French and English co-exist in the vibrant and metropolitan city of Montreal in order to create a unique and interesting blend of culture, language, and architecture. Here’s your ultimate Montreal bucket list and the best things to do in Montreal:
The second largest city in Canada, Montreal lies in the south of the Canadian province of Quebec. Originally named Ville-Marie (City of Mary), and not far from the border with the USA, the Canadian settlement is now named Montreal for Mount Royal, the three peak hill in the heart of the city.
A couple of years ago, I was lucky to spend over a month exploring the city, spending time with and staying with family who live there. During my time in Montréal (pronounced without the ‘nt’ in French), I was able to seek out many of the hidden gems the city has to offer, as well as explore some of its more well-known attractions…
The ultimate Montreal Bucketlist: Everything you should eat, shop drink and things to do in Montreal
#1 Spy the best view over Montreal from Parc Mont Royal
What better way to start a visit to the city than by gleaning a bird’s eye view from above? Nestled at the very heart of Parc Mont lies a viewing point of Mont-Royal. Free to visit, the park is filled with plenty of green spaces and winding hiking paths. Someone once described the view likened it to a ‘mini New York’. I’m not too sure myself, though the view is certainly beautiful!
#2 Soak up some history at Chateau Ramezay
For those looking to enjoy a slice of history, the Chateau Ramezay provides just the ticket. Situated in the very heart of Old Montréal, the Château was constructed in the early 18th-century and has been a museum since 1949.
Once home to Claude de Ramezay, a former governor of the city, American Benjamin Franklin once stayed the night during the American Revolutionary War. Today, visitors to the first designated Heritage building in Quebec can see just how the rooms would have been laid out in the 1700s.
#3 Visit Basilica Notre Dame
At the top of nearly every Montreal Bucket List, the Notre Dame Basilica is a must see. Built in the Gothic Revival style, one of the best highlights of the Basilica comes from when the ecclesiastical building was first constructed. For, there was a large stained glass window installed behind the altar.
Unfortunately, as the basilica is east facing, churchgoers weren’t able to see during morning services! The window was soon covered over and all knowledge of it lost. However, when an arsonist destroyed the chapel behind the altar in 1978, the resulting reparation works uncovered the window, undamaged and in its original place, having just been boarded over.
#4 Go back in time at the Pointe à Calliere Museum
Established in the 1990s and located in Old Town Montreal, the Pointe-à- Callière Museum is a must-visit for any history buff, especially for those who want to gain a better understanding of the story of Montréal. Once there, it’s possible to see plenty of archaeological artifacts, as well as some of the first walls of the city (which was originally known as Ville-Marie).
#5 Explore Parc Jean Drapeau
Free to visit, the Parc Jean Drapeau is on another island to Montreal and was originally called Parc des Îles. The island is home to the Grand Prix race course. While the Grand Prix takes place at the beginning of June every year, it’s possible to walk around the race track at other times during the rest of the year.
The Jardin des Floralies is also located on this island. Much like the botanical gardens, there is the chance to see examples of gardens from all over the world. Highlights of these free gardens, which were created in 1980, include themed gardens from the USA, England, France, Mexico, and Italy.
#6 Visit Notre Dame de Bonsecours Chapel
Free to visit, the chapel’s name can be translated as ‘Our Lady of Good Help’ and the building itself is located on the site of a former place of worship. Today, the current chapel remains one of the oldest churches in the city, having been constructed in the 18th-century.
#7 Wander around the Vieux-Port (Old Port)
The arrival of each season ensures that the port is an ever-changing landscape. Covering a distance of over 2 km, early settlers used the port as early as 1611 as a fur trading post and so the place is certainly rich in history. Upon arrival in Montreal, one of the best things to do in Montreal is simply to wander around the Vieux-Port and simply see where your feet take you.
#8 Partake in Museums Day
Towards the end of May each year, a collection of over thirty museums take place in the annual event that sees historical houses and collections across the city open their doors for free. During the event, there are various free bus routes operating throughout Montreal, meaning that reaching even the hardest to-get-to places couldn’t be easier!
#9 Visit the Botanical Gardens & Insectarium
Home to well over 22,000 species of plants, the Montreal Botanical Gardens comprise of over 190 acres and is often said to be one of the most important green spaces of its kind in the world thanks to its collections and provenance. Opened in 1931, nearby you’ll also find the Insectarium, a Natural History Museum founded in 1990. Purchase your Montréal Tower Observatory and Botanical Garden tickets here.
#10 Shop on St Catherine Street
Also known as ‘Rue Sainte Catherine’ in French, this is the place to shop in Montreal. Cutting a diagonal line through the commercial centre of the city, it’s here where you’ll find your every day high street stores, as well as more luxurious shopping complexes.
#11 Hike up to the Oratoire St Joseph
High and imposing above the city, the Oratoire (oratory) of St Joseph is complete with a grotto and views over the surrounding landscape. Providing one of the best views of Montreal, the oratory itself was first founded in 1904, though it wasn’t completed until 1967.
Today, the Oratory is a quiet place of calm in amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy modern city. Home to a church museum, and free to visit, the church is open on a daily basis. For pilgrims visiting the place of worship, there’s a central staircase in wood which is to be climbed on one’s knees.
#12 Visit the Centre de Commerce Mondial de Montréal
Located in the Quartier International area of Montreal, the Centre de Commerce Mondial (World Trade Centre Montreal) is home to shops, office spaces, restaurants, and several hotels. The centre is also home to a piece of the Berlin wall. The section of the wall from near the Brandenburg gate and was given to Montréal for its 350th birthday.
#13 Enjoy the Francofolies music event
Every summer in the Quartier des Spectacles, the Francofolies music festival is held for a couple of weeks and many of the performances during this time are free to attend. All of the singers are francophone; some from France and others come from here in Quebec. There are paid performances as well as free ones throughout the entire period.
#14 Attend La Fête Nationale
Quebec’s national holiday is held across the Province on the 24th of June each year, celebrating everything Quebecois. Many people have the day off work and the event is celebrated with processions, festivals, and dances which often carry on well into the night.
#15 Learn some history at the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum
Marguerite (now declared a saint by the catholic church) was born in Troyes France and travelled to Montréal, then known as New France (a man from Saint-Malo had been one of the first to declare Quebec for the French).
Marguerite Bourgeoys travelled in order to teach and create the congregation of Notre Dame. She was the first teacher in Quebec! A museum has since been set up in her honour and can be found on the fringes of the Saint Lawrence River in the heart of the Vieux-Port.
#16 Eat at Canadian Maple Delights
You can’t visit Canada, and specifically Quebec, and not sample a maple flavoured treat or two. From coffee to ice cream, there’s no shortage of maple products to consume. Personally, the Canadian Maple Delights store is one of my favourite places to buy ice cream. Inside, there’s even a little museum below the shop where it’s possible to learn all about the history of maple production in Montreal, Quebec, and beyond!
#17 See the art at Le Musée des Beaux-Arts (Free for under 30s)
The Musée des Beaux-Arts (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) is probably the most famous of all Montreal Museums. Entrance is free for those under 30 and the cultural hub is open every day of the week. Once inside, the artwork is organised into various pavillions; Canadian art, Archaeology and Ancient Art, etc.
#18 See something different at the Canadian Centre for Architecture
The Canadian Centre for Architecture is known as the CCA and is free to visit from 5:30 pm onwards on a Thursday evening and free all day on the first Sunday of every month. Once inside, there are various collections and exhibitions to explore. Regular book talks are also held in the museum shop- I attended one and while it was a little quirky, it was certainly very interesting!
#19 Stroll along Lachine Canal
The reflections of greenery on the crystal clear waters during the summer months should be enough to convince you to visit. Located a little away from the normal hustle and bustle of the busy city, one of the best ways to experience the canal is to cycle along it. Other than the view, Canal Lachine attractions include the prohibitively Atwater Market, as well as the McAuslan brewery.
#20 Thrift at Plateau Mont-Royal
Full of vintage boutiques and fripperies, Plateau Mont-Royal is where all the students head to, and where all the hipsters hang out. Some highlights of vintage stores in the trendy area include Kitsch’n Swell (full of ladies nightgowns and taxidermy), and Annex Village.
#21 See the exterior of Sister’s of Saint Anne Historic Centre
Once free to visit, the Sister’s of Saint Anne Historic centre used to be a small museum and operated from 2008 until its closure in 2014. With this being said, the beautiful building can still be admired from the outside and a visit to its exterior can easily be combined with a trip to the nearby Lachine Canal.
#22 Shop for groceries at Jean-Talon Market
One of the best markets in Montreal can be found in the form of the Jean-Talon Market. Located within the Little Italy district of Montreal, once there, there’s no shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables to purchase- and all at an incredibly reasonable price! The market was first opened to the public in the 1930s and has been trading on a weekly basis ever since!
#23 See Redpath Museum
Part of McGill University’s campus, one of the best museums in Montreal also happens to be 100% free to visit! Home to one of the most unusual displays the city has to offer, highlights of the Redpath museum include collections pertaining to paleontology, zoology, and mineralogy.
#24 Eat a bagel from one of the many boulangeries
There has been a long-standing massive debate between Montreal and NYC as to who has the better bagels. However, all in the name of research (haha!), why don’t you grab one and decide for yourself?! Personally, I recommend the blueberry bagel flavour and picking up a bagel or two ranks among one of the best things to do in Montreal… For those who eat meat, it’s worth noting that this Quebec city is well-known for its smoked meats.
#25 Visit the Montreal Biodome
Located within the Olympic Park part of the city, the Montreal Biodome was opened in the 1970s as a velodrome (for the games), before being converted into a biodome during the 1990s. Today, the Montreal Biodome is home to some 1500 species of plants and is home to four replica ecosystems of those found in North America.
#26 Explore the McCord Museum
For those who wish to gain a better understanding of Canada, the McCord Museum can be found on Sherbrooke Street and is located next t McGill University. First established as a museum during the 1920s, the teaching museum is also a research centre, devoted to the appreciation of Canadian history.
#27 Watch a match in the Olympic Stadium
‘Le Stade’ can be found in a complex known as the Olympic Park and dates back to a time when Montreal held the summer Olympics in 1976. Today the stadium is multi-purpose and regularly hosts games and matches.
Since its opening, over 66 million visitors have visited- guided tours of the space are now available for a fee. Otherwise, you should know that one of the best views of Montreal is to be found if you ascend the 540 foot tall Montreal Tower Observatory. Purchase your Montreal Tower Observatory with “Since 1976” Exhibit tickets here.
#28 Shop at Marché Bonsecours
Located at 350 rue Saint-Paul, this two-storey domed market was once the main shopping centre for residents of Montreal. Today, the space is home to a whole host of artisanal shops and boutiques, many selling unique gifts and souvenirs. Located alongside the River Lawrence, a visit here can easily be combined with a wander along the Vieux-Port.
#29 Visit Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery
One of the more unusual things to do in Montreal is to visit the Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery, a graveyard first established in 1854. Today, the cemetery is the largest in Canada, and the third largest in North America. People of note interred here include Jean Drapeau (former mayor of Montreal) and Calixa Lavallée (composer of O Canada).
#30 Enjoy poutine
Chips, cheese curds, and gravy: although this combination may sound like an unlikely mix, it’s utterly delicious! Known as poutine, you can find this Quebecois dish all across the province and it’s even sold in fast chain food stores such as McDonald’s.
#31 Explore Montreal’s Underground City
There is quite literally a whole other world underground Montreal. Famous the world over, Montreal’s underground city is referred to in French as the Ville Souterraine and is home to well over 1600 stores. Primarily useful in the winter, when temperatures can plummet to -30, it’s also a good place to escape from the incredible heat waves of the summer months.
#32 Take a sightseeing cruise on the Saint Lawrence River
For a completely different perspective of the city, you may well consider booking a cruise down the Saint Lawrence River. The boat trip takes an hour and includes a live commentary about the story of Montreal, as well as many of the major attractions you can spy from the water. En route, you’ll see sights such as Clock Tower, the Biosphère, and the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Check prices and availability here.
#33 Explore Old Montréal with a guide
If you prefer to discover a city with the help of a guided tour, then this Montreal walking tour may well be with you. See gems and attractions such as the Notre Dame Basilica and the many cobbled lanes of the old town. Included in the two-hour visit is a beverage and rest-stop snack. Check prices and availability here.
#34 Take a day trip to Mont Tremblant
Set in the Southern Laurentians, Mont Tremblant is the second largest national park in Quebec (583 square miles) and is one of the best day trips from Montreal. It also happens to be the oldest National Park. Although it was only officially recognised as a national park in 2001, it was established in 1895.
For more information on this easy Montreal day trip, here’s a quick guide to visiting Mont Tremblant! Otherwise, if you’re unable to rent a car, then you may well want to consider booking a guided excursion to Mont Tremblant and Quebec City. Check prices and availability here.
Where to stay in Montreal
The size of Montreal, as well as its rich history, means that there’s no shortage of accommodation options on offer when it comes to this beautiful Canadian city. Here’s a quick selection of the very best places to stay in Montreal:
Hotel Gault: Chic, free Wi-Fi and situated within a 19th-century building, set against the backdrop of old town Montreal. What’s not to love!
Hôtel Le Germain Montréal: Beautifully appointed rooms can be found in downtown Montreal. This four-star hotel is known for its attention to detail and quality.
Things to know before visiting Montreal for the first time
You should know that while the majority of people you’ll meet will speak English, Montreal is in Quebec, which is the French-speaking Canadian province. As such, you’ll probably want to take a simple French phrasebook with you like this one.
Otherwise, it’s important to remember that you may well need a universal travel adaptor like this one to charge all of your electronics. Finally, comfortable shoes to walk in are a must as there’s plenty of walking involved when you visit Montreal. This is especially true of districts like downtown and Plateau Mont-Royal.