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If you're looking for things to do in Montreal, you're in for a treat. Montreal offers so much throughout the year, with something to suit every taste and budget. Montreal is known as the cultural and entertainment capital of Canada, and with good reason. It is a seasonal city, with festivals and attractions that fit within a certain place in the calendar.
With that in mind, here is our list of the top things to do in Montreal.
Take a stroll through Mont Royal Park
There are very few large cities in the world that offer the type of tranquility and beauty so close to the downtown core that you can get in Montreal. Unless there is a blizzard, taking a walk through Mont Royal Park should be one of the first things you should consider doing upon arrival in Montreal.
Montreal is named for this “mountain” (more like a hill) that sits just north of downtown, and entry to the park is simple from downtown or any of the surrounding Montreal neighbourhoods such as the Plateau, Outremont, Côte-des-Neiges, NDG or Westmount. The southern side of the park contains a series of winding paths, perfect for walking, running, biking and, in season, cross-country skiing, as well as dense forestry and rougher trails. A south-facing belvedere, or lookout point, offers vistas of downtown and the St. Lawrence River, and on a fine day you can see far beyond the city towards the US border. This is the perfect place to get a sense of the geography of Montreal. You can then head over to Beaver Lake on the western side, where in winter you can rent cross-country skis and head out on the mountain. Over on the eastern side towards Parc Avenue is the statue of Sir George Etienne-Cartier, one of the fathers of Canadian confederation. Every Sunday from spring until fall, Sir George watches over a group of bongo and tabla drummers who gather to entertain the masses, an activity known locally as tam-tams.
Mont Royal Park is bisected by a winding road, and on the northern side lies an extensive cemetery, which is particularly beautiful in the fall/autumn season.
One of Montreal’s most conspicuous and unique attractions is the Montreal Olympic Stadium, the centrepiece of Olympic Park. Originally built to house the 1976 Olympic summer games, the stadium is rarely used today, hosting just a handful of sports and musical events each year. It does, however, have the world’s largest inclined tower sticking out over it.
It’s not so much the stadium that makes Olympic Park so special, but rather the family-friendly activities surrounding it. If you’re looking for things to do in Montreal with a family, a trip east out of downtown to Olympic Park is a good call. The Montreal Biodome is a facility that allows visitors to walk through four ecosystems found in the Americas, with plants and animals typical of those ecosystems. The Montreal Biodome is like an indoor zoo. Then there is the Montreal Planetarium, where you can learn all about space through an exhibit on the universe and multimedia astronomy film presentations projected on its two dome theatres. There is also the Montreal Insectarium, a sort of bug museum, and the Montreal Botanical Garden, open year-round. If after all of that you want to be around people rather than bugs or animals, keep an eye on the schedule for the Montreal Impact soccer team, who play in Major League Soccer (MLS). Their home, Saputo Stadium, is in the vicinity.
The Lachine Canal
The Lachine Canal was originally built in the early 1800’s to help traders bypass the treacherous Lachine Rapids in the St. Lawrence River. Though the full economic value of the canal was curtailed after closing to shipping in 1970, it remains a focal point of social activity along the banks of its 14.5 kilometre course, which runs from Old Montreal to Lake Saint-Louis at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers.
If you’re looking for things to do in Montreal on two wheels, you can hop on a bike and cruise along the dedicated bike paths that run parallel to the canal. In 2009, the Lachine Canal bike path placed third on Time Magazine’s list of the top 10 urban bike paths in the world. You will likely see groups of rowers and people on pedalos along the way, as well as families out for picnics. The busiest point of the canal banks is around the Atwater Market, where you can stop and enjoy lunch, coffee or ice cream.
Parc Jean-Drapeau is a place with amenities and entertainment for the whole family, spread across two islands located between Montreal Island and the south shore. Visitors to Parc Jean-Drapeau can enjoy the following:
- La Ronde, an amusement park operated by Six Flags.
- Montreal Casino. Feeling lucky? Why not head over to the casino? Soon you’ll feel like you’re in Las Vegas.
- Montreal Biosphere. Originally the home of the United States pavilion in the 1967 World Expo, the Montreal Biosphere remains an iconic part of the Montreal skyline. Today, the spherical building houses a museum dedicated to the environment.
- Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. For many years now, Montreal welcomes the razzmatazz of the Formula 1 circuit, hosting the Canadian Grand Prix here each June.
- A beach. You might be far from the ocean in Montreal, but you’re never far from a beach thanks to this artificial addition to Parc Jean-Drapeau.
- A rowing basin. This professional rowing and canoeing facility is where training and competition takes place.
- Concerts. The Osheaga and Heavy MTL festivals are fixtures in the Montreal summer calendar, and this is where the masses head to enjoy shows by some of the world’s biggest artists. If you’re looking for things to do in Montreal during summer, why not grab some tickets to a show or festival here?
Make your Montreal move with confidence
For decades, Montreal has brought together people from around the world, many of whom bring their culinary talents and traditions with them. Moreover, Quebec’s farmers continue to deliver delicious produce, meats and dairy. The meeting place for all of this local-meets-international food are Montreal’s internationally-renowned public markets.
The largest and most easily accessible of Montreal’s markets are the Jean-Talon market in Little Italy and Atwater market in St-Henri, while the smaller Lachine market and Maisonneuve market serve local communities in Lachine and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, respectively.
People don’t just head to the market to get their weekly groceries. A trip to the market is also a social event, where people gather for coffee and pastries. No matter the month, if you’re looking for things to do in Montreal, a trip to the market is a relaxing way to spend an hour or two.
For more details, see our page on grocery shopping in Montreal.
Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood
Come for the music, stay for the bagels. If Canada’s coolest neighbourhood had a motto, that might be it.
The Mile End is where Arcade Fire began rehearsing before making the big time, where writer Mordecai Richler painted in verse the character of this unique place, and where William Shatner grew up. The Mile End, located just north of the Plateau Mont-Royal, continues to be home to an eclectic array of artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers, and more lately young tech workers with video game company Ubisoft having set up in the area.
If you’re looking for things to do in Montreal, spending an afternoon exploring the Mile End is a great way to see Montreal’s diversity up front and close.
Things to do in Montreal: Museums
There are so many high quality museums in Montreal that it would be impractical, and nearly impossible, to expound upon all of them here. Nevertheless, here is an outline of Montreal’s most celebrated and visited museums and galleries.
Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) – 1379 Sherbrooke Ouest (Métro: Guy-Concordia, Peel)
Tel: 514-285-1600 / 514-285-2000
Montreal’s largest museum, with more than 30,000 edifices, is among the finest in Canada. It is divided into three pavilions, with the Hornstein Pavilion focusing primarily on the history of Quebec. The building is one of the most beautiful in the city and can be found in the Golden Square Mile district of Sherbrooke Street. All in all, one of the finest museums in Montreal
Museum of Contemporary Arts – 185 St-Catherine Ouest (Métro: Place-des-Arts)
A museum truly for the 21st century, the focus of this institution is on Contemporary Canadian Art. Of the 7,000 works in the permanent collection, 60 per cent are the works of Quebecois artists. The museum hosts frequent interactive multimedia events and workshops where participants are asked to base their work on the pieces in the museum. Entry is free on Wednesday evenings.
Montreal Science Centre – King Edward Quay (Métro: Place d’Armes)
You don’t have to be a geek to come here, but it might help if you’re willing to be one for a couple of hours. A real family-friendly place in the heart of the Old Port, the Science Centre hosts three permanent, fun exhibitions for children of all ages. It is more interactive and multimedia-based than standard museums, allowing people to approach learning in a more fun way. It also has an IMAX 3D cinema.
McCord Museum of Canadian History – 690 Sherbrooke Ouest, (Métro: McGill)
For history buffs as well as casual droppers-by, this place is a treasure trove of historical artifacts (almost a million) about the nation’s history. It gives a wonderful perspective on the size, strength and fragility of Canada and Montreal’s place within it.
Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History Pointe-à-Callière – 350 Place Royale
Naturally situated in Old Montreal, the site of the original city and therefore the site of much contemporary archaeology, this museum takes a pretty liberal and broad definition of archaeology. The three main exhibits this year are ‘Montreal Love Stories’, ‘Where Montreal was born’, and ‘Youville Pumping Station’ which focuses on a century-old wastewater pumping station in the area. This museum is home to the remnants of Montreal’s city walls, a warehouse, a customs house and an inn.
Redpath Museum – 859 Sherbrooke Ouest, McGill University (Métro: McGill, Peel)
The Redpath Museum is a natural history museum belonging to McGill University and is the oldest building built specifically as a museum in Canada. With a large permanent collection focusing on geology, entomology, paleontology and ethnology, the Redpath is a museum you should visit at least once when living in Montreal.
A more comprehensive list of museums can be found here: http://www.museesmontreal.org/en/Montreal_Museums.htm
Things to do in Montreal: Parks and Recreation
What would this city be without its parks? Montreal has managed to not sell its soul to developers who might otherwise put an apartment block or offices where some of the world’s finest urban parks are found. Hundreds of street corners have tiny parks tucked into them, offering perhaps just a small flower garden and a bench or set of swings, but for a full park experience you should head to some of the large urban parks around town: Mount Royal Park (see above), LaFontaine Park, Maisonneuve Park, Jarry Park and Angrignon Park.
Similarly, when it comes to sports and recreation in Montreal, there is lots to see and do. In terms of spectator sports, The Montreal Canadians, or Habs as they are more affectionately known, are undoubtedly the number one ticket in town. The Habs are the most successful team in NHL history and despite not claiming a Stanley Cup since 1993, the majority of their home games are sold-out. That being said, you should be able to pick up a ticket for most games easily and can expect to pay anywhere from $70 CAD upwards to do so.
As well as the Habs, Montreal is home to the Montreal Impact soccer team who compete in the MLS and play at Stade Saputo, and the Montreal Allouettes Canadian Football team who are part of the CFL. Getting tickets for both of these teams is significantly easier than for the Habs and both teams have summer seasons meaning you can enjoy a game in shorts and a t-shirt!
As for participatory sports events, Montreal really has it all. From soccer, baseball and basketball to ice hockey, tennis, rock climbing and much more, there is very little chance that your chosen sport won’t have a team in Quebec’s biggest city.
What better way to ingratiate yourself with Montrealers than to go to a public skating rink? Many public parks, most notably LaFontaine Park, offer large rinks in winter.
St. Joseph’s Oratory
When you land in Montreal, this Roman Catholic church, the largest in Canada and a national shrine, might be the first thing you see on the west slope of Mount Royal. It really is a sight to behold, with the third-largest dome of its kind in the world and extensive beautiful gardens. The architectural style is that of the Italian renaissance.
Eating and drinking in Montreal
Montreal is a multicultural hotpot and this is very evident in the wide selection of food available in the city. As well as local delicacies like poutine (fries with cheese curds and gravy) and smoked meat (pretty straightforward), Montreal is also home to some of the best Lebanese, Caribbean, Vietnamese, North African, Indian and French cuisine in the entire country. And then there’s the bagels. Montreal rivals New York as the Bagel Capital of North America and this really is something you can’t not do when visiting or moving to the city for the first time. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
When it comes to alcoholic beverages, Montreal knows what’s what in this respect too. From curated microbreweries and classy cocktail joints to the multitude of neighborhood dive bars and local taverns, there really is something for every kind of drinker. If boozing isn’t really your thing then you needn’t worry as the city is home to some of Canada’s most respected coffee shops and tea houses.
Other things to do in Montreal
We have a whole Montreal destination guide for you to explore, check it out!
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