When you visit Montreal, it might take time to register that you’re not in a city in France but the second largest city of Canada. This lovely country has given the world many gems such as Justin Bieber, Drake, Ryan Gosling and many more. If you leave Montreal with a French accent, don’t be alarmed because it is one of the five largest French-speaking cities in the world. Here is a list of more than 30 best things you can do while you’re in Montreal:
Relax at Plateau-Mont-Royal
If you begin to feel the exhaustion of being a tourist then, this plateau will help you relax and get you in a laid back mood. This area is lined up with the most picturesque townhouses, and on almost every second wall, you will encounter a beautiful mural one of them featuring Leonard Cohen. This also happens to be one of the most Instagram friendly places due to its colorful doors and idyllic gardens such as Lafontaine Park. Last but not least, the area has numerous restaurants and cafés, such as the Charcuterie Hebraique and Noble café.
Take a Hike at Mount Royal Park
If you’ve trailed around the city for too long and are in need of a healthy dose of nature and exercise, visit the Mount Royal Park which is situated in downtown Montreal. This is a small mountain belonging to the Monteregian Hills and Montreal is named after its small extinct volcano. In the summer, a visitor can rent a rowboat or paddleboat at the artificial Beaver Lake. During the winter season, the frozen lake is used for ice skating. A hike to the summit will rejuvenate your soul and help you spend some time away from your phone.
Forget Your Worries at the Montreal Street Fairs
Montreal has a wide array of music festivals which take place every year such as the Les Francos de Montreal and the Montreal international jazz festival which take place in June and July. Though, arguably the biggest of the music festivals is the Osheaga which takes place in August and attracts international artists such as Childish Gambino. The street fairs include the first people’s festival, which is a showcase of indigenous cultures from America and the colorful Montreal pride festival.
Stop and Smell the Roses at the Montreal Botanical Garden
This is a botanical garden which not only serves to preserve the endangered plant species but also has the Botanical research institution where it educates the public about these plants. It was established at the height of the great depression in 1931 and has a number of gardens such as the quaint Japanese garden where the Japanese tea ceremony is performed every summer as well as the Chinese garden and the one dedicated to the indigenous population of Canada known as the first nation’s garden.
Party the Night Away at Py 1
This is where the true nightlife of Montreal belongs, but it is not your regular night out in the town experience, it is an upgraded version. Here, you can choose from the seven different thematic worlds such as a candy story converted into a dance club known as candy world or travel into the cosmos at the astral plane. The others include the scandalous Taboo, Sci-Matic and underworld. Each of them provides a unique experience which is hard to find in any other part of the world.
Go Green at Jean-talon Market
The Jean-talon market was set up in May of 1933, making it one of the oldest public markets in Montreal. Here, you can get a variety of fresh produce from stalls set up by farmers as well as visit one of the many restaurants serving hot food. During the winter season, the market is covered on all four sides with walls in order for the visitors to have a comfortable experience in the snow. This is a wholesome family-friendly experience which has a number of small shopkeepers such as bakers, butchers and fishmongers.
Live Your Sports Fantasy at the Olympic Stadium Park
Right opposite the Botanical garden, the iconic Olympic stadium is located at walking distance. Here, you can visit the Montreal Olympic stadium park, which contains museums and open-air events. Remember to bring your bathing suits as you can swim in their indoor Olympic size pool as it is open for a certain time of the day for public use. If you are lucky enough, you might be able to attend a sporting event at the Olympic fields. The most exciting one out of all is the planetarium, which shows the viewer a film about astronomy.
Learn While Having Fun at the Montreal Biodome
In order to keep your kids interested during the trip, take them to the Montreal Biodome which is situated inside the Olympic Park and was a cycle racing track during the 1976 summer Olympics. Today, it is an indoor aquarium, zoo and botanical garden all in one location. The Biodome tries to recreate different ecosystems ranging from the frigid South Pole to the currently suffering Amazon forest. Adults may test their geography knowledge while the kids marvel at the animals behind the glass panes.
All in One at Old Montreal
The old town of Montreal was established as a French settlement in the year 1642 and even today has maintained the royal heritage and its grey cobblestone pathways. If you’re a history buff, you can visit the famous Notre-Dame Basilica or visit a museum such as the Montreal science center. You can also get a taste of the many restaurants in the area. My recommendations would be a Japanese pub called Kyo and Maison Christian Faure, which is for anyone with a sweet tooth. It is also a great place to do some high street shopping such as Marche Bonsecours and the eclectic shop Escape Pepin.
Art Meets Technology at the Phi Centre
This is an interactive as well as a multidisciplinary studio which combines art, films, technology, music and design to churn out exhibitions and events which are unique and innovative. This may not seem like a typical tourist spot, but it will give you an understanding of the changing modern environment of Canada. The Phi centre was set up by Phoebe Greenberg and has a focus on content creation, which is unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Explore the Jacques Cartier Bridge
This bridge was originally named the Montreal harbor bridge at the time of its construction in 1930 but was renamed as the ‘Jacques Cartier bridge’ in 1934 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the explorer Jacques Cartier’s first voyage to St. Lawrence. This majestic bridge crosses the vast river of St. Lawrence and in the centre crosses Saint Helen’s Island. This is a historic site of Montreal and simply cannot be missed.
See Upside Down at the Cirque Du Soleil
Who in this world doesn’t like a circus, especially one which doesn’t torture animals for its own profits? The amusement has a new name, and it’s Cirque du Soleil. Even though this show is world-renowned and can be seen in other cities of the world as well, you should seize the opportunity and book your tickets to one of their many enthralling shows including the iconic Alegria which has been given a new twist by this performing arts company. Every dollar spent on the tickets is definitely worth it.
Be One With the Beat at Tam-tams
True to its playful name, this is an unusual weekly festival which takes place at the Mount Royal Park. Thanks to a number of students from West Indies in the 1960s this tradition which is centred on the beating of drums has cemented its place in the culture of Montreal. The name, tam-tams is derived from the sound that is produced while beating the drums. Today, there is also DJs and various other local singers present at this event and don’t be alarmed if you see a police officer around, this festival is associated with the Cannabis culture.
Have a Picnic at Parc Jean-Drapeau
The Parc Jean-Drapeau Park is situated near downtown Montreal and is an idyllic spot for a day of relaxation and soaking in the sun. Here, you can hike the stunning trails of Mount Boulle and visit the breathtaking Floralies Gardens. There are also Yoga sessions held frequently in the park, which can help you calm down and rejuvenate. This is the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic or a quiet stroll among the lush green environs.
Liberate Your Mind at Aires Libres
One of the most impressive feats of Montreal is the space it has created for the LGBTQ+ community; one such area is Aires Libres, which is known as the gay village of the city. This year, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada and this village contains around 300 businesses including restaurants and bars which identity with the LGBTQ community. There are also splendid art installations in the area such as 18 shades of Gay and TOILETPAPER which will be set up for the public next year.
Visit the Lachine Canal
Lachine canal is a national historic site of Canada, and this is evidenced by its 13.5-kilometer route which runs between Old Port and Lake Saint-Louis. More than the canal itself, the various spots situated along it are what makes it an interesting stop for tourists. One such place is the Victorian house called Sir George Etienne Cartier’s home and the fur trade, which helps the visitor relive the adventures of the voyagers. On one side, you can also find an urban park and industrial buildings shadowing the canal.
Have a Taste of Jewish Cuisine at the Saint-Laurent Boulevard
Saint-Laurent Boulevard divides the city into two halves and cuts through many exciting areas of the city such as the Old town, little Italy, the plateau and Chinatown. This area is sometimes also referred to as ‘the main’ since the time British were in power in 1792. It is a well-known and loved area of the city by all old and young people alike. The tourist appeal lies in its variety of Jewish restaurants such as Schwartz’s Deli and Moishes. Unlike the rest of the city, French is not heavily spoken here as it is multilingual.
Go Round at La Grande Roue De Montreal
How about if you get a 360-degree view of the entire city without actually travelling to all the locations? Well, fortunately, with the help of Canada’s largest Ferris wheel, you can. La Grande Roue De is situated at the Old Port area and was built in the year 2017 on the 375th anniversary of the city. As you take a circle in the wheel, you will be able to survey the areas of Old and Downtown Montreal as well as Mont-Royal and the vast St. Lawrence River.
Relax as You Float at Bota Bota
The Bota Bota spa set up in the year 2011 by a pair of sisters sounds too good to be true. It is a spa inside a ferry floating on the St. Lawrence River. Here, they borrow the style of the Scandinavians and visitors have to alternate between hot and cold water plunges followed by a steam room and sauna in order to get the complete experience. This is a high-end spa aimed at a population with heavy pockets which are ready to spend a hefty amount for a day’s worth of detoxification.
Fall in Love With Art at Musee D’art Contemporain
This museum was opened in the year 1964 and is the first museum in Canada dedicated to contemporary art. Despite changing several locations over the years, the museum is situated in the largest cultural complex of Montreal. Musee d’art Contemporain is home to 7,000 works of art by more than 1,500 artists. Though it does have a number of international artists, its main focus lies in Canadian and local artists from the city.
Heal Within at the L’oratoire Saint-Joseph
The Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal was authorized in 1910 by Pope Pius X and has remained a symbol of faith for the people of Montreal. In the older days, this church was famous for its healing powers, and this has continued when in 2007, a dishevelled man confronted Father Charles Corso by threatening to kill himself but the father was successful in calming the man down even before the police arrived on the scene.
Feel the Daze at the Quartier Des Spectacles
This is known as the cultural heart of Montreal owing to its many artistic displays on the street as well as its 40 performance halls and numerous festivals which take place all year round. The area is well known for its bars and restaurants as well as luminous architecture, which are ordinary buildings made extraordinary with the help of colorful lights. This is a must-visit spot of the city.
Dance the Night Away at M Telus
M Telus, previously known as Metropolis, was opened in the year 1884 as a skating rink but was later converted into a performing arts concert hall. This has a seating capacity for more than 2,000 people and generally holds rock music concerts. It is situated in the cultural heart of Quartier des Spectacles and if you’re lucky enough to catch a good show, don’t forget to dance the night away.
Ain’t No Town Like Chinatown
Chinatown may not be the largest area of the city, but it is definitely packed with a lot of fun and festivities. The best way to experience this L shaped district is by surveying all of its cheap yet delicious food such as the Dragon beard candy which is an ancient confectionary. You should try the delicious buns of the Patisserie Harmonie-Chinatown as well as the Patisserie Bao Bao dim sum. If you’re interested in partying, you should pay a visit to the CEO bar karaoke lounge.
Support a Local Author at Librairie Drawn and Quarterly
This cozy bookstore with wooden architecture was opened quite recently in the year 2007 but has earned a reputation for being unique. Before it opened, some bookstores in the vicinity housed a majority of books in English while some others only had French books. Drawn and Quarterly was opened in order to showcase the talents of the local and national authors as well as the independent presses which are not generally seen in bigger bookstores. Spending a quiet afternoon here will definitely make you buy a book or two.
Turn Back the Clock at Café Cleopatra
Built-in the 1920s when Montreal was known as the ‘Paris of North America’ because of its brothels, gambling and police raids. Café Cleopatra may be a strip club at first glance, but when you look closer, you will realize this shady building has witnessed all the ups and downs of the city through the years. It was known for its drag shows, concerts, burlesque and strip shows. Despite the fact that everything around this club has assumed modernity, Café Cleopatra stays true to its history and shows no sign of change.
Visit a Giant Orange at Gibeau Orange Julep
This is unlike any fast food restaurant you’ve ever seen, and this is mainly because the building is in the size of a giant orange. This national gem was opened in the year 1932 by Herman Gibeau who used to serve his famous trademark drink called Orange Julep and for a period of time also had roller-skating waitresses but today, it operates more like a traditional fast food enterprise. Gibeau orange julep is the perfect place to try authentic Canadian fast food.
Be a Part of the Experience at Stratosphere Projection Room
Cinema in itself is enjoyable, the ability to see moving pictures on a big screen is considered to be an exciting experience but with the entry of the Stratosphere the screen at your local theatre will no longer interest you. This is an immersive human experience while sitting inside a 360-degree screen which provides not only the visual but also the audio from 157 speakers in total. The viewer may feel as though they are a part of the film they are watching and trust me; it doesn’t get better than this.
Feel the Urban Vibes at the Village Au Pied-du-courant
This is a boardwalk that was initially started as a summer experiment in the year 2014 when an urban design company took the city’s land and repurposed it to make a beautiful and functional design. This design proved to be extremely successful, and every year since, this is being held. The admission for this boardwalk is for free, and you can also find places to eat and drink here. The highlight of this village is in the summer season when at night, they burst firecrackers.
Have a Glass of Wine With Your Popcorn at Cinema Moderne
Are you tired of watching mainstream commercial movies every year? Well, if you are then, Cinema moderne will feel like a breath of fresh air. True to its name, this cinema mostly showcases independent films which are not meant for wide releases and are made by relatively lesser-known artists. They also collaborate with universities and other organizations to put up workshops and live events. To top it all off, this theatre has a café-bar inside it.
Feel the Heat at Cabaret Mado
The rainbow soars high in this part of the city because of gender-bending drag performances which take place in the glitzy Cabaret Mado. Though, this is only recommended for adults and not children considering the names of some of their shows such as ‘Lust and shine’ and ‘Top or bottom’. Though, this show is packed full of fun and has been featured in numerous publications for its hilarious and satirical performances.
Craft Your Own Beer at Dieu Du Ciel
This is a famous and well-known craft brewery in the city of Montreal which was opened in the year 1998 and has been successfully running for 21 years. Though, they vouch for staying true to the traditional flavors and ideas of a brewery; they are also known for their innovation and creativity. In order to have an authentic brewery experience of Montreal, this place is highly recommended.
I hope you’re convinced enough that this dynamic country deserves a special spot on your travel bucket list. If not, then just look up some photos of Justin Trudeau on Google and reawaken your wanderlust. During the summer season, you can come for the lively festival scene, and during the harsh winters, a visitor can relish in the snow and learn some ice skating.