What to Do in Montreal, Canada: 15 Unforgettable Experiences you Don’t Want to Miss!

Welcome to the second most populous city in Canada, Montreal. Experience mouthwatering food, gorgeous views, and history dating back to the 1600’s. I’ve summed up the best things to do, places to stay, and where to eat. Read on to discover 15 unforgettable things to do in Montreal!

Founded in 1642, Montreal boasts unique remnants from its historic past while still feeling like a modern big city. This Canadian destination is bursting with culture and enough to keep you busy for at least a few days. Let’s learn a few fast facts first.

Montreal is located in the province of Quebec and is 5 times larger than the island of Manhattan. Second to only Las Vegas, it is known as a great place to host bachelor and bachelorette parties (the legal drinking age is 18 – the lowest in North America). Although French is the official language, more than half the population is bilingual and also speak English. It’s always important to learn and try to use a couple basic phrases in a country’s official language. But know you will frequently find English speakers as well, especially in the hospitality industry.

How to Plan Things To Do in Montreal

When planning our trips, I like to take a DIY approach. My husband and I have tried to remain active travelers and take a handful of trips each year. I like to think we have gotten pretty good at the planning part!

Once we land on a destination and time of year, we each choose ~3 non-negotiable items we would like to experience. That way, we both get to do things we are interested in and both remain active in the planning process! I’ve even implemented this strategy on a girls trip to Newport, Rhode Island and it worked great too.

We tried this strategy first on our 2 week backpacking trip through the UK, and have used it ever since. For this trip, I narrowed down my 3 non-negotiable things to do in Montreal including a Nordic “hydrotherapy” spa, a Christmas market, and enjoying traditional foods (poutine, bagels, smoked meat, mulled wine, & maple taffy).

Our Montreal trip was tied into a quick getaway to Quebec City as well, and my husband’s non-negotiables included things to do in both cities, including: see a hockey game, visit the famous Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac hotel and ride the Funiculaire.

We succeeded in crossing off almost everything on both of our non-negotiable lists plus many more. Read on to discover 15 unforgettable things to do in Montreal!

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1. Monsieur Café & Vins for Lunch

After our plane landed in Montreal, we Ubered to a spot I found online for lunch. However, the neighborhood looked sleepy and turns out the restaurant was closed (even though it said it was open online). This tended to be a theme throughout our trip- happening in Quebec City too! But lucky for us, this mishap led us to an even better place.

We ended up at Monsieur Café & Vins, a posh spot with lots of smartly dressed businesspeople taking a leisurely lunch. The waiters were accommodating with our luggage and provided excellent service. I was in the mood to try a burger, and it was divine.

Possibly the best thing that happened was our waiter recommended our favorite restaurant of the trip- a hidden local gem in Quebec City where we enjoyed one of our favorite date nights of the year. With a fresh creative menu that changes NIGHTLY, this was a spot we never would have come across on our own!

2. Catch a Train

Montreal is a big metropolitan city, and well connected to the rest of Canada via rail! Similar to London, you can use Montreal as a base to catch a train and travel to other cities as well. We had limited time, but definitely wanted to visit Quebec City while we were so close.

Train service is offered by VIA Rail Canada. The train from Montreal takes ~4 hours, and there are several departure times throughout the day. Ticket prices are based on demand so booking early is better. We paid about $40 each way. The train line was beautiful, clean and comfy. I would highly recommend this mode of travel!

In my experience, VIA rail was much more organized and cleaner than Amtrak in the States. I shared my experience taking an Amtrak train from Memphis to New Orleans here.

3. Dueling Bagels

Ok this is a fun one. I know you’ve heard of bagels associated with New York, but did you know there is a Montreal style bagel? What makes a Montreal bagel unique is a faint sweetness; they are boiled in honey water for the perfect hint of sugar before they are baked in a wood burning oven. You may also notice they are smaller, thinner, and have a larger hole.

Aside from these general characteristics, two Jewish bakeries in Montreal are famous for their bagel and claim to be the “original”. You can easily visit both bagel shops in one trip- they are only a couple blocks apart. St. Viateur Bagel has been in operation since 1957, and Fairmount Bagel since 1919.

I preferred Fairmount, while my husband preferred St. Viateur. It really is fun to taste test both shops. Either way- the bagels are superior to what we are used to in America. You can tell they are handmade, and have more flavor and a better texture.

4. Schwartz Smoked Meats

Since we are on the topic of famous and historic Montreal foods, let’s talk about Schwartz Smoked Meats. Although I eat meat, I wouldn’t say a smoked meat shop is something I would typically seek out. However, I was pleasantly surprised!

Schwartz’s is a Jewish deli in operation since 1928. Their signature dish is a smoked meat sandwich served on rye bread with yellow mustard, a side of fries and a pickle.

Things to Do in Montreal

We got lucky and arrived for a weekday lunch to a very short line. The restaurant is tiny, and has mostly long tables where they fill them hibachi style. Meaning you may be sat with your party at a table with others. There is also a bar, and we ended up at the only small table for 2 in the back.

They are quick and efficient, and had us in and out in under 30 min! It was a fun and unique lunch spot, and a bucket list thing to do in Montreal.

5. Restaurant L’Orignal

This next spot may not be historic, but was memorable for a different reason. Restaurant L’Orignal is a self proclaimed Québécois farm-to-table restaurant serving game & seafood dishes in an “upscale, funky & woodsy chalet setting”.

The entrance is tucked a few steps below street level in a historic building on a sleepy side street in Old Montreal. This probably contributed to the reason this restaurant will forever be memorable for us. When we walked in, I saw a long table of 30 somethings having a good time. I was trying to decide if they looked like locals or not; locals at a restaurant are always a good sign.

While still contemplating and before we were taken to our table, they got up, thanked the manager, and walked towards us standing in the doorway. I looked at my husband and whispered “that one guy looks like a Jonas brother”. My husband casually responded, “that’s because he IS a Jonas brother. And there’s another one”.

I was indifferent toward the Jonas brothers, but had never seen a famous person in public before. My jaw hit the floor as I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible while snapping blurry pictures. I was star struck for the rest of the meal, but enjoyed a great pasta & wine pairing. Apparently they always eat here when they are in town for a show so who knows, you may get lucky and experience a star sighting too!

6. See a Concert

Speaking of the Jonas Brothers, we had to know why they were in town. Turns out they were on their own type of “Eras” tour, playing songs from every one of their albums and they had a show at Belle Centre that night in Montreal.

We found affordable nosebleed tickets during dinner, and made the spontaneous decision to head straight to their concert from our meal! We missed the opener and first song or two. Because of our late arrival, we were approached by concert staff on our way to our seats and asked if we would like complimentary lower bowl tickets in an effort to fill in the remaining unsold seats.

We had so much fun on this serendipitous night, and enjoyed our view from 10 rows up. I would recommend checking out what shows or concerts are playing while you are in Montreal.

7. Canadians Hockey Game

We found ourselves unexpectedly at Bell Centre Stadium Friday night for the Jonas Brothers concert, but had tickets and planned to go the Montreal Canadians game Saturday night. So yes, we spent both Friday and Saturday night at Bell Centre stadium so we know it well.

It can easily be reached by Montreal’s excellent underground system. We took the subway from the nearest stop a couple blocks away from our Sonder, and did not have to step back outside once! There are underground tunnels that take you from the subway stop and spit you out inside the stadium. It’s honestly impressive and brilliant for a city that gets as chilly as Montreal.

This was our first ever hockey game, and both agreed it is such a fun live sporting event to go to even if you don’t consider yourself a fan. Get some merch, enjoy a local beer and some concession stand food and cheer on one of the original 6 teams in the National Hockey League. You might just get lucky and get to see some overtime hockey like we did!

Things to Do in Montreal

8. Montreal Underground City

As briefly mentioned, Montreal has a system of tunnels connected to the Montreal metro known as “Underground City”. It is the largest underground complex in the world. It stretches for 20 miles and is the largest underground complex in the world. According to official statistics, these underground corridors link 10 metro stations, 2 bus terminals, 1,200 offices, about 2,000 stores (including the Bell Centre)! You may not even realize you are underground while you are in it. But, it essentially allows you to travel and commute in a warm and well lit environment while keeping you out of the elements at street level.

Things to Do in Montreal

You will probably find yourself in the Underground City unintentionally if you are using public transit during your visit, which you should! The Montreal metro system is excellent, and will get you most anywhere you need to go.

9. Mount Royal

We had every intent to visit the highest point in Montreal, Mount Royal. The peak in located in Mount Royal Park, Montreal’s largest urban greenspace. In fact, Montreal was named after “Mont-Royal”, pretty neat! The large wooded park was actually designed by the same man who planned Central Park in New York City.

After lunch at Schwartz’s, we made our way on foot to Mount Royal park. However, we lost steam on the way, and were pushing time for me to pump (I was still breastfeeding my 8 month old when we took our trip!). Logistically we wouldn’t have time to make it into the park and up the peak, so we turned around and found a hotel lobby for me to pump at.

The afternoon continued to get away from us and we found our way down Saint Laurent Boulevard, and into the Great Christmas Market instead. Unfortunately, we never made our way back to the park. Maybe next time!

10. Saint Laurent Boulevard

Saint Laurent Blvd is one of the main streets in Montreal, and has extensive shopping and cultural significance. It was actually named the “Main National Historic Site of Canada” in 2002!

We chose to leisurely walk down it, browsing shops as we passed. We stopped into Eva B, an eclectic vintage clothing store and had a ball perusing their extensive merchandise. They also had a bistro/bar area with baked goods that looked and smelled divine. This was such a fun and unexpected thing to do in Montreal.

I came home with that brown leather purse pictured in the middle photo above for $15. Such a fun find!

11. Try Maple Taffy at the Great Christmas Market

As mentioned, experiencing a Christmas market (and trying maple taffy) were some of my non-negotiables during this trip. Montreal has a handful of markets, but the Great Christmas Market made the most sense for us geographically.

We had already experienced Marche de Noel Allemand de Quebec in Quebec City, which should be an item on everyone’s bucket list. It was so magical to experience an authentic European inspired market in the fairytale town of Quebec City surrounded by cobblestone and historic architecture at Christmas time. Honestly, the Montreal market didn’t quite compare because of the soaring skyscrapers and modern open feel.

Things to Do in Montreal

BUT, if you only get to visit Montreal (and not Quebec City) and are there around the holidays, a Christmas market should definitely make your to do list. Sipping on mulled wine, egg nog, hot chocolate to cut the cold while browsing stalls of unique and hand made gifts are definitely worth it.

And the icing on the cake? Maple taffy! I did not find any maple taffy in Quebec City at their Christmas market, but was lucky enough to come across some in Montreal. What makes maple taffy so special? It is a traditional Canadian sweet treat made by boiling maple sap, then pouring it onto snow and rolling it around a popsicle stick. Historians believe this has been by indigenous tribes long before Europeans arrived in North America. So, before the 17th century. History is so cool!

12. Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal

The history and architecture of any large place of worship always leaves me in awe. Notre-Dame Basilica is no exception. The Seminary of St. Sulpice next door to the basilica was founded in 1642, the same year Montreal became a city. The original Notre-Dame was built around the same time, then demolished between 1830-1843 when the new (and current) church was completed. Traces of the original church are still visible on the ground between the parvis and Place d’Armes.

The current Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal was the first Gothic Revival style church in Canada. St Joseph (patron saint of Canada), the Virgin Mary (patron saint of Montréal) and St John the Baptist (patron saint of Quebec) are the chosen statues displayed in the front.

We walked by the outside on our first day in Montreal, and marveled at the beautiful exterior. To tour the inside, you do have to purchase tickets. However, we chose to wait until Sunday, and attended mass at the 9am service. Doors open 30 minutes before each mass, and are celebrated in French only. Going to church at the Notre-Dame on the first Sunday of Advent was truly magical.

13. Old Montreal

Old Montreal is the most historic neighborhood in Montreal and where we chose to stay. Notre-Dame Basilica is in Old Montreal, and adjacent is Old Port and the waterfront portion of the city.

We stayed at a Sonder in Old Montreal and could not have been more pleased with our accommodations. This was our second experience with Sonder, and both times we left happy. You can read more about our first experience in New Orleans here!

Sonder is like a mix of a hotel and an Airbnb, giving you the best of both worlds. We like the safety of being in a secure building similar to a hotel, but the room is larger and more personalized similar to an Airbnb. The property we stayed at also had secure luggage storage which was nice since we arrived early in the day.

We stayed at Sonder Le Victoria in Old Montreal and had a large hallway, kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom with in unit laundry. They are also fairly priced!

14. Tommy Cafe

Tommy Cafe was a fun and unexpected find in Old Montreal! We were looking for a quick brunch after the 9am service at Notre-Dame and before we had to leave for our flight. It was cold and snowy and we didn’t want to venture too far.

We stumbled upon Tommy Cafe and enjoyed the best brunch! We were thinking it would be more of a tourist trap because of it’s location among many of the hotels and landmarks, but the food, aesthetic and service were all five star. This is a great spot for a quick weekend brunch!

15. Bota Bota Scandinavian Spa

Last but not least (well, maybe least. We will never know!) is the Bota Bota Scandinavian spa on a BOAT! We had plans to enjoy an afternoon at the Scandivian hydrospa on our last afternoon before our evening flight home. However, a lovely flight notification the day before informed us our 5pm flight had been moved up to noon and there was no time to fit this final stop in.

This had been one of my non-negotiables that as a new mom, I was so looking forward to. Maybe next time!

Things to Do in Montreal

I hope you enjoyed this all inclusive list of 15 unforgettable things to do in Montreal! It’s a great city to visit full of culture and history. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip in December, and hope you do too!

Enjoy the journey,