Fancy a trip to Europe but don’t have time to flit across the Atlantic? Enter: Montreal.
Bursting with life even in the midst of heavy winters, the Canadian city is a gleaming taste of old Europe, where food, the arts, and culture take center stage.
But while the French influence is clear to see in the architecture, the food, and even the way of life, understand that this is a truly bi-cultural city. Montreal straddles the Atlantic with aplomb, fusing together the finest aspects of its European heritage and North American geography to create one of the most unique cities in the world.
Bienvenue a Montreal.
5 things you can’t miss in Montreal
Time your trip with a festival
Montreal goes hard when it comes to festivals. From wide-ranging music weekends to hyper-niche convention events, there is something to celebrate virtually any weekend. Try and time your visit to coincide with one you’re interested in or with something you know nothing about.
Easily the most prominent date on the festival calendar is the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. It’s the biggest Jazz festival in the world, pulling as many as two million fans over the course of ten days. It’s designed to be accessible to everyone, so you’ll find a lot of amazing genre cross-overs that might work as your jazz gateway.
Despite the cold, there are still plenty of things going on in Montreal over the winter. The aptly named Igloo-fest is an electronic music festival in the Old Port, while the Fete des Neiges is a celebration of all things winter. Don’t get too put off by the cold.
Frankly, there will probably be something on whatever time of year you decide to go. Maybe you’ll stumble into the Negroni Festival, the Montreal Independent Film Festival, or even the Cirque du Soleil Festival (it started in Montreal).
Explore Old Montreal
The highlight of any Montreal trip is exploring its storied Old Town. When you first arrive, it may throw you off slightly. It’s strange to see such a strikingly European-styled town in North America. But it’s part of what makes Montreal so unique, so dedicate a good amount of time to getting acquainted with the four-hundred-year-old area.
Start at Place de Armes, the historical center of the city. Here you’ll find some of the best historical architecture in North America, including a stunning Cathedral, the View-Seminaire, the original Bank of Montreal, and a number of other culturally significant stops.
Worth a bimble is Bonsecours Market. Once the central market for the city, and even the Canadian Congress! It’s now a boutique shopping center, but the beautiful building is worth checking out even if you’re not too fussed about shopping. There are also some stellar cafes and restaurants.
From there, stroll down Saint Paul Street. Quintessentially European, beautiful from every angle, and shops, restaurants, bars, and other attractions the whole length.
While the central theme of any Montreal visit should swing with a strong bias towards the cultural side of things, the Underground City is well worth a deviation. Although it sounds more like a catacomb, the Underground city is actually a sprawling underground network of malls connected by tunnels and the metro. Unbelievably, there are around 20 miles of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
The complex can be a refuge during the cold winter or the humid summer, and while you might not want to spend a whole lot of time there, it’s also a great place to knock out all of your souvenir shopping.
Time Out Market is a foodie highlight. Far more than a traditional food court, some of the best names in Montreal’s culinary scene have a place here, making a lunchtime shopping break a little more special.
While the underground is linked to the best museums in Montreal, it has its own art space that runs exhibitions year-round, while the shopping options are vast, featuring many high-end Montreal products, including the famous Aldo shoe brand.
Visit the Notre-Dame Basilica
Yes, Montreal has its very own Notre-Dame. We weren’t kidding when we said it was Canada’s Paris.
Bask in the glory of Montreal’s blue-hued basilica. The city’s Catholic oldest church was constructed back in 1656 and the stained glass interior actually chronicles the history of The City of Saints.
Ironically, the church was designed by a Protestant architect. The striking and ornate gem features impressive stained glass windows and blue ceiling that is a marvel in and of itself.
If you plan to visit the blue-hued basilica, we recommend getting tickets ahead of time and springing for the Sightseeing + Aura package deal that gives you an immersive, multimedia experience along the walls of the church’s nave.
Stroll through Le Plateau Mont-Royal
If you’re a sucker for charming houses and stunning frescos, then this place was made just for you.
The Mont-Royal area is home to amazing murals, delicious, restaurants, colorful Victorian houses, and picturesque parks. If you time your trip right, you can even catch the Mural Festival that takes place in June.
Within the Mont-Royal district you’ll also find the Mile End neighborhood known for its hipster shops and being home to the largest concentration of artists in Canada. It’s also where you’ll find an epic food tour to satisfy all your cravings.
Want to uncover the best of Montreal?
Check out Next Stop: Montreal for the best places to stay, eat, and explore in Montreal!