20 Must-Visit Attractions in Montreal, Canada
The Basilica of Notre-Dame in the Place d'Armes, Vieux Montreal | © Per Andersen / Alamy Stock Photo
The second largest French-speaking city in the world, Montreal is famed as a cosmopolitan hub of culture and international trade, with a rich colonial history. Montreal’s best attractions provide ample opportunities for exploration and entertainment. Here’s our list of the city’s most popular attractions that you won’t want to miss.
is the most popular tourist spot in the city, and with good reason. This is the oldest area of Montreal, being the original site of the city’s French colonial origins. This cobblestoned district is lined with boutiques, galleries, restaurants and a few kitsch souvenir shops, all housed among well-preserved buildings that date back to the 17th century. 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.
Located in Old Montreal, the Notre-Dame Basilica is a historic site that can’t be missed. With its Gothic Revival architectural style, this cathedral is an ornate and impressive example of religious art and craftsmanship. The current basilica was inaugurated in 1829 and sits near the site of the original parish church, which was built between 1672 and 1683.
Quebec’s oldest private history museum is Old Montreal’s Château Ramezay, which is set in the 1705 residence of a former governor of New France. The exhibits housed in the grand old mansion allow visitors to explore five centuries of history, centring on Montreal and the surrounding region. There’s also a beautiful French colonial style garden to stroll around.
Building, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Place Jacques-Cartier is a lively public square in Old Montreal, which is surrounded by historic architecture, gardens and restaurants. In the summer, the square is a car-free zone and it offers an impressive view of Montreal’s City Hall and Nelson’s Column, which is the city’s oldest public monument.
Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History
Pointe-à-Callière Museum was established in 1992, in celebration of Montreal’s 350th anniversary, on the very site where the city was founded. Showcasing centuries of history from the settlements of the region’s indigenous people to the present day, this is the most-visited museum in the city. In addition to permanent exhibitions that include Where Montréal was Born, Archaeo-Adventure and Pirates or Privateers?, the museum holds a multimedia show and three national and international temporary exhibitions annually.
Built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, this multi-purpose stadium is one of the most identifiable structures in the city. It was the home of Montreal’s former baseball team, the Expos, until they relocated to the United States to become the Washington Nationals. Nowadays, it serves as a facility for hosting special events like concerts, trade shows and conventions. The stadium is part of the Olympic Park complex, which is a larger recreational destination that includes other popular sites such as the Biodome, Botanical Garden and the Insectarium.
Encompassing 190 acres (0.8 square kilometers) of gardens and greenhouses, Montreal’s Botanical Garden was founded in 1931 and offers a variety of themed green spaces, including the First Nations Garden, the Alpine Garden, and the Japanese Garden. There are 10 greenhouses in total, and more than 22,000 species of flora can be discovered around the peaceful grounds.
Originally the site of cycling and judo events during the 1976 Summer Olympics, Montreal’s Biodome houses four distinct ecosystems: a polar environment, a tropical rainforest, a Laurentian forest, and the St. Lawrence marine system. Here you can see 2,500 animals representing 200 different species and some 800 plant species, all under one roof. Along with the Botanical Garden, the Montreal Insectarium and the Planetarium, the Biodome is part of the biggest natural science museum complex in Canada, under the umbrella of Space for Life.
Museum of Fine Arts
Perhaps Montreal’s most prestigious museum, the Musée des Beaux-Arts was initially founded in 1860 by a group of local art collectors and patrons. Today, the museum holds over 41,000 works dating from antiquity to today, including paintings, sculptures, graphic art, photographs and decorative art objects that are showcased across five pavilions: international art, world cultures, decorative arts and design, Quebec and Canadian art and international art and education.
Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal
Since 1964, the Musée d’art contemporain (MAC) has been showcasing some of the best contemporary art from around the globe. Here, you’ll find a range of digital and sound works, paintings, installations, ephemeral pieces and sculptures. MAC also organises artistic performances and festivals. Located in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles, the Musée is a cultural hub that strives to make art an integral part of daily life in Montreal.
Shopping Mall, Architectural Landmark
While not solely underground, this extensive network of interconnected shopping malls, hotels, museums, metro stations and more is linked by an intricate network of tunnels – comprising around 20 miles (32 kilometers) in total. The Underground City is a bit confusing to navigate, but it’s a shopaholic’s dream and certainly makes Montreal’s often brutal winters more manageable when exploring.
Mount Royal Park
Mount Royal Park is one of the city’s largest green spaces, making it a popular outdoor recreation spot. At around 230 metres (764 feet) tall, it’s really more of a hill than a mountain, but it marks the highest point on the island of Montreal. This historic park was created in 1876 in response to the mass cutting of trees on the mountain for firewood during the 1860s. There’s a stunning view of the city skyline and, if you’re in Montreal over the weekend, you won’t want to miss the weekly Sunday hand-drumming session known as the Tam-Tams, which attracts a diverse range of musicians, artists and families – and plenty of good people-watching opportunities.
St Joseph's Oratory
The Oratoire Saint-Joseph situated near the western exit from Mount Royal Park, is dedicated to Canada’s patron saint. The biggest church in Canada, St Joesph’s is an important site for Catholic pilgrims, and boasts a huge Renaissance-style domed basilica dating back to 1924.
Amusement Park, Park
La Ronde is an amusement park on Île Sainte-Hélène, and it holds the status of being the largest in eastern Canada as well as the second-largest in the country. It was originally constructed for the 1967 International and Universal Exposition (Expo 67) and is now operated by Six Flags. The park is open from mid-May until late October, and it’s a great way to spend a day if you are travelling in Montreal as a family.
Amusement Park, Casino, Park
Surrounding La Ronde, you’ll find the expansive Parc Jean-Drapeau, which comprises two islands: Île Sainte-Hélène and the artificial Île Notre-Dame. In addition to hiking and skiing trails, green space, bike paths and gardens, the park also boasts the city’s largest outdoor concert venue, a Formula 1 race track (which hosts the Canadian Grand Prix), the Montreal Casino and a beach, among plenty of other paid and free activities.
The Lachine Canal is a designated national historical site in the southwest of Montreal. The 14.5-kilometre (9-mile) urban water route runs between the Old Port and Lac Saint-Louis. Along the banks of Lachine runs a park that hosts a variety of activities throughout the year. You can stroll, cycle, have a picnic or even rent a kayak or pedal boat to experience the canal from the water.
Montreal International Jazz Festival
It’s no stretch to say that few cities do festivals as well as Montreal. Especially during the summer months, there’s usually a major festival of some sort happening around the city. Among the most popular is the lively Montreal International Jazz Festival, the largest jazz festival in the world, which takes place in late June and early July. The festival closes a major part of the downtown area in order to accommodate up to 2.5 million visitors who attend more than 650 concerts (over 400 of which are free) at both indoor and outdoor venues.
Farmers' Market, Market, Fusion
Located in Montreal’s Little Italy, Marché Jean-Talon is one of the oldest public markets in the city. It is also one of largest in North America, with more than 300 vendors during the peak season. Open year-round, you can browse selections of maple products, fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, fish, meat, spices, oils, cheese and a range of artisanal bakery goods. Many of these items are local or regional Quebec specialities.
Restaurant, Canadian, $$$
No visit to Montreal would be complete without enjoying some of the city’s most famous eats. Smoked meat is one of Montreal’s classics, and Schwartz’s on Saint Laurent is its most celebrated provider. Opened in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, Schwartz’s is considered a cultural institution in Montreal. Queues can stretch for blocks as people wait for the signature dish: a smoked meat sandwich on rye bread with mustard.
St-Viateur and Fairmont Bagels
Bakery, Canadian, Vegetarian, Vegan
Another mainstay of Montreal foodie history is the bagel. Wood-fired, Montreal-style hand-rolled bagels were brought over by Jewish immigrants from Poland and other Eastern European countries. They are a must-try even during the briefest stopover in the city. You’ll find that there’s a debate about who produces the best bagels in town: St-Viateur
. You’ll have to try both and see for yourself!
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These recommendations were updated on May 29, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.