Whether you’re planning your first visit to Montreal or are a repeat visitor to the city, this roundup of the best things to do in Montreal, Canada has a little bit of something for everyone.
This charming, French-speaking Canadian city is full of European-style neighborhoods, cobblestone alleys, warmly-lit restaurants, and eclectic boutiques worth exploring– plus plenty of opportunities for recreation, relaxation, hiking, biking, exploring the art scene, live music, and more!
Below, we spotlight everything from the cliche experiences you just have to have when visiting Montreal (like sampling maple syrup, poutine, and ice wine, of course–) as well as hidden gems you might otherwise miss (like incredible bathhouses and spas, amazing yoga studios, cool bookstores, and the best darn Montreal-style bagels you’ll ever have).
Scroll on for a quick roundup of our favorite things to do in Montreal, Canada, below.
Bookmark this list for easy reference later. Enjoy your trip!
Go Inside Basilica Notre Dame
Basilica Notre Dame is an insanely gorgeous, colorful “minor” basilica that exhibits some of the most stunning architecture the city of Montreal has to offer. (^ See image above, which speaks for itself.) It’s a great place to witness the colorful vibrancy of Gothic Revival architecture (the church is considered a masterpiece and one of the most beautiful in the world) and the photogenic exterior equally captures the austerity of historic Montreal in a single setting.
Before your visit, check the website to make sure you aren’t visiting during mass– unless you want to.
Sample Modern Montreal Cuisine at Garde Manger
Le Garde-Manger is an iconic Montreal restaurant and a lovely place to sample modern Montreal cuisine, which typically features an austere mix of rare and wild meats, seafood, French pastry technique, and lovely domesticated and wild produce from the forested regions within and surrounding the city.
Here, you can find everything from Lobster Poutine (an indulgence for indulgence sake) to elegant local seafood platters (above). Every dish is generous and lovingly plated, from elegant squash agnolotti with brown butter, hazelnuts, and pecorino to the surprisingly approachable beef tartare with truffle and mushrooms.
Perfect for a dinner date or dining solo– either way, you’ll want to lick the plate. Be sure to book a reservation in advance!
Do a Water Circuit at Bota Bota Floating Spa (or Scandinave Spa Vieux-Montréal)
We LOVE the water circuit and getting a luxurious massage at this floating spa, one of Montreal’s finest attractions. Bota Bota is a floating sauna, bathhouse, and restaurant on the Saint Lawrence River that’s located inside a renovated ferryboat docked in Montreal’s Old Port (Vieux-Port de Montréal).
Read our in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the spa here. If you have the budget for it, we recommend doing the water circuit before getting a massage and then staying for lunch or dinner in your bathrobe. In the summer, it’s a gorgeous experience to plan around sunset, so you can watch the light dance beautifully across the water while you dine or dip.
Another Amazing Thermal Spa for Hot-Cold Therapy and Massage
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a more traditional hot-cold bathhouse experience, we also LOVE Scandinave Spa Vieux-Montréal, an amazing thermal spa that is just a stone’s throw away in Vieux-Montreal, the oldest part of the city.
Between the dreamy warm waterfall pools and the invigorating eucalyptus steam room, this super relaxing modern bath house has it all. Just bring your bathing suit and they’ll take care of the rest. It’s a lovely place to relax in any season!
For more info on water therapy and why it’s popular, read our article: How Cold Therapy Became a Pop Culture Phenomenon: Ice Baths, Cold Plunges, the Wim Hof Method, and Beyond.
Try Montreal-Style Bagels
St-Viateur Bagel and Fairmount Bagel (Montreal’s *First* Bagel bakery, which opened in 1919) have a healthy rivalry, with locals claiming allegiance to one or the other. Either way, both of these bagel shops make the best bagels in Montreal, hands down.
Unlike New York bagels, which are larger, more savory, and slightly eggier– Montreal bagels are thinner, lightly sweet, and traditionally loaded with sesame seeds… we love them! Grab a bagel at either of these places and you’ll be a happy camper. It’s a distinctly Montreal experience and a must for bagel lovers! (I tend to like St-Viateur Bagel slightly more, as there’s just something about the open-fired oven that I enjoy– but both of these establishments are great and super authentic.)
Visit Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal
The Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal is a wonderful contemporary art museum on the Place des Arts complex. It was the first contemporary art museum in Canada, and it continues to push boundaries today, featuring a wide array of visiting exhibits and world-class contemporary staples within its impressive collection.
To check out the current exhibits and plan your visit to the MAC (as it is known), go here.
Try Poutine at La Banquise
Poutine is a classic Canadian dish consisting of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds, and it’s one of those things that, like pizza in NYC, you simply have to try when you go there. Accordingly, Poutine La Banquise is a veritable rite of passage for first-timers visiting Montreal– you simply have to try it at least once.
We love the creative twists on classic poutine that this hipster poutine restaurant serves up, from cheeky “La Taquise” taco poutine to mac n’ cheese-topped poutine.
Here, they top poutine with everything from chicken, steak, and corn dogs to goat cheese and guacamole. The gravy-soaked fries became a vehicle for all kinds of creations under this one roof– and the slovenly abandon with which they treat meatballs as a garnish is, to be frank, impressive.
And it might go without saying but they only serve poutine– 24 hours a day, in massive portions. As a result, it’s a real tourist trap, but a fun and necessary one. If you’re going to try poutine in Montreal, this is the best place to do it!
Take A Class at Modo Yoga (Or Studio Mile End)
Every year upon stepping out of the cold and into the pleasantly humid, patchouli-filled silence of Modo Yoga Studio, we’re reminded of just how peaceful and contemplative a good yoga studio can be.
This eco-friendly hot yoga studio on Saint-Laurent Boulevard offers a variety of classes for all skill levels, from their signature “Modo Flow” and upbeat Power Yoga classes to Yin and Restorative classes that move at a luxuriously slow pace. (They also offer donation-based “Karma” classes whose proceeds benefit various humanitarian charities around the world.)
We love the Vinyasa-style Modo Flow classes here, and have been attending this studio for years (back when it was still called Moksha Yoga!). Overall, if you’re looking for a great fitness or yoga class in Montreal, this is your best bet– and it’s an exceptionally cozy experience to have if you’re visiting the city in winter.
Another Great Montreal Yoga Studio
Studio Mile End is a lovely spot to take a yoga class in French or in English. They offer great yoga events and workshops like “Throwback Mixtape Flow”, which aptly captures the artsy music culture that otherwise defines the city.
Climb The Steps at L’Oratoire Saint‐Joseph du Mont‐Royal (Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal)
Did we mention there are a ton of beautiful churches in Montreal? L’Oratoire Saint‐Joseph du Mont‐Royal (aka Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal) is a wonderful place to quite literally “hike” up the steps in Summer and Fall, when flowers bloom against the backdrop of gossamer mid-day sun.
The oratory sits atop a small mountain surrounded by lush, leafy gardens, making it one of those rare religious establishments where the outside journey to get there is more intriguing than the destination itself.
For the best experience, go in the early morning and you’ll have the place to yourself– ideally, visit in Summer or Fall for the classic experience.
Visit Delices Erable & Cie (aka Canadian Maple Delights)
Delices Erable & Cie is a fun one-stop shop for all things maple. In addition to maple syrup, this specialty cafe and pastry shop sells maple candy, maple ice cream, maple cotton candy, and fabulous curiosities like maple salt, a sweet-and-salty topping that’s great for baking, popcorn, and snack-making. They don’t really have a website, but it’s a celebrated local business often frequented by tourists and with good reason.
Here, they offer live demonstrations of how to make maple ice pops (an old-time tradition of pouring hot maple syrup directly onto ice to create a taffy-like consistency that can be lobbed onto a popsicle stick; historically this was done in the snow outside of sap houses, or cabanes à sucre). They also serve fresh maple-infused baked goods for enjoying on-site or on the go. And there is historical information about the traditional art of harvesting maple syrup all throughout the shop, for those who want to learn about the trade.
Either way, whether you shop here or simply stop by to get a sweet treat, and it’s worth the trip. (And it’s a great place to buy souvenirs.)
What To Eat in Montreal
- Montreal-style bagels (see above for our favorite spots)
- coffee at Pikolo Espresso Bar
- poutine (of course!)
- Montreal pastrami sandwiches at Schwartz’s Deli
- blood pudding (not for the faint of heart!)
- sea asparagus (look for it on menus as a key ingredient adding salinity to any dish)
- wild elk, venison, and other local game (look for it on menus)
- maple and maple syrup-infused things (of course!)
- locally-made cheese (our favorite markets are linked below)
- Also, if you don’t like Ice Wine or don’t drink, you can look at any of the below markets for Inushuk Blueberry Icewine Tea, which contains real icewine as a flavoring but offers a more mellow, soothing experience. This item can be hard to find, so don’t be shy about asking spice mongers directly about it.
What To Buy in Montreal
- Thé à l’érable (aka specialty Maple Tea)
- Ice wine
- maple syrup
- maple products at Canadian Maple Delights (see above)
- local flowers, local honey, and other epicurean sundries at Jean-Talon Market
- Aero bubble brand chocolate
- cool scarves
- outerwear like hats and jackets from any of the city’s hip upscale shops like Boutique Unicorn or Boutique Tozzi
- funky prints and home decor textiles at Katrin Leblond Design
- exotic spices, dried fruit, and olive oil at Marché Atwater
- local art, self care, and home wares at Annex Vintage
- quirky comics at Drawn & Quarterly
Montreal’s Best Markets
We could honestly write a whole separate article on the lovely public markets in Montreal– but for now we’ll just say that if you love local food, you should absolutely pay a visit to Jean-Talon Market, Marche Atwater, and Marché des Éclusiers, which latter is particularly lovely in summer.
Go to any of these places to shop for the iconic Montreal products detailed above. They all make great edible souvenirs!
Other Things To Note (Weather, Getting Around, Etc)
- Montreal’s currency is the Canadian dollar. The time zone is GMT-5, the same time zone as NYC.
- Uber, Air BnB, and bike shares are all available in Montreal. The Metro, meanwhile, is super easy to navigate and it runs all over the city.
- Weather by season: Winter is long, cold, and takes up half the year. Spring and summer meld together with pleasant warmth and the return of open-air produce markets, and Fall offers gorgeous fall foliage and reliably brisk temperatures. (<— This is is a great time to hike and bike around the city!)
- Montreal’s vibe is artsy and hipster. It’s generally more “sophisticated” feeling than Vancouver or Toronto, mostly because of the historic architecture and traditionalist undercurrent (the vibe is vaguely European in that way, which is obviously due to the French influence and the fact that this is ice wine country). To casually oversimplify it, we often describe Montreal as “Paris meets Brooklyn– in Canada”.
- There’s great music, art, and yoga scene in the city. Generally, people are well-read and politically informed. There are lots of American expats and international students studying at McGill University and Concordia University. As a result, the intersection of student life and the city’s art scene makes for a very eclectic, youthful culture. You can get a sense for it just by wandering around the streets with curious eyes and ears– if you do that, you’re sure to have a wonderful time no matter where you go.
Related: Want more bespoke Canadian Travel Guides? Read our critically-acclaimed Travel Guide to Vancouver.