Montreal has a long history as a cosmopolitan hub of culture and international trade, with a rich colonial history, and is the second largest French-speaking city in the world, after Paris. Montreal’s landmarks, museums, nightclubs, parks, shopping districts and galleries 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.
Old Montreal / Vieux-Montréal
Old Montreal 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.
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal / Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal
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. Exhibits through the grand old mansion allow visitors to explore five centuries of history surrounding Montreal and the entire region. There’s also a beautiful French colonial style garden to stroll around.
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.
Pointe-à-Callière 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.
Olympic Stadium / Stade olympique
Built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, the 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.
Montreal Botanical Garden / Jardin Botanique Montréal
Encompassing 190 acres 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 explored around the peaceful grounds.
Montreal Biodome / Biodôme de Montréal
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 explore over 4,500 animals from around the world, including 500 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.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts / Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal
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 how holds over 41,000 works dating from antiquity to today, including paintings, sculptures, graphic arts, 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 / Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
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, sculptures, and more. MAC also organises artistic performances and festive events. Located in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles, the Musée is a cultural hub that makes art an integral part of daily life in Montreal.
Underground City / La Ville Souterraine
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 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 for both locals and visitors.
Mount Royal Park / Parc du Mont-Royal
Mount Royal Park one of the city’s largest green spaces, making it a popular outdoor recreation spot. This 200-hectare park includes part of the mountain that resides in the middle of the city. 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’s 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 / Oratoire Saint-Joseph
The Oratoire Saint-Joseph situated near the western exit from Mount Royal Park, is dedicated to Canada’s patron saint. It’s the biggest church in Canada. It is an important site for pilgrims, with its huge Renaissance-style domed basilica dating back to 1924.
La Ronde is an amusement park on Ile 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.
Parc Jean Drapeau
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.
Lachine Canal / Lieu historique national du Canal-de-Lachine
The Lachine Canal is a designated national historical site in the southwest of Montreal. It consists of a 14.5-kilometre urban route that runs between the Old Port and Lac Saint-Louis, which is a waterway characterised by five locks. Along the banks of Lachine, there is a linear urban 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 along the way.
Montreal International Jazz Festival
It’s no stretch to say that few cities do festivals as well as Montreal does. 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, 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.
Jean Talon Market / Marché Jean Talon
Located in Montreal’s Little Italy, Marché Jean-Talon is considered to be 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. Most of these items are local or regional Quebec specialties.
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 & Fairmont Bagels
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, and you’ll find that there’s a debate about who produces the best bagels in town: St Viateur or Fairmont. You’ll have to try both and see for yourself!