We have friends living in Montreal, and they always praise the city. Here’s the ultimate insider’s guide to Montreal, Canada that will help you plan your trip to Montreal. Read this Montreal travel guide and discover the best things to do in Montreal, where to eat in Montreal, off the beaten path things to do in Montreal, where to stay in Montreal, and valuable insider tips for Montreal from Mel from BRB Travel Blog. This guide is part of the free travel guides series on this blog.
Included in this insider’s guide to Montreal
- Best things to do in Montreal
- Go to Mont Royal Park
- Old Port
- Olympic Stadium & Surroundings
- Go to a festival
- Montreal Off the beaten path
- Go Graffiti hunting
- Visit the South West Borough
- The Mile-End
- Where to eat in Montreal
- Where to stay in Montreal
- Tips for Montreal
The ultimate insider’s guide to Montreal
Bienvenue à Montréal, Welcome to Montreal! The bilingual city is the perfect mix between a charming western European city and a modern North American city. Between great food, beautiful views and over 30 festivals year-round, the city offers plenty of activities to do in winter as well as during summer. The metropolis never ceases to marvel locals and visitors alike.
Before we start, here is a quick intro: Montreal is the second most populous city in Canada (after Toronto) and the biggest francophone city in the Americas. Montreal is an island in the middle of the St-Laurent River and situated in the province of Quebec, the only 100% francophone province in Canada.
Best things to do in Montreal
Remarkable attractions in Montreal
Go to Mont Royal Park
Mont Royal is the lung of the city and offers plenty of activities for every season! Take a hike to the Belvedere observatory for amazing views of downtown Montreal and the mountains over on the south shore. During summer, you can enjoy a nice picnic and, if you are visiting on a Sunday, you can attend the tam tams, located directly across Avenue du Parc. The tam tams are an informal free event where drum players, dancers, vendors gather together to enjoy the nice warm weather. If you are visiting Montreal during fall, the Mont Royal Park will be the best spot to catch the colours! In winter, you can skate on the frozen Lac des Castor, or do cross-country skiing or snowshoeing for free!
Of course, a visit to Montreal will be incomplete without visiting the Old Port. Walk along Saint-Paul Street for that old European charm with cobblestones and colonial architecture. The port is bustling with tourists’ shops and activities.
The Notre-Dame Basilica is a beautiful church that has a lights and sound show, Aurora. There is an entrance fee for the church but if you pay for the show, the price of the entrance is waived. The show, done by Moment Factory (they are the ones that do the concerts for Muse & Madonna, among others), is modern and non-religious, a must-go.
Other sightseeing spots are Place d’Armes, Place Jacques-Cartier, and the Bonsecours Market, to buy the perfect souvenirs.
Olympic Stadium & Surroundings
Montreal hosted the Olympics in 1976. The brutalist stadium has a multi-floor observatory that gives astonishing views of the city. Near the Stadium, you will find the complex “Space for Life” that includes the Biodôme, Insectarium, Botanical Garden and Planetarium. The Biodôme is similar to a Zoo and it has all the ecosystems and some wildlife. In my opinion, the penguins are the cutest!
Go to a festival
The city has more than 30 festivals year-round. The most popular festivals are the Jazz Fest and Osheaga but it has festivals for every type of art and culture. Most of the festivities take place at La Place des Arts and are offer free shows. You can check them here.
Montreal Off the Beaten Path
Go Graffiti hunting
You don’t need to search for hidden alleys or rooftops to catch urban art, in fact, it is the contrary. The city has become a hub for graffiti, murals, and urban art. Luckily, to admire these you don’t need to pay an expensive ticket to a site, these are free and are scattered through the different neighbours. It seems that almost every building and walls are decorated with gigantic works of art giving a vibrant and colourful personality to the city.
The Saint-Laurent Boulevard, one of Montreal’s busiest streets, is where you will find the most graffiti and murals. All you need to do is, stroll down the street and hunt these gems. The boulevard is full of vintage shops and local eateries. If you are visiting the city in June, you must go to the Mural festival. The event showcases more than 80 artists and it is the biggest street art festival in North America. In August, there is also the Under-Pressure festival also shining a light on urban art. During these two festivals, you can catch an artist in action and see how the murals come to life.
Visit the South West Borough
Start your itinerary by the Atwater market, a public market where the aromas of freshly picked strawberries and cooking herbs will make you want to stop at every stand. Then, take a walk in the banks of the Lachine Canal for an astonishing view of the city’s skyline. I highly suggest renting a bike and hop into the bike path that will take you to the old port. Just 3 blocks north of the Atwater Market, there is Notre-Dame Street where you can stop at one of the best restaurants, bars or cafes of the city. The uneven 2 floors buildings with red brick from the early 20th century make up the charm of this gentrified working-class neighbourhood.
The Mile-End is one of the world hipster headquarters, the neighbourhood is eclectic, effervescent and artsy. It has Canada’s largest concentration of artists and some of the best food in the city. The Mile End has numerous boutiques, most of the pieces sold are made in Canada along with thrift stores to get you a new look. A few of the local stores are La Montrealaise and General 54. Boucle & Papier has beautiful artists made stationary, perfect to get some postcards to send back home. The main streets to wander around are St-Viateur, Fairmount and St-Laurent Boulevard.
Where to eat in Montreal
Not an extensive guide, just mention some ideas, options: cheap or famous restaurants, vegan or not (I don’t have anything against meat – I eat it and go to such restaurants :D)
Poutine is a national dish and consists of French Fries, Gravy, and Cheese Curds. This deliciousness can be found in many restaurants. However, La Banquise is the most popular place and stays open 24/7, perfect for those midnight snacks or to help you with that extra drink 😉
The second must eat plate in Montreal is Smoked Meat, a Montreal signature dish. The most renowned spot to get the sandwich is Schwartz’s Deli; however, there is always a huge waiting line. Another good place to eat Smoked Meat is Ruben’s (located downtown), they also served great salads.
The first thing to do in Mile End is to have the iconic and delicious Montreal Bagel. There are two major bakeries that rival each other for the best bagel, the Fairmount Bagel, and Bagel St-Viateur. You can also go eat at the legendary Wilensky’s for their special sandwich and all-beef salami with all-beef baloney grilled on a roll with a hint of mustard. The place has been open since 1932. Other delicious spots to eat are Kem Coba for Asian inspired Ice Cream, Drogheria Fine a small and delicious gnocchi counter and Dieu Du Ciel for award-winning craft beer.
Saint-Henri and little Burgundy also have the best tables in the city! On the high-end side, you have Tuck Shop and Chez Sophie, in my opinion, two of the best restaurants in Montreal. Joe Beef is known for serving dinner to A-listers like the cast of Xmen, Obama and Justin Trudeau. Other more affordable restaurants are Junior, a Filipino restaurant, or Ludger for contemporary cuisine. Della Rose serves artisanal ice cream; they also have coconut milk ice cream for the lactose intolerant ones. For drinks, you can go to La Drinkerie, a cool and trendy bar offering great cocktails. Also, you should consider Courcelle Bar. This one is a neighbourhood bar with live music with a hipster ambiance.
Where to stay in Montreal
If you like being in the heart of the action and around tourist spots, then I would suggest staying downtown or in the old port. In the Old Port the Hotel Nelligan offer charming rooms and it has a great restaurant and rooftop to enjoy the beautiful skyline of the city. On the other hand, if you are looking for a more local vibe, I recommend staying either in the Plateau Mont-Royal, in the Mile-End or in the South West borough. There, you will have local eateries and a neighbourhood feel. Both districts are easy to access by public transportation and are relatively close to other main activities. There a no hotels in these areas but you can find Bed & Breakfast or Airbnb easily.
Tips for Montreal
Are there any important things people should know about your city? Are there any tips you can share that will help people make the most of their visit in the city? Are there any places or things to AVOID? Are there any safety tips?
Transportation in and outside the city can be very difficult since the city is undergoing through a major makeover so I would suggest to leave the car and embrace discovering the city by foot, bike or public transport. Also, the signs for parking can be extremely confusing, so you can skip having a headache of where to park. The last tip will be to be aware that the subway system is not 24h and it closes between 11 and 1 am depending on the day and the line colour.
Montreal should let you longing for more festivals and foodie breaks for your next visit. Visiting Montreal in summer is not the same than visiting during other seasons, so come back during fall or winter for a completely different experience!
About the author
Melanie Schaffer from BRB Travel Blog – Mel is a part-time traveller and a full-time 9to5er, author of BRB Travel Blog. She believes that you don’t need to quit your job to travel the world. Follow her travels on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.