What are the five best things to see and do in Montreal?

Exploring what is perhaps Canada’s most romanticized city is like discovering a lost European civilization with all the perks of a luxuriously modern metropolis. Home to one of the world’s top universities, fabulous architecture and breathtakingly beautiful parks, the francophone city of Montreal is filled to the brim with impressive activities and sights. Without further ado, here’s our list of the five best things to see and do in Montreal:

1. Discover Old (Vieux) Montreal. The city evolved from the tiny settlement of Ville-Marie, founded by de Maisonneuve in 1642. After a bit of expansion over the centuries, what is now known as the only fortified neighborhood in North America is glowing with European personality. Explore the 100-acre quadrangle of Vieux Montreal (as the locals know it), which corresponds approximately to the area enclosed within the original fortifications, and admire the largest concentration of 19th-century buildings in North America.

2. Dig up some history at Pointe-à-Callière. Uncover what this francophone city has to offer at Pointe-à-Callière, the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, which was essentially built over the city’s original foundations. In fact, from one of the balconies in the main museum building, the Eperon, you can even see the real ruins housed in the building’s basement. Check out the architectural models that lay beneath a transparent floor — they illustrate five different periods in the history of Place Royale.

3. Climb to the Oratory. Trek up the seemingly endless staircase up the west slope of Mount Royal to one of the most beautiful churches in town. With the chapel built in 1904 and the larger crypt church completed in 1917, St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mont Royale is a famous shrine that attracts more than 2 million pilgrims each year. Still needing more room, a basilica with a seating capacity of 2,200 was erected in 1924. The copper dome that towers over the city and 56-bell French carillon are undoubtedly amazing.

4. Relive your college days. Stroll through the campus of the top Canadian university seated at the foot of Mount Royal. McGill University — where the classes are officially taught in English but students can submit work in French or English — is tucked away on a park-like campus in the heart of downtown Montreal. Ogle at the beautiful buildings, all built with the local gray limestone, as you make your way through this striking campus sprinkled with gothic and Richardsonian Romanesque architecture.

5. Admire the Basilica. One of the most dramatic examples of gothic revival architecture sits across from Place D’Armes Square in Old Montreal. Notre-Dame Basilica is beautiful inside and out. As you make your way into what was once the largest church in North America, look closely at the stained glass windows. Unlike those in most churches, these do not depict biblical scenes but rather scenes from religious history in Montreal.

  • On February 5
    Alain Ethier answered the question: Alain Ethier

    What are the best Montreal food experiences?

    Lobster capuccino at Europea! Montreal is on most foodies’ list of cities to visit because of its French heritage of great food. Here are five must-do experiences if food is the purpose of your trip to Montreal:

    1- The tasting menu at Restaurant Europea A feast for all your senses as you are guided through this 10-course dinner which usually ends up being a 12 or 14 courses experience, depending on the inspiration du moment of their two celebrated chefs, Jérôme Ferrer and Patrice De Felice!

    Amazing delicacies are brought before you, each one in a different manner and with great creativity, by the professional and highly skilled staff. You will never see the same plate twice, as your food  will be displayed, once on a plate, a slate, a cone, under a glass bell, on a river rock, in a treasure chest, on a mini-clothesline along with mini-clothespins, in a crockpot on a bed of hay , on a stick, in a shell of clay that you will break with the provided hammer, even inside a book!

    2- Poutine: The now worldwide known dish was invented here, in the province of Quebec, and has recently evolved into a gourmet dish. First, there are the basic three ingredients: Fries, brown gravy and squeeky cheese curds. Then you have the modern gourmet versions that may include, pulled pork (My favorite!), foie gras, lobster, bacon, steak, General Tao chicken, chorizo, merguez and, of course, smoked meat! Coming up soon is Poutine Week in Montreal, from February 1st to 7th.

    For the classic, no-nonsense type, you may go to La Banquise, Patati-Patata, Lafleur, Paulo et Suzanne, Poutineville, La Cabane, Montreal Pool Room or any place known for great fries. For the gourmet or high-class poutine, you should try Au Pied de Cochon, Garde-Manger, Mechant Boeuf, Brouhaha or Frites Alors.

    3- Smoked Meat:  Montreal style smoked meat is cured in seasoning with cracked peppercorns and aromatic spices and much less sugar than the New York style Pastrami and it is made with brisket. The best delis pride themselves in serving traditional smoked meat, cured, smoked and sliced by hand. The smoked meat sandwich is served on rye bread with yellow mustard. The best and most authentic experience is found at Schwartz Deli, where there is a waiting line all day long and you are seated next to strangers, at long tables of 6 or 8 people. The classic order there is a smoked meat sandwich (Medium is strongly suggested but I prefer Lean), French fries, a dill pickle and a Black Cherry Coke! Some people will tell you that the best smoked meat is found at Main Deli, Reubens, Dunns or Briskets... and they may be right!

    4- Bagels: Again, there is a debate between Montrealers and Newyorkers about who has the best bagels. I’ll let you be the judge of that but the city is known for great tasting fresh bagels. Another age-old debate is about the best place to buy bagels: Fairmount or Saint-Viateur. Both of them are pick-up and go places where the hot bagels go directly from the huge open-fire wood-oven to your bag. Both are open 24 hours a day and have been there for ever! Saint-Viateur recently opened a café on Mont-Royal Avenue, where you can actually sit down and eat your bagels with a nice coffee.

    5- Jean-Talon and Atwater Farmer’s Markets: Open all year-round, 7 days a week, you will find amazingly fresh products from the Province of Quebec, brought to you directly from the farmers and producers themselves. Quebec maple syrup, ice ciders, Quebec cheeses, arrtisan sausages, fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. Small shops cook traditional Quebec recipes with local products. It’s a great place for foodies to spend an afternoon of discoveries.
  • On January 15
    Alain Ethier answered the question: Alain Ethier

    What is the Montreal Metro like?

    Montrealers are very proud of the Montreal Metro network. It is one of the safest and cleanest in the world. The trains are comfortable and not noisy at all because they run on electricity and are set on rubber tires instead of metal wheels, thanks to the rails being entirely indoors and underground.
     
    I often recommend my adventurous guests to try it at least once during their stay just to experience it, even if they are used to taking taxis everywhere, because it is an integral part of the Montreal fabric. It is a link to many parts of the Underground City, a large network of tunnels that connects the downtown shopping malls, office buildings, cultural centers and concert venues.
     
    It is also an economical and efficient way to access some of the major attractions of Montreal that are away from the downtown core, such as the Biodome, Olympic Stadium, Botanical Gardens, Notre-Dame and St-Helene Islands, which are the site of the Montreal Formula One Grand Prix race in June, the Snowfest (Fete des Neiges) and many outdoor activities in the winter and the Casino all year round, just to name a few!
     
    The basic cost of a transfer is $3 for an adult but you can also purchase one day ($10), three days ($18) or weekend ($13) passes. All tickets allow you to transfer from the Metro to the city bus system. As an added value to travelers, note that the 24 hours, 3 days and Weekend passes include access to the #747 shuttle bus to and from the airport!
     
    The arts and architecture buffs should know that the design of each station was done by a different architect and that pieces of art were integrated in most stations, making each Metro station unique and worth discovering.
     
    Many luxury tourists want to see the city they visit as a local and are seeking off-the-beaten-paths experiences; Taking the Montreal Metro is a great way to see how the locals go about the city in their everyday life and making the travel as interesting as the destination.
  • On January 7
    Alain Ethier answered the question: Alain Ethier

    What are the best Montreal food experiences?

    Lobster capuccino at Europea! Montreal is on most foodies’ list of cities to visit because of its French heritage of great food. Here are five must-do experiences if food is the purpose of your trip to Montreal:

    1- The tasting menu at Restaurant Europea A feast for all your senses as you are guided through this 10-course dinner which usually ends up being a 12 or 14 courses experience, depending on the inspiration du moment of their two celebrated chefs, Jérôme Ferrer and Patrice De Felice!

    Amazing delicacies are brought before you, each one in a different manner and with great creativity, by the professional and highly skilled staff. You will never see the same plate twice, as your food  will be displayed, once on a plate, a slate, a cone, under a glass bell, on a river rock, in a treasure chest, on a mini-clothesline along with mini-clothespins, in a crockpot on a bed of hay , on a stick, in a shell of clay that you will break with the provided hammer, even inside a book!

    2- Poutine: The now worldwide known dish was invented here, in the province of Quebec, and has recently evolved into a gourmet dish. First, there are the basic three ingredients: Fries, brown gravy and squeeky cheese curds. Then you have the modern gourmet versions that may include, pulled pork (My favorite!), foie gras, lobster, bacon, steak, General Tao chicken, chorizo, merguez and, of course, smoked meat! Coming up soon is Poutine Week in Montreal, from February 1st to 7th.

    For the classic, no-nonsense type, you may go to La Banquise, Patati-Patata, Lafleur, Paulo et Suzanne, Poutineville, La Cabane, Montreal Pool Room or any place known for great fries. For the gourmet or high-class poutine, you should try Au Pied de Cochon, Garde-Manger, Mechant Boeuf, Brouhaha or Frites Alors.

    3- Smoked Meat:  Montreal style smoked meat is cured in seasoning with cracked peppercorns and aromatic spices and much less sugar than the New York style Pastrami and it is made with brisket. The best delis pride themselves in serving traditional smoked meat, cured, smoked and sliced by hand. The smoked meat sandwich is served on rye bread with yellow mustard. The best and most authentic experience is found at Schwartz Deli, where there is a waiting line all day long and you are seated next to strangers, at long tables of 6 or 8 people. The classic order there is a smoked meat sandwich (Medium is strongly suggested but I prefer Lean), French fries, a dill pickle and a Black Cherry Coke! Some people will tell you that the best smoked meat is found at Main Deli, Reubens, Dunns or Briskets... and they may be right!

    4- Bagels: Again, there is a debate between Montrealers and Newyorkers about who has the best bagels. I’ll let you be the judge of that but the city is known for great tasting fresh bagels. Another age-old debate is about the best place to buy bagels: Fairmount or Saint-Viateur. Both of them are pick-up and go places where the hot bagels go directly from the huge open-fire wood-oven to your bag. Both are open 24 hours a day and have been there for ever! Saint-Viateur recently opened a café on Mont-Royal Avenue, where you can actually sit down and eat your bagels with a nice coffee.

    5- Jean-Talon and Atwater Farmer’s Markets: Open all year-round, 7 days a week, you will find amazingly fresh products from the Province of Quebec, brought to you directly from the farmers and producers themselves. Quebec maple syrup, ice ciders, Quebec cheeses, arrtisan sausages, fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. Small shops cook traditional Quebec recipes with local products. It’s a great place for foodies to spend an afternoon of discoveries.
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  • On May 13
    Alain Ethier answered the question: Alain Ethier

    What are the best hotels in Old Montreal?

    I’ve had the chance to work for two of the best hotels in Old Montreal, so it will be a pleasure for me to describe them to you!

    Hotel Le St-James is a Four-Star rated hotel by Forbes Travel Guide and one of the most luxurious boutique hotels in Montreal. Located in an 1870 building that was once the Merchant’s Bank, it is full of history, antiques and rare pieces of art. The place was built to impress and to display the bank’s wealth and it still does that today as a hotel. It caters to the wealthiest and most famous people on the planet who like to live in a British castle-like environment and decor.

    Le St-Sulpice Hotel Montreal is where I can welcome you now. It is the only boutique hotel in Montreal with two Clefs d’Or Concierges to take care of your every needs and make sure you get the best possible experience of Old Montreal. The 108 suites hotel is ideally located just behind the Notre-Dame Basilica and at the corner of historic St-Paul Street. The comfort of the large suites, the warmth and coziness of the decor and the friendly and attentive service of the employees are equal to none to make you feel like you’re at home. In the summer, the backyard terrace becomes the coolest dining room in Old Montreal and an oasis of peace for an extra-long lunch. Actor James Woods, during his Montreal movie shoot last summer, loved the hotel so much that he publicly wrote about it on internet while he was still staying there, to the detriment of his own privacy.

    Hotel Gault is an elegant boutique hotel nestled in a beautiful historic building erected in 1871, with a strong focus on interior design and aesthetic elegance. The 30 luxurious rooms are frequently fully booked by their regular guests, who are very loyal to their hidden gem in the Old City. The staff is young, professional and cool, pretty much to the image of the guests staying there.

    Hotel Nelligan is a great place for the guests looking for a little more excitement. It is located in the busy part of St-Paul Street and offers 105 luxurious rooms and suites, many with brick or stone walls, a bustling lobby bar, a modern resto-bar with an in-house DJ, a great French restaurant and a very popular and busy rooftop terrace. The whole building transcends that energy and it is carried on by the very helpful and eager to please employees.

    Old Montreal has been booming with many of the best new restaurants, boutique hotels, trendy bars and eclectic shops in the last couple years. Combine that with the adjacent Old Port with its promenade, waterfront activities, numerous summer and winter festivals and many outdoor performances and it’s no wonder it has become one of the most sought neighborhoods of Montreal for the tourists, as well as the locals.
  • On April 30
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best restaurants in Montreal?

    While you’re visiting this French-settled section of Canada, be sure to make a reservation to enjoy a French meal. These two Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurants are sure to please your palate:

    Known for its exquisite food presentation, Four-Star Toque! offers avant-garde French cuisine — try the princess scallops marinated in blueberry water — and 1960s décor in a convenient downtown Montreal location. It’s advised to make a reservation at least a week in advance for this popular and sophisticated eatery, and while the restaurant describes its dress code as casual, eating here is certainly an occasion worth dressing up for — at least a bit. In the warm months, ladies don sundresses and men sport polo shirts and nice jeans. If you’re visiting Quebec City, be sure to visit Four-Star Restaurant Initiale, situated in the Old Port district, which serves French cuisine with a modern twist. Because the restaurant procures its ingredients from local sources, you’re sure to enjoy a fresh and delicious French meal. The fine-dining establishment is also pleasing on the eyes, with lots of open space and a simple but lovely cream and taupe palette. Its prix fixe menus include delicious dishes such as bass filet with white butter, artichokes and grilled leeks.
  • On April 30
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best places to get a hair blowout in Montreal?

    Photo still from Tourisme Montréal: www.tourisme-montreal.org/blog/what-to-do/going-out-and-about-get-dolled-up-at-bleu-blow-dry-and-rouge-nail-bar/


    I am Queen of Hair Blowouts. I go just about every week to get my hair professionally washed, blow-dried and styled (if you had as much hair as I do you would too) and I’ve found two places that do great hair and charge reasonable prices, much less than you might pay at your average salon.

    First is Bleu Blow Dry Bar. They’re a little uptown in Mile End (about a $10 cab ride from downtown), but if you’re heading out in that hipster direction for dinner or drinks, it would definitely be a great option. They have a cute little photo catalog of styles to choose from. Personally, I like the “Carrie.” Cost is $30. (Adjacent to Bleu is Rouge Nail Bar, so why not get a manicure while you’re at it.) Click here to see the video of my Bleu experience. 

    There's a new blowout spot in downtown Montreal that opened in May 2013. It's called Le StyleBar and it's right at 1420 rue Drummond. Cost starts at $30. I haven't tried it yet, but you know I will soon.

    Finally, there is Shaina Schwartz from Styles by Shaina who does house calls. She's very busy, but if you can get an appointment, she'll come to you - and her blowouts with curls last a good solid five days. Cost is $35 to $40. You can find her at (514) 775-8008.

    *Updated April 29, 2013. 
    Baristas has closed. 
  • On April 6, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best places to get a hair blowout in Montreal?

    Photo still from Tourisme Montréal: www.tourisme-montreal.org/blog/what-to-do/going-out-and-about-get-dolled-up-at-bleu-blow-dry-and-rouge-nail-bar/


    I am Queen of Hair Blowouts. I go just about every week to get my hair professionally washed, blow-dried and styled (if you had as much hair as I do you would too) and I’ve found two places that do great hair and charge reasonable prices, much less than you might pay at your average salon.

    First is Bleu Blow Dry Bar. They’re a little uptown in Mile End (about a $10 cab ride from downtown), but if you’re heading out in that hipster direction for dinner or drinks, it would definitely be a great option. They have a cute little photo catalog of styles to choose from. Personally, I like the “Carrie.” Cost is $30. (Adjacent to Bleu is Rouge Nail Bar, so why not get a manicure while you’re at it.) Click here to see the video of my Bleu experience. 

    If you happen to be in the Westmount area, there’s Barista. I think they’re closed on Mondays (since I’ve never been able to get through to them via phone on this day) and I don’t think they check the email address on their website, but if you get there, the staff know what they’re doing and you will emerge like a Victoria’s Secret model – at least your tresses will. Cost is $35. If you don’t get a wash and all you need is a bit of primping, cost is $20.

    I’m still on the lookout for a go-to spot downtown, but when I find it I’ll be sure to let you know. I do know a lady, however, Shaina Schwartz from Styles by Shaina, who does house calls. She's very busy, but if you can get an appointment, she'll come to you - and her blowouts with curls last a good solid five days. Cost is $35 to $40. You can find her at (514) 775-8008.
  • On April 6, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best places to get a hair blowout in Montreal?

    Photo still from Tourisme Montréal: www.tourisme-montreal.org/blog/what-to-do/going-out-and-about-get-dolled-up-at-bleu-blow-dry-and-rouge-nail-bar/


    I am Queen of Hair Blowouts. I go just about every week to get my hair professionally washed, blow-dried and styled (if you had as much hair as I do you would too) and I’ve found two places that do great hair and charge reasonable prices, much less than you might pay at your average salon.

    First is Bleu Blow Dry Bar. They’re a little uptown in Mile End (about a $10 cab ride from downtown), but if you’re heading out in that hipster direction for dinner or drinks, it would definitely be a great option. They have a cute little photo catalog of styles to choose from. Personally, I like the “Carrie.” Cost is $30.(Adjacent to Bleu is Rouge Nail Bar, so why not get a manicure while you’re at it.) Click here to see the video of my Bleu experience. 

    If you happen to be in the Westmount area, there’s Barista. I think they’re closed on Mondays (since I’ve never been able to get through to them via phone on this day) and I don’t think they check the email address on their website, but if you get there, the staff know what they’re doing and you will emerge like a Victoria’s Secret model – at least your tresses will. Cost is $35. If you don’t get a wash and all you need is a bit of primping, cost is $20.

    I’m still on the lookout for a go-to spot downtown, but when I find it I’ll be sure to let you know. I do know a lady, Shaina Schwartz from Styles by Shaina, who does house calls. She's very busy, but if you can get an appointment, she'll come to you. Cost is $35 to $40. You can find her at (514) 775-8008.
  • On April 6, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best places to get a hair blowout in Montreal?

    Photo still from Tourisme Montréal: www.tourisme-montreal.org/blog/what-to-do/going-out-and-about-get-dolled-up-at-bleu-blow-dry-and-rouge-nail-bar/


    I am Queen of Hair Blowouts. I go just about every week to get my hair professionally washed, blow-dried and styled (if you had as much hair as I do you would too) and I’ve found two places that do great hair and charge reasonable prices, much less than you might pay at your average salon.

    First is Bleu Blow Dry Bar. They’re a little uptown in Mile End (about a $10 cab ride from downtown), but if you’re heading out in that hipster direction for dinner or drinks, it would definitely be a great option. They have a cute little photo catalog of styles to choose from. Personally, I like the “Carrie.” Cost is $30.(Adjacent to Bleu is Rouge Nail Bar, so why not get a manicure while you’re at it.) Click here to see the video of my Bleu experience. 

    If you happen to be in the Westmount area, there’s Barista. I think they’re closed on Mondays (since I’ve never been able to get through to them via phone on this day) and I don’t think they check the email address on their website, but if you get there, the staff know what they’re doing and you will emerge like a Victoria’s Secret model – at least your tresses will. Cost is $35. If you don’t get a wash and all you need is a bit of primping, cost is $20.

    I’m still on the lookout for a go-to spot downtown, but when I find it I’ll be sure to let you know. I do know a lady, Shaina Schwartz from Styles by Shaina, who does house calls. She's very busy, but if you can get an appointment, she'll come to you. Cost is $35 to $40. You can find her at (514) 775-8008.
  • On April 6, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best places to get a hair blowout in Montreal?

    Photo still from Tourisme Montréal: www.tourisme-montreal.org/blog/what-to-do/going-out-and-about-get-dolled-up-at-bleu-blow-dry-and-rouge-nail-bar/

    I am Queen of Hair Blowouts. I go just about every week to get my hair professionally washed, blow-dried and styled (if you had as much hair as I do you would too) and I’ve found two places that do great hair and charge reasonable prices, much less than you might pay at your average salon.

    First is Bleu Blow Dry Bar. They’re a little uptown in Mile End (about a $10 cab ride from downtown), but if you’re heading out in that hipster direction for dinner or drinks, it would definitely be a great option. They have a cute little photo catalog of styles to choose from. Personally, I like the “Carrie.” Cost is $30.(Adjacent to Bleu is Rouge Nail Bar, so why not get a manicure while you’re at it.) Click here to see the video of my Bleu experience. 

    If you happen to be in the Westmount area, there’s Barista. I think they’re closed on Mondays (since I’ve never been able to get through to them via phone on this day) and I don’t think they check the email address on their website, but if you get there, the staff know what they’re doing and you will emerge like a Victoria’s Secret model – at least your tresses will. Cost is $35. If you don’t get a wash and all you need is a bit of primping, cost is $20.

    I’m still on the lookout for a go-to spot downtown, but when I find it I’ll be sure to let you know. I do know a lady, Shaina Schwartz from Styles by Shaina, who does house calls. She's very busy, but if you can get an appointment, she'll come to you. Cost is $35 to $40. You can find her at (514) 775-8008.
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