Suggested Itineraries for Visiting Montreal
From incredibly varied festivals to some of the world's best art museums, there are enough things to do in Montreal to please even the most finicky travelers. To find out how to take advantage of everything that Montreal has to offer, see the following suggested itineraries, which are divided by areas of interest.
Special Events & Attractions in Montreal
Special Events & Attractions in Montreal
With so many must-see attractions in Montreal, you may have trouble figuring out where to start. These itineraries should help.
1 day: If you only have one day to sample Montreal, head toward Old Montreal (bounded by McGill, Berri, Notre-Dame sts, and the Saint Lawrence River) and neighboring Old Port (De la Commune St between the Saint Lawrence River and Old Montreal).
The area is considered the birthplace of the city and is steeped rich in Canadian history. There's a lot of ground to cover, but it can be visited in a day. The area is easily accessible by three Metro stations: Champ-de-Mars, Place d'Armes, and Square Victoria. But be warned: The area does cater to tourists, so expect to shell out some cash. It's still worth the visit, however.
In the eastern section of Old Montreal, history buffs can discover the life and work of Sir George-Etienne Cartier, a Montreal politician statesman and one of the 36 Fathers of Confederation, at the Sir George-Etienne Cartier National Historic Site (458 Notre-Dame St E). Here you'll find a glimpse of 19th-century Montreal bourgeoisie life told through live costumed characters.
Head south on Bonsecours Street and make your way to the Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum (400 Saint Paul St E). This church/museum features a religious heritage collection and theatrical presentations of the life of Marguerite-Bourgeoys, considered Montreal's first teacher.
Bonsecours Market (350 Saint Paul St E) is an impressive Old Montreal architectural building. But don't be fooled by the "market" in its present-day name. It's no longer a food market but a place for an original (and sometimes pricey) Canadian or Quebec souvenir at the dozen-plus fine artisan and craft boutiques.
Head to Mobil's Three-Star Cube Restaurant (355 McGill St) for delicious regional lunch cuisine like a layered cube of goat cheese, spinach, tomato, and yellow sweet peppers. Follow it with a filet of Chilean sea bass framed with shrimp and clams on lemon pasta.
The Canadian (and American) history lesson continues at Chateau Ramezay Museum (280 Notre Dame St E), which was once home to Claude de Ramezay, a governor of Montreal.
Across the street is the architecturally impressive Montreal City Hall building (275 Notre Dame St E), which was built in the 1870s. While it's a stunning photo on the outside, don't forget to visit the equally ornate lobby. Just across the street is Place Jacques-Cartier, one of the city's most famous public squares. It's a busy space of street performers, artists selling their wares and (again, sometimes pricey) sidewalk cafes. Before heading down toward the Old Port, visit the nearby Old Montreal tourist information office (174 Notre Dame St E) for brochures, maps and guided tour information.
From Place Jacques-Cartier, walk toward the water, better known as Montreal's Old Port and recently reintroduced as the Quays of the Old Port. To the east is the landmark Clock Tower. During the peak-season summer months, you can climb all 192 steps to the top for some great views of the area -- all for the cost of a donation.
Visit the authentic Public Market, circa 1705, in late August and listen to Port Symphonies, a musical of ship horns, train whistles, and church bells on weekends in late winter and early spring. More city history can be discovered at Centre d'histoire de Montreal (335 Place d'Youville), which is housed in a former fire station that dates to 1903.
2 days: It's time to head east to the Hochelaga/Maisonneuve District, a residential working-class neighborhood home to four Montreal institutions: Olympic Stadium, the Montreal Biodome, the Montreal Botanical Garden, and Chateau Dufresne. A car or Metro stations Pie-IX (pronounced "pee-nuff") or Viau are the best ways to access the area.
The first stop is the Montreal Botanical Garden (4101 rue Sherbrooke E), where you can stroll through 180 acres of plants and trees on well-manicured grounds. One of the best theme gardens to visit is the First Nations Garden, highlighting indigenous Canadian culture and plants. The admission price includes access to the on-site Montreal Insectarium (4101 Sherbrooke St E), where you can learn about thousands of insects and butterflies in a safe environment.
Across the street is Olympic Stadium (4141 Pierre de Courbertin Ave), the former home to the Montreal Expos and the main venue for the 1976 Olympics. The funicular ride up to the top offers great views of the area (but the free view from Mont Royal Park is equally impressive).
A lunchtime Montrealais burger with Portobello mushrooms and Vidalia onions and a side of fries at Moe's Deli and Bar, a local theme restaurant (3950 Sherbrooke St) should hold you over until dinner.
Nearby is the Montreal Biodome (4777 Pierre-De Coubertin Ave), a place for birds, bats, flora, and fauna. The site includes four recreated ecosystems: a Laurentian Forest, the Saint Lawrence Seaway, a tropical forest, and a polar world.
And while it's usually overlooked by the area's top three draws mentioned above, Chateau Dufrense (2929 Jeanne-d'Arc Ave) across the street is worth a visit for its ornate ceiling frescos designed by Guido Nincheri, an immigrant artist who designed and decorated a number of Montreal churches.
3 days: Start your day at Beauty's (93 Mount Royal Ave W) for basic bacon and eggs served all day long. Then make your way to the nearby mountain -- Mont Royal Park (Cote des Neiges and Remembrance rds), the city's namesake. This is a great place for biking or hiking in the summer and snowtubing, sledding, and cross-country skiing in winter. Make your way to the belvedere at the top of the mountain for incredible views of downtown, and don't forget the camera. The Smith House Interpretive Center offers a small exhibit on the mountain's history and guided maps. Car access is at Camillien Houde Drive at Park and Mont Royal avenues on the east and Remembrance Road at Chemin Cote des Neiges on the west.
Make your way back down the mountain into downtown for lunch. Try Mangia (1101 de Maisonneuve Blvd W, corner of Peel St) for a make-your-own salad of oriental vegetables, pasta, assorted beans, artichokes -- you name it -- to stay or to go.
In the afternoon, check out the nearby McGill University campus for a visit to the Redpath Museum (859 Sherbrooke St W). The small specialized museum devoted to natural history features a fine collection of minerals and gems.
Another nearby museum option is Musee des Hospitalieres de l'Hotel-Dieu de Montreal (201 Pine Ave W), which commemorates the medical staff of the Hotel-Dieu, Montreal's first hospital.
Arts & Culture in Montreal
Arts & Culture in Montreal
Learn about Canadian history, contemporary art, vintage films, and so much more at the various arts and culture venues in Montreal. Here are three days worth of suggestions:
1 day: Spend few hours admiring the decorative, Canadian, and European works, as well as ancient artifacts and Mediterranean antiques, on display at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1379-1380 Sherbrooke St W), which ranks with the best of them -- if not in size, in spirit. An underground exhibition tunnel runs right under Sherbrooke Street and connects two architecturally impressive buildings. It's half-price adult admission on Wednesday evenings.
Stop for lunch at Mobil Two-Star Il Cortile (1442 Sherbrooke W). This is considered a hidden gem of an Italian restaurant in a busy neighborhood. Try the mushroom risotto or spaghetti alio olio, and if it's spring or summer, ask for a table in the courtyard patio.
Down the block, visit the McCord Museum of Canadian History (690 Sherbrooke St W), an impressive archive for all things Canadian. The museum collection numbers 1.3 million artifacts and 1 million photographs, almost half taken by acclaimed local photographer William Notman and his studio, which captured almost eight decades of photos from the 1840s to the 1930s.
At night take in an English-language play at the Centaur Theatre (453 Saint Franois-Xavier St) in Old Montreal. This innovative regional Canadian theater features six English-language productions annually, with many original premieres of talented local playwrights and special performances and events, including the over-the-top Wildside Festival every winter.
2 days: Spend several hours at the Musee d'art Contemporain de Montreal (185 Saint Catherine St W), which offers eclectic, original, and imaginative contemporary art at its best, often highlighting the works of Canadian artists. Place a la Magie, the Forties, Fifties and Sixties in Quebec highlights works from the permanent collection with an emphasis on the automatist art movement of Quebec. You'll find free admission on Wednesday evenings, and the guided tours are great.
If you're in the mood to buy, travel a bit west to the nearby Belgo Building (372 Saint Catherine St W), home to dozens of art galleries featuring the wares of Quebec artists. Then head to Cinematheque Quebecoise (335 de Maisonneuve St E), a wonderful archive of the world of television and films with unique exhibits that explore everything from foreign movie posters to vintage television sets. Admission is free.
For dinner, head to Mobil Three-Star Queue De Cheval (1221 Boulevard Rene Levesque) for a classic steakhouse menu with prime beef dry-aged five weeks and spiced with bold, robust flavors. It also has a raw bar, salads, vegetarian appetizers, and fresh fish.
3 days: Start your day heading to the Canadian Center for Architecture (1920 Baile St), which can show you all about the art in architecture. The site often features fun weekend family workshops and thematic movie screenings. Admission is free on Thursday evenings.
At night, one of the best-kept English theatre secrets in town is the Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre of Saidye Bronfman Center for the Arts (5170 Ch De La Cote Saint Catherine). It's an intimate theatre space with only about 400 seats, but the plays and performances consistently wow Montreal audiences.
Before or after the performance or even during intermission, visit the adjoining Liane and Danny Taran Gallery (5170 Chemin de la Cote Saint Catherine) for a small but unique contemporary art experience.
For dinner, visit the Outremont neighborhood for two great choices. Le Petit Italien (1265 Bernard St W, near the Outremont Theatre) offers wonderful pasta originals like fettuccine with veal. Very smart half portions, too. And Chez Leveque (1030 Laurier St W) is a French bistro with nice decor and reasonable table dishes. Try the bavette and fries and the oysters when in season.
Architecture & Landmarks in Montreal
Architecture & Landmarks in Montreal
From beautiful churches and homes to unique sculptures and buildings, Montreal's architecture and landmarks are sights to behold. These itineraries will enable you to hit all the highlights.
1 day: Religious heritage is best defined by a trip to the magnificent Saint Joseph's Oratory (3800 Chemin Queen Mary Rd). The basilica dome reaches almost 300 feet into the sky. Take a stroll in the serene outdoor Gardens of the Way of the Cross. A popular collection of Nativity scenes is displayed every December to February. These items are made from just about every material imagined including glass, straw, wood, mother of pearl, paint, bronze, aluminum, sea shells, even food.
Juxtapose the old with the new. Downtown, the very colorful glass facade on the western side of Palais des Congres, Montreal's convention center, is a popular photo op. It also provides a colorful backdrop for the home of Quebec artist Jean-Paul Riopelle's "La Joute," a monumental fountain sculpture showcased in a circular pool.
Stop by the World Trade Centre Montreal (380 Saint Antoine St W) to view fragments of the Berlin Wall and admire the black granite fountain that is a work of art unto itself.
End the afternoon with a tour of Notre-Dame Basilica (110 rue Notre-Dame W), which is Neo-Gothic in design with dramatic architecture. It's known for its beautiful altar, interior design, and bells that ring in the towers.
2 days: Visit a living landmark -- Montreal's Plateau neighborhood. The area is decidedly friendly and French, a great way to experience how Montrealers truly live. The houses of the Plateau possess distinct architectural features like winding staircases, stained-glass windows, and ornate entranceways. Don't be afraid to explore the neighborhood on your own.
One of the trendiest, friendliest streets in town is Mont Royal Avenue, a bustling east-west artery that runs right through the heart of the Plateau. The Plateau's slice of Mont Royal Avenue is bordered by Iberville Avenue in the east, with Olympic Stadium towering high in the distance, to Park Avenue in the west, complete with spectacular views of Mont Royal Park.
As your two-mile tour of Mont Royal Avenue unfolds, you'll discover a street full of specialty gourmet shops, great dining for any time of day, and some really unique boutiques. You can always hop on the 97 Bus if your feet tire out before your tour ends.
Need a mini tour? Pick up some food staples and have a picnic. First some cheese, please. La Fromagerie Hamel (2117 Mont Royal Ave E) offers 250 varieties of cheeses from around the world, as well as cold cuts. Oka cheese is a local specialty. Next, Boulangerie Les Co'pains d'abord (1965 Mont Royal Ave E) is a busy, cozy cafe/pastry shop. On the shopping list: fresh baked baguette and mouth-watering chocolate almond croissant. Step three: a good read. Le Colisee du Livre Bookstore (1809 Mont Royal Ave E) is nothing fancy to look at, but the used English book bin in the basement boasts hardcover titles for as little as $1! And in that short walk there are no less than four fruit and vegetable stores -- take your pick.
One last stop before the picnic lunch is Saum-Mom (1318 Mont Royal Ave E), for smoked salmon dip in a variety of flavors. Make your way to nearby La Fontaine Park (Sherbrooke and Ave du Parc Lafontaine), which is Montreal's third largest park and quite popular with the locals. At night, La Fontaine Park's Theatre de Verdure offers free summer theatre, dance, and music under the stars.
If dinner is in your plans, Lezvos (1227A Mont Royal E) is a small, cozy, friendly neighborhood restaurant that specializes in Mediterranean cuisine. Fried calamari, lamb chops, seafood -- and reservations -- are all musts.
3 days: Atwater Market (138 Atwater Ave) is a bustling food market and known landmark full of good taste located just southwest of downtown in the St. Henri neighborhood. It's a short walk from Atwater Metro station. The building has a decidedly Art Deco look. Here you can stroll along the vendors who sell everything from fruit and flowers, cheese to chocolate. The best pizza in town, by the slice or the pie, belongs to Pizz'ancora on the market's ground floor.
Neighboring the market is another Montreal landmark: the Lachine Canal. The canal reopened to recreational boat craft a few years back. You can even work off lunch with a little exercise provided by H2O Adventures. Here you can rent paddleboats, kayaks, or eco-friendly electric boats for an authentic boat ride along the canal from May to September.
From Atwater Market, travel east along Notre Dame Street, home to Montreal's Antique Alley, where you'll find dozens of antiques shops as far as the eye can see. Stores of note include Retro-Ville (2652 Notre Dame St W) offering a nostalgic trip back through time full of toys, tins, and advertising collectibles. And Deuxiemement (1880 Notre Dame St W) is a curiosity shop that's packed to the rafters. You can't buy there but can rent or browse.
At night, catch a movie at nearby AMC Forum 22 (2313 Saint Catherine St W). The building is the former Montreal Forum, where the Montreal Canadians won most of their 24 Stanley Cups. Today the site offers 22 movie screens offering new releases as well as repertory films.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries
for Shopping in Montreal
From home decor items to board games and antiques, you'll find dozens of stores to suit you in Montreal, regardless of what's on your shopping list. Use these itineraries to plan your shopping excursions.
1 day: Go downtown and go underground. Downtown shopping along Saint Catherine Street is an all-day affair. And while highly touted as a destination of sorts, don't go out of your way looking for Montreal's Underground City for shopping. Why? You're probably already there when shopping at any number of city malls or stores and you just don't realize it. Be sure to visit Les Cours Mont-Royal, Eaton Centre, Complex Les Ailes, and Place Ville Marie. Also along the way, Ogilvy's offers upscale, while the trendy Simons is the place for city chic.
Venture a bit north to Sherbrooke Street for the likes of the very fashionable Holt Renfrew. There are tons of places for a lunchtime break. Enjoy a hearty Bento Box of salad, miso soup, sushi, grilled beef, and tempura at Zen Ya (486 Saint Catherine W), tucked away on the second floor.
Another best kept downtown lunch secret is Newtown's (1476 Crescent St). Here you'll find good bread, soup or salad, and shrimp pasta with vegetables that's generous with the shrimp.
2 days: Go local. Shop like a real Montrealer along any number of neighborhood thoroughfares. In the Plateau, shopping and strolling along Saint Denis Street and Saint Laurent Boulevard will lead you to tons of options and a real Montreal feel. Arthur Quentin (3960 St Denis St) has everything for the gourmet chef. Depart en Mer (4306 St Denis St) boasts nautical flair. And Le Valet d'Coeur (4408 St Denis St) literally translates to the jack of hearts and is the place for fun in the form of puzzles and games.
In addition, Saint Laurent Boulevard has become a center of shopping for home furnishings in Montreal. Take a furniture tour of a dozen stores centered near Saint Laurent Boulevard and Mont Royal Avenue. And while you're in the neighborhood, enjoy the place for a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz's (3895 St Laurent Blvd), a Montreal institution.
3 days: Amherst Street offers more than one dozen antique shops, many with a nostalgic retro feel. All stores are fun to check out, whether you intend to buy or browse. You can look through antiques at Antiquits A-Z (1840 Amherst St), Retro Stop (1851 Amherst St), Jack's (1860 and 1892 Amherst St), and Le 1863 (1863 Amherst St).
Along the way, visit Ecomusee du fier monde, a museum that celebrates the working class, housed in a former public bathhouse (2050 Amherst St). Across the street, enjoy a snack of fresh fruit, cheese, and a baguette at the Saint Jacques outdoor/indoor food and flower market.
For a sit-down meal, just down the block is Bistro Le Porto (1365 Ontario St E, 514-527-7067) for plentiful Portuguese fare. The grilled calamari has a smoky bite and the house soup with hearty churicho sausage offers a surprisingly light flavor. The grilled sardines are a house specialty, too. They are very tasty but are served bone-in, so they require a bit of work.
Nightlife & Entertainment in Montreal
Nightlife & Entertainment in Montreal
Strap on your dancing shoes and get ready for a bustling night scene in Montreal. Here are some of the hottest spots:
1 day: Start off with French cuisine at Mobil Three-Star Le Lutetia (1430 rue de la Montagne), which is located inside the popular Hotel de la Montagne. After dinner, you can venture into the building's piano bar and discotheque for some drinks and music to help you set the pace for the evening.
Make sure you keep your dancing shoes on, since you're going to show your moves in several places. Go to the Cathedral (3781 Saint Laurent, 514-842-4721), a trendy nightclub that plays popular music and is at its best from Thursdays through Saturdays. Then you can head to Club Atlantis (1106 de Maisonneuve W, 514-288-8829) for some of the best urban, hip-hop, and Top 40 music. Don't get lost on the dance floor if the smoke machine is working at full speed.
For late-late-late night fun, try the Aria Nightclub (1280 Saint Denis, 514-987-6712) for dancing on three floors, each offering different kinds of music depending on the DJ.
2 days: Start the day at La Ronde (22 Chemin Macdonald), a 135-acre amusement park with rides, entertainment acts on a floating stage, water skiing, and restaurants. You can easily spend several hours here. Its newest thrill ride is Goliath, a rollercoaster of biblical proportions. The three-minute coaster ride boasts an initial drop of over 171 feet, covers a course three-quarters of a mile long, and reaches speeds of 68 mph.
The Montreal Casino (1 Ave du Caino) promises excitement any time of the day since it's open 24 hours. The casino features all the gambling staples: slots, gaming tables, keno, and blackjack. When you get hungry, head to Mobil Three-Star Nuances, a stylish modern bistro located within the casino building. The upscale menu features exquisitely updated French cuisine assembled from nature's best seasonal products. You can try the popular salmon fume with potato galette and herbed cream or baked lion of lamb.
Then head to Ye Olde Orchard Pub (5563 Monkland St, 514-484-1569) in Notre-Dame-de-Grace for Irish fare and live Celtic music. After a few hours, try some live jazz or DJ hits at the Bily Kun Lounge (1627 Mont Royal E, 514-845-5392).
3 days: Live music lives in Montreal. While the Bell Centre (1216 de La Gauchetiere SW) attracts big-name arena concerts, the smaller venues delightfully surprise in both star power and intimate cabaret settings. You can broaden your horizons by visiting the Cabaret Music Hall at Just for Laughs Museum (2111 Saint Laurent Blvd, 514-845-2014); Cafe Campus (57 Prince Arthur St, 514-844-1010); Club Soda (1225 Saint Laurent Blvd, 514- 286-1010); or Spectrum (318 Saint Catherine St W, 514-861-5851).
End your evening having a casual drink as you look out over the best view of the city from the terrace of 737 Altitude (1 Place Ville Marie).
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Relaxing & Unwinding in Montreal
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Relaxing & Unwinding in Montreal
From glass-bottomed boat tours to miles of hiking/biking paths, there are dozens of ways to relax in this great city. See the suggested itineraries below to help narrow it down.
1 day: Montreal is a very bike-friendly city, so bring or rent a bicycle. There are hundreds of well-paved bike paths in and around town. Suggested itineraries include trips to the Old Port of Montreal (De la Commune St between the Saint Lawrence River and Old Montreal), along popular and pretty Lachine Canal, or a jaunt to Jean Drapeau Park (1 Circuit Gilles-Villenueve).
Pick up a map at the best biking resource in town, La Maison des Cyclists (1251 Rachel St E). It's a Plateau cafe and bike boutique where many cyclists come to meet. Every late spring, the Montreal Bike Fest gets things rolling with a week of two-wheeled fun, culminating with Tour de l'Ile, a 25-mile bike ride around Montreal.
One quaint and picturesque place for lunch is Mobil Three-Star Chez Le Mere Michel (1209 Guy St, 514-934-0473). You'll feel like you've stepped into a painting, from the quaint flower-lined walkway to the small, slightly cluttered rooms filled with eclectic collectibles. Don't worry if you're wearing your biking outfit because casual attire is allowed. The menu is classic and well-prepared French cuisine, anything you pick will be good, but the do-not-miss dessert is the strawberry Napoleon.
2 days: A number of sea cruises let you enjoy the uniqueness of the Saint Lawrence River with departures from the Old Port of Montreal (De la Commune St between the Saint Lawrence River and Old Montreal).
First up is Saute Moutons (514-284-9607), the Saint Lawrence River's wet and wild jet boat ride. Saute Moutons is a flat-bottomed boat that travels through the shallow Lachine Rapids, 15 minutes from downtown. The result when passing through these rapids is a tidal wave that cascades over the entire boat. It's a full-bodied baptism accompanied by shrieks of laughter and giddy screams. Saute Moutons operates May to mid-October, and reservations are a must. Bring sunscreen and a change of clothes.
If you don't feel the need for that much Saint Lawrence excitement, AML Cruises offers the Discoverers Cruise (514-842-3871) aboard the Cavalier Maxim from Montreal to the islands of Boucherville, 20 miles north of Montreal. Optional dinner cruises are available.
Le Bateau Mouche (514-849-9952) offers Saint Lawrence River sightseeing in a glass-enclosed boat with day cruises and romantic evening dinner cruises. Le Petit Navire (514-602-1000) offers 45-minute cruises of the Old Port waterways every summer.
3 days: In the middle of the Saint Lawrence River is Jean Drapeau Park (1 Circuit Gilles-Villenueve), a big-city respite for locals and tourists alike. The park is named after Jean Drapeau, a Montreal mayor instrumental in bringing the Metro subway system, Expo 67, and the 1976 Olympics to the city.
Jean Drapeau Park is a great place to get moving. You can explore the park by bike, in-line skate, or just take a hike. Water sports fun includes kayaking, sailboating, canoeing, windsurfing, and paddleboat rentals. You can also swim in the recently renovated public pool or the beach that filters water from the Saint Lawrence River.
Eleven sculptures adorn both islands of the park -- Ile Notre Dame and Ile Saint Helene -- and make for a great outdoor art treasure hunt. Perhaps the most famous is Alexander Calder's "Man." The on-site info kiosk located near the Metro offers free maps that mark the location of each sculpture.
There are also two museums within the confines of the park. The Stewart Museum houses such artifacts as maps, firearms, and navigational equipment that trace Canadian history from the 16th to 19th centuries. The Old Fort is an actual 18th-century fort along the Saint Lawrence River. It houses the impressive collection of historical artifacts, archival documents, maps, navigational instruments and antique arms that once belonged to David Macdonald Stewart, heir to the fortune built by Canadian tobacco industry magnate Sir William Macdonald. Military drills are held daily.
The French/English 1-2 punch alone makes Montreal an interesting city. Throw in amazing museums, beautiful architecture, great shopping, and fine cuisine, and you've got a destination that shouldn't be missed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Steve Howell is a freelance writer who has covered Montreal for the past decade. He shares his time between Montreal and Plattsburgh, New York. Steve is an admitted museum junkie, which comes in handy when covering Montreal exhibitions, events, and festivals as a weekly contributing writer to The Montreal Gazette and The Plattsburgh Press-Republican.