Montreal is a city of old beauty, charm, and multi-cultural influences—not just French and Anglo, but Italian, Indian, Portuguese, Jewish, and Vietnamese (just to name a few).
Like many European cities, the best times in Montreal are spent wandering the streets and public parks, exploring boutiques, small restaurants, and the vibrant diversity of each neighborhood. We recommend planning a trip during the warmer months of summer and late spring when the city really comes to life, but there are plenty of indoor pleasures and winter activities to entertain you during a colder visit.
A chalet, a lake, a large wooded forest, and a series of trails make this 764-ft hill overlooking the city seem larger than life. Frederick Olmstead, of Manhattan’s Central Park, designed Parc du Mont-Royal in the 1870s with the goal of providing natural respite from city life. Much of the park is kept intentionally overgrown and wild, with a network of trails leading through densely wooded areas. An observatory at the hill’s peak gives way to panoramic views of the city and the forested mountain down below. Winter options for scaling the mountain include a series of snowshoe and cross-country ski trails, a toboggan run, and a snow tubing course.
Have a Picnic in Parc La Fontaine
An 84-acre sprawl in the middle of the Plateau neighborhood, Parc La Fontaine is especially gorgeous in late summer and early fall when the leaves are starting to turn. Green lawns full of picnickers slope around two large ponds and a fountain, where you can paddleboat in warmer months and ice skate in winter. For provisions, stop at Ma Poule Mouillée for Portuguese rotisserie chicken, or Boulangerie Mr Pichot for croissants. Then head to the Depanneur across the street to purchase beverages: of the many great reasons to picnic in Montreal, one is that you are legally allowed to sip wine or beer in public parks as long as you are also picnicking.
Eat Portuguese Chicken
The Montreal food scene is made great by the multiculturalism of the city, a melting pot of immigrant cultures far beyond the anglophone and francophone influences. A casual food favorite and must-try for any visitor is Portuguese chicken, rotisserie bird with the perfect amount of grease, spice, and deliciously cooked meat. For a few dollars, enjoy a sliced, roasted chicken in a fresh bun with mayonnaise, tomatoes, and lettuce, or purchase a whole or half chicken with salad and french fries for a group picnic. Coco Rico, Romado’s or Le Coq Rico are all solid outposts for this local favorite.
Visit St. Viateur Bagels
Sure, you’ll hear differing opinions on whether these sweeter, denser bagels stand up to their New York distant cousin (they do), but it’s worthwhile either way to walk through the steam-filled windows of this small shop in the Mile End and stand in line while watching the many steps of production for these fresh delicacies. Montreal bagels are always made in a wood-fired oven, and, to the delight of patrons, still shaped by hand in an open-air shop in this establishment (Fairmount Bagel a few blocks over is a fine choice, too). Grab a dozen hot to go, and don’t forget the cream cheese: Montreal spreadable more resembles creme fraiche and puts the processed American version to shame.
Shop the Boutiques of Le Plateau
The casual chicness of this city is displayed nowhere better than the Plateau, where little shops, pubs, and restaurants showcase the most of French-Canadian style on tree-lined streets and in gorgeous old buildings. From downtown, you can walk up St. Laurent Boulevard, poking your head in and out of the hippest small boutiques and furniture stores along the way. Stroll over to St. Denis and Lorimier streets for second-hand stores, vintage goods, record shops, and small pubs and cafes.
Window Shop on St. Hubert
While you may not actually be in the market for dollar-store kitchen items and over-the-top gowns and quinceanera dresses, taking a stroll through the shops on Ste. Hubert is entertainment enough for an afternoon. This pedestrian mall, a few minute’s walk from Jean-Talon Market, lends a different shopping experience than chain stores or high-end boutiques elsewhere in town. You’ll find yourself drawn to the colors of busy storefronts selling everything from children’s toys to bedazzled wedding dresses. When shopping leaves you depleted, visit El Tropical, a Salvadoran outpost for pupusas: thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese and other goodies.
Visit the Foodstuffs Stores of Little Italy
Home to an Italian immigrant population (the second largest in Canada) dating back to the 19th century, the shops and cafes of La Petit Italie can be found along St. Laurent Boulevard in the Rosemont neighborhood (mostly between St. Zotique and Jean-Talon Streets). Here you’ll find incredible kitchen supplies, rare pasta, espresso, cheeses, and canned foods. Don’t miss Anatol Spices, a tiny, family-owned shop with a dazzling array of seasonings, including house-made mixes for grilling or poultry, at prices way below your local supermarket. Hungry after a day of shopping? Crowd into a table at Pizzeria Napoletana for BYOB and deliciously authentic pies.
Spend a Morning at Jean-Talon Market
For the foodie, this European-style open market is like a trip to the finest art museum. Working your way into the market, you’ll find flowers and plants, a vast array of fruits and vegetables (sample from the fresh plates of produce offered by the merchants), an oyster bar, live lobsters for the choosing, fresh sausage, tea, and more specialty goods. The market’s center is home to ready-made food stands, crepes, samosas, Turkish pastries and more, and picnic tables for lunching. Don’t miss out on the small brick-and-mortar stores that flank the market’s exterior: among them possibly the best Poissonnerie (seafood store) in town, a dry goods shop, a kitchen supply store, and a Halal butcher.
Explore the Gay Village
Founded in 1869, Montreal boasts the first openly gay business in North America, Moise Tellier’s apple and cake shop. These days, the city’s tourism board largely markets Montreal and Le Village Gai as tourist attractions for LGBTQ communities everywhere. Once a tiny nook carved out of downtown, The Village now includes several metro stops and is great for strolls, shopping, people watching at an outdoor cafe during the day, and partying at night. In warmer months, a gorgeous section of Rue St. Catherine becomes a pedestrian walkway with sidewalk sales and various fairs. At night, mingle with drag queens at Cabaret Mado, or dance until the late morning at Stereo.
Shout Along at a Hockey Game
Nothing is more Canadian than hockey, and at a Canadiens (locally called “Habs”) game at the Bell Centre, the fighting, shouting, and general enthusiasm provide entertainment for even the most reluctant sports fan (though the beer is pricey). If you’re a hockey historian who can’t make it to game, you can catch a show at the Cineplex Odeon Forum on Rue Ste. Catherine in Ville-Marie, a former Habs stadium-turned-movie theater, while reveling in hockey spirit and nostalgia in the stadium-style seats and Habs memorabilia. Another hockey-filled option is the Arena St-Louis, a local locale for hockey games and open skating during the winter, and equally entertaining roller derby games during summer. The PBR is cheap year-round.
Book a Hotel
Carriage, Bike, or Stroll Through Old Montreal
A small, cobblestoned corner of the city by the St. Lawrence River where French settlers first arrived, Old Montreal is a romantic mix of early European and North American history and architecture. Shops and restaurants are touristy in this part of town, and your time is best spent winding through the old lamplit streets, either on foot, bike, or by horse-drawn carriage, and marveling at the architecture. Must-stops along the way include the Basilica and a walk through Bonsecours Market, once Montreal’s central market, and now the home of gourmet food, exhibits, and boutiques. Make your way down to the Old Port for a spectacular view of the St. Lawrence River
Explore the Underground
During the long winter, many Montrealians take refuge from the wind, snow, and below-zero temperatures in a series of walkways, subway tunnels, and underground shopping centers known as Montreal’s Underground City, or RESO. Over 30-km of tunnels include 9 hotels and 2,000 shops and connect you to some of Montreal’s best sights and neighborhoods without ever having to step above ground and out into the cold. While much of the Underground City goes unappreciated by bundled-up commuters and students, tourists experience a fun, new way to travel to their favorite destinations and a true marvel of urban planning.
Rent a Bike
Montreal is an enthusiastic bikers’ city even in the colder months (you’d be surprised at how many riders face a snowstorm), with eclectic bike shops and plenty of accessible routes. It’s also home to some of the first city-wide rental bikes, with over 500 BIXI stations now throughout the city. Pay $2.95 for a 30-minute trip (swipe your card at one BIXI station and return it to any other station around town), or $5 a day, with discounted membership packages if you plan on riding frequently.
INSIDER TIPFor a scenic 15-km cross-city trip, bike along the Lachine Canal all the way to Rene Levesque Park on the river.
Indulge in Late-Night Poutine
Many a late night in Montreal ends with a greasy plate of poutine (fries drenched in gravy and cheese curds) but you don’t actually have to wait until the wee hours of the morning to enjoy this decadent Canadian rite of passage. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a neighborhood or busy street corner without its own poutine counter. Among the best are La Banquise in the Plateau, for the classic dish at any hour, or one of the Poutineville locations, for inventive combinations with extra ingredients like bacon, hot dogs, and feta cheese.
Eat at Au Pied de Cochon
Foodies won’t want to miss crowding into a wooden table for a large serving of meat, meat, and more meat at Au Pied de Cochon, on Avenue Duluth between Parc La Fontaine and Rue St. Denis. At this cozy bistro, Chef Martin Picard is famous for his rustic Quebecois menu almost exclusively comprised of foie gras, terrines, and various combinations of cured, stuffed, and ground pork and game.
Those looking for an extra special experience can try booking an exclusive seat at Picard’s Sugar Shack table, a seasonal dining adventure taking place in a chic remodeled maple sugar shack in the woods outside of Montreal.
Spend Sunday Morning with the Tam Tam Drummers
On Sundays during the warmer months, hoards of locals and tourists gather around the George-Etienne Cartier statue at the base of Mont Royal for a giant drum circle including drummers, DJs, and other performers—an all-around entertaining morning activity. It’s unclear when drumming became a staple of this Sunday hangout spot, popular for sunbathers, musicians, and friends since the 1860s, but the festivities now begin in the late morning and continue until sunset. On Sunday nights, the revealing continues at Parc Jean-Drapeau for Piknic Electronik, a weekly outdoor music festival.
Eat a Smoked Meat Sandwich
The famous Montreal smoked meat sandwich involves the perfect balance of overstuffed, thick slabs of cured brisket, rye bread, and yellow mustard. Some say that the long line at Schwartz’s Deli is overrated, and head out instead to the equally classic, but off-the-beaten-path Snowdon Deli, Jarry Smoked Meat, or Le Roi Du Smoked Meat (open late night). Whichever you choose, you can argue that packing into the crowded shop and taking in the smells, sights, and shouts while waiting your turn in line is an essential part of the experience.
Skate Year-Round in Atrium Le 1000
In a ritzy high-rise downtown, you’ll find this 10,000-foot indoor skating rink under a glass dome skylight. You can skate year-round at a very affordable rate ($5-8 a skate), and there’s food, music, and frequent special events. During the winter, outdoor skating rinks pop up at parks all around Montreal, but here the massive rink is temperature controlled—so you can enjoy a favorite Montreal past time without actually having to endure the winter winds.
Attend a Burlesque Show
In a city of nightlife lovers, you don’t want to pass up on the chance to see the raunchy, comedic talent and flurry of glitter, feathers, and fishnets that is a burlesque show in Montreal. Showcases at The Wiggle Room range from traditional burlesque to wildly entertaining and comedic themes like Led Zeppelin and Fresh Prince-themed shows. At Arabesque Burlesque, drop in on a beginner dance class or sign up for a whole workshop. Culminate your experience by attending the 3-night Montreal Burlesque Festival in October.
Visit a Museum
Your Montreal museum exploits can range from the racy (the historic sex theater at Cinema l’Amour) to the ultra kid-friendly (Montreal Science Center at the Old Port), with options to learn about Canadian history, culture, and the natural world throughout town. A network of natural museums includes the biodome, with controlled replications of four North American ecosystems, a planetarium, insectarium, and botanical gardens. The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the largest you’ll tour in Montreal, with traveling exhibits featuring Rodin, Toulouse Lautrec, and fashions by Jean Paul Gaultier. The McCord Museum of Social History (across from McGill University) includes rotating exhibits on art and culture of Canada with a particular focus (and permanent collection) on the many groups of Canadian aboriginal peoples.