What to Do on a Layover in Montreal

Montreal | © Alex Jodoin / Unsplash
Montreal | © Alex Jodoin / Unsplash
Photo of Emily Paskevics
30 October 2017

Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) sits around 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the downtown area, so if you find yourself there for a layover, the city is close enough to get in some exploring. Here’s our guide to how you can get the most out of your stopover in Montreal.

There are a few transport options to consider when you’re heading into the city from the airport. The most cost-effective way is via the city’s public transit system (the STM), which offers a 24/7 shuttle service with two route options. The Destination Terminus Lionel-Groulx is a single-stop shuttle that takes between 25 and 35 minutes, depending on traffic, and will drop you off at the Lionel-Groulx métro station, and the Destination Centre-ville makes 11 stops through downtown with an estimated travel time of 45 to 70 minutes. The cost is $10, which also includes unlimited transit use on the STM’s bus and métro networks for 24 consecutive hours.

Taxis can take you to downtown Montreal for a fixed fare of $38.00, as well as the more controversial option of Uber. Via Rail offers an airport shuttle when you need to travel from the Dorval rail station and YUL.

BIXI rental bikes in Montreal | © Mike/ Flickr

If you have three hours…

If you’ve just got a few hours but you’re hankering to get a glimpse of Montreal, make your way to the city’s most popular neighborhood for visitors: the Old Port. This area is the most historic district of Montreal, with cobblestoned streets lined with buildings that date back into the 1700s. Even with a brief layover, a quick excursion to the Old Port is a great way to get a glimpse into Montreal’s long history and French colonial roots, unusual for North American cities.

With a taxi, the Old Port is about 20 minutes from the airport.

Vieux-Port de Montreal, 333 Rue de la Commune O, Montreal, QC, Canada

Old Montreal | © Daniel Kuhn / Flickr

Old Montreal, a neighborhood that hosts many of the city’s private art galleries & shops | © Daniel Kuhn / Flickr

If you have five hours…

With a little more time, you could opt to head to the city center and then make your way to Mont-Royal, the big scenic park that rises above the city and offers great panoramic views. Culture Trip recommends taking the meandering walk up the mountain during the warmer months (from June to October) to get a sense of the local terrain and to mingle with locals as they jog, hike, or bike up the “mountain” that comprises Montreal’s most popular park.

Once you reach the main belvedere at the top, you can take in the lovely view of the city’s downtown area, reaching out toward the St. Lawrence River and beyond. To expedite the trip to the top, which could take about 45 minutes on foot, you could hop onto a BIXI from the city’s bike rental system instead. The park is around 35 minutes by car from YUL.

Heading to the top of Mont-Royal is an excellent option if you want to get a bit of a workout after your long flight. If you’re there on a Sunday, you might also be able to watch the Tam-Tams, an informal, free weekly festival that gathers around the park’s George-Étienne Cartier Monument during the summer. Grab a snack from one of the wandering vendors and join drum players, vendors, dancers, and visitors as they lounge around in the grass, picnicking and relaxing.

Mont-Royal, Montreal, Canada

Fall colors in Montreal | © Artur Staszewski / Flickr

If you have seven hours…

With a longer layover, you can combine an exploration of the Old Port with the Mont-Royal nature walk. If possible, take a BIXI to shorten the travel time between the two areas—or a taxi. With an extra couple of hours, you can also get a better sense of the city’s best eats afterward. From Mont-Royal, you could take the half-hour walk over to Boulevard Saint-Laurent, one of Montreal’s well-known arteries for restaurants, bars, cafés, and boutiques. Culture Trip’s top recommendation is Schwartz’s Deli, where you might have to wait in line to try one of their famed smoked-meat sandwiches. Schwartz’s has been around since 1928, and it remains one of Montreal’s most iconic foodie experiences. From Schwartz’s, take a taxi back to the airport. If the traffic’s in your favor, it should take just under half an hour.

Schwartz’s Deli, 3895 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, QC, Canada, +1 514 842 4813


A smoked meat sandwich from the iconic Schwartz’s in Montreal | © chensiyuan / WikiCommons

If you have 12 hours…

If you’ve got a half day (or more) to spend in the city, you can take your Montreal experience to the next level by visiting a couple of key monuments and one of the city’s world-class museums, in addition to the recommended itinerary above. This time, while you’re in the Old Port, make a stop at the impressive Notre-Dame Basilica, originally built in 1656, which is Montreal’s oldest Catholic church. The Basilica is known for its breathtaking stained glass, intricately gilded design work, and high altar.

After exploring Mont-Royal and having lunch at Schwartz’s, you can make your way via BIXI or on foot (30 minutes) to the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, which is one of Canada’s most famous museums. There’s also the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, which showcases cutting-edge work by Quebec and international artists. You can access the 747 shuttle bus from either of the museums, which will give you access to the métro system so that you can board the shuttle at Berri-UQAM station.

Place des Arts next to the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal | © abdallahh / Flickr

After a full day of exploring the history, art, architecture, and nature of Montreal, you’ll have made the most out of your layover and experienced some of the best cultural sites that the city has to offer. But even a shorter layover will give you enough insight into the creative pulse of Montreal, which is sure to convince you to return for a longer trip next time.

The Tam Tams, Montreal | © Kerry Helmer/ Flickr

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