Are you looking to find the best things to do in Montreal Canada? Montreal is a popular destination for travellers in the province of Quebec. It’s set on an island in the Saint Lawrence River and named after Mt. Royal, the triple-peaked hill at its heart. There are many tourist attractions in the city, ranging from historical buildings to museums, to exciting nightlife, and more.
Here are the top 22 things for you to do in Montreal.
1. Visit Notre Dame Basilica
Notre Dame Basilica is one of the most well-known landmarks in downtown Montreal (known as Old Montreal). Nearly one million people visit the Roman Catholic basilica every year.
The interior of the church is among the most dramatic in the world and is regarded as a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture. The vaults are coloured deep blue and decorated with golden stars. The rest of the sanctuary is decorated in blues, azures, reds, purples, silver, and gold.
I still vividly remember the first time I visited the Basilica. When the door opened and I walked in, surrounded by the solemnness and magnificence of the ambience, I truly felt that I understood the word “awed”, as if I was witnessing something that transcends my understanding of the world.
You can purchase tickets online or in person when you visit the Basilica. The basic tickets will grant you access to the interior of the church. They have also added an AURA Experience, which is a multimedia experience that will immerse you in a captivating visual and musical universe.
2. Check out Chinatown
After a morning visit to the Notre Dame Basilica, you may want to walk to the Montreal Chinatown nearby for a quick bite. The neighbourhood is only 5 minutes away from the Basilica, and it contains many Asian restaurants, food markets, and convenience stores. The food is affordable and delicious there, and you will also get to view some traditional Chinese decorations.
3. Visit the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History
After lunch, you can head to the Museum of Archaeology and History (Pointe-À-Callière Museum), which is located on Rue de la Commune (English: De la Commune Street). This museum is also 5 minutes away from Chinatown, making it perfect for an afternoon visit.
The museum was founded in 1992 as part of celebrations to mark Montreal’s 350th birthday. The museum has collections of artifacts from the First Nations of the Montreal region that illustrate how various cultures coexisted and interacted, and how the French and British regimes influenced the history of this territory over the years. You will learn plenty about Montreal’s history, including the stories about the founding members.
In addition to learning about Montreal, you can also have plenty of fun. Their permanent exhibition, Come Aboard! Pirates or Privateers, is my favourite. You will have an opportunity to climb aboard a pirate ship and learn about the lives of pirates and privateers—what they ate, the maritime manoeuvres they had to know to captain a ship, the punishments, and their personal hygiene. It is super interactive and fun.
The museum also has temporary exhibitions depending on your visit time. When we visited this year, the exhibition was about Vikings. We saw plenty of authentic pieces of jewelry, weapons, and tools from the Age of the Vikings, and learned plenty about the myths and reality of these seafaring people.
4. Have some Patio time/leisure stroll in Old Montreal/Old Port
Your legs may be sore after visiting the museum. Don’t worry, there are plenty of patios for you to relax and have some awesome finger food or drinks nearby.
After some good resting time, take a leisure stroll down the narrow cobblestone streets and explore Old Montreal. This place is full of lively plazas, charming shops, indie cafes, interesting restaurants and more. You can also ride the ferris wheel (La Grande Roue de Montréal). Canada’s tallest observation wheel will show you the beauty of the city from 60 metres above Montreal’s Old Port.
5. Climb Mount Royal
You can’t visit Montreal without visiting Mount Royal, the small volcano in downtown Montreal from which the name “Montreal” is believed to be derived. Mount Royal Park was designed by the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, the same man responsible for the design of New York City’s Central Park.
Mount Royal has many different trails. You can easily spend a few hours appreciating the beautiful scenery. I highly recommend that you take the 400 wooden steps up to the lookout (Kondiaronk Belvedere) for a bird’s-eye view of the city of Montreal.
After you visit Mount Royal, you may want to take in some greenery in La Fontaine Park, which is a 40-hectare urban park located in the borough of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal.
6. Visit the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des beaux-arts Montréal)
After climbing down from Mount Royal, with your lungs filled with fresh air, you may want to soak up some culture by visiting the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which is a short distance away from Mount Royal.
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is the largest art museum in Canada by gallery space. It houses over 45,000 art pieces. We spent over 4 hours there, and we weren’t able to look at all the pieces in detail. I do have to admit that I didn’t know how to appreciate some of the pieces though.
My favourite section of the museum was the one that showcases modern furniture. I could see myself owning some of the pieces, that is if I had an unlimited budget. Haha.
All in all, it was a great museum worth visiting. I highly recommend that you give it a go.
7. Have fun at the Barbie Expo
If you are a barbie fan like me, you cannot miss the Barbie Expo which is also located a short 5-minute walk away from the Museum of Fine Arts. There are over 1,00 Barbie dolls dressed in bridal gowns or outfits by world-renowned designers such as Christian Dior, Versace, Givenchy, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, and Vera Wang. Many of the dolls are inspired by celebrities such as Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and so on.
For Hollywood film fans, there are Barbies inspired by “The Hunger Games”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Twilight”, “Grease”, “Titanic”, “My Fair Lady” and “Gone with the Wind”.
Custom-made, one-of-a-kind Barbie dolls include Kate Middleton, Marie Antoinette, Coco Chanel, Grace Kelly and Cleopatra.
Don’t forget that admission is completely free!
8. Appreciate nature at the Biosphere
You may have seen this geodesic dome-shaped structure in postcards or YouTube videos about Montreal. This is the Biosphere. It is housed in the former United States pavilion constructed for Expo 67 located within the grounds of Parc Jean Drapeau on Saint Helen’s Island.
The Biosphere is a museum dedicated to the environment, so obviously, you can learn plenty about Mother Earth during your visit. They also have some hands-on rooms particularly suited for kids. You can get inside the dome by going up the elevator to the top floor of the museum and enjoying the open space and the view that the Biosphere has to offer.
9. Enjoy some street time
The Montreal streets are packed with activities, especially in the summer. We saw many free acrobatic street performances, mini-concerts and street festivals while we were there. It was great immersing in the local atmosphere and enjoying the city like a local. You will never be bored!
10. Eat a deli sandwich at Schwartz’s Deli
Schwartz’s deli is arguably the most famous and oldest restaurant in Montreal offering huge smoked meat sandwiches. The portion is satisfying, and the taste is fantastic. All without a heavy price tag! Believe it or not, Celine Dion is a part-owner of this restaurant since 2012.
After some good food, you can walk along the famed Saint Laurent Boulevard, nicknamed The Main, for some casual sightseeing while digesting your food!
11. Have a plate of poutine at La Banquise
Poutine, a dish of french fries, cheese curds, brown gravy, and optionally other toppings, is an iconic dish that you cannot miss when you travel to Montreal, Quebec.
La Banquise is one of the top-recommended places for poutines. They have over 30 different poutines, all with different toppings. Not to mention that this store is open 24 hours, so you can always drop by whenever you have a craving.
Other than poutines, La Banquise also serves burgers, sandwiches, hefty breakfasts, and more. Of course, if this is your first time there, I highly encourage you to try at least one of the poutines!
12. Enjoy some Fairmount bagels
This bagel store was the very first bagel bakery in Montreal, first opened in 1919 (back then, it was called the Montreal Bagel Bakery). The family changed the name of the bakery to “The Original Fairmount Bagel Bakery” in 1949 after they moved to Fairmount street. Even today, all the bagels are still rolled by hand and are baked in their old-fashioned wood-burning ovens.
This bagel store supplies many of Montreal’s high-end restaurants. I highly recommend that you drop by and give the bagels a taste.
13. Visit the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium is the successor to the Montreal Planetarium, and is located in the Espace pour la Vie, near the Olympic Stadium and the Biodome in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The new installation has two separate theatres as well as exhibits on space and astronomy. It also has immersive shows for you to learn about the space.
14. Visit Jardin Botanique (Botanical Garden)
On its 75 hectares, the Montreal Botanical Garden presents a remarkably diverse array of plants to visitors in all seasons. The plants are housed in 20 outdoor gardens and 10 exhibition greenhouses. Outdoor gardens include Japanese and Chinese gardens, as well as those devoted to alpine, aquatic, medicinal, shade, useful, and even toxic plants.
There is also an interesting Insectarium and a huge arboretum on the grounds, as well as ponds supporting a variety of birds.
The Biodome, the Insectarium, the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, and the Botanical Garden together form the Montréal Space for Life. It is the largest natural sciences museum complex in Canada.
15. Visit Oratoire Saint-Joseph (St. Joseph’s Oratory)
Saint Joseph’s Oratory is dedicated to Canada’s patron saint. It is located on the very far West side of Mount Royal. The view from the Oratory is stunning. It is Canada’s largest church.
16. Visit Atwater and Jean-Talon Markets
The Atwater Market and the Jean-Talon Market are Montréal’s busiest public markets and are well worth visiting for their atmosphere and local products.
Located in warehouse-style buildings, the markets feature many different vendors selling fruits and vegetables, flowers, meats, fish, cheese, baked goods, maple syrups, fruit jams and preserves, and specialty foods.
17. Visit Square Saint-Louis and Rue Denis
Square Saint-Louis is rated as one of Montreal’s prettiest old squares. At the square’s eastern edge, Rue St. Denis is one of the hippest shopping, arts, and dining streets in the city.
18. Visit Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in parc Jean-Drapeau
Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is a 4,361-metre long car-racing track which has played host to the F1 Grand Prix du Canada since 1978.
When it is not hosting an event, the Circuit is a one-of-a-kind facility in Montreal, where cycling, para-cycling, inline skating and running enthusiasts come to train. It is also a nice spot to go for a stroll and to have a fantastic view of the city of Montreal.
19. Shop and eat in Montreal’s underground city
This pedestrian network in downtown Montreal links metro stations to shopping plazas for over 33 kilometres (about 20.5 miles). It’s a lifesaver when you want to stroll, shop and eat away from the hot blazing sun or the freezing snow, but it’s also a go-to destination for the whole family anytime because of the world of entertainment it opens up.
20. Watch some performances in Quartier des Spectacles
The Quartier des Spectacles is the city’s major cultural district. At its heart are Place des Arts, a complex with several performance halls, and the adjacent Musée d’art contemporain. Year-round outdoor events and festivals draw large crowds here, and you certainly don’t want to miss the festive vibe!
21. Enjoy some rides at the La Ronde Amusement Park
La Ronde is Quebec’s largest and most exciting theme park. It was built as the entertainment complex for Expo 67, the 1967 World Fair.
With over 40 rides and attractions, soaring rollercoasters, and enchanting rides for children and families – La Ronde has something for everyone!
22. Do a Montreal food tour
Montreal has some of the best amazing food. Check out a food tour to enjoy some of the most delicious food in the city!
Bring your student IDs
If you are a student, you should make sure to bring your student IDs. Some museums (e.g., Biosphere) offer discounts for students. Time to use your student IDs to help you save money!
Bring your driver’s license (or any ID that has your date of birth)
In addition to student discounts, many museums also provide discounted admission tickets for young adults and seniors. For example, the general ticket for the Museum of Fine Arts costs $31. If you are between the ages of 21 and 30, the price is reduced to $16. It’s free for people under the age of 20.
Use public transportation
Getting around Montreal is pretty easy with their decent public transportation system. You can purchase transit fares right at the airport or the train station. There’s a shuttle bus that takes you straight from the airport to downtown Montreal. The same ticket also entitles you to 24 hours of transit in Montreal’s Zone A, which is pretty much where all the tourist attractions are. You can also purchase a 3-day pass, a weekly pass or a monthly pass.
As you can see, there are many things to do in Montreal Canada. If you have never been, I highly recommend that you visit this beautiful city.