Ah, Montreal! Home of the famous Canadiens ice hockey team, friendly people who greet you in two languages simultaneously, and some amazing culinary experiences. If that sentence left you both confused and intrigued, welcome to Montreal! There is much to see and so much to do in this hip city so consider this your list of the ten best things to do in Montreal: a jumping-off 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 what 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 warm their (and please the Canadian sun-gods into chasing away the darkness).
Montreal in the summer 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. Local friends mean having warm couches to crash on once Montreal’s winter rolls around!
Let’s start with the main sights and activities every traveller should experience when visiting Monreal in summer. For even more information on Montreal, check out our comprehensive backpacking Montreal travel guide. It’s got an itinerary, where to stay, and everything else you’d want to know on the must sees and must dos in Montreal: it’s jampacked with delicious goodies!
The Top Ten Things to Do in Montreal
Alright, we know what you’re here for: the top ten things to do in Montreal! I mean, that’s the title and all, so let’s talk Montreal!
1. Walk up Mont-Royal
All city travel guides and locals will tell that the first must do thing in Montreal is a walking adventure up the Mont-Royal ‘mountain’. Well, I’m happy to report that that advice is legit!
Mont-Royal mountain is actually a big hill, landscaped long ago by the same 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 on the excellent jogging paths, or, if you just want to enjoy the nature, take your time admiring the skyline and squirrels. Just watch your lunch; those bastards are crafty!
The best days are where you can sit down on a picnic blanket, enjoy the greenery (incoming weed joke) around you and read a book. Believe me, Montrealers love doing this on every sunny day. Plus, they smoke up so much on the mountain you’ll get a contact high.
Or just roll your own J because it’s Canada. Ahh, Canada – God save the Queen!
2. Enjoy a Day or Two in Mile End and Plateau
If you’re wondering about the cool 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 super-chill atmosphere.
Plateau neatly borders Mile End as well 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 local crowd and secure a couch or room to enjoy the ultra-friendly vibe.
You might want to learn some Franglais to make your trip (and couch securing) 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.
3. A Night Out in Montreal
At the end of the day when the laptops are finally shut, it is time to unwind for most locals. Pubs quickly fill up after 4-5 pm and relaxed Montrealers spread like French-Canadian fungus over the sidewalks and streets. Montreal really shines with its things to do at night.
A night out is a big part of Montreal life. Must do things roam every neighbourhood in Montreal with its secret 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; there is a dark and violent side to hockey-scorned Montreal folk.
The main clubbing districts are downtown Crescent Street and Saint Laurent/Gay Village. Want to party all night? Well, the nightclubs and bars have their last call at 3 am.
Are you 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 (wooh – free things to do in Montreal) 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. 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 beers (joints) and then a few more beers (joints) you will probably end up in a late-night diner with all the other locals munching on those mushy fries and loving it!
Consider it a must eat 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 riding a bike is the ultimate thing to do in Montreal in summer. You will see most Montrealers enjoying their green and vibrant summer 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 ride because many roads are in a horrible condition. Montrealers claim this happened due to shady construction deals, espresso-drinking mafia figures, icy weather, the government. I blame the French.
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
Now, I’m completely undoing the previous section by suggesting you eschew the bike in favour of your footsies. Huzzah!
Vieux-Montreal or the Old Town is the oldest part of the city (as the name suggests) 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 – more free things to do in Montreal!. On a sunny day, you can best leave touristy Saint Peter Street behind and walk along the Old Port to where many big – and free – events take place all year long.
Take a good daypack with you and just walk. There is so much to see and do in Montreal, you will probably stop at every other street for pictures or you find another ideal spot to lay back and relax!
7. Jean-Talon and Atwater Market
These are two of the best farmer’s markets to visit in Montreal not just because of all the fresh food but also for the great vibe! Who can stay grumpy when surrounded by so deliciousness?
Bike to Atwater Market, enjoy the art-deco building, and then 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!
These are excellent places 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 markets!
9. Tam-Tams at Parc du Mont-Royal
Things to do in Montreal increase manifold in summer! Summer in Montreal is never dull. After months and months of depressing winter, Montrealers go slightly crazy, rejoicing when the temperatures go up and stay keep that mood 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 in on 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 Hare Krishnas for half an hour if you are bored. These small Sunday festivals are very informal, so expect a relaxed attitude with some locals to be letting loose: drinks, doobs, and dancing!
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!
Bonus – Drinking craft beer
It is not difficult to find a good beer in Montreal. The past few 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 a good craft beer is to dress like a hipster, talk to a local, and then loudly proclaim “Belgian craft beers are the best beers”. 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 pints. Worked for me anyway!
So now you know all the top things to do in Montreal…
So what the hell are you waiting for? There’s a whole city of funny-sounding not-French people to go roll joints with! What are you still doing here with your expensive maple syrup! Go to Great White Northern Land of inexpensive maple syrup on poutine (don’t do that; that’s disgusting).
That’s the list of the top 10 things to do in Montreal (+1). It’s time you got on your public rent-a-bike and rode on over the least Canadian part of Canda… in the summer. Winter sounds less appealing.
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