Things to Do in Montreal
Once a busy shipping hub, the Old Port of Montreal (Vieux Port de Montréal) is now an entertainment center stretching along the St. Lawrence River. In addition to the promenade, the port is also home to the Montreal Science Centre, La Grande Roue de Montréal, an observation wheel, a boat spa, and seasonal outdoor attractions including an urban beach and an ice rink.
Built for the 1976 Olympic Games, the Montreal Olympic Park (Parc Olympique de Montréal) now houses several attractions that form Montreal’s Space for Life museum district. There’s the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, the 56,000-seater Olympic Stadium, the Biodome, an indoor zoo with around 4,500 animals, as well as the Botanical Gardens and Insectarium in neighboring Maisonneuve Park.
Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal) charms visitors with its picturesque squares, grand old-world architecture, and winding cobblestone streets. Whether in the Old Port or walking down the main street Rue Saint-Paul, it’s easy to feel transported back in time—in fact, some architectural remains date back to New France. The historic site is considered to be the best preserved Old Town in North America.
Built in the 1840s, this neoclassical silver-domed building has served as a farmers market, theater, and for a brief stint as Montreal's city hall. It was threatened with demolition before being converted into the current market complex, which contains cafes, restaurants, galleries, and shops selling Quebec-made crafts and design items.
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal (Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal) is the city's oldest Catholic church and the venue of Quebec hero Celine Dion’s wedding. The Gothic Revival-style church is one of Canada’s most lavish cathedrals, with stained-glass windows, intricate wood carvings, frescoes, sculptures, and a 7,000-pipe organ all vying for attention beneath a blue ceiling studded with gold stars.
Mount Royal (Mont Royal), a 764-foot (233-meter) “mountain” in the midst of urban Montreal, is much-loved by locals and visitors alike, with Montrealers frequenting the leafy slopes as if the area were their own backyard. Cyclists, joggers, sunbathers, picnickers, and strollers abound in summer, while snowshoers, tobogganers, ice skaters, and cross-country skiers dominate in winter. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted—the creative force behind New York City’s Central Park—the 470-acre (190-hectare) Mount Royal Park (Parc du Mont-Royal) encompasses forest trails, manmade monuments, and grassy meadows for picnicking. On a clear day, the views from the Mount Royal summit lookout can’t be beaten.
The historic and scenic St. Lawrence River flows 743 miles (1,196 kilometers) across a vast chunk of North America, from the Great Lakes all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The lifeblood for Ontario and Quebec, the mighty river has long sustained communities of both native tribes and European colonizers who settled along its banks. Its waters play host to a vast variety of wildlife, including a number of whale species such as sperm, minke, fin, blue, North Atlantic right, and endangered belugas.
St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal (L'Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal) located in Montreal’s Westmount neighborhood, is Canada’s largest church and a registered National Historic Site. Started as a small chapel in 1904, the Roman Catholic basilica has grown to contain a cryptic church, a museum, gardens, a 56-bell carillon, and one of the largest church domes in the world.
Covering an area of 480 square miles (1,245 square kilometers), the protected waters of the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park (Parc Marin du Saguenay-Saint-Laurent) are among Eastern Canada’s best wildlife-viewing hot spots. Many impressive cetaceans, from blue whales to belugas, as well as several types of seals and hundreds of different species of sea birds dwell here.
Designed by architect Buckminster Fuller to serve as the US pavilion for the 1967 World’s Fair, the Montreal Biosphere (la Biosphère) is one of the city’s most instantly recognizable landmarks. Inside, it houses a range of exhibitions focusing on eco-technologies, sustainable development, and climate change. It's a must-see for all visitors to Montreal.
More Things to Do in Montreal
Situated at the northernmost point of Montreal’s Plateau, Mile End is known for its array of independent shops, cafés, and underground music venues. The vibrant neighborhood, a cultural hub since the 1980s, is teeming with highly-rated restaurants and historical landmarks, from classic bagelries to scenes from the novels of Mordecai Richler.
Montreal Chinatown was established in the late 19th century with the arrival of Chinese immigrants from western Canada who came to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Though just a couple of blocks long, the district offers a wide selection of Asian eateries and shops selling traditional handicrafts and souvenirs.
Named after a 16th-century French explorer, Jacques-Cartier Square (Place Jacques-Cartier) is one of the main squares in Old Montreal (Vieux-Montreal). It was laid out in the early 19th century, and is lined with cafe terraces where visitors can watch as street performers and caricature artists vie for the attentions of passing tourists.
First opened in 1933, Jean-Talon Market (Marché Jean-Talon) is a local institution. Montrealers come to shop farm-fresh ingredients, from Quebec-reared pork and seafood from the country’s east cost to colorful vegetables, everything from purple carrots to orange cauliflower and strangely shaped gourds—all of which are artfully stacked in sellers’ stalls.
Artsy and laid-back, Plateau-Mont-Royal, aka the Plateau, captures the spirit of Montreal perhaps more than any other neighborhood. Spiraling iron staircases crawl up Victorian-era residences on tree-lined streets, while magnificent street murals add color to commercial thoroughfares. Restaurants, cafés, bars, and boutiques abound.
Montreal's Place d’Armes, meaning parade square, is a major public venue in Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal). The picturesque plaza is bordered by some of Montreal’s most notable architectural landmarks, including the 17th-century Saint-Sulpice Seminary, the Gothic Revival-style Notre-Dame Basilica, and the art deco Aldred Building.
Saint Paul Street (Rue Saint-Paul), located in Montreal’s Old Port, is an historic stretch of cafes, boutiques, galleries, and souvenir shops. Constructed in 1672, Saint Paul is the oldest street in the city and home to a few of its top landmarks, including Bonsecours Market and Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel.
Built in the 1870s and rebuilt after a 1922 fire, Montreal City Hall (Hôtel de Ville de Montréal) has long found itself at the center of Quebec history. In 1967, the building hosted one of the most significant political moments in the province’s recent past, when then–French President Charles de Gaulle gave a rousing speech from the balcony—one that spurred Quebec’s separatist movement.
Montreal’s Underground City (or RÉSO) is a vast indoor complex that extends across a large portion of Downtown Montreal. Subterranean tunnels connect malls, hotels, cinemas, theaters, offices, museums, banks, universities, and metro stations, serving as a warm refuge during the city’s brutal winters.
The action in Montreal's Latin Quarter (Quartier Latin) centers on Saint-Denis, a street lined with funky shops and bistros. The area really comes into its own in summer when it hosts festivals. Locals, tourists, and French-speaking students from University of Quebec at Montreal pack the neighborhood’s many cafes, bars, theaters, and live music venues.
A rare pocket of green in a built-up part of downtown Montreal, Champ de Mars served as a military parade ground and city parking lot before it was converted into a park in the 1980s. During the conversion, workers unearthed remains from Montreal’s old fortifications, and parts of the restored city walls were incorporated into the site.
Pointe-à-Callière traces the history of Montreal, from First Nations’ settlements to the arrival of the Europeans and beyond. As well as immersive and interactive exhibits, the museum also displays authentic archaeological and architectural remains including parts of centuries-old fortifications and a 17th-century cemetery.
Since its completion in 1892, Dorchester Square (Le Square Dorchester) has been a cultural and political focal point for protests, social gatherings, and pedestrian traffic in Downtown Montreal. Adjacent to the Dominion Square Building and Place du Canada, the public park is home to four historic monuments, including a Robert Burns statue and the Boer War memorial.
Built in the 1960s by Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau, Place des Arts is Canada’s largest cultural complex. In addition to housing the Contemporary Art Museum and outdoor art installations, the performing arts center boasts six concert halls where guests attend a range of cultural and musical performances, including ballet, opera, and theater.
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