9 itinerary ideas to help you discover Montréal
Montréal is an accessible and walkable city. That said, like any first-time visit to a new destination, it can be a challenge for visitors to prioritize what to see and do in their leisure time. After all, we have plenty of attractions and many culinary treats! Starting from the convention centre, here are some simple ways to sample the best of Montréal.
IF YOU HAVE AN HOUR
See. Notre Dame Basilica is a thing of rare beauty. Designed in the Gothic Revival style by Irish Protestant architect James O’Donnell (he converted to Catholicism just before his death to be buried there), and built between 1824 and 1829, it is a symphony of sculpted wood, soaring gold-painted ceilings and intricate detail. A massive 7,000-pipe organ dominates the back wall. Utterly breathtaking — and only a few steps from the convention centre.
Eat. Dim sum, anyone? Although modest-sized, Montréal’s bustling Chinatown offers an exotic “getaway” just a hop and skip from the convention centre. Roam the pedestrian-friendly streets chock full of restaurants, Asian markets and grocery stores, shops to buy herbs and natural medicines and even martial arts accessories.
Do. Maybe the wind in your hair is what you need to recharge your engines. A superb scenic spot is Montréal’s Old Port, where you can gaze at the majestic St. Lawrence River, check out giant cruise ships or observe the many marine comings-and-goings, including sailboats, motorboats and pedal boats. Hop on a Bixi bicycle or just walk!
IF YOU HAVE HALF A DAY
See. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (the same landscape architect who crafted New York’s Central Park), Mount Royal is the city’s most iconic landmark — and the most popular place to snap a Montréal selfie. Reach the viewpoint at the top of Mount Royal Park by walking up the stairs or with a guided tour. In the chalet at the summit, visitors will find washrooms. For a bite to eat, stroll to the Maison Smith or the pavillon at Beaver Lake.
Eat. Sink your teeth into a juicy smoked-meat sandwich at world-famous Schwartz’s deli. Then head north to the neighborhood of Mile End to discover why Montréal locals fervently adore their bagels at the wood-fire bakeries on Fairmont or St. Viateur. (Clue: the bagels are dipped in honey water before baking). For the truly ambitious, next head to resto La Banquise to sample our notorious poutine. If you eat all three — smoked meat, bagels and poutine — in one day, you’ve achieved the Montréal carbohydrate trifecta. Well done!
Do. As one of the most important art institutions in North America, Montréal’s Museum of Fine Arts is the premier stop for any visual art aficionado. The multiple rooms contain painting, sculpture, graphic art, photography and decorative art objects, and the gallery prides itself on world-class temporary exhibits. For a more modern approach, visit Canada’s leading museum dedicated exclusively to contemporary art. The Musée d’art contemporain features a permanent collection, however the curators truly flex their “modern” muscles with the numerous multimedia events.
IF YOU HAVE A FULL DAY
See. To maximize your Montréal day, we suggest using the city’s hop-on-hop-off bus. The tour orientates you to the layout of the land while providing a broad taste of many of the city’s top attractions. With the London-style double-decker bus, you can enjoy a continuous two-hour tour or hop off to discover a neighborhood or architectural gem. If it’s your first time visiting Montréal, we recommend seeing Old Montréal, Quartier des Spectacles (the city’s entertainment district), Chinatown and Saint Joseph’s Oratory. Give yourself at least an hour to explore each stop!
Eat. The best way to savour the city is to visit one of the local public markets. Start with a visit to the largest market in Montréal: Marché Jean-Talon. Located in the heart of Little Italy, the market offers a wide range of regional products from across Québec. Next, expand your culinary skill set (and learn a bit about local techniques) with a cooking class at Ateliers & Saveurs or a workshop at the Christian Faure pastry school. When evening comes, sit down at one of our many gourmet restaurants — where haute cuisine is cutting edge yet unpretentious.
Do. Visit the city’s most popular parks. Montréal boasts a network of 17 major parks for a total of 2,000 hectares of green space. Inaugurated in 1876, the splendid Mount Royal Park is an ideal site for an array of outdoor activities: walk, bike, cross-country ski, bird- watch, ice skate, snowshoe or go tubing. (Equipment rental available.) Montrealers flock to Parc Lafontaine to relax in the shade of maple trees or share a picnic among friends. The pond allows visitors to observe a wide range of bird species throughout the summer season. In winter, the pond is transformed into a skating rink, with classical music. Finally, if you still have gusto left, head to the Lachine Canal, where 14-kilometre (8.7- mile) bicycle/pedestrian pathway enables locals and visitors to escape the urban bustle.