Rich in history and charming in a unique way, Montreal is Quebec’s largest city. Anyone who has visited Montreal will likely rave about the bold and beautiful city, set on an island in the St. Lawrence River. This creative city is likely to defy expectations with its interesting feel of old-world Europe and modern North America.
Montreal is well-known for its European charm found in the narrow cobblestone streets of Vieux-Montreal and its hipster style found in the blue-collar boroughs of Plateau du Mont-Royal and Mile End. Whether you’re a history buff or a foodie, an arts-lover or someone who prefers quiet and nature, there is definitely something for everyone in this dynamic and multicultural city.
Montreal hosts the largest and most attended festivals in the world, with more than 90 festivals annually, including the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Osheaga Festival, Nuit Blanche, and the Canadian Grand Prix of Formula One. The city hosted the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, and to this day is the only Canadian city to have held the Summer Olympics.
Best Time to Visit Montreal
The best time of year to visit Montreal depends on the purpose of your visit. Each season has something unique to offer, however freezing temperatures in winter may affect your decision on when to travel. I have been fortunate enough to visit Montreal in both winter and spring and took advantage of a number of winter activities such as skating and snowboarding during my first trip. During my most recent stay in Montreal, I was able to soak up the sun and really spend the majority of my time outdoors.
Spring and autumn are a good time of year to visit, with mild temperatures and affordable hotel rates. Keep in mind, there is no bad time of year to visit – summer hosts several popular festivals and the city’s unique underground walkways make frigid temperatures bearable.
Regardless of the time of year you travel, there are plenty of indoor and outdoor activities to take part in, and endless restaurants, bars, entertainment, and attractions worth exploring.
What to do in Montreal
Montreal is a cutting-edge city with countless attractions and sights to see. Although it was established almost 400 years ago and is one of the best preserved historical cities in North America, it has managed to successfully integrate the new with the old. You will notice the city’s architecture as a unique blend of old Victorian manors, 18th century greystones, and contemporary skyscrapers, all working together to create a modern yet cozy atmosphere.
Begin your adventure in the city center, and visit some of the top experiences in Downtown Montreal. In this area of the city, you are most likely to find business people and students alike, as the borough is home to McGill and Concordia Universities. Stroll down Rue-Ste. Catherine, the city’s main commercial artery – this 7-mile street connects Montreal’s central business district. It is also home to many prominent department stores, including the Hudson’s Bay Company, Apple and the Eaton Centre.
Check out cultural attractions such as Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, Centre Canadien d’Architecture, and Place des Arts, the city’s primary concert venue. Spend some time exploring the neighborhood’s stunning century-old churches including St. Patrick’s Basilica and Cathedrale Christ Church. The Downtown core is walking distance from Park du Mont Royale, an ideal destination for those looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Walk, hike, or bike to the top of Mont Royale, where you can take in a fantastic view of Downtown Montreal and the Saint Lawrence River.
Spend some time in Mile End/the Plateau, one of the artsiest and hipster neighborhoods in North America. Browse thrift shops, support local galleries and eat your way through this trendy part of town. Also, home to some of the city’s most iconic music venues, Mile End is the perfect place to wrap up your day and enjoy the fabulous nightlife the city has to offer.
Don’t leave Montreal before spending some time in Old Montreal, also known as Vieux-Montreal. Enjoy a breakfast of pastries and coffee at a riverfront café before embarking on one of the city’s many walking tours. Here you can experience the history and progression of a city rich in culture, yet still bustling with life. There are countless boutique shops and galleries to explore in Old Montreal, and in summer local vendors and artists set up their work in the streets.
If you’re still looking for more things to do during your stay, take a food tour, learn more about animal life at the Montreal Biodome, explore Olympic Park, and taste local craft beers at one of the city’s many microbreweries.
Want more things to do in Montreal? Check out this article by US News on Best Things To Do in Montreal
Where to Eat and Drink in Montreal
Montreal is a foodie town – and that statement is coming from someone who has experienced the Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens food scene for the past 3 years. I have to say while I still believe NY bagels are the best in the world, Montreal’s gave NYC’s bagels a run for its money. Anyone visiting Montreal should definitely visit St. Viateur’s Bagel Shop, as its bagels are voted as some of the best in the world. Several areas of the city are well known for being home to some of the trendiest and tastiest restaurants – particularly Mile End, and the Plateau.
If you fancy a drink you can check out the 10 most beautiful bars in Montreal.
Don’t forget to leave the city before trying poutine – and vegetarians don’t need to worry as the town caters this popular dish to those with various dietary restrictions. I personally recommend L’Gros Luxe – their menu even offers grilled cheese filled with poutine (among many other delicious meals).
Where to Stay in Montreal
Montreal is definitely a city with character, and each area of the city has its own unique features. There are 3 main neighborhoods in Montreal where I would recommend staying – downtown Montreal, Old Montreal, and the Plateau/Mile End.
Montreal’s downtown area is vibrant and exciting with luxury hotels, soaring skyscrapers, high-end shops, and amazing restaurants and nightlife. It is close to many of the city’s main attractions and is home to “the underground”, a vast network of connecting underground pedestrian walkway tunnels (a plus for those visiting in winter). Downtown Montreal is the heart of the city’s arts and culture and is the place to stay if you love entertainment, shopping, and all the amenities of an international urban hot-spot.
Old Montreal (or Vieux-Montreal) is a charming historical gem – consider staying here on a romantic getaway as the cobblestone streets and old buildings definitely add to the ambience of the city. This French colonial borough nestled along the St. Lawrence River, Old Montreal is the oldest area in the city. Dating back to the 1600s when Samuel de Champlain established a fur-trading post along the Saint Lawrence River, Old Montreal is an area that is centuries rich in history. Now a major urban tourist attraction, there are plenty of accommodations if you are looking for a getaway with a European vibe right in the heart of one of Canada’s greatest and oldest cities.
The Plateau/Mile End is an area worth staying if experiencing Montreal’s dynamic nightlife scene is a high priority on your list of things to do. This bohemian borough’s close proximity to Mont Royale and adjacent to the downtown core makes it an easily accessible place to stay. Spend the day browsing the city’s interesting shops, exploring local galleries, and enjoying the neighborhood’s luxurious parks, including La Fontaine Park. As evening rolls around, you will have your pick of bars, pubs, nightclubs, and microbreweries to ensure you have the perfect night out in Montreal.
Each of these areas of the city has various accommodation options ranging from 5-star hotels to Airbnb rentals, so you’re sure to find a place to stay that meets your travel needs.
For more advice on best hotels in Montreal, check out Travel and Leisures‘s articles on Best hotels in Montreal
If you are looking for great hotel deals, start your search on our favourite hotel search engine booking.com and if you choose to try out Airbnb, use our referral code for a discount on your first stay at airbnb.com
How Much Time Do You Need in Montreal
Montreal is the perfect destination for a 3-day weekend getaway. While you can probably see the main sights in as little as 2 days, and it’s definitely a city that will leave you wanting more, 3 days is a good amount of time to familiarize yourself with the city, see the key landmarks and attractions, and take it all in at your own pace.
Author’s Bio: Diana Rosario is originally from Canada but has been living in NYC for the past 3 years. She is passionate about non-profit work, animal rescue, travel, and yoga. Diana has traveled to nearly 30 countries and completed her 200 Hr Yoga Teacher Training in Costa Rica. Today, she’s a contributor to About.com’s USA Travel Section. You can connect with her by following wanderlust_yogi_nyc on Instagram.