Is Montreal worth visiting? In my opinion, yes! I went to Montreal during the winter and what I first noticed about Montreal was that, whatever the weather (and it was -21 degrees!), you will find something interesting to do in Montreal.
Where is Montreal?
Montreal is situated in Canada in the southwest of the province of Quebec. The city is located between the Saint Lawrence river to its south and the Riviere des Prairies to the north.
What to do in Montreal?
Whatever you are looking for in a travel destination, Montreal has something for you: culture, a lively party scene, beautiful landscapes and delicious food.
In Montreal, people speak French although most of them speak English as well. Bienvenue à Montreal!
1. Old Montreal
The best way to start exploring Montreal is to begin at the origins of the city. Old Montreal is an area next to the Saint Lawrence river and was founded by French settlers in 1642 as Fort Ville-Marie. If you are looking for historical buildings, then this area is for you. Walking in Old Montreal is just like walking in an old French city. Picturesque cobblestone roads transport you back in time. Don’t forget to visit Notre Dame Basilica, one of the best churches in North America. You can just walk around this area to discover amazing buildings, museums and restaurants.
2. Mont-Royal (Mount Royal)
Mont-Royal is the best place to get a good view of the city and it is free! You can walk to the top of Mont-Royal by following one of the many different paths or, if you prefer, you can take a bus (Line 11, 165 or 80). At the top, depending on the season, you can enjoy a picnic, walk along foot paths, ice-skate, cross-country ski or go sledging. You can easily rent equipment from a chalet if you need it. Mont-Royal is the perfect place to escape from the city.
On Sunday afternoons, at the east end of the park, you will also find a big circle where people perform Tam-Tams and dance.
3. Eat Local Specialities
Montreal offers many great foods for you to discover. If it is your first time in Montreal, you should try these different dishes:
- Poutine: Poutine is simply chips with cheese and gravy. It may look strange but believe me it is very good, especially in winter when you need plenty of calories. There are plenty of different types of Poutine. It’s fun adding different toppings to the traditional chips, cheese and gravy.
- Salt beef: Everybody knows about the salt beef sandwich (large thick slabs of smoked brisket seasoned to perfection), but in Montreal this sandwich is at another level altogether (la crème de la crème). Don’t miss out this speciality, I still remember mine!
- Fairmount Bagel: You are going to tell me a bagel is a bagel, but in Montreal you need to try the Fairmount Bagel which is hand-formed and baked in a woodfire oven. That’s what makes this the best bagel!
4. Underground City
Montreal’s Underground City is the best place to be during the winter period. To explain, the Underground City is ‘a city under the city’ connected by tunnels with shops and tube stations. You will be protected from the cold temperatures outside and find everything you need underneath the ground including shops, cinemas, hotels, the university and a hospital. In total, there are 32 km (20 miles) of tunnels and 12 squares. 120 exterior access points and 6 Metro entrances grant you access to all of downtown Montreal without the need to go outside. Over half a million people, use the Underground City every day.
5. Rue Saint-Paul
he Rue Saint-Paul or St Paul Street is the oldest street in Montreal. Much of the street is still paved with cobblestones which makes you feel like you have stepped back in time. There are also plenty of historic buildings to be discovered here on Montreal’s oldest street. You can also stop and get a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants.
You may also be interested in:
There are 40 museums in Montreal which offer something for everybody. If you want a day out with the kids, you could try visiting the Redpath Museum to admire dinosaurs and ancient Egyptian mummies. Alternatively, you could visit the Museum of Fine Arts which is free and one of the 10 most visited museums in North America. The museum is divided into 5 pavilions which house an impressive art collection. If you prefer archaeology and history, the best place to visit is the Pointe-à-Calière museum. As you can see, Montreal has some great places to go if you are looking for cultural experiences.
When I want to discover more about an area, I always try to find a market where locals shop. Markets are great places to smell, taste and experience the range of food on offer in a country.
Montreal’s best market is the Jean Talon market. It’s situated in the heart of Little Italy and is the oldest market in Montreal. Whatever you are looking for, you will find it inside this market, whether it’s local food or products from other places. From April until October, the market is open air. You can use public transport to access the Jean Talon market. Both Metro and bus stops are just a few minutes away (Metro De Castelno is the nearest).
8. Montreal Biodome
The Biodome was built for the summer Olympics of 1976 to host Judo and cycling events. Now, the biodome is used as a space for life. When it opened, this was a world first with all the elements working together to create an ecosystem. There are 5 different ecosystems inside the Biodome: The Tropical Rainforest, The Laurentian Maple Forest, The Gulf of St. Lawrence and The Subpolar Regions of the Americas.
9. The Bell Centre
No trip to Montreal is complete without going to see an ice hockey match. The Bell Centre is the home of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team. There is a great atmosphere inside and, even if you’re not a big fan of hockey, you will soon become part of the spectacle as you join in with the crowd shouting, “Go Habs Go!”.
You can have a similar experience in the Bell Centre’s 1909 Taverne Moderne.
10. Old Port
The Old Port is a historical port along the St Lawrence river. It is one of the oldest and most beautiful waterfronts in North America. It was redeveloped as a recreation area with shops, restaurants and exhibitions and is a great place to relax and explore.
11. Place Ville Marie Observatory
The Place Ville Marie Observatory is the highest observatory in Montreal. It gives visitors one of the best views of the city. The observation deck is 185 m above ground and allows you to have a 360-degree view of the city below. Look out for the Olympic Stadium, Mont Royal, Old Montreal, Quartier des Spectacles and the Saint Lawrence river.
The observatory opens between September 4th to June 24th from 10am (11am Sunday) to 6pm. From June 25th to September 3rd, opening times are 10am to 7pm (Monday to Thursday), 10am to 9pm (Friday to Saturday) and 11am to 6pm (Sunday).
12. Montreal Botanical Garden
Montreal boasts one of the best botanical gardens in the world. There are 20 themed gardens, 10 greenhouses and 22,000 species in over 75 hectares. The Montreal Botanical Garden offers yearlong exhibitions and activities. Located a few minutes from downtown Montreal, the garden offers the perfect escape for a day out from the city.
The garden’s opening times are Monday to Thursday 9am to 9pm and Friday to Sunday 9am to 10 pm. An adult full price ticket to the Montreal Botanical Garden costs $20.
13. Voiles en Voiles
Voiles en Voiles is a family adventure park in the old Port of Montreal where you can climb and cross suspended bridges. All the activities are themed around pirates and feature replica ships. This is one of the best outside family activities which will make lasting memories. There are activities for all ages which vary from season to season. In summer and winter time, there is always something good to do.
Voiles en Voiles is open every weekend and the price of an adult ticket is $49.
14. Saint Joseph’s Oratory
The Saint Joseph’s Oratory is a Roman Catholic Basilica and is one of the largest churches in the world with the third largest dome in the world. It is situated in Mont-Royal. There is a daily Mass in French at 8.30am and everyone is welcome. You can also visit the Oratory’s Crypt Church, which was constructed in 1916. If you have time, make sure you also visit the beautiful garden.
15. Olympic Stadium
Montreal’s Olympic Stadium was built for the 1976 Summer Olympics. The stadium has a couple of different nicknames: ‘Big O’ due to the doughnut shape of the stadium and ‘Big Owe’ because of the price of this stadium! In terms of seating, the stadium is the largest in Canada and it now hosts different types of events including concerts and trade shows. You can visit the stadium with a guided tour or check out an event here.
16. Plateau Mont-Royal
This area is a great place to stay overnight as it’s quite lively with plenty of shops and restaurants. The laid-back Plateau Mont-Royal area is known as a young, student friendly neighbourhood. Here, you will find bars, restaurants, galleries and theatres. Just wander around the streets of the Plateau and see what you find.
If you are not too tired from your day, you can go to some of the best clubs in the city and put your dance skills to the test. There are plenty of different clubs in Montreal and I’m sure you will find the right one for you. You could try ‘Ausgang Plaza’ or ‘Soubois’.
18. Cirque du Soleil
No visit to Montreal is the same without watching a Cirque du Soleil show. Montreal is the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil. Today, Cirque du Soleil perform shows across the world and their success stems from combining stories with high level acrobatics. I’ve seen their shows a few times and each time they are magical and never fail to enthral and please.
19. McGill University
McGill University is Canada’s oldest and most prestigious university. Even if you finished your studies long ago, it is very pleasant to wander around this university campus, especially if it is sunny.
20. Habitat 67
Habitat 67 is a most curious and interesting housing complex. It was built for the World’s Fair Expo 67 and designed by architect Moshe Safdie. The housing complex was a concept for Safdie’s master’s thesis in architecture at McGill University. Today, Habitat 67 is one of the most instantly recognizable and spectacular architectural landmarks.
Montreal is a vibrant city and has always been a hub for entertainment. All year round, you will find many different festivals in Montreal. During the summertime, just head to the Old Port at weekends to find plenty of entertainment activities. The most famous festivals are the Fireworks Festival (July), Just For Laughs (July) and the Festival en Lumière (February).
Is Montreal Worth Visiting ?
Montreal is definitely a city to visit during summer or winter time. Everyone will find something to their taste regardless of their age. The food is delicious, and the people are charming. I was amazed when I got off the tube and saw some people outside giving ‘Free Hugs’. Go and see for yourself!