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​Top 10 Things to Do in Montreal: ​What You Absolutely Cannot Leave the City Without Doing

17 April, 2017

If you don’t have much time during your trip to Montreal and just need to know what you absolutely need to do while you are here, then this article is for you.


View of downtown Montreal from atop Mount Royal. © thetravellingsociologist


In no particular order of importance (this really depends on your personality) here are the top 10 things you absolutely cannot leave Montreal without doing:

1. Hike up Mount Royal: Mount Royal is everywhere. Much like the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., you just can’t miss it––it is everywhere you look. For a little hill (it isn’t actually a mountain) that has so much visibility and is so centrally located in the city, it is absolutely essential that you hike up the Mount Royal––right up to the very top––before you leave. You will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the south side of the city from the belvedere at the top. You will also notice that the city, Montreal (formerly Ville-Marie), is named after the mountain, Mont Royal, as is an eponymous metro station located on its namesake street in the Plateau neighborhood, and an autonomous neighborhood/town located elsewhere in the city.

2. Walk around Vieux Montréal (the Old City): The Old City preserves the historic architecture and charm of colonial Montreal, which was founded in 1642––34 years after Québec City. Walking around the Old Montreal is like talking a walk back into history and into Jacques Cartier‘s French colony. You will find the Old City by looking for telltale red street signs––all other street signs in the city are either green or white––south of downtown Montreal and close to the river. Be sure to pass by the Clock Tower, Marché Bonsecours, Place Royal, and Saint-Paul street during your walkabout. If you wish to learn more about Montreal’s history during your walk, pop into the Château Ramezay, which was historically a colonial French residence and is currently a museum. It is also UNESCO-approved as one of the 1001 historic sites you must see before you die.

3. Partake of the nightlife on boulevard Saint-Laurent: The Saint-Lawrence boulevard (historically called “the Main”) is a very popular––arguably the most popular––place to hang out at night. It is bursting with pubs, nightclubs, restaurants, theatres, performing arts centres, cafés, and late-night restaurants. If you are looking for a place to party, here’s where you want to go.

4. Go shopping on Saint-Catherine street: A long stretch of Saint-Catherine street, from Saint-Denis street to about Guy street, constitutes the shopping district. Here, you can find both high-end and bargain shops in, and on little side streets snaking out from, the main thoroughfare. If you love shopping, this is where you want to be.

5. Take in a Cirque du Soleil show: Did you know that the Cirque du Soleil was founded by Quebec’s own Guy Laliberté? If you visit Montreal, it is absolutely essential that you see this circus perform on its home turf.

6. Visit a public market: I recommend that you pay a visit to Jean-Talon market, the largest of Montreal’s 4 public markets, while you are here. Jean Talon market is especially charming in the summertime, when couples, friends, and families stroll over, not necessarily to buy anything but just to take in the sun, the live bands, and the free fruit samples. Or to snack on a handful of fresh, roasted nuts, to grab a sandwich from street-food vendors or a beverage from nearby coffee shops, or to refresh with a smoothie or juice from Mangue & Melon, while loitering in the sunshine. The atmosphere is akin to that of a summer fairground. Except, you know, without the rides.

7. Try poutine: Just to correct any misconceptions right off the bat, poutine is not “traditional Quebecois food” but a snack invented in Quebec in 1957 (more on traditional Quebecois food later, in a forthcoming article). Poutine has gained rapid-fire popularity in North America, in the last few decades, and the recipe itself has evolved infinitely to include about a million variations of toppings for the French fry–cheese curd–gravy snack. The top 2 places Montrealers go to eat the best poutine in town are: La Banquise and Poutineville.

8. Visit the Olympic Stadium: Did you know that Montreal hosted the Summer Olympic Games in 1976? The city’s unique Olympic Stadium design still dominates the southeastern part of the city and provides a variety of interesting activities, including a ride up a glass funicular to the top of the Tower for a stunning view of the south side of the city. Nearby museums and grounds include the Biodome, the Insectarium, and the Botanical Garden.

9. Visit l’Oratoire Saint-Joseph (Saint Joseph’s Oratory): Saint Joseph’s Oratory is a Catholic shrine located on Mount Royal that receives about 2 million tourists and pilgrims each year. It offers masses, choir concerts, benefit concerts, and a museum of religious artworks. Whether you go there for religious reasons or for touristic reasons, be prepared to climb a lot of stairs to get up to each level of the 3-tier structure. The phenomenal view of southeastern Montreal from the 3 viewing posts will reward your efforts.

10. Visit Jean-Drapeau Park: Montreal hosted the Expos in 1967 and built Île Sainte-Hélène (Saint Helen’s Island) to host the international exhibitors. Since then, the island has been converted into a park, known as Parc Jean-Drapeau, that is used for cultural and sports events. A few of the Expo exhibits still remain and are open to the public. Jean-Drapeau Park also features a Biosphere (formerly the American Pavilion for Expo ’67), an Olympic Basin, an Aquatics Complex with an outdoor pool, a small man-made beach, a casino, and a Six Flags America–owned amusement park called La Ronde. In addition, the Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place here each year in June.


Cirque du Soleil tents in Vieux Montréal. © thetravellingsociologist

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