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.
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.
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.
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.
Don’t let Montreal’s thick winter blanket prevent you from enjoying the city in the Winter. 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Montreal has a couple museums and tons of festivals worth checking out when you come into town.
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.
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.
Just for Laughs
Montreal Complètement Cirque
Although it’s easy to drive around Montreal, parking can get expensive and can be difficult to find, especially when there's heavy snow. The best way to get around the city is to use public transit whether it be the subway or bus. Montreal has a good transportation system and it becomes really handy during the cold winter months.
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.
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.
Montreal is known for its food scene so be sure to eat out while you're here. Be sure to try the local poutine, bakeries and French food - just some of the essential foods to try in Montreal.
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.
Montreal is an exciting and vibrant city to visit, no matter what your budget is. Regardless of when you visit, there is always a lot to do in Montreal, from festivals and outdoor activities to eating your way around the city.
Montreal is also a wonderful introduction to Quebec and you may wish to spend more time in the province after your stay in the capital. Quebec City makes a great next stop with a fascinating historic centre to explore.
Last Updated 10 April 2022