Ah, Montreal! Home to the famous Canadiens ice hockey team (who?), friendly people who confusingly speak two languages at the same time when greeting you (what?), and the place to be for some amazing culinary experiences (where?)! There is much to do and much to see in this hip city so consider this list of 10 best things to do in Montreal, your starting point.
Before we start on the list, the main thing to keep in mind is that Montreal basically experiences two seasons: dark, ice cold winters and warm, humid summers. Depending on the time of year, your choice of things to do in Montreal will differ a lot!
In the winter, it is often too cold to even walk around outside, so lots of people will disappear in underground shopping malls like a bunch of marmots or dance en masse at ice festivals to stay warm (and pray for the sunlight to chase away the depressing darkness).
In the summer, it is warm and sunny, and the perfect time to discover the city, check out some festivals, relax in the park and make lots of local friends so you will have a warm place to stay during winter!
Let’s start with the main sights and activities every traveller should experience during a Montreal summer trip!
For even more information on Montreal, check out our comprehensive Montreal travel guide, featuring an itinerary, where to stay, and everything you need to know to plan for a trip to Montreal.
Epic list of best things to do in Montreal
1. Walk up Mont-Royal
All city travel guides and locals will tell you to start your Montreal adventure by walking up the Mont-Royal ‘mountain’. Well, for once, that advice is very legit! Mont-Royal mountain is actually a big hill, landscaped long ago by the architect of New York’s Central Park, but don’t mention that to the locals. They call it a mountain and are proud of it! And, just like Central Park, it is right in the middle of the city!
Walk up Mont-Royal’s long, windy paths and enjoy the view of the city from the lookout point above. For the sporty people among us, join the locals along with some excellent jogging paths, or, if you just want to enjoy the nature, take your time admiring the skyline and squirrels who are not afraid of stealing your lunch. The best days are where you can sit down on a picnic blanket, enjoy the greenery around you and read a book. Believe me, Montrealers love doing this on every sunny day. Plus, they smoke so much weed while hanging around the mountain you will become high by default. Ah, summer!
2. Enjoy a day or two in Mile End and Plateau
If you’re wondering about the things to do in Montreal, head over to the small neighbourhood of Mile End. It features one of the largest concentration of artists and creatives in the world and has a great laid-back atmosphere. Plateau neatly borders Mile End and is famous for its amazing collection of foreign restaurants and cafés! These neighbourhoods are a great place to just hang around for a couple of days, so strike up conversations with the young, local crowd and secure a couch or room to enjoy the ultra friendly vibe. You might want to learn some Frenglish to make your trip easier. Do not bother learning perfect French, because the Quebecois accent is incomprehensible anyway. A Bonjour (hello), s’il vous plaît (please) and tabernac! (fuck!) will do for short trips.
Check out this post for a list of the best hostels in Montreal.
Looking for more things to do in Montreal? Check out the ever-changing street art and hang out with the artists when they are taking a break. Prowl around the second hand shops situated on every street and take many food breaks to enjoy some great coffee, smoked meat sandwiches, fresh baguettes, Asian street food or authentic Mexican tacos. Try to find something not smothered in maple syrup. The unique Montreal bagel shops can be found open 24/7. Follow the locals at the end of the day to one of many famous pubs and microbreweries!
3. A Night Out in Montreal
At the end of the day when the laptops are finally shut down, it is time to unwind for most Montrealers and become even more relaxed than the Americans accuse them of being. Pubs quickly fill up after 4-5 pm and summer terraces spread like well-constructed fungus upon the sidewalks and streets.
A night out is a big part of Montreal life, a must in the things to do in Montreal list as every neighbourhood has its special places, speakeasies and jazz clubs. Sports bars are very popular and every TV will be tuned to the current hockey game (or curling if you are unlucky). Just remember to cheer for the Canadiens. Save your stars-and-stripes ass by claiming you are Australian if the Canadiens lost a game against an American team.
The main clubbing districts are downtown Crescent Street and Saint Laurent/Gay Village. Want to party all night? Nightclubs and bars have their last call at 3 am. Not really a hardcore partygoer and wondering what to do in Montreal? Worry not, because in Quartier des Spectacles you can find late night free futuristic light shows and artful projections on the street!
4. Eat poutine
Salty, greasy, soggy and the ideal snack for many Quebecois. Poutine is a big dish of fries covered in dark gravy and topped with cheese curls. And in Montreal, you will find many, many varieties of this dish. Toppings can range from mushrooms to spicy kimchi and a famous restaurant now even offers poutine with foie-gras for the more eccentric food traveller. Doesn’t sound appetising? After a few (and a few more) beers you will probably end up in a late night dinner with all the other locals munching on those mushy fries and loving it. Another must do in the list of things to do in Montreal.
5. Explore Montreal by bike
There is no better way to explore Montreal than by bike. You will take the buses and metros during colder weather, but in summer you will see most Montrealers enjoying their green and vibrant city on bikes, skates or on foot. Montreal has a public bike system that is available all over the city in spring and summer, so take advantage of that! There are many bike lanes in the city, but be careful where you bike because most roads are in a horrible condition. Montrealers claim this happened due to shady construction deals, espresso-drinking mafia figures, icy weather or the government, of course.
Cycle through the streets at Plateau and marvel at the many pieces of street art and the colourful houses. Head towards Atwater market for lunch, explore the Lachine canal and its rusty industrial buildings and end up in the Old Port with its European buildings for a late afternoon drink.
6. Explore Montreal by foot
Vieux-Montreal or the Old Town is the oldest part of the city (duh) and still sports a European ambience with its historical buildings and the wonderful Notre Dame Basilica. There are still some archaeological remains of early settlements to be found on display underneath the history museum and an antique tunnel which you can visit. As one of the oldest urban areas in North America, it is also hands down the most touristy area in the city. Save your money for other places to eat and drink, but take your time walking around to soak in the romantic atmosphere.
Enjoy a rainy day in one of Montreal’s free art or history museum or in a First Nations art gallery. On a sunny day, you can best leave touristy Saint Peter street behind and walk along the Old Port where many big, and free, events take place all year long. Take a good daypack with you. There is so much to see and do, you will probably stop every other street for pictures or you find another ideal spot to lay back and relax!
7. Jean Talon and Atwater market
Two of the best farmer’s markets to visit in Montreal because of all the fresh food but also for the great vibe hanging around! Who can stay grumpy when surrounded by so much food? Bike to Atwater market, enjoy the art-deco building and fill a basket with delicious food for a great picnic outside the building on the river bank. On the other side of town, in the heart of Little Italy, lies Jean Talon: one of the largest farmer’s markets in North America. The market feels more like a little village where you can find lots of cheap fresh produce, seafood, meat, pastries and even ice wines! An excellent place to spoil your taste buds or gorge yourself on Canadian lifeblood, err, I mean maple syrup. No list of things to do in Montreal is complete without a visit to these!
9. Tam-Tams at Parc du Mont-Royal
Things to do in Montreal increase manifold in the summers! Summer in Montreal is never dull. After months and months of depressing winter, Montrealers go slightly crazy with happiness when the temperatures go up and stay that way until the very last day of summer.
For decades locals have gathered on balmy Sunday afternoons at the Mont-Royal park to have a picnic and enjoy listening to or joining spontaneous tam-tam circles. Sundays at the parks have become more spectacular with the addition of DJ’s and other performance artists. Enjoy the day drumming, dancing, chilling, nursing a hangover or losing your shirt and joining a volleyball game. Join the Hara Krishna for half an hour if you are bored. These small Sunday festivals are very informal, so expect a relaxed attitude to some local exhibitionism and drinking and pot smoking during the musical acts.
10. Summer Festivals of Montreal
Wondering what to do in Montreal in winter? Montreal is the city of festivals, even in winter, so expect to hear about them all the time during summer! Not only music but food, beer, cinema, dance and comedy are celebrated as well. Every year there is the International Jazz festival, Osheaga dance festival, Les FrancoFolies festival, the MURAL festival… the list goes on and on. Good news: most of the music, art and food festivals are free! And in 2017, Canada celebrates its 150th birthday while Montreal celebrates its 375th birthday! Reason enough for even more parties this year! (As if a festival or a party every other day was not enough yet…)
Bonus – Drinking craft beer
It is not difficult to find a good beer in Montreal. The past decades, microbreweries have popped up all over the city and their popularity just seems to keep growing. In Montreal, craft beers are not just for hipsters anymore; every bar seems to have a special beer menu with the same prices as more common beer brands. Integrate yourself amongst the locals and sip a pint on one of the many terraces in town during a warm afternoon.
The best way to find good craft beers is dressing like a hipster (open to your interpretation), talk to a local and loudly proclaim Belgian craft beers are the best. Ten-to-one that exasperated local will show you exactly where the best beer in town is found and you will happily bond over many glasses. Worked for me anyway! So there it was, our awesome list of things to do in Montreal. Hope this makes you hop right off to this laid back city!
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