Last updated: April 14th, 2020
One of Canada’s most famous cities, Montreal is a cosmopolitan, European-feeling city that has become one of the top travel destinations in the country. Located in the mostly French-speaking province of Quebec, Montreal is actually one of the five largest French-speaking cities in the world.
Half of my family is from Montreal and so it has a special place in my heart. Old Montreal will make you feel like you’ve suddenly stepped into medieval France and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better city in Canada for trying French-inspired cuisine and eclectic nightlife. It’s also somewhat cheaper than most of Canada’s major cities, making it a great destination for both budget and non-budget travelers.
In this Montreal travel guide, we share with you some of the best things to do to make your next trip an unforgettable one, including top attractions, places to see, general costs, and much more.
Getting to Montreal
If you’re a visitor looking for different ways of getting to Montreal, here’s some practical advice on how to get here.
Getting to Montreal by Car
If you’re driving to Montreal, there are many ways to arrive. Some of the most popular road trips include the drive from Quebec City to Montreal (less than three hours), Ottawa to Montreal (only two hours), and even New York to Montreal (around six hours of driving).
Montreal is actually very close to the US border with Vermont and quite close to Toronto as well.
Getting to Montreal by Plane
Montreal is home to two airports and is served by many countries from around the world. The main airport is the Montreal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL), which is served by most airlines. The other is the Montreal Saint-Hubert Airport (YHU), which is used by budget airlines. YHU is closer to the city centre but most people arrive by YUL.
Getting to Montreal by Bus
Unlike Western Canada, this part of the country is still well-served by Greyhound Bus, which offers many rides to Montreal from places such as Ottawa and Toronto. However, there are other buses as well, including Orléans Express, maritimebus, and Adirondack Trailways. As of now, we find the best way to search for buses and fares is by using Busbud.
Getting Around Montreal
As a visitor, there are plenty of ways for moving around Montreal. You can also rent a car, but I would only recommend that if you’re planning to leave the city and explore the province further. Otherwise, public transportation is the simplest, most cost-effective way of getting around.
Subway / Metro: Montreal is home to a metro (subway) system that is reliable, fast, and safe. It runs daily from 5:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. and so it should have you covered at most times. Trips start at $3.50. This is better than the bus as it doesn’t get delayed due to road construction or other problems. For more info, click here.
Bus: However, for the locations where the metro can’t bring you, the bus probably will. The same tickets can be used for both the bus and the metro. The bus covers the entire city, including the airport. You can also buy an unlimited day pass for $10 CAD or a 10-ride pass for $29 CAD. These can be used by both the bus and the subway. You can take bus 747 to and from the airport for $10 CAD each way.
Taxi: For maximum convenience, you can take a taxi. However, taxis are not cheap here. In fact, they are not cheap anywhere in Canada. Fares start at $3.50 and go up by $1.32 per kilometre.
Ridesharing: Other “taxis” such as Uber are available in Montreal, so that’s another option to consider.
Bicycle: In addition to public transportation, you could also rent a bike! Montreal is a bike-friendly city and there are many places to rent them. There’s even a public bike rental system called Bixi Bike. For public bikes, it costs $2.95 CAD or $5.25 CAD for the full day.
Weather in Montreal (Best Time to Visit)
Like many major Canadian cities, Montreal is quite hot in the summer and quite cold in the winter. It’s also a very humid city, which can make it feel hotter than it is in the summer months and colder than it really is in the winter months
The busiest months to visit would be the summer, not only because of the hot weather but also because many of the popular events and festivals occur at this time. July and August are the hottest months, with temperatures averaging about 25°C. This when accommodation prices will be the highest.
In contrast, the winters will see an average temperature of -7°C. However, temps can also reach as low as -30°C. During this time, you’ll avoid the crowds, but you’ll want to make sure you’ve dressed appropriately if you want to do partake in outdoor activities or attend winter festivals.
The late spring and early fall are great times to visit. The weather is milder, the crowds are not as big, and accommodation will be cheaper than in the summer. In the fall, you’ll also get the benefit of the changing colours as Quebec is one of the best places in Canada to witness this natural transformation.
Canada’s important public holidays are New Year’s Day (Jan 1); Good Friday and Easter Monday (Mar or Apr); Victoria Day (the Mon preceding May 25); St-Jean-Baptiste Day, Québec’s own “national” day (June 24); Canada Day (July 1); Labour Day (first Mon in Sept); Canadian Thanksgiving Day (second Mon in Oct); and Christmas (Dec 25).
What to Do in Montreal
As you might imagine, there are loads of things to do in Montreal. There are also different activities depending on the season, not to mention all the events that take place, but this list below will give you a good idea of the best things to do throughout the year.
Explore Old Montreal
Without a doubt, one of the best things to do is to simply go for a scenic walk through Old Montreal, stopping to admire the beautiful architecture and to try some delicious food and snacks. Old Montreal is a historic neighbourhood that was founded by French settles back in 1642 and has many buildings dating back to the era of New France. It’s also located near the Old Port, which is where you’ll find the St. Lawrence River and many boats during the warmer months.
Visit Place d’Armes and the Notre
While strolling through Old Montreal, you simply can not miss Place d’Armes, which is the second oldest site in Montreal, as well as the Notre-Dame Basilica, which is one of the most visited monuments in North America. While the square is free to visit, there is a charge to enter the church ($15 CAD). The Notre-Dame Basilica is a 17th-century Gothic Revival Basilica with dual towers that easily capture the eye from the outside. Inside, however, is regarded as one of the most dramatic in the world with religious paintings, intricate wooden carvings, religious statues, deep blue vaults, and gold-lead decoration, not to mention the 7,000-pipe organ. Approximately 11 million people visit this attraction each year, so expect crowds in the warmer months.
Volcanoes don’t come to mind when people think of Canada but Mont-Royal is actually a volcanic-related hill just west of downtown Montreal. In fact, this where Montreal got its name. If you’re looking for a beautiful urban park, this is the place to go, whether you want to join in with the locals and go for a jog, ride a bike, strap on some rollerblades, or just enjoy a leisurely stroll. Climb to the top of Mont-Royal and you’ll be greeted with one of the best views of the city.
See the Biodome
General Admission: $25 CAD
Whether you visit the city in the summer or the winter, the Montréal Biodôme is a great place for the whole family. Home to five ecosystems from the Americas, it’s a wonderful place to get immersed in nature while learning about the different environments. The building was actually constructed for the 1976 Olympic Games as a velodrome and was renovated in the late ’80s to house this indoor nature exhibit.
The biodome houses more than 250,000 animals from about 220 different species and 500 plant species. It is one of the few places in the world to reproduce the complexity of the natural environment and the interactions between animal and plant species. Think of it as an oasis within the city, bringing you up close to the Tropical Rainforest, the Laurentian Maple Forest, the Gulf of St. Larence, the Labrador Coast, and the Sub-Antarctic Islands.
Visit the Museum of Fine Arts
General Admission: $24 CAD
If you’re into the arts, look no further. This is the largest art museum in Canada by gallery space. Located in the historic Golden Square, this museum is spread out over a massive total floor area of 571,510 square feet. Inside, you’ll find a permanent collection of over 44,000 works and is home to the oldest art library in Canada.
Visit the Jardin Botanique
General Admission: $20 CAD
If you’re looking for more nature within the city, you’ll want to visit the Jardin Botanique, which is the second-largest botanical garden in the world. Opened in 1931 and designated a National Historic Site in Canada in 2008, it showcases ten indoor greenhouses, such as a Chinese garden, Japenese garden, and a rose garden. They have a beautiful First Nations Garden that represents the natural environment, including plants from the Nordic Zone. In total, the botanical garden comprises 190 acres of thematic gardens and greenhouses and is considered to be one of the most important botanical gardens in the world.
Visit the Jean-Talon Market
Located in the Little Italy district, the Jean-Talon Market is the cities largest market and the largest open-air market in North America. Home to a variety of small specialized grocers and shops, it’s a great place to find maple syrup and other Quebecois delicacies, as well as a great place to have lunch or grab some fresh groceries.
Take a Food Tour
Back when we did our 150-day road trip across Canada, we took one of the Local Montréal Food Tours and explored Old Montreal through our bellies. We had delicious bagel salads, ice cream, and sweet poor man’s pudding. We visited local places that we would have had no clue about, while also learning some history along the way. Prices typically start around $50.
Party on Rue Crescent
If you’re into nightlife, Montreal is quite possibly the most infamous city in Canada for partying. There are many clubs and bars across the city but the most popular is Rue Crescent, which is one of the most action-packed streets for both locals and tourists. It’s also a good place to find art galleries and luxury boutiques, but the party scene can be found just South of de Maisonneuve Boulevard. It’s densely packed with pubs, bars, restaurants, and clubs, which is why it’s become the #1 spot to experience nightlife in the city. Whether you’re looking to jump around to Irish music, chill out in a pub, or dance the night away in a club, this is the place to go!
Go on a Bike Tour
Tours starting around $80 CAD.
If you’d rather explore the city by bike, there are many companies offering bike tours. One of these guided bike tours is with Fitz & Follwell, taking in sites such as Old Montreal, Mont-Royal, the Plateau, and Mile-End. Other popular options include Ça Roule Montréal On Wheels and My Bicycleette.
Chill out in Parc La Fontaine
This 84-acre urban park is a great place to go if you’re looking to get away from the city, have a picnic, play some beach volleyball, or just hang out. It’s popular with locals, hosts a variety of free performances at the outdoor theatre, and is also home to winter activities such as skating and cross-country skiing. The park features two linked ponds with a fountain, as well as outdoor swimming pools for those hot and humid summer days.
Go for a Stroll in Le Plateau
If you’re looking to explore more Montreal neighbourhoods, check out Le Plateau, which is home to a variety of boutique shops, trendy restaurants, and old Victorian homes. It’s one of those places to just go for a stroll, do some shopping, or try some delicious food.
Go for a Boat Ride
Tours start around $25 CAD.
If you’re looking to get out on the water, head down to Old Town and take a boat tour of the harbour or a longer tour out to the Lachine Canal or the Boucherville Islands. There are many companies to choose from, including Le Bateau-Mouche at the Old Port of Montreal and Jet Boating Montreal, just to name a few.
Visit St. Joseph Oratory
Admission is $5 CAD.
Standing almost as tall as St. Peter’s in Rome at 97 metres high, the St. Joseph Oratory is a National Historic Site of Canada and the largest church in Canada. Founded in 1904 by Saint André Bessette in his patron saint, it is now one of the most visited shrines in the world, housing a basilica, chapel, and a crypt. Due to its size and location, it’s also the highest building in Montreal, rising more than 30 metres above Mount Royal’s summit. By the time you get there, the observatory might be open as well, giving you unprecedented 360-degree views of the city.
Have Fun at the Cabaret Mado
Tickets starting at $25 CAD.
Located in the city’s Gay Village, this entertaining drag cabaret has been going strong for 30 years and is a wildly fun night of music, costumes, dancing, and music. If you want to get roasted while you’re at, sit close to the stage.
Explore Parc Jean-Drapeau
Covering more than 520 acres, this massive park is home to a lot of green space, a racetrack, a variety of festivals throughout the year, the Montreal Casino, and La Ronde Amusement Park. Created for the 1967 Expo, it comprises two islands, Saint Helen’s Island and the artificial island Notre Dame Island. It’s also home to the Montreal Biosphere, which is houses in a beautiful geodesic dome that was designed by Buckminster Fuller.
If you want to dance, it’s also home to a weekly electronic music festival held each Sunday during the summer months called Piknic Électronik.
Get Your Learn-on at the Montreal Biosphere
General Admission: $15 CAD
Located in Parc Jean-Drapeau, inside the former pavilion of the United States for the 1967 World Fair, the Montreal Biosphere is an interactive environmental museum presenting exhibits about major environmental issues related to climate change, water, air, sustainable development, and eco-technologies. You can get a taste for the Biosphere in our Quebec Travel Video.
Have a Thrilling Time La Ronde Amusement Park
General Admission: $70 CAD
Located in Parc Jean-Drapeau, La Ronde is the largest amusement park in Quebec and the second-largest in Canada after Wonderland in Toronto. Although it’s not officially branded, this park is managed by Six Flags and is home to 40 rides, including 10 rollercoasters.
Explore the Underground City
Inspired by the cold winters, The Underground City (also known as RÉSO) is a series of interconnected office towers, shopping centres, hotels, convention halls, universities, and performing arts venues. The name is a little misleading in the sense that it refers to the entire complex, consisting of the underground connections between the buildings and its integration with the city’s underground rapid transit system. Think of it as an indoor city where you can accomplish many things without stepping foot outdoors.
Tips for Saving Money in Montreal
Free Walking Tours
There are free walking tours all over the world, and they’re a really great way to learn about a city and get your footing. Of course, you should tip depending on the quality of the tour, but this is a great way to save some cash and learn about the city at the same time. Some tours include Starberry Tours and Free Montreal tours.
Get a Museum Pass
If you’re a museum aficionado and are planning to visit many, you might want to consider the Museum Pass, which costs $75-80 CAD and includes admission to 40 museums for three days. With the $80 pass, you also get unlimited public transportation.
Buy a Montreal Passeport
If you’re looking to visit a bunch of attractions, this can be a great way to save some cash. The Montreal Passeport gives you access to over 28 attractions for either two days ($93 CAD) or three days ($113 CAD). In addition, you’ll get admission to the botanical gardens and a 60-minute river cruise.
Bring Your Own Wine
In Montreal, this is known as Aportez-votre vin. If a restaurant has this phrase displayed on a sign out front, it means you can bring your own wine. So, now you can enjoy dinner and bring your own cheap bottle of wine to enjoy.
As you probably know, sites like Groupon can be a great way to score deals on restaurants and attractions. There’s also Living Social and Tourism Montreal’s Sweet Deals, which offers perks on hotels.
Montreal offers a number of free events throughout the year with most of them occurring in the summer months. Even major music festivals will often have free concerts in the streets. Check out Montreal.org for more.
Where to Stay in Montreal
Montreal has no shortage of places to sleep, whether it be a hotel, Airbnb, or hostel. If you want to save lots of money, you could always try Couchsurfing as well. It takes more work upfront but it can be a great way to meet some locals, especially if you’re visiting solo. Aside from that, we usually just use booking.com or Expedia to find a hotel suitable for the location we want to be in.
If you’re not on Airbnb yet, you can use my link and get up to $62 off your first trip.
Fun Things to Do in Montreal and Beyond
Ready to get out of Montreal? You’re in luck. There are loads of awesome things to do around Montreal, including Mont Tremblant, Parc Omega, the Laurentians, Ottawa, Quebec City, and more.
For more things to do, check out these articles below:
- Things to Do in Quebec
- Things to Do in Ontario
- Things to Do in Ottawa
- Things to Do in Ottawa in Winter
- Things to Do in Quebec City in Winter
- Quebec Winter Carnival