From March 19 to June 20th, spring rocks this city. Come and experience our joie-de-vivre for yourself! Montreal is a full-on, high-energy, four-season city where residents enjoy snowy activities throughout winter and then, when spring arrives, revel in balmy temperatures. When is spring? In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s defined as happening between the two equinoxes of March 19 and June 20th. Here’s my Spring guide to 10 things to do in Montreal.
Things to do in Montreal
1- Grab a birds’-eye view of Montreal
When I first visit a city I love getting an aerial perspective of its landscape. Because Montreal is situated on an island, such birds’-eye views are dramatic on a clear day.
Where to get this perspective?
Locals and visitors alike enjoy ascending the Olympic Stadium’s Montreal Tower, the tallest inclined tower in the world.
The complex was designed by French architect Roger Taillibert and his tower, with its dramatic 34 cantilever panels, is a symbol of the city.
Ascend via a glass funicular (exterior elevator) rising 165m to win breathtaking views of the St. Lawrence River (Rivière St. Laurent en français) to the south.
Incidentally, talking about world’s firsts, this funicular is the only one in the world operating on a curved structure. And, if you’re a fact-geek like me, you’ll also be interested in knowing that Italy’s famous Leaning Tower of Pisa only has a 5-degree tilt versus Montreal Tower’s 45-degree angle.
From the viewing platform, you’ll see the St. Lawrence River Valley and, surrounding you, the sprawl of the Greater Montreal Region.
Built in 1976 for the Olympics, at the base of the tower find the Esplanade Financière Sun Life, where sporting and cultural events are held throughout the year.
There’s an observatory on top of Place Ville Marie and visiting this lookout is one of the coolest things to do in Montreal Canada.
2- Cycle around Montreal
What better way to appreciate spring’s renewal than to rent a bike and cycle one of the world’s friendliest biking cities?
Montreal boasts more than 600 km of paths, which are part of this province’s ever-expanding “Green Route” (La Route Verte en français).
In fact, Quebec has the largest cycling network in North America, where the goal is to provide both hikers and cyclists 4,300km of linked trails.
With all this enthusiasm for fitness, it’s no surprise that Montréal is the birthplace of Bixi bike rentals.
The system was inaugurated here in 2008 and has expanded internationally, with a presence in Melbourne and other cities.
What’s fun? Try the night tour where you’ll explore the City of Light after dark.
Indeed, cycling is so popular that it shouldn’t come as a surprise there’s an annual festival of biking come late May. Check out the activities here for more fun things to do in Montreal.
3- See a Montreal Canadiens hockey game
What a way to celebrate spring season cheering on the local (famous) team!
Locals are just like most Canadians: fiercely proud of their hockey.
So come, catch the vibe and cheer on “The Habs” as the Montreal Canadiens are affectionately called.
4- Enjoy a Montreal festival
Joie de vivre means “love of life” and the expression fits Quebeckers admirably, with Montrealers being no exception.
For me, festivals define my province, where I so admire and enjoy the celebration of – practically anything!
And, there are surprises here in Montreal. For instance, perhaps the first annual spring celebration is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Yes, there are many Irish in Montreal – descendants of early settlers who came here from the Emerald Isle during the famines, in search of a better future.
Interested in literary festivals? Attend Blue Metropolis, the Montreal International Literary Festival, and introduce your youngsters to the magic of words. Or, go for the Anarchist Bookfair.
Exploring cities on foot is always a great way to capture the heartbeat of neighbourhood communities, history and architectural heritage. And exploring this city on foot is one of the things to do in Montreal Canada for your bucket list.
Enter Janes Walks, named in honour of the late Jane Jacobs, a Canadian-American urban planner, community visionary, author and activist.
These annual Janes Walks are held across Canada on the first weekend in May. Be prepared to walk, dress for the weather, and prepare to be fascinated.
You’ll join a tour leader where free hour-long outings introduce you to behind-the-scenes history of a specific neighbourhood in Montreal.
In June catch a different aspect of the city during the Grand Prix week, or attend the Beer Festival (Le Mondial de la bière). Meanwhile, the month of June celebrates Montreal’s vibrant arts scene during Mural Festival.
Come to think of it, why not take in all three?
5- Savour the flavours on the Terrasses (patios)
Canadians are a hardy lot who claim snow season as playtime, bigtime. But guess what? We adore our summer patios, where dining al fresco is an utter delight.
Come springtime Montrealers return to the streets like flocks of migratory birds. Where to go? The best restaurants in Montreal are not far away. Here are just a couple of lovely restos and yes, some are on rooftops.
Right on the streets, choose patio-style primo real estate such as ivy-clad Le Sainte-Élisabeth European Pub in the heart of downtown.
You may need to wait to be seated on a sunny day, but that’s part of the experience. Or visit Place Jacques-Cartier where les terrasses spill onto the square.
Try Jardin Nelson which boasts both a patio where you can people watch on the square while dining, else opt for their rear courtyard where you can, on a summer’s eve, listen to live jazz bands.
Want a view of historic Old Montreal from a rooftop? Head to Terrasse Nelligan where you’ll get a grand view of Notre-Dame Basilica.
Enjoy views of the old port, while sampling Hotel Nelligan’s delectable fare or sip on a cocktail… Actually, for that matter, why not stay at this boutique hotel, in the heart of Old Montreal?
Or, choose to dine in elegance in an 18th Century private garden at historic Château Ramezay?
This UNESCO world heritage site, which was built in the early 1700s, showcases the formal French style of gardens which serve as a splendid backdrop to your meal.
6- Stroll the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal
Talking of the Old Port, my bar-none favourite lodging in the entire city is Pierre du Calvet, a 1725 stone building that has been transformed into a grand boutique hotel.
So start your exploration of the grandeur of Old Montreal inside this stately home which is furnished with amazing antiques.
The ambiance at historic Pierre du Calvet embraces the exterior streetscape. Let me explain: while curled up on a settee in an oak-panelled ground-floor suite, I heard the clip-clop of horses’ hooves outside on the cobblestone streets.
Sure, it’s a touristy Montreal calèche (horse-drawn carriage) but for all the world, I dreamed I was transported back in time when horses provided transportation.
Once outside, take to the streets! Old Montreal boasts so many attractions and for an orientation to the history and development of the city, visit Pointe-à-Callière, Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History.
Learn about First Nations life here through to modern-day realities of multicultural Montreal.
The Old Port of Montreal website offers maps of self-guided tours as well as and a host of ideas detailing events, festivals and what not to miss.
7- Play on water on the St Lawrence River
Spring means the ice has melted and that means… Yay! It’s water-sports time. As noted, Montreal’s built on an island, meaning it’s literally surrounded by water, so why not play on it?
Rent a kayak, stroll, bike or paddle along the Lachine Canal (a Parks Canada operated National Historic Site of Canada), jetboat on the St. Lawrence, or go stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking whether beginner or experienced.
Finally? Why not try your hand at surfing? These activities and more await you in Montreal’s wonderful watery world.
And remember me speaking about the bike trail network called La route verte, above? Well, there’s also a Blue Route (St. Lawrence Water Trail), which includes Montreal.
Want to combine water with festivals? Montreal’s Folk Festival incorporates activities at the Lachine Canal.
8- Surrender to a Montreal sugar shack
A few weeks before the spring melt, participate in a Québécois tradition by going to a sugar shack near Montréal.
What’s “sugaring off”?
It’s the time when sugar maple trees are tapped for their sap, which is boiled and transformed into delicious syrups we so love on pancakes and in cooking.
Two sugar shacks (sucreries) are Sucrerie dela Montagne or Domaine Labranche. Tip? Try sampling maple syrup taffy.
Called tire-sur-neige in French (literally “pull-on-the-snow”), it’s an activity where syrup is poured on fresh snow.
As soon as the sweet hits the cold, it transforms into a gooey, scrumptious toffee. Scoop it up with a popsickle stick and… mmmm.
9- Revel in a Montreal city picnic
Wed one of Montreal’s rightly renowned farmers’ markets to a green space and we’re talking great picnic potential.
Atwater Market is famous not only for its fabulous flowers – but great regional treats. Whether it’s the Fromagerie du Marché Atwater Cheese Shop (not to be missed for its Quebecoise and international selections plus highly informed staff) or buying a croissant at Au Pain Doré bakery, you can’t go wrong here.
Find some fabulous indulgences then head to the nearby Lachine Canal and picnic by the historic waterway.
Another classic picnic spot in the city is the 200-hectare Mont Royal Park: the hill giving Montreal its name is arguably the landmark of the city.
On its pinnacle, a cross illuminates the night, recalling the original placed here in 1643 by the founder of the city, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve.
Designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead in 1876, the park is a beacon to locals and tourists craving greenspace, walking and cycling paths, and lofty views. Grab something to eat, then relax on the mountain.
10- Go birdwatching in the city
Talking about the many parks and watercourses in the city reminds me of Montreal’s wildlife. Two superb destinations spring to mind, where I’ve seen many types of birds.
Near the Olympic Stadium, Montreal’s Botanical Gardens (part of a complex called Space for Life/Espace pour la Vie) is highly regarded among birdwatchers.
Come springtime, migratory species are returning so watch for Eastern Kingbirds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Great Blue Herons and others.
Resident northern species include Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Blue Jays, and Northern Cardinals.
By the way, if you’re interested in Canada’s First Nations, don’t miss the First Nations Garden here, where you’ll find all sorts of native flora such as bunchberry and trilliums described.
Morgan Arboretum is a 245ha woodland reserve at Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue campus of McGill University.
Located on the west tip of the island of Montreal, it’s a wonderful destination to explore with many kilometres of hiking trails through native species woodlands.
Look for Cedar Waxwings, and many varieties of warblers come spring, along with resident Downy and Hairy woodpeckers.
Whatever your interests, springtime beckons in Montreal so come, explore and revel in the city’s energy.
Katharine Fletcher is a Quebec-based freelance writer. With her husband, photographer Eric Fletcher, they co-authored Quebec Off the Beaten Path (5th edition, Globe Pequot Press).