11 Things Every Traveler Should Experience In Montreal
Montreal feels like a European city, minus the jet lag (depending on where you’re coming from). Sitting on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, the city’s streets are lined with a mix of centuries-old architecture and modern skyscrapers that feel surprisingly cutting edge. The juxtaposition between the old and new world—sleek boutiques next to decrepit Chinese restaurants, minimalist coffee shops tucked behind decades-old markets—makes for an enviably charming city that is endlessly fun to explore.
Whenever you travel to Montreal make sure to check out these 11 experiences.
Walk Rue Saint-Paul
The heart of Old Montreal runs along Rue Saint-Paul, the city’s oldest street. The charming road is paved in cobblestones and lined with historic buildings, giving those who find themselves out for a stroll a blast into the past. The street has an inviting mix of old and new with the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, Bonsecours Market, and Notre-Dame Basilica, sitting alongside upscale boutiques and inviting coffee shops, galleries, and cafes.
Wander Through the Farmer’s Market
The Marché Jean-Talon opened in Montreal’s North End, 1933 as a place for farmers to sell their wares to restaurants and consumers eager for straight-from-the-farm produce. Today, the market is one of the largest public outposts in North America and filled year-round with produce, flowers, spices, cheese, meat, fish, and purveyors offering Canadian favorites like maple syrup, ice cider, and poutine—the late night snack that blends French fries, cheese curd, and gravy.
Eat Your Weight in Bagels
For anyone raised on New York-style bagels—or the pale simulacra available in the freezer at your grocery store—Montreal’s bagels are a revelation. The Montreal bagel is boiled in water sweetened with honey, baked in long rows in enormous wood-fired ovens, and (ideally) served warm. Local favorites include St-Viateur and Fairmount, both in the Mile End neighborhood.
Go on a Food Tour
Montreal is a culinary dreamscape and the best way to explore it is on foot (great for simultaneously burning dinner calories). Fitz & Follwell Co. offers a tour of Montreal’s St. Laurent Boulevard where you can find Portuguese, Spanish, French, Jewish, and Chinese restaurants, bakeries, and shops lining the street. During your walking tour, stop in Little Portugal for traditional pastries, sip espresso at the bar of Caffé Italia, and visit the perfectly preserved Wilensky’s deli, which has been serving up sandwiches since 1932. While you’re eating, don’t forget to pay homage at Schwartz’s Deli, the most famous smoked meat purveyor and restaurant in Montreal.
Explore Underground City
Close to 20 miles of tunnels run beneath the streets of downtown Montreal and in inclement weather or summer heat, they’re a fun retreat for visitors. The Underground City—also known as RESO—was built in 1962 as a way for Montreal residents to escape the frigid winter. Now the tunnels feel like a secret mall, filled with hotels, restaurants, galleries, boutiques, movie theaters, nightclubs, and more.
Admire the Street Art
The city is known for a vibrant arts scene that often extends to the city’s walls. Murals and graffiti pop up on buildings around town, and particularly on Saint-Laurent—the city’s main drag. While street art is either illegal or merely tolerated in many cities around the world, Montreal throws the artists a party each year. During the annual Mural Festival, artists from around the world transform Montreal’s walls into canvases filled with eye-popping imagery and brilliant colors.
Take a Bike Ride
Montreal is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world with almost 400 miles of bike paths winding through its neighborhoods. It’s easy to join in the fun thanks to the public bike rental system, Bixi Bikes. Rent a bike at one of the many stations around the city, grab a map, and head out to Old Port and ride along the Lachine Canal, or bike along the Saint-Lawrence Waterfront Cycling Path, There’s an annual bicycle festival, too. The Go Bike Montreal has tours, workshops, and races for the whole family.
Play in Parc Jean-Drapeau
The Parc Jean-Drapeau, which sits on an island in the Saint Lawrence River, is interwoven into Montreal’s history as it hosted the World Expo and the 1976 Olympic Games. Now each year thousands of visitors come to enjoy its beaches, kayaking, and aquatic complex in summer, or skating, sledding, and more snow-filled fun in winter. The park’s most famous landmark is the Montreal Biosphere, as its circular shape makes a dramatic silhouette over the park. Built by Buckminster Fuller for the 1967’s World Fair the Montreal Biosphere is now home to an environmental museum that teaches visitors about sustainable development.
Explore Mile End and Mile-Ex
Mile End was once Montreal’s bohemian enclave filled with artists and musicians (Arcade Fire once called the neighborhood home). The neighborhood has slowly gentrified, and high-end shops and restaurants have taken over the once-boho spaces. Grab poutine at Chez Claudette or a milkshake at Beauty’s Luncheonette, stock up on denim at Savoie Fils, or simply window shop. If you’re traveling with kids, Mile End Park has a great playground with special attractions for children with disabilities.
If you’re looking for the new hip neighborhood, head to Mile-Ex, the new frontier for the artists and creative industries priced out of Mile End. Near Montreal’s Little Italy and the Jean-Talon Market, Mile-Ex is filled with bustling bars, subtly chic restaurants, and hip shops.
Tour Chateau Ramezay
Housed in the first building in Quebec to be classified as an historic monument, Chateau Ramezay offers visitors a chance to stroll through Montreal’s history. Explore life in so-called New France in the 18th century thanks to the artifacts, works of art, archaeological treasure, and books preserved in the cozy museum as well as the historical re-enactments that bring history to life. In summer, learn about Amerindian agriculture in the garden or simply wander the grounds of the pleasure garden.
Get ‘Square’ at Habitat 67
Habitat 67 is a cubist housing complex that was built for the 1967 World Expo. Designed by architect Moshe Safdie it was meant to re-imagine apartment living to be more in line with the utopian ideals of the 1960s. The result is a 13-story apartment building that resembles something a toddler would make out of building blocks. Its sprawling interconnected design sits on a man-made peninsula near the city’s Old Port making it easy to admire from a distance.