A street in Old Montreal, Quebec, Canada

A local's guide to Montreal in every season

travel guide

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Canada? Chances are it will be (in no particular order): wilderness, hockey, lumberjacks and Toronto.

People tend to forget that Canada has a dual “citizenship” and languages: English and French. The majority of the French speaking part of Canada is concentrated in the province of Quebec.

A Montreal shop front in winter

If you want to feel the vibe of a European city without having to cross the Atlantic Ocean, then head on over to Montreal, only a six-hour drive north of Toronto! Also, it’s a great place to brush up on the French you learned in high school.

From yearly outdoor activities to eating your way through the different neighbourhoods of Montreal, there is always something exciting to do. Here's what you need to know about the largest French-speaking city in North America, from a local’s point of view.

Best time to visit Montreal

It doesn’t matter when you travel to Montreal as there is a constant list of activities to do all around the year. That being said, if you don’t enjoy the cold, the best time to visit would be from May to October. There shouldn’t be any snow and temperatures are above freezing.

Festivals and culture in Montreal

Montreal has a couple museums and tons of festivals worth checking out when you come into town.

People at a festival in Montreal

Museums and art galleries can be visited all year long. Here are a couple of my favourites:

  • The Museum of Fine Arts always has some kind of temporary exhibit going on whether it be Jean-Paul Gauthier’s haute couture, Egyptian Mummy’s or Impressionism Art. Entrance to the museum is free the first Sunday of the month and cheaper on Wednesday nights.

  • If you want to learn more about Montreal’s history and how the city was founded, head on over to Pointe-à-Caillère Museum located in the old Port of Montreal.

Festivals in Montreal

Living in Montreal is exciting due to the large number of festivals it offers, with most of them concentrated from late Spring to the end of Summer. There is something to enjoy for everybody and most of them offer free entry.

  • Mural festival

  • Jazz Festival

  • Just for Laughs

  • Osheaga

  • Montreal Complètement Cirque

Montreal in Winter

Don’t let Montreal’s thick winter blanket prevent you from enjoying the city in the Winter.

A beautiful mural in Montreal, Canada

Dress warmly, bring your sled, ice skating boots or cross-country skis and enjoy the city’s many parks. It does help if you bring your own equipment but in some parks you can rent the equipment.

Maisonneuve Park

Maisonneuve park is the perfect place to ice skate with the Olympic stadium as a backdrop.

Next to it, you’ll find Montreal’s Botanical Gardens. They are free to visit in the winter time. Check out the Chinese Garden with it’s winter coat, it’s not something you’ll come across everyday.

Ice skating in Montreal

Old Port

You can ice skate in the Old Port of Montreal and then warm up in the ferris wheel right next to the rink. The cabins are closed and heated and provide a 360 view of the old part of town.

Another fun activity to do in the Old Port, especially when it’s cold outside is the Spa. Right on the St-Lawrence river, on a boat, relax in a hot bath or in the steam room at Bota Bota. From there, you’ll get an unobstructed view of the Old Port. Bring slippers if you don’t want your feet to freeze or slip when you are walking around the deck! Then, sip on a glass of wine in your bathrobe in the spa’s little restaurant on the river.

Montreal in Spring

Spring time in Montreal is exciting as everyone is coming out from hibernation. It’s the perfect time to have a picnic in a park, play bocce and enjoy some ice cream.

Cherry and Magnolia trees in front of a building in Montreal

Mount-Royal

Every first Sunday of the month, a drum circle takes place at the footsteps of the Mount-Royal. It’s quite entertaining.

Afterward, climb your way to the belvedere and admire the city from above. Then, if you are up for it, go back down following the signs for Promenade Fleuve-Montagne, a 3.8km pedestrian walkway that leads all the way to the Old Port. By following this path, you’ll discover the city’s most emblematic sites.

Montreal’s street art

There are well over 3,000 murals in Montreal. Most of them can be found while walking your way up Saint-Laurent Boulevard or its side streets from Sherbrooke Street all the way up to the Mile-End. Guided walking tours are also available.

Street art in Montreal

Montreal in Summer

Summer in Montreal is all about water activities and festivals.

The public pools are free to access except the one on Ile Sainte-Helene in Jean-Drapeau Park. It has a beautiful pool with a walk in access that has been made to look like a beach.

On weekends you can dance at the Piknic Electronik or grab a drink at Montreal’s Guinguette while admiring the city view. Also, if you enjoy thrills, hop on a rollercoaster at La Ronde, Montreal’s amusement park.

Montreal city centre in summer

Get out on the water

Kayak on the Lachine Canal or take a little boat cruise with Le petit Navire and learn about Montreal’s industrial history while you pass through the locks.

Afterward, head on over to the Old Port, walk on the cobblestones and climb your way to the roof-top terrace of the Nelligan Hotel. It’s the best spot for a happy-hour cocktail in the city.

International Fireworks Competition

Every year in July, Montrealers enjoy the International Fireworks competition. They can be admired from almost anywhere in the city but the best spot is either by the river near the Jacques Cartier bridge or in the Old Port.

Montreal in the Fall

Canada does have four seasons and Montreal is no exception to the rule. You can enjoy the Indian summer within the city and observe the foliage change colour in Mount-Royal Park.

A monument to the heroes of the Boer War in Montreal, Canada
Autumn leaves in Montreal, Canada

Otherwise, head on over to the Iles de Boucherville Park where chances are you’ll encounter deer along the way. You’ll have to rent a car or grab a Uber to do so as the public transit access is limited to that part of town.

If you have more time on hand, rent a car and drive less than 2 hours away to the Eastern Townships for a more in-depth Fall experience. Mount-Orford near the quaint town of Magog is the perfect place to do so.

Where to stay in Montreal

For a homey experience, rent an Airbnb on the Plateau, in the Mile-End or in Villeray. These areas offer tons of places for you to eat and drink in a more authentic setting.

If you want to be closer to museums, special events and shops, stay in a hotel in the Old Port. There are plenty to pick from - it’s all a question of budget.

The ferris wheel in Montrael

Getting around Montreal

Although it’s easy to drive around, parking can get expensive and be difficult, especially with snow. The best way is to use public transit whether it be the subway or bus. Montreal has a good transportation system and becomes really handy during the cold winter months.

Row of Bixi bike park on street in a street in Montreal.

Another viable option aside from walking is to rent a bike. In the last couple of years, Montreal has increased its number of bike lanes. This makes it safer to cycle and to visit the city at your own rhythm. Word of advice: NEVER chain your bike to someone’s fence, it’s illegal and very much frowned upon.

What to eat in Montreal

Montreal is a cultural melting pot and cosmopolitan. The majority of the city’s immigrants come from European countries and represent 28% of the population. This fact makes Montreal’s food scene quite diverse and rich.

Poutine

The most popular meal you can have in Montreal, if you can call it that, is a Poutine, which is not related to Russia’s president. A poutine is essentially cheese fries served with a dark sauce. It’s so popular that even McDonalds has it on its menu!

A dish of poutine in Montreal

French cuisine

Of course you can’t come to Montreal and not try some authentic French food. You can do so at Chez Leveque located on the beautiful Laurier West street. If you want a unique French cuisine experience, try the veal liver or the homemade apple black pudding!

Afterward, grab dessert at the ice cream parlour of Le Bilboquet just a few blocks away in the high-end area of Outremont and admire the tree line streets and million dollar homes.

Hop on the poke bowl wagon

The trend has probably moved on but the food remains just as good. Venice Montreal owns three spots in the city where they serve savoury dishes in a Californian style setting. Try the Indian power bowl - It’s light yet so filling that you won’t have room for dessert. This restaurant is a great place to have lunch while visiting the Old Port of Montreal.

Food on the go

Outdoor Markets

You can’t visit Montreal and not visit either Atwater Market or Jean-Talon Market. The latter one is the most popular and biggest. Although it won’t have the same enthusiasm that you would find on markets in France or Italy, the stands are so neatly organized with little baskets that will make your stomach growl.

Apple baskets in a market stall in the Jean-Talon Market, Montreal.

Don’t worry, you can actually taste the fruits and vegetables on the stands. Little plates are made available for you to sample.

Since Jean-Talon market is located in the Italian section of Montreal, it’s only fitting to eat some pizza while there! You can do so at Pizza Napolitana or Gemma near the market.

Bagels

Believe it or not Montrealers are very fond of bagels and the two most popular brands are Saint-Viateur and Fairmount. You can buy some in stores or go directly to their shop in the Mile-End where they’ll still be hot. You can request some cream cheese to go along with them.

A stack of Montreal-style bagels

Bakeries

One thing we are happy that has come here from France is the boulangerie. Authentic French ones are hard to find but do exist. We particularly like Le Paltoquet or Mamie Clafoutis. If you are going to go with a commercial chain, choose Au Pain Doré rather than Première Moisson.

The only difference you’ll find here with the pain au chocolat (literally translates to "bread with chocolate") is that it’s called chocolatine.

Just like in France, bakeries are a great place to go to for home made sandwiches. Try the Jambon-Brie on a baguette, a French classic.

Final thoughts

Montreal is an exciting and vibrant city to visit, no matter what your budget is. Due to the Pandemic, the nightlife has died down but outdoor bar terraces have popped up across town. There are so many to try that it would be impossible to list them all here, but you can start with either Barraca Rhumerie on the Plateau or Vice et Versa in Little Italy.

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Anne-Charlotte Passera

Author - Anne-Charlotte Passera

Anne-Charlotte Passera is a writer who has been traveling ever since she was born. An explorer at heart, she is passionate about inspiring other women to do the same and not be afraid to stray off the beaten path. Her interests vary from reading to conscious living. She isn't afraid to try something new, with a little dancing and karaoke from now and then.

Last Updated October 18, 2021

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