Getting Outside in Montreal: Exploring Food, Art and Culture

Jean-Talon Market is a great place to eat and shop
Jean-Talon Market is a great place to eat and shop | © John Mitchell / Alamy Stock Photo
Culture Trip

A diverse city made up of distinct neighbourhoods, Montreal is rich in culture and history – much of which can be enjoyed al fresco. Discover the essential eats and key outdoor experiences to seek out in Quebec’s biggest city.

Set at the confluence of Francophone and Anglophone cultures, Montreal is Canada’s second largest city and the cultural capital of Quebec. From enjoying urban vistas of Mont Royal (Mount Royal) and soaking up the sun at the beach to diving into history in the streets of Old Montreal and kayaking on the Lachine Canal, here’s our curated selection of experiences that will help you discover the best of outdoor Montreal.

1. Marvel at the views from Mont Royal


Ever wondered how Montreal got its name? Look no further than Mont Royal. This majestic (if, admittedly, not super tall) mont (mountain) is both the city’s namesake and its prime viewpoint, offering impressive vistas across the city and down to the Saint Lawrence River. Set within a 692-acre (280-hectare) park, in the summer months Mont Royal is definitely strolling and picnicking territory, while in the winter you can rent equipment to ski, sledge or skate.

2. Seek out street art

Architectural Landmark

Montreal has become a hub for urban art and graffiti. One of Montreal’s main streets, Saint-Laurent Boulevard is a great place to begin a mural-spotting adventure, thanks not least to the annual MURAL international street art festival. A second top pick for urban creativity is the Plateau Mont Royal neighbourhood, which is also home to a range of charming boutiques and coffee stops to fuel your artistic adventure. Start your tour of this area on the Mont-Royal Avenue.

3. Window shop in trendy Mile End

Cafe, Coffee, Italian

Known as Montreal’s bohemian quarter, Mile End is dotted with hip cafés, laidback Greek eateries, brunch spots and stores selling vintage clothes, secondhand books and vinyls. If you’re looking to keep your spending to a minimum, pick up a coffee from Café Olimpico and simply saunter the streets. Pro tip: look out for the neighbourhood’s numerous ruelles vertes – alleyways converted into green space, offering something of an urban oasis in the midst of Mile End.

4. Hit the beach

Natural Feature

Montreal might not be your first thought when planning a beach break, but the city isn’t short of options when it comes to stunning waterside spots. Just 30km (18.6mi) from downtown, the sandy L’Île Charron beach is free to access and open year-round. This prime swimming destination on the southern shore of Longueil is also home to volleyball courts and a public golf course. An ideal choice for a day trip, L’Île Charron beach is accessible via public transport during the summer months – take the RTL Bus des Îles shuttle on summer weekends from the Longueuil–Université-de-Sherbrooke metro station or the Croisières Navark river boat. Even closer to the centre of Montreal, Jean-Doré beach on Île Notre-Dame has a huge swimming area and plenty of watersports activities. To get there via the metro, exit at Jean-Drapeau station and walk to the left of the metro exit to catch the 767 bus.

5. Picnic on poutine

Diner, Restaurant, American, Canadian, North American, Fast Food

No trip to Montreal would be complete without sampling poutine – fries, gravy and cheese curds that come together to create one of the most quintessential Quebecois dishes. Pick up a takeaway portion from La Banquise – go for a classic or perhaps try La Royale with pulled pork, apples and bacon – and eat it picnic-style beside the lake in La Fontaine Park.

6. Visit a farmers’ market

Farmers' Market, Market, Fusion

Dating back to 1933, Jean-Talon Market is one of the oldest public markets in Montreal. Set at the heart of the city’s Little Italy district, the farmers market hosts the best local farmers, bakers, fishmongers, and butchers, while it’s also a one-stop shop for flowers, ice cream, spices and alcoholic drinks. As one of North America’s largest open-air markets, Jean-Talon is famed for its lively atmosphere and colourful produce. Consider picking up picnic supplies here before heading to Jarry Park.

7. Go back in time in Old Montreal

Historical Landmark

For a journey into the past, take a self-guided tour of Old Montreal. This historic neighbourhood set on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River dates back to the 17th century and is undoubtedly the city’s most opulent and elegant quartier. Stroll through the area’s most prominent public squares – Place d’Armes, Place Royale, and Place Jacques-Cartier – and check out the 18th-century Château Ramezay residence with its French colonial-style Governor’s Garden. If it’s impressive architecture you’re after, marvel at the Palladian-style Bonsecours Market and the Notre Dame Basilica, before stopping by the Second Empire-style City Hall and the former “Wall Street” of Canada, St-Jacques Street. Pro tip: to snap a picture of the oldest building in Old Montreal, head to the Sulpician Seminary, opened in 1687.

8. Experience urban nature at Parc Jean-Drapeau

Amusement Park, Casino, Park

Just five minutes by metro from downtown Montreal, Parc Jean-Drapeau is one of the city’s key hubs when it comes to outdoor pursuits. This 662-acre (268-hectare) park boasts hiking trails – including a 10-km (6.2-mi) cultural route – and a beach, along with outdoor gyms and opportunities for swimming, rock climbing, rollerblading and rowing. To get there, simply take the metro to the Jean-Drapeau station and voilà.

9. Kayak on the Lachine Canal

Natural Feature

From mid-May to mid-October, the calm waters of the 14.5-km (9-mi) Lachine Canal are a haven for kayaking enthusiasts. Stretching from the Old Port to Lake Saint-Louis along the Island of Montreal’s southwestern side, this lengthy waterway is a historic site (opened in 1825) and boasts stellar city views. Kayaks, canoes, pedalos and electric boats can be rented from H20 Adventures. Prefer to stay on dry land? Cycle on the bike path that runs alongside the canal.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

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All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

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