Last Updated on October 6, 2019 by Candy Wafford
Montreal is everything I love in a city. It stays true to its history, yet celebrates its modernity. It has great food, incredible art, friendly people, and something interesting at every turn. It’s such an easy city to visit.
I recently spent 3 days in Montreal and could have easily spent three more. There are so many things to do in Montreal. Our weekend was packed with some of the best things to do in Montreal and I still left with a list of things to do on the next visit. Here are some of my recommended Montreal must-sees.
Where to Stay in Montreal
We stayed in the heart of Old Montreal, or Vieux-Montreal in French, and found it to be the perfect location. We were in the middle of the historic old city with its charming cobblestone streets and greystone buildings. You’ll swear you’re in Europe.
Staying in Old Montreal also means your steps away from the Old Port in one direction and Chinatown in another direction. You’ll also be within walking distance of downtown and public transportation.
I used points to score a free stay at the SpringHill Suites by Marriott Old Montreal and we loved the location (and free breakfast!) When I return I plan on booking a vacation rental to get a real sense of what it’s like to live in this area.
Getting Around Montreal
Montreal has a wonderful public transportation system that is clean, easy to use and inexpensive. Visiting Montreal for the weekend? Buy an unlimited weekend pass for $14 CAD and enjoy unlimited rides on the metro and buses from 4 PM on Friday through 5 AM Monday. This includes rides on the 747 shuttle that runs between Montreal-Trudeau Airport and downtown 24/7.
1) Enjoy the Local Food
Montreal is a foodie town. I was told that there are more restaurants in Montreal per capita than in New York City. Not only does this cosmopolitan city offer a variety of restaurants from casual to fine dining, but they also are home to not one, but three local delicacies.
When visiting Montreal, you have to try poutine. Poutine is comfort food at it’s finest. A pile of fresh french fries is topped with cheese curds and gravy. You will find poutine on Montreal restaurant menus throughout the city and about 100 different varieties. Eating a plate of poutine with a beer from one of the many local breweries is absolutely one of the best things to do in Montreal.
Other local delicacies include smoked meat and Montreal style bagels. Spend a morning by visiting the Mile End Neighborhood and try bagels from both the St. Viateur and Fairmount bakeries to see which is your favorite. Or better yet, take a food tour where you can sample all three local foods and more.
2) Soak up Old Montreal’s Charm
One of the best Montreal attractions is one of its oldest. Montreal was founded by French settlers in 1642 and was originally known as Fort Ville-Marie. It’s distinctly European feel is in part to the many buildings that date back to the era of New France. It is now a designated historic district and the perfect place to spend a weekend in Montreal.
There are lots of things to do in Old Montreal, including a visit to Notre Dame Basilica and a visit to the Point Calliere Museum. We enjoyed taking in the sights and sounds of Old Montreal as we walked through the pedestrian-only streets. There are many restaurants in Old Montreal as well as shopping and art galleries. Even if you aren’t staying in Old Montreal, you should plan on spending part of a day there to get a real sense of the city’s origins.
3) See Montreal’s Street Art
The street art scene in Montreal is vibrant and ever-changing. The city hosts two annual graffiti festivals which means there is always something new to see. You can do a DIY tour or take a mural tour.
Montreal is full of Instagrammable spots! I saw so many cute vignettes that seemed to be created just for visitors to snap and share. Add that to the incredible beauty of the city and the vast amount of street art and you have one of the most photogenic cities I’ve seen.
4) Visit Montreal’s Chinatown
Montreal’s Chinatown, or Quartier Chinois, is just a couple of blocks away from Old Montreal. There is a pedestrian-only zone on de la Gauchetiere Streets. The district features traditional paifang gates on all four of its corners. Given more time, I would have liked to explore this area more and take pictures of some of the beautiful murals in the neighborhood.
I love Asian food but my husband is less excited about it. But since it was so close, he agreed to eat in Chinatown twice during our weekend in Montreal. Dinner one evening was at OhDumplings where I loved seeing the cooks assembling dumplings. I’ve never seen so many dumpling fillings! We tried a couple of different fillings and loved the traditional pork filling.
Lunch the next day was at Pho Bang New York. Pho is one of my favorite foods and we have a really good Pho restaurant in my city. Pho Bang was almost as good, which meant it was still fabulous. We also stopped in a Chinese bakery and picked up a few treats.
5) Visit Notre-Dame Basilica
The Notre-Dame Basilica stands as a testament to the rich Catholic history in Quebec Province. The interior of the church is stunning and is the design work of Victor Bourgeau. I was especially struck with the otherworldly blues and purples that bath the sanctuary.
I recommend visiting Notre-Dame early in the day before there are crowds and long lines to get in. There is a light show in the evenings that we planned on going to but unfortunately didn’t make it.
6) Visit the Montreal Botanical Gardens
Located in the heart of Montreal, the Botanical Garden is one of the largest nature museums in the world. There are 20 themed gardens, 3 cultural gardens, and 10 exhibition greenhouses. A visit to the gardens during the day would be lovely, but we opted to visit the annual Gardens of Light show. This was one of the highlights of our three days in Montreal.
7) Hang Out on Montreal’s Waterfront
Montreal’s old port is located in Old Montreal along the Saint Lawrence River. We visited a couple of times and enjoyed strolling along the waterfront and shopping in the booths there. There is a wide variety of activities in the Old Port of Montreal including the Montreal Science Centre, water activities and even a beach. There are several food trucks parked here and restaurants as well. I would have loved to taken a scenic boat ride from here or relaxed in the spa located in a boat at the Port.
8) Stumble on a Local Festival
Montrealers love a good festival! Festivals range from city-wide events to more intimate gatherings in local neighborhoods. We stumbled upon a dance festival just outside the Jean-Talon Market and spent some time watching the performances and local families enjoying their weekend. Check here to see what festivals and happenings are going on during your visit.
9) Visit a Food Market
Montreal has fifteen markets throughout the city. Visiting food markets is one of my very favorite things to do when traveling so I had to visit at least one during our weekend in Montreal. The Jean-Talon Market was a quick metro ride away from our hotel and its size and location in Little Italy made it the obvious choice for us to visit.
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Who else loves visiting food markets? It’s one of my very favorite things to do when traveling. These pics are from the wonderful Jean Talon market in @montreal. I love all the colors, sights, and sounds at the market as locals shop. I eye the food and think of the ways I would use it if I were at home. This purple cauliflower would be fabulous roasted with some olive oil and garlic and finished with a shower of grated Parmesan and a squeeze of lemon juice. Now I’m hungry! . . #kyblogger #farmersmarket #montrealfood #marchéjeantalon #traveltourism #culinarytourism #eatyourveggies #visitmontreal #foodmarket #lexingtonblogger #travelblogger #montreallife #foodshopping #seasonalfood #travelpicsdaily #roamtheworld #meettheworld #tagsta_travel
The Market featured many stalls selling prepared food and vendors selling fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, bread, and fish. This is a year-round market with walls erected during the winter months and becoming a pedestrian-only market during the warmer months. This type of laid back activity where I get to experience how locals live is one of my favorite ways to get to know a city.
10) Eat All the Ice Cream
I ate ice three times in Montreal! At three different places. And I could have sampled even more as frozen treats are all over this city.
Canadians know how to do a dipped cone! If you haven’t had the pleasure of enjoying a dipped cone let me share with you what one it. Soft serve ice cream, usually vanilla, is piled high on a sugar cone. The ice cream is then dipped in a hot liquid, often chocolate, that will set up and form a shell over the ice cream. The juxtaposition between the crunchy shell and the soft ice cream is heavenly.
I was introduced to Canada’s next-level dipped cones during a visit to Victoria. To say I was thrilled when I saw shops all over Montreal dipping cones into a variety of flavors from maple to lemon, to hazelnut would be an understatement.
Sampling ice cream from Kem Coba was also on my list of must-do activities in Montreal. The ice cream flavors here are influenced by traditional flavors of southeast Asia and they feature by the scoop and soft-serve varieties. This is the ice cream you eat when you want something refreshing and light.
I left our weekend in Montreal wanting more because there were so many other things to see and do. But I thoroughly enjoyed our weekend and highly recommend a visit to this lovely and welcoming city.