearly seven miles long. We suggest walking along one side of the street and when you turn around, wandering back up the other.
Cheer on the Habs at the Bell Centre
Cheering on the Montreal Canadiens hockey team in a vibrant and fun atmosphere. The fans are full of passion, and you’ll be surrounded by a sea of blue, white, and red. Aside from playoff hockey, this is one of the most enjoyable hockey atmosphere experiences we have had – aside from having to be masked up around thousands of others – it got HOT in there!
Enjoy the Lights of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge
The Jacques-Cartier bridge connects the Island of Montreal to the city of Longueuil. After dark, the bridge is lit by mesmerizing lights.
We recommend finding a viewpoint at Ile Sainte Helene. It is a little less accessible than other popular locations, but the view is spectacular. Take a walk along the parking lot close to La Ronde. Be careful crossing the road from the parking lot as cars will be driving through. You will find a few little openings in the bushes, each giving an amazing view of the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Be careful entering the bush; you will want to be extra careful watching your step in the dark.
Ride the Montreal Observation Wheel
The Montreal Observation wheel is the largest in Canada at 60-metres tall (the equivalent of a 20-story building) and provides great views of Old Montreal and downtown. The wheel was set up to commemorate the city’s 375th anniversary. It is said that you can see 28 km away on a clear day.
The wheel has 42 gondolas, with ultra-clear tempered glass panes. Observe the landscape in detail, while still being protected from UV rays. The wheel runs year-round with its system that gives a temperate feeling in the cabins during the winter season and cools them in the summer, providing a comfortable ride all year long!
Learn How to Help the Earth at the Montreal Biosphere
The Montreal Biosphere is a unique site, located in the heart of Montreal at Parc Jean-Drapeau, on a large land on Saint Helen’s Island. The museum is entirely devoted to showing the links between society and the environment. The exhibits do a great job of telling a story, instead of simply showing the facts. Its aim is to raise awareness, action, and engagement on environmental issues.
The giant sphere is a relic of the 67 Expo. It was designed by the architect/engineer Buckminster Fuller, well-known for his geodesic domes.
When the sun sets, multicolored lights play across the Biosphere’s geodesic dome. The dome is impressive both day and night!
Montreal Classic Eats
No visit to Montreal would be complete without devouring some of Montreal’s most famous classic eats. You’ll find plenty of delicious signature classic comfort food among three neighborhoods – Mile End, the Plateau, and the McGill Ghetto.
Start the Day With a Montreal Bagel
Now that we have tried both NYC and Montreal bagels, let us get controversial by saying that Montreal bagels are better than NYC Bagels. Montreal bagels are much lighter and thinner. One bite and you are sure to become obsessed with them. We had to go back for more.
The wood-fired and hand-rolled bagels are also made fresh every day. This bagel method was brought to Montreal by Jewish immigrants from Poland and other European countries. They are so popular, that you will usually have to wait in line, but the wait is SO worth it.
Like anything popular, where to get the best bagel varies by who you ask. We fell in love with Montreal bagels at St-Viateur Bagel shop. There’s even a continuing debate on who produces the best bagels: St-Viateur or Fairmont. It would be worth a taste test to find out, right?
Find Comfort in Delicious Poutine
Poutine originates from Quebec, so you know you are in for some of the best poutines of your life. Squeaky cheese curds and gravy over crispy French fries, and with the possibility of different toppings. You will find a variety of restaurants offering poutine, and opinions on the best one are once again, varied depending on who you ask.
Finding good poutine is a big deal because it is a symbol of Quebecois culture.
We were told to try Ma Poule Mouillée and it was comfort food heaven. One large poutine is more than enough for two with their big portions. We recommend the chorizo and chicken poutine. They also have delicious pastries to take home for later.
Expect to wait in line at the popular poutine joints, and seating availability is minimal.
Enjoy Melt-in-your-mouth Smoked Meat
We were told that Schwartz’s offers one of the best Smoked Meat sandwiches in Montreal, and it was melt-in-your-mouth heaven. Large thick slabs of smoked brisket seasoned to perfection and piled high on rye that is slathered with yellow mustard. We also had smoked meat on poutine. The smoked meat melts in your mouth.
The lines outside can be a little confusing, so make sure you are in the right line. The front line is for dine-in and the second line is for take-out orders only.
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