Montréal may only be Canada’s second largest city (shout out to you, Toronto), but its cool and eclectic mix of culture, history, and art make it the first stop on most curious and adventurous travelers’ bucket list. Montréal is on an island. Street signs and menus are in both English and French. The drinking age is 18. Weed is legal! Need we say more?
If you’re planning a trip (but not sure where to start), don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are 31 of the absolute best things to do in Montréal:
Gawk at innovative art in an old industrial laundry warehouse
Former industrial laundry factory turned ginormous (15,000 square-foot) art gallery, the Parisian Laundry holds two stories of Canada’s best contemporary art. This space embraces a diversity of artists, with a focus on painting, sculpture and installation. Come for the rotating exhibits and performances, stay for the architecture. Seriously, this old laundry building is insanely cool.
How to: Hours are limited, so if you can’t make it during public hours, call to schedule a by-appointment-only private viewing (available on a case-by-case basis).
Take a tour of Montréal’s oldest Catholic church
Montréal’s oldest Catholic church, Basilique de Notre Dame, was built in 1818 and is widely known for its intricately designed stained glass that tells the history of the city. Guided tours are available in both French and English, but they also have free leaflets available if you want explore the site solo.
How to: If you’re looking to see this structure in an entirely new light, book tickets to Aura: an immersive light and sound experience that guides you through the church’s grandiose architecture and history. The journey “begins with a path of lights, revealing the Basilica’s wealth of exquisite works. Then, light, orchestral music and grandiose architecture combine to create a unique, three-act multimedia spectacle.”
Treat yourself to a massage on an actual floating spa
This 170-foot former ferryboat turned spa (what?) is on the tippy-top of our must list. Permanently docked on the St. Lawrence river, the boat was built in the 1950s and now features four Scandinavian-style decks and a ground floor garden, designed with deep rejuvenation and relaxation in mind. 18 luxury rooms and cabanas are available for massages and treatments, but if private pampering isn’t your thing, you’ve come to the right spot. You can spend a full day at the spa’s four-deck Water Circuit (hot and cold pools), and the day rate is actually a killer deal.
How to: Bota Bota supplies a locker, towel and robe, but don’t forget to bring a clean swimsuit and flip flops (otherwise they’ll make you buy them). And although this floating spa is open year-round, we recommend visiting in the winter. There’s something so entirely magical about sitting in an outdoor hot pool overlooking the city while snow is gently falling.
Go on a treasure hunt for cool street art
Hidden in alleys, on rooftops, in parking lots, and covering local businesses and restaurants: street art has become one of Montréal’s core visual identities over the last few decades. In 1961, the city took an active role in promoting local artists, even requiring public bundling projects to devote 1% of their budget to initiatives in the arts. Since, there have been over 3,500 public works produced and there’s even an annual festival, MURAL, that highlights Montréal’s street art every June.
How to: For the serious street art lover, we recommend taking a guided tour. Spade & Palacio offers two-hour “non-touristy tours” that include a professional local guide, a customized map, and insider tips for the rest of your stay in Montréal. Traveling on a budget? Just take a walk. There’s something to see on virtually every block.
Bundle up and feel the heat at Igloofest
Feel the heat in the dead of winter at Igloo Fest: Montréal’s coolest electronic music festival. Every January, thousands of music lovers huddle up (and bundle up) at the Quays of the Old Port for two weeks of ice cold jams. Check out Igloo Fest’s giant igloo village, enter yourself in the annual “Iglooswag” snowsuit contest, and keep yourself warm with endless hot adult drinks.
How to: When we say bundle up, we’re not kidding. The temps can dip below -25 Celsius (that’s a brisk -13 Fahrenheit). Wear layers under your snowsuit and don’t forget to protect your fingers, toes and eyes from the wind and the cold.
Eat some squeaky cheese with your poutine at La Banquise
If we know one thing for sure, it’s that Montréalers love poutine. For those who don’t reside in the Northeast, here’s the scoop: poutine is a staple Quebec dish that consists of hot greasy french fries, squeaky cheese curds, and a healthy heap of fresh brown gravy. Sound gross? Yep. Absolutely delicious? You bet. If you’re seeking the full Montréal poutine experience, La Banquise is the spot to hit. This bright and colorful restaurant has an extensive menu (we’re talkin’ 30+ unique poutine dishes), vegan options, and really cool late-night vibes (did we mention they’re open 24/7?).
How to: To wait in line at La Banquise during peak times (dinner to late night, Friday- Sunday) is actually crazy. You can pretty much always expect a winding line of hungry bellies down the sidewalk. Speaking from personal experience, this is pretty miserable during the winter, so shoot to visit during the week, and lunch might be best.
Hike Mont Royal and see a golden sunrise
Okay, so maybe not a mountain, but at 764ft, Mont Royal is one of the best hikes close to the city. This big ole hill has deep roots, dating all the way back to 1535 when Jacques Cartier stumbled on the land and called it Mont Royal after it’s incredible views (the city of Montréal was later named after it). Today, you can explore Mont Royal in many ways. Depending on your fitness level, you can hike, bike, bus or drive up to the summit and Mont Royal Lookout. There are also lakes, pavilions and gift shops, so make sure to take your time and discover all that this hilly landscape has to offer.
How to: If you’re looking for some physical activity (but want to avoid the crowds completely), head to the Outremont Summit and surrounding parks. There are no signs, and it’s pretty hard to access via public transit, but once you find it (the side entrance is located in a residential area of Mont-Royal Blvd), you’ll be greeted by pristine woods, winding slopes, and a treasure at the summit: a solitary stone lookout.
Experience an immersive audio-visual show in a 360-degree projection dome
The Satosphere, a project by the Montréal Society for Arts and Technology, is the world’s first immersive modular theater in a dome (think planetarium), with a 360-degree spherical projection screen and adult drinks. This space puts its 350 guests at the center of a tangible, inclusive, immersive audio-visual experience. Be prepared to lay back, relax, and feel very human.
How to: Before or after the show, head to the third floor of the SAT building and you’ll find Labo Culinaire, AKA Foodlab, where you can snag a bite off of their innovative food and cocktail menu. Foodlab’s rooftop patio is perfect for the summer, and is often filled with tourists and local students enjoying a late night.
Try Montréal’s famous bagels and pick a team
Allow us introduce you to the heart of Montréal culture and cuisine (cue drumroll please): the Montréal-style bagel. The Montréal-style bagel is distinctive, handmade and wood-fired. In contrast to the New York Style Bagel, the Montréal bagel is smaller, thinner, sweeter and denser. There are entire articles devoted to arguing why Montréal makes a superior bagel, but we’ll leave that fight to the experts and simply say this: a trip to Montréal is not complete with out a bagel and some schmear.
How to: St-Viateur Bagel Shop and Fairmount Bagel are, hands down, the best spots in the city for an authentic bagel experience. Both sell bagels fresh, 24 hours a day. There’s a bit of a rivalry here. The difference? Fairmont bagels are a tiny bit denser and sweeter. Luckily, these two shops are located just a few blocks apart, making it easy to taste-test both (and start a bagel war with your travel buds) during your visit.
Dance your heart out at Piknic Electronik
Pack a picnic, head to Parc Jean-Drapeau, and get ready to hear some sweet, sweet music. Piknic Electronik is a weekly outdoor electronic music festival that takes place every Sunday from mid-May until the end of September. This summertime fest is so popular that it’s quickly spreading to other cities around the world: Barcelona, Melbourne, Dubai, and Santiago (to name a few).
How to: A picnic is obviously encouraged, and be sure to buy your tickets ahead of time (although, if you’re planning a last minute trip, there may be some available at the door).
Catch some rays at Clock Tower Beach
Just a quick walk from Montréal’s historical district, the Old Port of Montreal’s urban oasis, Clock Tower Beach, is the perfect summertime retreat. The beach offers heaps of soft sand, bright blue parasols, and cozy lounge chairs. While swimming is a no-go, cooling mist machines are set up all along along the beach to offer some relief from the summer heat.
How to: Clock Tower Beach is the perfect place to watch the firework and sound show, L’International des Feux Loto-Québec. Grab a drink, dig your feet in the sand, and watch Montréal’s skies light up in sync with the soothing sounds of some of the world’s greatest pyrotechnic music.
Grab a drum and get groovy at the Sunday Tams
This summer, head to the Sir George-Étienne Cartier monument in Mount Royal Park for the Tam-Tams: a giant drum circle event that runs every Sunday from May until October. And okay, when we say giant drum circle, we mean it. Picture thousands of drummers, dancers, vendors and visitors filling the entire park each week. The weirdest part? No one knows exactly when and how the Tam-Tams started, and it’s neither officially sanctioned or sponsored by the city.
How to: The festival has always taken a laissez-faire approach to cannabis and drinking (police would look the other way if you were chill and used discretion), but the 2019 Tams will be the very first season with legalized weed, making it a 420 event you don’t want to miss.
Snap Insta pics at Habitat67
Of over 90 pavilions built for Expo67: Montréal’s 1967 World Fair, only two still stand today. Habitat 67 and The Biosphère: a giant, neon-lit dome (jump to #18 to read more). Habitat 67 is a great example a Japanese architectural movement called Metabolism, with proponents believing that buildings should be “designed as living, organic, interconnected webs of prefabricated cells.” This structure was supposed to be a pilot project; a successful example for cities to follow around the globe. Instead, due to a host of construction and money problems, it’s now known as Montréal’s “failed dream.” It wasn’t a total waste, though. Habitat 67 is comprised of 354 modules, divided among 148 homes, that are still lived-in to this date.
How to: Want to take a peek inside one of the units? Sign up for a 90-minute guided tour. On top of a full history lesson, they’ll let you walk on the terraces and poke your head into one of the apartments.
Stroll through the Botanical Garden and Insectarium
A luscious green garden just outside the heart of the city, the Montréal Botanical Garden is 190 acres of thematic gardens and greenhouses. This space is so impressive, in fact, that in 2008 it was designated a National Historical Site of Canada and is considered to be one of the most important botanical gardens in the world due to its unique collections and facilities.
How to: If you visit September-October, see the property set aglow with Gardens of Light, a massive and bright paper lantern exhibit that lights up the Chinese, Japanese and First Nations gardens. And if you’re into bugs (who isn’t?), the attached insectarium is actually the coolest.
Surf, Kayak or SUP the Saint Lawrence River
When you think of Montréal, you totally think of extreme water sports, right? If you’re in the .01% that equates Montréal with big river waves, you’re in luck. KSF is on a mission to make the Saint Lawrence River a primo destination for lovers of adventure and extreme sports. With KSF, you can rent a SUP, kayak or surf board to take out solo, or sign up for one of their training courses. The river might be cold year round, but it’s totally worth renting a wet suit and taking the plunge.
How to: So you’re ready to dive in, but maybe you’re feeling a little unprepared? No sweat. In addition to board and boat rentals, KSF carries a ton of safety accessories (helmets, paddles, vests, skirts, and leashes) that are available for rent for just $12/24hrs. According to locals, the best wave can be found directly behind Habitat67.
Get sh*t done at Aire Commune
An unconventional alternative to typical office space, Aire Commune is the first ever open-air coworking space in Canada. This creative space is decked out with old shipping containers that are transformed into meeting rooms, outdoor work tables, a cafe, bar, restaurant, and hundreds of plants. Open throughout the summer, Aire Commune offers community events, conferences, and workshops that aim to bring folks together and create links between the businesses and entrepreneurs.
How to: Unlike most coworking spots, Aire Commune is totally open to the public. If you’re traveling through town and need a space to knock out some work, this is your spot.
Buy weed (legally) at one of Montréal’s dispensaries
Incase you haven’t heard, cannabis is now officially legal in Canada — making it one of the best weed-friendly travel destinations around the world. If you decide to partake on your next trip, here are some quick tips that’ll help keep you out of the Canadian clink: 1) You can’t consume cannabis wherever tobacco is illegal: bars, restaurants, bus shelters, etc., 2) You can only legally purchase and carry a maximum of 30 grams at any one time, 3) If your lease or hotel agreement states that you can’t smoke in the apartment or room, then marijuana is also off limits (so double-check those Montréal Airbnb terms!)
How to: Clean and cool dispensaries are popping up all over the city. If you’re at a loss for where to start, we recommend Clinique La Croix Vie for their excellent product selection and SQDC for convenience (they have multiple locations all over town).
Explore a giant neon-lit geodesic dome
Built in tandem with Habitat 67 for the 1967 World Fair, this huge geodesic dome is now North America’s one (and only) museum dedicated entirely to the environment. The Biosphère’s mission is to raise awareness, action, and engagement on significant environmental issues in Montréal. The museum has 8 permanent and 3 rotating exhibits, all with a tight focus on the local landscape.
How to: After exploring the museum, pack a picnic and enjoy people watching in Parc Jean-Drapeau.
Check out Montréal’s sexy social scene at Cinema L’Amour
When you walk by, you’ll spot a neon-lit XXX sign above the door. That’ll give you a good idea of what you’re in-store for. Cinema L’Amour, one of Canada’s very last big-screen adult movie theaters, has been a staple since it first opened over 30 years ago. While the theater isn’t perfect (sometimes the creep factor is strong, and those original 1914 chairs could use a real good scrub), the cinema is a drug-free, violence-free, sex-positive environment that is much needed and appreciated in Montréal.
How to: Okay, so this isn’t a spot for everyone, but if you’re curious, keep these things in mind: each night of the week attracts different clientele (ladies, couples, LGBTQ+, swingers, etc.) Check the website before you pick your night. The theatre also has a VIP section with private booths. Reviews on the booths are mixed, but if you visit with a partner and want some alone time away from the crowd, this is definitely your best bet.
Munch on fresh produce at Marché Atwater
Nestled in Montréal’s Southwest borough and open year-round, Marché Atwater is famous for it’s flowers, butcher shops, cheesemongers, local farm stands and market gardeners who set up their booths around the outside of the building when summer begins. This is the place to find high-quality, seasonal and fresh product from local producers.
How to: For a perfectly perfect afternoon, grab a fresh bite at Marché Atwater, rent a Bixi and bike the path from Atwater to the Old Port.
Find your zen on a rooftop filled with 20,000 herbs and flowers
The Port of Montréal’s Grand Quay sits on the St. Lawrence River and features a new cruise terminal and recently renovated free public spaces with spectacular views of the river and the city. Grab a chair, pack some lunch, and watch the water as ships cruise in.
How to: Explore the Promenade d’Iberville: a large green roof with wooden terrace and more than 20,000 flowering and aromatic plants, including chives, oregano, monarda, yellow camomille, yarrow, daisy and blue grama.
Grab a smoked meat sammie at Montréal’s famous Jewish deli
There’s no Montréal staple quite like Shwartz’s. This old school jewish deli is the oldest in Canada, and when you step inside, and you’ll feel like it’s 1928 again: black and white photos, newspaper clippings and pics of celebrities line the walls, narrow retro seating clutters the room, and a menu that (thankfully) hasn’t changed in over 90 years will warmly greet you. Anthony Bordain said, “you can’t not do this when you come to Montréal.” Celine Dion became a partial owner in 2012. There’s no skipping this one, folks.
How to: Like many local food joints, there is an established protocol for ordering at Shwartz’s. You can get your smoked meat sandwich one of four ways: lean, medium, medium-fatty (AKA “old fashioned), or fatty. The old fashioned is the most popular, and no matter the cut, your meat comes served on slices of rye bread with mustard.
See the city set aglow at Montréal’s annual light festival
Montréal en Lumière is one of the largest winter festivals in the world. For two weeks in late February/early March, the Quartier des spectacles is bright and buzzing with free activities for visitors of all ages, including a circuit of interactive and luminous art, a neon-lit ferris wheel, urban slide, zip line, free shows, and food kiosks for gourmet pit stops.
How to: Each year during the light festival, the Metro stays open all night long. Hop on and explore over 150 stops around the city, each uniquely lit up with celebratory festival light.
Snag a roadside refreshment at a giant orange-shaped snack shack
Every city needs a weirdo roadside attraction. This is Montréal’s. Gibeau Orange Julep is a monstrous 3-story high, 40-foot wide restaurant and drink shack that’s shaped like an orange. Yep, an orange. Restaurant owner Hermas Gibeau founded the eatery in 1932 and named it after his staple orange julep drink. In addition to bright sugary drinks, you can find typical Quebecois eats, including burgers, french fries, and, of course, poutine.
How to: Cruise by the “Big Orange” any Wednesday from May to September to see the parking lot filled with colorful vintage cars. The weekly classic car meet-up is organized by car fanatics, but totally open to the public.
Explore Montréal’s underground hidden city
We try to keep malls off these lists because, well, lame. But this 12-story underground shopping center is what actual dreams are made of. Les Cours Mont-Royal Centre is a weird mix of ‘suburban mall where your grandma goes for her daily power walk’ and ‘gucci baby’. Where else are you going to find imported marble, crystal chandeliers and incredible crown-moulding overlooking a Starbucks and Thai Express? Nowhere, friends. The coolest thing is that Cours Mont-Royal is a part of a huge (and hidden) underground network: 32 kilometers of boutique shopping, food and entertainment resting just below the city.
How to: One month each year, Art Souterrain –that’s French for underground art— pops up and occupies more than 6 km of Montréal’s underground city. Art Sourterrain exists to both democratize and popularize contemporary art in the city.
Party like a queen at Cabaret Mado
Tucked in Montréal’s vibrant Gay Village is Cabaret Mado, the famously entertaining and super scandalous cabaret/drag club. Cabaret Mado offers live, on-stage performances and comedy acts seven nights a week, as well as a dance floor to party afterwards as the venue transforms into a nightclub.
How to: The show is mostly in French, but Mado will translate if she knows there are english-speakers in the audience (so speak up!). We recommend that you make reservation if you’re visiting in a group and arrive early to save seats. Note: if you choose a seat close to the stage, Mado may pick you as one of her victims during the show. Oooh la la.
Learn all about Montréal archaeology and history at Pointe-à-callière
Pointe-à-Callière offers visitors the opportunity to explore Montréal’s history through an original underground circuit, leading you through remarkable archaeological excavation sites (humans first stepped foot here over 1000 years ago!). The museum itself sits directly on top of the very spot where Montréal was first founded, and it’s home to some crazy remarkable exhibits and ruins.
How to: Want an in-depth guided tour of the ruins? 60-minute group tours are offered in both French and English daily.
Sip a beer (or two) at Montréal’s local pubs and breweries
It’s not hard to find good beer in Montréal. The drinking age is 18, after all. For all you beer drinkers out there, don’t worry about about planning ahead, there’s no shortage of brew pubs across the city and you should stumble on one or two every few blocks. Each serves up classic drafts to unique finds, including both local and international brews. Our personal faves? Vices & Versa and Benelux.
How to: If you’re looking to hit all the best spots, take a 3 to 5 hour tour via City Brew Tours. You’ll get to sip 16+ local craft beers and enjoy a gourmet beer-paired meal.
Talk some smack at a Canadiens game
What’s more Canadian than hockey? We’ll wait. At a Canadiens (or “Habs,” as the locals call them), game at the Bell Centre, you’ll experience all the fighting, shouting, and enthusiasm that will get even the most reluctant sports fan out of their seat.
How to: Like at any stadium game, beer is hella pricey, so have a few before you arrive if you’re traveling on a budget. Super hockey fans: check out the Montréal Pond Hockey Festival each February, where hockey players from all across Canada meet on Lac Saint Louis for a huge pond tournament.
Get schooled on contemporary art at MAC
Located in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles, Musé d’art Contemporain (MAC) is Canada’s first museum dedicated just to contemporary art. This eight room musé is home to four permanent collections and four temporary exhibits.
How to: The MAC is currently under a major (and exciting!) redesign, so they’re moving to a temporary location until 2021 while the space renovated. Check out the schedules and updates posted on their website before you plan your visit.
Shop til you drop on Saint-Catherine Street
Covering an intensely long 11-kilometer stretch, Saint-Catherine Street is Montréal’s main commercial thoroughfare and tourist attraction. This street is always poppin. We’re talkin’ restaurants. We’re talkin’ bars. We’re talkin’ retail (if you walk the whole stretch, you’ll swear you passed by at least 7 Forever 21s). During the day, you’ll find locals, tourists and families shopping and grabbing a bite to eat. At night, you might spot some shady drug deals and groups of plastered 18-year-olds. It’s give and take, but overall, a must-stop spot when you’re in town.
How to: Once a year, Sainte Catherine shuts down and retailers fill the streets for a giant (Canada’s largest, in fact) sidewalk sale. A perfect opportunity to enjoy the sunshine and get your shop on.