July 15, 2024

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Montreal travel guide: The best things to see, do, and eat

6 min read

One of Canada’s hubs for culture, history, and entertainment, Montreal is packed with things to see, do, and experience.

Montreal is one of Canada’s most exciting urban centres, thanks to the city’s meld of old and new, dedication to arts and culture, and fantastic food and drink.

Whether you’re Montreal-bound for a romantic getaway, solo stomp, or family adventure, there is plenty to see and do in and around the city to create a robust itinerary. 

Getting there

Vancouverites have several options for air travel to Montreal, with service from YVR to YUL available from Canadian carriers Air Canada, WestJet, Flair, and Porter. However, only Air Canada and Porter fly Vancouver to Montreal non-stop.

Porter Airlines launched its new YVR-YUL route on April 11, flying its 132-seat Embraer E195-E2 aircraft with its popular two-seat configuration, which means no middle seats on any flight. Passengers on any ticket can enjoy the airline’s hospitality which includes unlimited complimentary Canadian-made snacks and beverages, including wine and beer. 

The flight is about five hours long, but if you book a first-thing-in-the-morning take-off you will be in the “City of Saints” in time for dinner. 

Getting around

Montreal is easy to get around on foot, particularly in the downtown core, and has an excellent public transit system. Multi-day or single-use passes for the city’s STM (Societé de transport de Montreal) will give you access to bus and subway (Metro) lines. STM has a wealth of information for visitors to use online to help navigate a visit to Montreal using public transit, including getting into the city from YUL airport. Taxis and ride shares are also readily available. 

Stay

Those looking for an urban experience will love a hotel located in Downtown Montreal, and there are plenty to choose from, all near transit, major attractions, entertainment, and restaurants. 

Hotel Humaniti, part of the Marriott Autograph Collection, has location on lock with the modern art-filled stay situated steps from Montreal landmarks, restaurants, cafes, and transit. Additionally, guests can enjoy meals at the hotel’s acclaimed Restaurant h3, which features a seasonally guided approach to modern Quebecois cuisine with featuring local ingredients and an excellent wine list. 

See and play

One of Canada’s hubs for culture, history, and entertainment, Montreal is packed with things to see, do, and experience catering to broad or niche interests.

A guided walking food tour is one way to get a taste of Montreal, with several outfits offering themed excursions sure to whet your appetite, from Mile End to Little Italy. Space & Palacio Tours will show you around town on foot (or on two wheels) with an eye on mural art or delicious eats, including a walking tour of Montreal’s iconic Jean-Talon Market and surrounding neighbourhoods. Called Beyond the Market, the three-hour journey designed for small groups spotlights independent local food vendors and plenty of bites with lots of room for unscripted merriment.

History buffs will rejoice in the many landmarks around Montreal, like the Notre-Dame Basilica and all of Old Montreal and the “Vieux Port” zone on the waterfront. For a fresh perspective on the city, take a ride on the big wheel (La Grande Roue) with its sweeping views of Montreal, or head to the newer 65-metre glass-walled Port of Montreal Tower, complete with fun interactive art displays and multimedia information panels.

Architecture fans will appreciate the across-the-water views of Habitat 67 the port zone accords; the Moishe Safdie-designed housing complex is located at Cité-du-Havre, a century-old artificial peninsula expanded for Expo 67. Guided tours are available seasonally.

The other prominent remnant of Expo 67 is Montreal’s iconic Buckminster Fuller dome, which encloses an environmental sciences museum called the Montreal Biosphere. Situated in Parc Jean-Drapeau, the Biosphere is perfect for anyone interested in science and sustainability. In the summer, the city’s third-largest park comes alive with seasonal destinations like a beach, major events like the Osheaga music festival and the Canadian Grand Prix, and the thrills and spills of La Ronde, a Six Flags amusement park. You’ll be able to see La Ronde’s popular summertime fireworks displays from Old Montreal, too. 

montreal-inside-biodome
Inside the Biodome, where you can roam through five North American habitats filled with flora and fauna. Lindsay William-Ross/V.I.A.

Buildings that were part of another of Montreal’s large-scale events, the 1976 Olympics, have also been thoughtfully preserved and repurposed. Families may wish to pay a visit to the Space for Life’s Biodome to stroll through five eco habitats full of flora and fauna. The venue makes terrific use of the former Olympic velodrome, which began its second life as a place to immerse yourself in and learn about nature back in 1992. Other Space for Life venues include the botanic gardens, Insectarium, and Planetarium, all in the same cluster of buildings. 

Travellers who crave more art and culture can find several museums in the city, while urban explorers will want to make a day of roaming Saint-Hubert Plaza, named one of Time Out’s “Coolest Streets in the World” for 2024. Saint-Hubert Plaza is a zone that boasts 400 businesses, including the kitschy watering hole Spaghetti Western, award-winning restaurants like Montreal Plaza, and shops specializing in anything from streetwear to board games. 

Eat

The culinary scene in Montreal is full of excitement, broad global influence, and cutting-edge chefs. The city’s veteran and newcomer restaurants earn accolades of all kinds and are among some of the most often cited and sought-out dining destinations. The chance to experience tried-and-true staples alongside eye-catching contemporary dining (and cocktail-ing) is part of what makes eating your way around Montreal so thrilling.

Most recently, Montreal’s Vin Mon Lapin was named Canada’s Best Restaurant for the second consecutive year, illustrating a bit of the new wave the city is enjoying on the national culinary landscape (though fine-dining stalwarts like Toqué, Monarque, and L’Express continue to enjoy acclaim). 

For those in search of a taste of classic Montreal, you’ll want to make time to eat some poutine, smoked meat, bagels, and all the maple syrup. The enduring appeal of spots like Schwartz’s Deli (smoked meat sandwiches), La Banquise (poutine), and Gibeau Orange Julep (orange julep drinks) is undeniable, and many first-time visitors to Montreal may wish to taste both St Viateur and Fairmount’s versions so they can figure out which team they’re on. 

However, stereotypes aside, Montreal is brimming with phenomenal fare, from roast chicken to donuts and ramen to fine dining. 

Try Crew Collective for coffee and pastries, located in the opulent former Royal Bank central branch, or venture to Savsav for an iced strawberry matcha in a semi-hidden location. Sip inventive cocktails (like a flaming pineapple) at Le Mal Necessaire by night, and set your alarm to make it over to Arthurs Nosh Bar to snag a coveted table for breakfast or brunch featuring modern takes on Jewish deli classics.

Can’t get a reso at Joe Beef? Don’t worry. You can hit up their sibling spot, McKiernan, which specializes in chicken (roasted, schnitzel) and all the sides, in a stunning loft space.

Keep it casual in Chinatown at Dobe & Andy, the next-gen iteration of a Chinese BBQ staple or experience the nightclub-meets-mall vibes of Time Out Market, which is an amped-up food court tricked out with a mocktail bar and gelato cart amidst gourmet stalls (including from popular local chefs) turning out a fever dream line-up of eats like sushi, smashburgers, lobster rolls, jerk chicken, Indian fine dining, and even wine and cocktails. 


Thanks to Porter Airlines for hosting the flights and Tourisme Montreal for facilitating a portion of the food and activities. All opinions and inclusions are those of the author and were based solely on personal experience. None of the businesses or entities featured were granted any previews of the story before publication or paid to be mentioned. 


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