It’s the second most populous Canadian city, and one of my favourites: Montréal. I’ve visited countless times, and it will forever have a special place in my heart. My parents moved to Montréal and got married there, when they first immigrated to Canada from the Caribbean. It’s also one of the best cities in the world for food, since its culinary scene is reflective of its rich history and diverse population.
My most recent visit was with my good friend, Solmaz, for MTLàTable – Montréal’s restaurant week that takes place annually in the fall. But Montréal is really great to visit all year-round and there truly is something for everyone.
Know Before You Go
- Surrounded by water and located where the Ottawa River and Saint Lawrence River meet, Montréal is actually a 499 km2 island.
- Winters in Montréal are COLD (make sure to wear layers and bundle up!). Thankfully, there is an expansive underground network connecting to transit, shops, and restaurants called RÉSO (more commonly known as “The Underground City”). The largest underground complex in the world, the Underground City stretches for 33 km and helps Montréal’s residents and visitors escape the winter.
- Montréal got its name from Mont-Royal (Mount Royal) – the mountain just west of Downtown Montréal. Fun fact: no building or skyscraper in Montréal can be taller than the Mont-Royal cross.
- While French and English are the official languages, there are over 80 languages spoken in Montréal and 1 in 3 people speak a 3rd. Most people speak English, but learning a few key words in French will really go a long way with locals!
- Montréal is very ethnically diverse! Many different cultural and ethnic groups have settled there over time, including the Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Jewish, Chinese, Haitian, and Lebanese. Each has imparted its own, distinct mark on the history and culinary scene in Montréal.
- There is a vibrant arts scene in Montréal too, with over 800 public artworks, over 100 annual festivals, a dedicated entertainment district, and the world’s largest jazz festival.
Have I piqued your interest about Montréal enough yet? If not, here are 9 things you must do in Montréal that I’m sure will make you want to take a trip there!
9 Things You Must Do in Montréal
“Without Montréal, Canada would be hopeless. It’s where the cool kids hang out.” – Anthony Bourdain
1. Dive into Montréal’s Culinary Scene!
Anthony Bourdain was known to have a special affection for Montréal. He called it “a great, great city with a great food culture”.
Eating out is a big part of the experience, when visiting Montréal. Said to have the highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada, and the 2nd highest in North America after New York City, you’ll have no shortage of good options. The best part? It’s actually pretty affordable to eat out in Montréal. You can find some of the tastiest fare at mom and pop shops.
Some of my favourite places to dine in Montréal include:
- Foiegwa – where I ate the best pasta dish I’ve ever had in my life: the homemade spaghetti with butter & black truffle, 64° egg yolk, topped with a mound of Parmigiano Reggiano.
- Joe Beef – if you can get a reservation. The trick here is you either have to book a couple months in advance or scoop up a last-minute reservation via the website or by using the DINR app. But, it’s totally worth the extra effort!
- Schwartz’s Deli – a Montréal institution! Go here for an authentic taste of Montréal smoked meat.
- Rotisserie Romados – the best in town for Portuguese rotisserie chicken.
- Dinette Triple Crown – for some pretty awesome fried chicken. In the summer, you can grab a picnic basket to go and head to Mont-Royal or another park.
MTLàTable is an excellent way to dive into Montréal’s culinary scene in an affordable way. Between November 1-13 every year, about 150 of Montréal’s restaurants offer prix fixe dinner menus for $33, $43, or $53, and some offer brunch menus for only $17. Save your appetite because at those prices, you can comfortably squeeze 3-4 meals per day, which is exactly what Solmaz and I did!
Un Po’ Di Più was my favourite MTLàTable meal! A charming bistro in the Old Port, the food was approachable and delicious! Our prix fixe dinner menu was only $33 and included comfort dishes, like pasta e fagioli, mozzarella di bufala served on top of a caponata of roasted eggplants, and one of the best Caesar salads I’ve ever had made with gem lettuce, radicchio and a mound of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Joséphine was another standout for me. Beautiful décor combined with delicate food. My celeriac soup with whipped bone marrow appetizer and pork belly with fried saffron risotto main were both comforting and delicious!
If you’re looking for an Instagrammable spot, popular Brasserie 701 inside Hotel Place d’Armes was also on the MTLàTable list – offering a 2-course brunch meal for only $17 and a 3-course dinner menu for $33.
2. Wander Through Old Montréal
It never gets old. You’ll often hear that being in Montréal (specifically, Old Montréal) feels like being in Europe; and when you go, you’ll see for yourself. Old Montréal is quaint. You’ll find cobblestone streets, beautiful architecture, and the famous Notre-Dame Basilica (inspired by the two towers of Notre-Dame and Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris). Because Old Montréal is so popular, the streets do get crowded. But it’s all the more reason to meander and take in the sights!
3. Ride La Grande Roue de Montréal
La Grande Roue de Montréal (Montréal’s Observation Wheel) opened in 2017 and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Montréal. A ride in one of its 42 temperature-controlled cabins offers one of the best views of Old Montréal, Downtown Montréal, and Mont-Royal. The entire ride takes about 20 minutes, and you do about 4 revolutions.
4. Have A Poutine, Like a Real Montrealer
Often done after #5 below, this iconic Montréal food deserves its own section! You really can’t visit Montréal without having the food that put Canada on the map: POUTINE!
“You know you shouldn’t be doing it, but it feels so damn good,” according to Anthony Bourdain. And these were my exact thoughts during our visit to La Banquise around 1:30 a.m., after going to a couple of speakeasies.
The jury is still out on who makes the best poutine in Montréal. Visit a few poutine spots and you be the judge!
5. Enjoy Montréal’s Nightlife
You can really take your pick when it comes to experiencing Montréal’s nightlife, whether it be at a bar, speakeasy, nightclub, after hours, or any combination of the above! In my clubbing days, I’ve road tripped to Montréal to see some of my favourite DJs at Stereo – an after hours club that is recognized on an international scale.
Now that I’m a bit older, I appreciate a good speakeasy. I recommend Club Pelicano in Downtown Montréal and Bar Le Mal Nécessaire in Montréal’s Chinatown, which both have a great vibe and play good music. For some speakeasies, like The Coldroom, you’ll need to give a secret password to enter.
6. Go to Mont-Royal
Montréal’s beloved mountain! Go to the summit to take in a sprawling view of Montréal (it’s better to drive or take a taxi to the top and walk back down, as opposed to the other way around). If you’re into winter activities, there are lots of things to do in Mont Royal Park, like cross-country skiing and tobogganing. Or head here on a Sunday in the warmer months to catch a Tam-Tam performance.
7. Visit a Food Market
I’ve been going to Jean-Talon Market (Marché Jean-Talon) for years and I think it’s one of the coolest farmer’s markets in Montréal. The best time to go is in the warm months, when there is more fresh produce in season and the open-air part of the market is in full swing. Apart from the produce, you will find a selection of meats, seafood, cheeses, spices, and baked goods. Although I’ve never been, Marché Atwater is the other main farmer’s market in Montréal. Located in the Saint-Henri neighbourhood, it’s bigger and has more vendors than Jean-Talon Market.
8. Do a Food Tour
Another great way to sample some of the culinary highlights of Montréal is to do a local food tour. We did the Montréal Mile End Food Tour through Local Montréal Food Tours and it was amazing! Our guide was engaging and very knowledgeable. We learned all about the history of the mile end neighbourhood, as well as general history about Montréal, while grazing on the best bites.
Included in the 6+ food stops are: St. Viateur Bagel, one of the best bagel shops in Montréal, and Drogheria Fine, Montréal’s favourite gnocchi served in Chinese takeout containers.
9. Visit a Floating Spa
After all the sightseeing (and eating!), you’ll need to unwind and relax. Head to Bota Bota, a floating spa in Montréal’s Old Port. It’s beautiful, tranquil, and a one-of-a-kind spa experience.
Bon voyage et bon appétit!
Have you visited Montréal? What are some of your favourite things to do in the city?
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*This post was done in partnership with Tourisme Montréal. However, all opinions expressed are 100% my own.