Top 15 attractions and things to do in Montréal
Get tips on what to see and do on a city break in Montréal, Canada's culture capital, from a climb up Mount Royal to the famous Just for Laughs comedy fest.
1. Visit Notre-Dame Basilica
This imposing church looms over the Montréal skyline and bears more than a little resemblance to its namesake in Paris. Site of one of the biggest events of the century, Céline Dion’s wedding, the basilica attracts thousands of visitors every day. The beautiful interior was modelled on the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and includes a beautiful sky-blue ceiling decorated with gold stars. Visit at night for a sound and light show which brings the church to life.
Opening times: (March 18th to Dec 31st) Mon to Fri 8am - 4:30pm, Sat 8am - 4pm, Sun 12:30pm - 4pm
Location: 110 Notre-Dame Street West
Price: Adults $6, Concessions $4.
2. Tour Montréal by Bixi
Bixi, a mix of the words bike and taxi, is a not-for-profit bike-sharing system which has spread all over the world from London to Los Angeles. Starting from just $5 for 24 hours, you can rent a bike and tour the city on two wheels. Montréal has excellent bike lanes which are a popular and safe way to see the city and are good for exploring the old port of Montréal. Available from April to November; see the website for full rates.
3. Mount Royal
To get a panoramic view of Montréal head to the top of this volcanic peak, which happens to be the tallest point in the city. This might sound daunting but it is an easy walk from the Cartier Monument (Park Avenue side) or you can get a bus to the top. There a few lookout points, including Belvédère Kondiaronk, overlooking downtown. Or, if you fancy it, zoom through the second longest tunnel in Canada on the AMT line in and out of the city, which cuts right through the mountain rock. Mount Royal Park is even fun during the winter, when the locals whip out their toboggans to career down the snowy slopes.
4. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
The exhaustive collection at this museum is enough to put it right at the top of Montreal's attractions. Featuring archaeological finds from all over the world, art from local Quebec artists, European Old Masters and touring contemporary exhibitions, a sculpture garden and special focuses on photography and design, there's not much you won't find at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Opening times: Tues to Sun 10am - 5pm, except Weds when major exhibitions are open until 9pm
Location: 1380 Sherbrooke Street West
Price: Adults 31yrs and over $23, 13 - 30yrs $15, 12yrs and under get in free.
5. Explore the Gay Village
Montréal’s LGBT district is a must-see. From rainbow poles at the metro station to thousands of pink ball lights creating a canopy in the summer and in autumn, this district is a vibrant celebration of diversity and equality. There are also some great bars and restaurants which make it very popular with tourists, or you could always take in some flamboyant cabaret at Mado.
6. Old Montréal
You could be forgiven for thinking you have stepped back in time when you enter Old Montréal. Spend some time soaking up the decidedly European atmosphere in Place Jacques-Cartier, Montreal’s main pedestrian street, or taking a walking tour of the buildings near the St Lawrence River, once surrounded by walls and some dating back as far as the seventeenth century foundations of the city. Swing by the historic Old Port and the Rue de la Commune, a lovely nineteenth century waterfront now populated by trendy boutiques. There are plenty of activities in the summer, from Segway rides to cruises around the harbour.
7. The Underground City
Winters can be bleak in Montréal with temperatures plummeting well below zero and locals can find it difficult to get around. To combat this they have built an underground ‘city’ or RÉSO, as the locals call it. This city links the whole of the downtown district of Montréal through a series of tunnels, walkways and shopping complexes. Whatever you need you will find here, including clothes shops, doctors, dentists, florists, hairdressers. All of the above ground complexes in downtown Montréal have an underground entrance therefore eliminating the need to slip around on the icy streets in winter. It’s a great place to visit as the scale of it is astonishing.
8. Château Ramezay
If you are visiting Montréal with children this will keep them well-entertained. Located yards from the Notre-Dame Basilica, this heritage site, built by the Governor of Montréal in 1705, allows you to take a journey through time back to New France. With all of the guides plus a few other actors marching around in period costumes, it's a snapshot of French colonial life. The skirl of bagpipes can often be heard from the château as actors play both the British and the French during the Seven Years War.
Opening times: (Nov to May) Tues to Sun 10 am - 4:30pm. (June to Nov) Daily 9.30am - 6pm, including Governor's Garden.
Location: 280 Rue Notre-Dame Est.
Price: Adults $11, Children $5.75.
9. St. Joseph’s Oratory
The Oratory was built as a monument to St. Joseph and thousands of people from all over the world make the pilgrimage to Montréal to visit the famous site. This church does not hold wedding services so visiting times will not be disturbed like many other churches in Montréal. The Italianate dome on top of the Oratory is one of the biggest of its kind, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the tranquillity of this beautiful building. Look out for choir and organ concerts; as you might expect, the acoustics are amazing.
10. Just for Laughs Comedy Festival
There are literally hundreds of festivals in Montréal every year and the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival is one of the most popular. It is the biggest international comedy festival in the world that offers shows in the native French and English and attracts some of the best names in comedy from Amy Poehler to Louis CK. It runs for the whole month of July and there are lots of free shows and street performances if you just want to dip in and out.
11. Montréal Biodome
Great for big kids and small kids alike, this vast science and nature museum is housed in the velodrome built for the Montréal Summer Olympics back in 1976. Now filled with incredible species demonstrating five different eco-systems in the Americas, you can see everything from the penguins of the Antarctic to the sloths of the tropical rainforest. There's also an Insectarium and a Planetarium, as well as a Botanical Garden arranged around the site (part of the 'Space for Life' museum group) and enough demonstrations and film showings to keep everyone entertained for a full day.
Opening times: Biodome opens Tues to Sun 9am - 5pm. Planetarium opens until 8pm Weds to Sat; for current opening hours, check the website
Location: 4777, avenue Pierre-De Coubertin
Price: (Biodome only) Adults $20.25, Children 5 - 17yrs $10.25. (Space for Life package, inc. all museums) Adults $49.75, Children 5 - 17yrs $24.25
12. Watch the L’international des faux loto
This is an international fireworks competition which takes place twice a week in Montréal throughout July. Countries take it in turns to stage a firework displays with some amazing results. This is a hotly contested competition with countries like USA and, of course, Canada consistently creating great displays. Officials close the Champlain Bridge a couple of hours before the fireworks start so you can watch from there and get great views over the city.
13. Lachine Canal
Fancy a bracing run on your weekend break in Montreal? Even if you're only feeling energetic enough for a stroll, the Lachine Canal is a green and picturesque place to escape downtown for a while. A National Historic Site, the canal cuts through the southeastern part of the Island of Montréal, from the St Lawrence River to Lake Saint-Louis and offers 14.5km of paths perfect for cycling, jogging or walking, and glassy waters just right for a boat trip.
14. Explore the Montréal Islands
Montréal is actually built on part of an archipelago on the St Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers and many of the smaller islands are doable as a day trip from the city. Île de la Visitation is one of the most charming, largely made up of a nature park and dotted with historical ruins, but best for picnics and birdwatching - there are lots of waterfowl species here. And if you're feeling flash, it's even possible to rent your own private Montréal island for the night, to camp out under the stars (or stay in a slightly more luxurious chalet). Expect to pay anywhere from £120 - $766 for the privilege.
15. The Canada Railway Museum
This museum is south of the river from Montréal, in Saint-Constant, but is worth a trip for its extensive collection of locomotives, some of which you can explore inside. Families will love riding the miniature trains and streetcars, and there are turntable demos and virtual exhibitions of the golden era of rail travel in Canada. Even if you're not a train geek, this is a fun, interactive day out. Get there (fittingly) on the Candiac Line of the AMT, from Montreal's Lucien-L'Allier Station.
How to get to Montréal
Non-stop flights to Montréal leave from London Heathrow daily, but you can easily connect to Heathrow from various UK cities, or go via Paris Charles de Gaulle from airports like Birmingham and Glasgow. The flight-time can be as little as 7 hours 20 minutes.
Montréal - Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport is around 16km from the centre of Montréal, connected by Highway 520 and various express bus and local bus services.
Where to stay in Montréal
It's hard to beat Hotel Gault for a fancy stay in a historic corner building in Old Montréal (rooms from £160*) - some rooms have balconies overlooking the district and all are very spacious. However, if you're on a smaller budget, the 3-star Hotel Y De Montreal does very nicely for around £50 a night - pick a room with a shared bathroom at the affiliated YWCA Auberge if you want to save your pennies.
Updated from an article by Eilidh Walker who won a trip to Canada in the Just Plane Funny Campaign in 2013.
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*Published March 2017. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.