Montréal seduces visitors with a harmonious pairing of European charm and North American attitude — an irresistible combination of the historic and the new, from exquisite architecture, to fine dining, to a rich and vibrant nightlife.
The best way to get to know the city is on foot, through any one of its many colourful and vibrant neighbourhoods which overflow with markets, boutiques, restaurants and local cafés—diverse expressions of the inhabitants’ joie de vivre. Getting around the city on a day-to-day basis is hassle-free. Its streets, vast parks, underground pedestrian network, and métro system are safe and easy to navigate.
If you are not yet convinced that you should stay in Montréal for an extra few days, read this.
In addition, here are some highlights of the city, to give you some ideas about how to spend your free time in Montréal.
- Know Before You Go
- Getting around the city
- 10 Montréal “musts” for first-time visitors
To keep you prepared, here’s a handy list of helpful resources that will have you looking local from the moment you’ve stepped off the plane, train or automobile.
Language: French isn’t a necessity to feel comfortable in Montréal, but you’ll love the bonus points from locals when you attempt a little bit of it. Montréal Tourisme has created a handy guide to help you out, but worry not – virtually all Montréal locals are at least bilingual and you’ll have no trouble finding service in English.
Currency: American dollars are accepted at a few places around town, but you’ll need Canadian dollars for the majority of business transactions. Bills start at $5.00 (the $1.00 coin with the Loon imprinted on its golden surface is called a Loonie, while the $2.00 coin is known by its nickname the Twoonie), and each denomination comes in a different colour of the rainbow.
Passports and Visas: Not everyone needs a visa to enter, so it’s advisable to check in advance if you require one before your travel dates – some nationals may require the Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA), but it’s a quick and inexpensive online process.
Mobile phones: Nobody likes to come home to a hefty roaming bill, so double check with your provider for charges beforehand. Getting on the internet is easy – here’s a look at where to find wifi when visiting Montréal.
BY TAXI Taxis are readily available outside the airport and hotels. A trip from the airport to downtown Montréal (or vice versa) will cost you a flat rate of $40.00. It is also easy to flag one down on the street.
BY METRO AND BUS Montréal is a very walkable and safe city. However, if you require to travel further distances, the public transportation system is very fast and convenient. The Metro (underground subway) typically operates between 5:30am to 1:00am. The bus route is also very extensive and could also be an option.
There is an express bus that services the airport (747 Express Bus). A one-way fare card on the express bus costs $10.00 CAD and serves as a transit pass on the STM bus and metro network for 24 hours. For more information on the public transportation system, please visit www.stm.com.
A first-time visit to any city can be overwhelming. What to see? What to do? And most importantly — how to prioritize it all? To simplify your initial Montréal visit, Montréal Tourisme has compiled a simple list of crowd-pleasing attractions. Think of it as a “greatest hits” list of what to see and do in a diverse and exciting city.
In no particular order, here are ten activities and attractions that first-time Montréal visitors might want to put on their “must see” list.
Climb Mount Royal (The Lookout)
Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (the same landscape architect who crafted New York’s Central Park), the “mountain” park at the heart of the city is the city’s most iconic landmark — and the most popular place to snap a Montréal selfie. Reach the viewpoint at the top of Mount Royal Park by walking up the stairs or with a guided tour. In the chalet at the summit, visitors will find washrooms and a small canteen for refreshments. Give yourself a breezy two hours.
Eat Emblematic Montréal Cuisine
Part of the joie de vivre culture of Montréal includes chowing down on great grub. Sink your teeth into a juicy smoked-meat sandwich at world-famous Schwartz’s deli. Discover why Montréal locals fervently adore their bagels at the wood-fire bakeries on Fairmount or St-Viateur. (Clue: the bagels are dipped in honey water before baking). Sample our notorious poutine at resto La Banquise. Finally, quench your thirst with a locally produced beverage, such as Rise kombucha or 1642 Cola.
Try a digital scavenger hunt
Cité Mémoire transforms the neighbourhood of Old Montréal into a giant open-air museum. A collection of over 20 videos are projected on trees, walls, the ground, you name it. You’ll meet some of the characters who’ve coloured Montréal since its 1642 inception. Download the free app, Montréal en Histoires, and have the installations explained to you in the language of your choice.
Head Back In Time (In Old Montréal)
A first-timer’s visit to Montréal is not complete without meandering through the charming cobblestone streets of the city’s old district. With juxtaposed architecture dating back as far as 1685, visitors have the opportunity to see — quite literally — how the city first began developing. Stop at Notre-Dame Basilica for a glimpse at the incredible stained glass art (and for a moment of stillness). Then head to historic Place Jacques-Cartier and install yourself on a terrace, where you’ll be perfectly positioned to watch street performers and portrait artists — and where the sangria floweth freely.
A stone’s throw from downtown, the Old Port offers something for everyone at any time of year. The river and multi-purpose paths offer a plethora of outdoor activities including jogging paths, jet skiing, pedal-boat, Segway tours, and the mega Montreal Observation Wheel. Experience Montréal by bike and discover why the city ranks in the top 10 of the world’s most bike-friendly cities. My Bicyclette (Ma Bicyclette in French) offers an “eat and ride” food and history tour that takes you along the banks of canal, into Old Montréal and downtown. Be sure to visit the extensive Montréal Science Centre, with four permanent interactive exhibitions, plus the blockbuster show of the season, and a state-of-the-art IMAX® theatre.
Montréalers love to eat. Sure we’ve got our characteristic local food (see above), but one of the best ways to savour the city is to visit one of the local public markets. With a wide range of regional products from across Québec, Marché Jean-Talon — located in the heart of Little Italy — is the largest and most culturally diverse market in Montréal. For a smaller yet equally delicious option, the art deco-style Marché Atwater offers an array of specialty products and delicatessen treats. (Plus it’s located beside the picturesque Lachine Canal.) Wherever you go, be sure to sample seasonal treats such as maple syrup in the spring, strawberries in the summer and Macintosh apples in the autumn.
Montréal contains a vast network of pedestrian walkways — 32 kilometres (20 miles) of connecting passageways, to be exact — beneath street level. On a rainy day, use the passages to connect with offices, trains, shops and restaurants. Referred to as RÉSO (“network” en français), the system connects the city’s convention centre, ten major hotels and a handful of shopping malls (such as the Eaton Centre). Grab a PDF map right here, and get started on a truly “sub” urban adventure.
Jazz by Night
During her Sin City era, Montréal was home to some of the hottest jazz clubs on the planet and a wide-open scene fuelled by Prohibition. Today, Montréal still has a thriving jazz and blues scene with concerts in nightclubs, such as the downtown House of Jazz, which books top local jazz and blues acts seven nights a week. Montréal’s classic brash blues joint Bistro à Jojo in the Latin Quarter features live music nightly. Over in Old Montreal, the Modavie Mediterranean restaurant and wine bar features live jazz nightly, and is popular with locals and tourists alike. Jazz hotspot Dièse Onze Jazz & Restaurant in the hip Plateau district also features live music every night and is worth the trip, as is the underground artist-run Résonance Cafe in the Mile End district, which attracts young jazz fans looking for up-and-coming talent and live music. Close to the major hotels and popular with tourists, downtown’s Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill has been ranked by Downbeat Magazine as one of the Top 100 jazz clubs in the world.
Find Your Art Beat
Montréal is a creative city. Artistic-inclined visitors will relish the multiple museums and galleries, home to both historic and modern works. As one of the most important institutions in North America, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is the premier stop for any art aficionado. The multiple rooms contain painting, sculpture, graphic art, photography and decorative art objects, and the gallery prides itself on world-class temporary exhibits. For a more modern approach, visit Canada’s leading museum dedicated exclusively to contemporary art. The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) features a permanent collection, however the curators truly flex their “modern” muscles with the numerous multimedia events. Finally, the Phi Centre showcases art in all its glorious forms — check out the event schedule for a listing of live performances.
Hit a New Plateau
The colourful spiral staircases of “the Plateau” neighbourhood present an iconic image of Montréal. In this quartier you’ll find a predominantly French-speaking community featuring an eclectic mix of artists, international students and young professionals, spiced with a healthy dose of other cultures and languages to raise the diversity quotient that much higher. For a glimpse of the Plateau, walk along Avenue Mont-Royal, stopping for a recharge at Café Névé, and then a meal at stylish Québécois bistro La Salle à Manger (1302 Ave Mont-Royal East). Or, if it’s a sunny day, we recommend doing as the locals do: grab a picnic and lounge beneath the leafy trees in peaceful Parc La Fontaine.
Go East (For A Feast of Attractions)
Montréal’s eastside neighbourhood of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is home to a handful of awesome attractions — all within walking distance to each other. Firstly, the Olympic Stadium is a grandiose remnant from the history-making 1976 summer games, and arguably the most recognizable architectural structure in the entire city. At the soaring inclined tower of the stadium (even taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa), visitors can ride an elevator for a bird’s eye view of the cityscape. Also in the neighbourhood are the internationally-lauded Montréal Botanical Garden, which feature seasonal installations such as the much-loved Chinese lantern festival in the autumn months.