Montreal is the second biggest city in Canada (next to Toronto) and a city that is known for many things including their award-winning restaurants, their lively festivals and music scene, and the endless amount of things to do for people of all ages and all interests.
For me, Montreal is only about five and a half hours away from Toronto, so it makes for a great weekend getaway, but prior to this past weekend, I really only had gone to party when I was in college. Since my priorities have obviously changed since then, I was eager to get back to Montreal to be a real tourist and get a better taste of everything this Canadian city has to offer.
Whether you’re visiting from a nearby city like Toronto or in town for a only a few days, here is my suggested itinerary for what you should do.
Montreal is known for their restaurants and most locals will have a hard time recommending where to eat because there are so many good places that it’s hard to go wrong. We headed to a newer establishment located in the St.Henri neighbourhood called Arthurs Nosh Bar.
From the minute we walked up to this restaurant, I was already in love. The neon pink sign welcomed us into a freshly designed joint, with penny-tiled floors and letter board menus. I was so in love with the decor that I could’ve hung out there all day. If you’re coming for breakfast, try the pancakes that are made with cottage cheese (trust me, they’re amazing) and be prepared to wait in line if you don’t show up when they open at 9:00am on weekends.
After brunch, head to the Barbie Expo (sorry boys). This expo only opened at the beginning of 2016 and has no intention of leaving in the near future. The expo has over 1,000 Barbie’s on display ranging from dolls that came from collectors, to dolls that were designed from famous designers from around the globe. The best part is, it’s free, but donations are encouraged as proceeds go towards the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
You’ll find the expo at Peel Street. Enter the shopping centre and follow the signs to the bottom floor. It’s a bit difficult to find in the centre, but there’s lots of people to ask!
Next catch the panoramic views of the city at Au Sommet Place Ville Marie, located at 3 Place Ville Marie. You’ll enter through the shopping centre and make your way to the ticket desk (there are lots of signs to point in the direction). After purchasing your ticket ($19 CDN + tax for adults), head up to the 46th floor to the observation deck where you’ll see a 360 degree view of the city. After soaking in the view, head to the 45th floor for the #MTLGO exhibit which teaches you interactively about the history and different aspects of the city. There is also a restaurant and outdoor terrace located on the 44th floor if that’s something of interest to you.
Next head to explore Old Montreal and the Old Port. Old Montreal is the oldest area of the city and most of it is declared a historical district. Come to enjoy the cobblestone streets, cute boutique stores, cafes and restaurants, and charming buildings. Wander through the street vendors and artists on Place Jacques-Cartier, and don’t forget to make a visit to the beautiful Notre Dame Basilica, the city’s most beautiful church.
The Old Port is home to many activities too, including the Science Centre, ziplining, the Clock Tower Beach and several festivals and events. When I was visiting, YUL Eat Festival was on at the Old Port which brings together foodies and chefs from across the city and beyond.
To end your day, head to the Botanical Gardens. I visited in the night when they host Gardens of Light in September and October. I did however find that the gardens were overflowing with people moving slowly like cattle through a narrow pathway to admire the few lantern installations they had set up in a portion of the gardens. Instead I’d suggest to skip the Gardens of Light and head to the gardens during the day instead.
After visiting the Botanical Gardens, take a stroll by the Olympic Stadium and Olympic Park located right across the street. Since these things are a bit out of the way from the other main attractions, you should kill two birds with one stone while you’re there.
Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, have a meal that will leave your belly smiling (if that was possible). We headed to Restaurant Holder where I had the yummiest lobster ravioli which was to die for, and a tasty warm goat cheese appetizer. Make sure to make a reservation as it’ll fill up fast!
After dinner if you’re looking for somewhere to go for drinks, take a quick Metro ride to Dieu du Ciel. Dieu du Ciel is located in the Plateau neighbourhood and is one of the most well known local breweries in the city. Although the service was a bit slow when we were there, the atmosphere and brews were great and relatively inexpensive! On weekends, be prepared to wait for a table.
Head for a tasty breakfast/brunch at another popular spot. Some of the recommended ones are L’Express, Maison Publique and Beauty’s (to name a few). Alternatively, you can head to Jean Talon Market early (this was my next recommendation on my itinerary) and grab something to eat from the extensive selection of vendors at the market or one of the cute cafes bordering it.
Spend some time exploring the wonderful vendors lined with colourful and fresh produce, herbs and more. The market has been around since 1933 in what is now Little Italy and is open year round, but of course it is much larger during the summer months when stalls don’t need to be indoors.
After the market, explore Little Italy and the neighbouring area of the Plateau neighbourhood. Enjoy the murals on some of the walls in the area from the annual Mural Festival, the great architecture and awesome shops.
If you’re ready to eat again, head to one of the oldest delis in Canada, Schwartz’s. This deli is also one of the most famous and a must-do when visiting Montreal (even if you’re not hungry). With a simple and small restaurant and take out window, Schwartz’s is most well known for their smoked meat sandwiches which cost approximately $9 CDN each and are filled with tons of meat and mustard. Be prepared to wait in line, but it moves fairly fast.
Next, if the weather is nice, head to Mount Royal, a large volcanic-related hill west of downtown. Enter at Rue Peel and climb up the over 300 steps to get to the top where you can enjoy your picnic, check out a view of the city from the lookout, or walk along and explore some of the many hiking paths.
On Sunday’s, at the bottom of the mountain, near the corner of Parc and Rachel, under the tall angel statue (George-Etienne Cartier Angel), you’ll find one of the most lively Sunday activities. Each Sunday in the summer months, drummers and dancers gather around the statue for a jam session (called the Tam Tams) that lasts most of the afternoon. Bring a blanket and a picnic to soak in the sun and enjoy the lively rhythms.
Another option for those visiting in the summer is to head to Piknic Electronik. Piknic happens every Sunday from May to October at Jean-Drapeau Park (about 10 minutes from downtown). Picknic brings together electronic music fans for musical events and performances throughout the summer months.
After you’re cleaned up from enjoying some sort of live music from the suggestions above, head for dinner at one of Montreal’s renowned restaurants. Some regularly recommended places include: Joe Beef, Toque, and Au Pied de Cochon (book well in advance) but like I said, there are so many restaurants that taking a walk down the road and just picking a place can still land you a delicious meal.
If you are interested in heading out for some drinks after dinner, Montreal is all about their terraces, and when you live in Canada, you might as well soak in the nice weather for as long as you can before winter hits. Jodi of Legal Nomads recommends Terrasse Bonsecours, SAT FoodLab and Terrasse Place d’Armes.
Lastly, at some point during this itinerary, make time to grab some bagels at Fairmount Bagel. They are in the Plateau neighbourhood and open 24 hours. Montreal bagels are famous and Fairmount has been one of the best spots in the city for them since 1919.
This is just a short itinerary to give you an idea of how you can spend a weekend or two days in the beautiful city of Montreal, but just like most cities, there are millions of things to do that cater to just about anyone’s interests. For a full list of things to do, visit the Tourism Montreal website here.
If there’s something you feel is a must-do things in Montreal that I’m missing from this list, share below in the comments!
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Disclaimer: I visited Montreal with the help of the Quebec Region and Montreal Tourism Boards. I only recommend things that I enjoyed, and think other travellers would also enjoy. All opinions in this piece are my own and 110% honest.