10 Montréal “musts” for first-time visitors

published on March 5, 2024
Tourisme Montréal: News and People What's New in Montréal

A first-time visit to any city can be overwhelming. What to see? What to do? To simplify your initial Montréal visit, we’ve compiled a list of crowd-pleasing attractions. Think of it as a “greatest hits” list of what to see and do in a diverse and exciting city. In no particular order, here are 10 activities and attractions that first-time Montréal visitors might want to put on their must-see list.

Climb Mount Royal

Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed New York’s Central Park, the mountain park at the heart of the city is Montréal’s most iconic landmark — and the most popular place to snap a Montréal selfie. Reach the top of Mount Royal Park by walking up the stairs or with a guided tour. The viewpoint that overlooks the downtown is called the Belvédère Kondiaronk, named after a local Huron Chief. In the chalet at the summit, visitors will find washrooms and a small bistro for snacks and refreshments. Give yourself a breezy two hours.

Spree on Sainte-Catherine Street

As one of the longest commercial strips in Canada, Sainte-Catherine Street is the perfect place for retail therapy. You’ll find a full roster of international fashion brands. But don’t miss the regional retailers, such as Montréal-made leather goods at M0851, the coolest kicks at Little Burgundy, and a plethora of options at beloved department store Simons. If you’re in the market for a diamond, Maison Birks is Canada’s most prestigious jeweller (complete with its own luxury hotel). The popular Eaton Centre mall also houses the iconic Time Out Market.

Eat emblematic Montréal cuisine

Part of the joie de vivre culture of Montréal includes chowing down on great grub. Sink your teeth into a juicy smoked-meat sandwich at world-famous Schwartz’s deli. Discover why Montréal locals fervently adore their bagels at the wood-fire bakeries on Fairmount or St-Viateur. (Hint: the bagels are dipped in honey water before baking). Finally, sample one of the city’s famously delicious poutines.

Discover the new Old Montréal

A first-timer’s visit to Montréal is not complete without meandering through the charming cobblestone streets of Old Montréal. With juxtaposed architecture dating back as far as 1685, visitors have the opportunity to see — quite literally — how the city first began developing. But it’s the new developments that keep people coming back to the old district. Moment Factory’s Aura experience transforms the interior of the Notre-Dame Basilica into a symphony of lights and effects that bring the building to life. Out on the streets, the ghostly projections of Cité Memoire tell the story of the city via a free multi-lingual app. And for those searching for a different view over the city, La Grande Roue de Montréal gives visitors and locals alike a new angle over the angled rooftops of the Old Port.

Ascend to Saint Joseph’s Oratory

Montréal is North America’s capital for religious heritage. It’s not every day that you can visit one of the most popular catholic pilgrimage sites in the world. Saint Joseph’s Oratory is a Montréal masterpiece — the pièce de résistance among a city of one thousand stunning churches. The oratory is home to a magnificent Rudolf von Beckerath organ, which is ranked among the ten most prestigious organs in the world. Also, the basilica’s huge dome reaches 97 meters making it second in height only to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Temporary exhibitions are available throughout the year. 

Go “underground”

Montréal contains a vast network of pedestrian walkways — 33 kilometres (20 miles) of connecting passageways, to be exact — beneath street level. During the winter months, approximately 500,000 people circulate on this network daily, using the passages to connect with offices, trains, shops and restaurants. The system connects the city’s convention centre, a dozen major hotels and a handful of shopping malls. The easternmost entry is through Complexe Desjardins, but this stunning mall right across from Place des Festivals (interior fountain included) is only the beginning. Grab a PDF map right here and get started on a truly “sub” urban adventure.

Market yourself

Montréalers love to eat. Sure, we’ve got our characteristic local food (see above), but one of the best ways to savour the city is to visit one of the local public markets. With a wide range of regional products from across Québec, Jean-Talon Market — located in the heart of Little Italy — is the largest and most culturally diverse market in Montréal. For a smaller yet equally delicious option, the art deco-style Atwater Market offers an array of specialty products and delicatessen treats. (Plus, it’s located beside the picturesque Lachine Canal.) Wherever you go, be sure to sample seasonal treats such as maple syrup in the spring, strawberries in the summer and Macintosh apples in the autumn.

Hit a new Plateau

The colourful spiral staircases of the Plateau neighbourhood present an iconic image of Montréal. In this quartier you’ll find an eclectic mix of artists, international students and young professionals, spiced with a healthy dose of different cultures and languages to raise the diversity quotient. For a glimpse of the Plateau, stroll along Mont-Royal Avenue. If it’s a sunny day, do as the locals do: grab a picnic and lounge beneath the leafy trees in peaceful Parc La Fontaine.

Go east (for a feast of attractions)

Montréal’s east side neighbourhood of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is home to a handful of awesome attractions — all within walking distance to each other. Firstly, the Olympic Stadium is a grandiose remnant from the history-making 1976 summer games, and arguably the most recognizable architectural structure in the entire city. The soaring inclined tower of the stadium is even taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Olympic Park provides a backdrop for a slew of events. On the first Friday of every month from May through October, eat great food in the open air at First Fridays, featuring 50 of the city's gourmet food trucks. If you’re a skateboarder, try the Esplanade’s new Vans skatepark. Across the street, the Montréal Botanical Gardens feature seasonal installations such as the much-loved Gardens of Light in the autumn months.

Find your art beat

Montréal is a creative city. Artistic-inclined visitors will relish the multiple museums and galleries, home to both historic and modern works. As one of the most important institutions in North America, the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts is the premier stop for any 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. At the McCord Stewart Museum, you’ll find collections of costumes, decorative art, aboriginal objects, paintings and photography. While less focused on art, Pointe-à-Callière is the place to learn about Montréal’s history — a narrative infused with creativity. Finally, the Phi Centre showcases art in all its glorious forms. For a listing of live performance, check out the centre’s event schedule.


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