20 things to do in Montreal

20 things to do in Montreal

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20 things to do in Montreal

Montreal is a city of contrasts, a fascinating blend of French and English culture, skyscrapers and green parks. From a well-preserved Old Town to markets and museums, there are plenty of things to do in Montreal for every season. 

Things to do in Montreal in Spring

By Katharine Fletcher

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. Here’s my Spring guide to things to do in Montreal.

When is spring? In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s defined as happening between the two equinoxes of March 19 and June 20th.

Spring in Montreal is a fun time to get out and about at night as Montreal is one of the coolest party cities in Canada

1- Grab a birds’-eye view of Montreal

things to do in montreal canada
Finding a vantage point to gaze down upon the city is one of the things to do in Montreal Canada in spring.

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 

things to do in montreal canada
Looking for active things to do in Montreal? Rent a bike and pedal it!

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.

The old industrial corridor along the Lachine Canal, now the 14.5-kilometre backbone for the city’s network of bike paths and kilometres of bikeways branch off from the Lachine Canal Bike Path.

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. 

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 the 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)

montreal in spring alfresco dining
Montreal attractions in Spring – is a time to dine alfresco.

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 and there are so many iconic Montreal restaurants to choose from you could spend an entire week eating your way around Montreal. 

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- Explore Montreal’s Old Port 

Montreal attractions in the old town
Walking the Old Town is one of the charming things to do in 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 antiques.

The ambience 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

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Being on the water is one of the things to do in Montreal Canada in spring.

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

places to visit near montreal canada
Tasting taffy at a sugar shack is one of Montreal’s attractions.

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 de la 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 popsicle stick and… mmmm.

9- Revel in a Montreal city picnic 

Montreal things to do
Having a picnic in the park is a fun spring thing to do in Montreal.

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 green space, walking and cycling paths, and lofty views.

Grab something to eat, then relax on the mountain.

10- Go birdwatching in the city

things to do montreal
Space for Life.

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.

 
Things to do in Montreal Canada
10 Things To Do In Montreal Canada

Looking for more cities to visit in Canada? Check out:

More Things to do in Montreal 

11- Admire the Architecture of Old Montreal

Old Montreal’s picturesque cobbled lanes are filled with art galleries, boutiques and cafes.

If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were in a European city, especially when visiting the 1829 Notre-Dame Basilica or the domed Bonsecours Market, which housed Montreal’s farmers’ market from 1847 to 1963. 

Whether it’s a band or a troupe of circus performers, there’s always something happening around Old Montreal. 

12- Attend the Montreal Jazz Festival

If you happen to be visiting Montreal in July, you’re in for a treat.

The city bops when the Montreal Jazz Festival is in full swing and the festival is one for your bucket list.

But there’s still plenty of jazz to listen to all year round.

Casa del Popolo is an intimate family-run vegetarian hot-spot with live performances and free events.

For New York jazz club ambience head for Upstairs Jazz bar and Grill where international and local musicians challenge the ghosts of Jazz’s past and push musical boundaries. 

13- Eat bagels

In Montreal, bagel-making is an art and eating bagels is a tradition.

Biting into a fresh bagel hot from a wood oven at St-Viateur Bagels, which has been in business since 1957, is a delicious experience. 

The famous Montreal bakery sells over 1,000 dozen bagels a day and everyone goes there for these fabulous hand-rolled bagels, including Celine Dion. 

14- Explore Boulevard Saint-Laurent

Boulevard Saint-Laurent is a historic artery connecting Montreal’s ethnic enclaves and a street that’s full of excitement and colour. 

It’s the corridor where Jewish, Italian, Chinese, Portuguese and Greek immigrants first settled.

In the Jewish area, Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen is a favourite local haunt for smoked meat on rye.

Chinatown is fun to wander around for Asian grocery stores, restaurants and live Chinese opera performances.

The section between Rue Sherbrooke and Mont-Royal Avenue is a hub filled with bars and restaurants. 

15- Eat local at Atwater Market

Montrealers love to eat well and meeting friends for a snack the markets is a something of a ritual.

The art deco Atwater Market is the largest open-air market in North America and has been a meeting place in Montreal since 1933.

The stalls are filled with fresh meat, fish, seafood, bread and pastries.

16- Visit Jean-Talon Market

Another popular market is the bustling Jean-Talon Market in Little Italy where aromas of grilled sausages, crepes and fresh fruit waft through the air.

Stalls sell spices, oils, cheese, deli meats and other regional delicacies from Quebec. 

17- Hang out at Mont-Royal Park

It doesn’t matter when you’re visiting Montreal, Mont-Royal Park is always busy

The 190-hectare park is a hub for the city’s outdoor activities.

In winter, you can go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating and Nordic kick sledding. 

In summer, activities include salsa dancing, boating, bird-watching and environmental programmes such as tree planting. 

18- Explore Montreal’s Underground

One of the surprising things about Montreal is that a large part of Montreal’s downtown is located underground.

There’s a network of 2,000 shops, restaurants, museums and theaters to explore.

A great way to discover the secrets of this underground city is to go on a tour of Rue Saint-Catherine, Dorchester Square and Rue Peel.

19- Hunt for Street Art

Explore the quieter streets and laneways of the Plateau neighborhood in Montreal will give you another perspective of the city’s creative side.

Wind your way through this hip area to discover the impressively artistic murals of Montreal. 

Some of the street art is nine stories high and is sure to impress.
 
This is where the Mural Festival is held each year and you’ll discover why Montreal is fast becoming a hub for street art in Canada.  

20- Visit the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Spend some time stimulating your creative side at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. 

The musseum has an impressive collection of local and international art as well as a rotating programme of special exhibitions. 

The museum has a vast collection of works, ranging from European masterpieces to Inuit art, making it the largest fine arts museum in Canada.

You’ll need several hours to explore its five pavilions. 

Don’t miss the Quebec and Canadian Art Collection, where you can learn about Canadian modernists. 

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this post. Some of these tips are really cool and useful. I like the idea of the Olympic Stadium’s Montreal Tower and the glass funicular. I can’t believe that the tower has a 45 degree angle, that’s incredible. I would also love to sip cocktails on the rooftop of Terrasse Nelligan and look out onto the city of Old Montreal.

  2. I am seeing more big cities offer a place to rent bikes for a ride around the area. That might be the best way to experience a new place.

  3. I love the whole cycling bit to explore the city. It adds a certain thrill to the place. Don’t know about the horse carriage but I would love to walk around the old town. There seems enough to discover there and am sure enough legends too. Bird watching here, does seem exciting. You sure have sold Montreal to me

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