Montreal is a buzzing cosmopolitan city with lots to do. Great food venues can be found all over the city and the surrounding areas. Excellent choices of activities and entertainment cater to many different tastes.
A good place to see a show is at the Place des Arts in the Quartier des spectacles. For a kid free zone, go to the newly renovated Casino de Montréal built on the former site of Expo ’67 where you can enjoy dinner, drinks, shows and even try your luck at many of the casino games. Bonne chance!!
Where to begin… this is the city where we spent most of our lives. From Expo ’67 to the Olympics in ’76 to… you name it.
The summer with all the festivals is the best (albeit crowded) time to visit. There is the Jazz festival, the Just for Laughs festival (Juste pour Rire), the Grand Prix / Formula 1 racing, the International Fireworks festival and more. Pretty well from May to September there is something going on. Montrealers also embrace winter with the carnival: Fête des neiges de Montréal and the light festival: Montréal en Lumière.
We often come for Christmas to see family, and getting a glimpse of some white snow is great (of course we prefer to leave after a week nowadays instead of waiting until April for it to melt.) 🙂
Fall is also spectacular, if you can, take a drive up to the Laurentians to see the wonderful maple trees changing color. Reds, Oranges, and Yellows… find one of many perfect mirror surface lakes to offer you a reflection of the colorful mountains in the background for a perfect picture.
Some of our usual spots and spots you really should visit if coming to Montreal are as follows:
Go to Old Montreal and the Old Port area (get your hotel close by if you can). There are lots of great restaurants and cobble stone streets to explore. It’s like being in Europe. Many local chefs get started in little venues that offer a daily menu for only 5 or 10 tables. Reserve ahead!
Many shows of Cirque du Soleil start their tours under the tent in the Old Port area. We are big fans and have enjoyed many amazing shows over the years!
Stop in Place Jacques Cartier where you’ll see street performers and artists in the square, which is lined with restaurants or brasseries with outside terraces.
The IMAX Theater and the Science Center offer special exhibitions. There is a lot to see for all.
Close by, Montreal’s Chinatown spans about six blocks and offers many great restaurants to choose from. Our favorite is Kam Fung for dinner or Dim Sum (brunch) where they bring all the dumplings around on karts. Go around 11 am on the weekend, earlier if you can or you’ll wait in line as they yell out numbers in Chinese. Check out the Chinese pharmacy with strange displays of herbs and dried items in the hallway leading to the restaurant.
Lion dance video Here
The impressive gothic Basilica Notre-Dame is located in the heart of Old Montreal and is worth a visit. The architecture is reminiscent of European gothic churches. Regular shows take place in the church, one of sound and light. It’s also where many funerals for famous people have taken place. Celine Dion got married in this beautiful church.
In the middle of Montreal is a mountain, most of which makes up Park Mount Royal. There are many ways to get up and explore this park including taking stairs at the top of Peel street (not for the faint of heart). We typically drive to Beaver lake (Lac des Castors) or for great views go up and around to the lookout. Drive up here in the evening to see the lights and park for a bit (look for the raccoons). Take a walk up the stairs to the right for a nicer view. Go again during the day to walk the trails.
We also love St Joseph’s Oratory, which is shaped like the famous Sacré-Coeur church in Paris. You should go visit—climb up the stairs and see it or a take tour. It’s also a major Roman Catholic site of pilgrimage. Some worshippers even climb the middle stairs on their knees!
There are lots of museums downtown and some of the exhibits are seasonal or temporary. At the Museum of Fine Arts we saw the special exhibition of Rodin many of the pieces were on loan from the Rodin museum of Paris.
One of our favorites museum is in old Montreal, the Museum Pointe-à-Calière. The permanent exhibition “Where Montreal was Born” shows the history of Montreal and has some of the original streets that have been excavated. The museum also host many interesting temporary exhibitions.
Sat the Biôdome visit 4 different climate zone in one day… see bears, penguins, beavers, etc in their own habitats, a great outing for young and old alike. Near by there is also the Insectarium, Botanical garden and Planétarium.
La Ronde (now Six Flags) with a wooden roller coaster and lots of other hair raising rides is sure to please the young and the young at heart.
Underground shopping: Montreal downtown is literally connected for miles and miles underground. Ok, so it looks like you’re going into the subway but you just pass through and get into the next building and the next… quite an experience. Get lost and see where you turn up!
At Christmas time many of the store windows are well decorated. In my opinion, the best one is a classic, found at Ogilvy’s. In front of the store’s main entrance a man plays traditional holiday music with spoons. After the store tried to banish him, there was such an uproar they had to let him be. It gave him such publicity that he’s since been invited to play at private functions. A true heartwarming story that will surely put you in Holiday Spirits!
When more clement weather returns, people flock to the many terraces lining Montreal’s streets.
Walk along St-Catherine Street from Guy to St-Laurent (1 hr) for shopping and people watching. Don’t forget the underground city, which is all interconnected. If you stay at a connected hotel (like the Château Champlain, now a Marriott) you can go out in winter without a coat and stay indoors for miles and miles to do your shopping.
Continue 20 more blocks past Berri and you’re into the ‘alternative lifestyle area’ where you’ll find lots of bars and good restaurants. Further west and a good place to go for lively nightlife is downtown on Crescent Street and de la Montagne.
If you’re visiting in the spring indulge in a ‘cabane à sucre‘ a traditional maple flavored meal. Our preference is a brunch.
Enjoy a smoked meat sandwich. Schwartz is the classic but you can find some at many other places. Locals can get pretty serious about who has the best smoke meat, almost a religion like comparing BBQ in Texas.
If you like Greek authentic fare, go to Arahovas, across from the bagel place. Try the souvlaki, Greek salad, pikilia and dolmades (stuffed vine leaves). Go hungry, portions are large.
Our favorite sushi place (out of the way, but worth it) is Aikawa. Every time we’re in town we go there.
A new oyster fad has also started with more and more restaurants offering oysters at the low price of 1$ each on certain days. I’ll be sure to check that out next time I’m in town, we are both big fans!
Don’t leave without having tried some Poutine, French fries with gravy and curd cheese. The traditional one is made with a special kind of curd cheese made in the province of Quebec. This simple dish can be eaten as a meal. Nowadays, some restaurants offer different kinds of poutines, some with meat sauce, smoke meat, and even truffles and foie gras!
Our most recent trip to Montreal was in December 2016, check out our post: A few days in Montreal for the Holidays