This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2016. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
In 2016, I planned a surprise trip from NYC to Montreal for Rob’s birthday.
I chose the long weekend in May (even though it’s a few weeks after his actual birthday) and told him that we’d be travelling somewhere, but not where. He assumed that we were going to Chicago, and I went along with it to try and throw him off.
When our departure day came around, I had to tell him that we’d need to take our passports as we were leaving the country. He immediately guessed that our destination was Montreal!
We arrived in Montreal late-morning and jumped right into exploring the city. Now that I’ve gotten to know this place for a second time, here are my recommendations for a weekend in Montreal.
Where to stay in Montreal:
We stayed in a private room at the Saintlo Montréal Hostel (which was known as HI Montreal Hostel when I was there in 2016). The rooms were fairly basic but tidy, and the hostel provided a great place to stay – the location was right by a subway stop (Lucien L’Allier) that took us to downtown in under 10 minutes.
As a fan of public art, I adored the walls of the hostel’s lobby and kitchen/lounge, which were decorated with awesome illustrations by a local French-Canadian artist.
The hostel staff were incredibly friendly and were happy to inform us of things to see in the local area and how to get around. They also organised activities for the guests, like pub crawls, festivals, and walking tours.
The best things to do in Montreal:
1. Stop in at Place d’Armes
The first stop for any tourist should be is Place d’Armes in Old Montreal. It’s very much like the central squares you’ll find in many European cities.
The main feature of this square is the Basilique Notre Dame de Montréal. The line to get in was rather long so we didn’t go in (plus we have seen about a million basilicas/churches/cathedrals in Europe), but if that kind of thing tickles your fancy then apparently it’s worth a look.
We spotted the rooftop bar at the Hotel Place d’Armes from the street below, and made our way up. Chilling under the red shade umbrellas and looking out over the square with a truly phenomenal mojito in hand (even if it was a tad on the expensive side) was a lovely way to start our afternoon.
2. Wander along Rue Saint Paul to Place Jacques Cartier
Rue Saint Paul is a cute cobblestone street just a short walk from Place d’Armes. It’s probably the most touristy part of the city, so if you’re looking for souvenirs, here is where you’ll find them.
Once you arrive at Place Jacques Cartier, turn left. This is a short pedestrian-only street/square with some market stalls and fancy restaurants.
We didn’t spend too long in this area, but it’s definitely worth seeing if just for the pretty old buildings. For a more in depth experience, you can book an old Montreal walking tour.
3. Visit Chalet du Mont Royal
It took both Robert and I an embarrassingly long time to figure out that Mont Royal (Mount Royal) is the namesake for the city (cue facepalm).
It’s an absolute must for any visitor to hit up Mont Royal. Walk up the path from the north end of Rue Peel, and it should take around 15 minutes to get up to the Chalet. At the top, you’ll be treated to wonderful views of the city and the river behind it.
4. Join the fun at Tam Tams
No, I did not mistype Tim Tams (the awesome chocolate covered biscuit found in my home country of Australia). Tam Tams is a weekly festival held on Sundays at the Monument à Sir George-Étienne Cartier on Mont Royal, beside Parc Jeanne-Mance.
I say festival, but Tam Tams is really just a jam sesh where a bunch of hippies bring their drums and other instruments to the same place at the same time and play along to any old beat. There’s people with musical talent, and people who just like hitting their tambourines because it’s fun.
Sit on the grass and soak up the vibe for an hour.
5. Explore Le Plateau Mont Royal
If you walk north-west of Parc Jeanne-Mance, you’ll enter the Le Plataeu Mont Royal neighbourhood. The houses around here are unbelievably pretty.
Juliette & Chocolat is a must while you’re here – just keep in mind that this is not just a chocolate shop, it’s more like a restaurant where you can order meal-sized desserts drenched in chocolate or caramel house-made sauces. Truly decadent.
6. Eat and drink in Mile End
If you keep walking north-east of Le Plataeu Mont Royal, you’ll come across Mile End (ie. where all the hipsters hang out). You can explore this area on your own, or book a Mile End food tour for a guided walk through the neighbourhood.
A noteworthy attraction in this area is the Jean-Talon Market, where the locals come for their produce. We noticed that the smell of strawberries was mouth watering, which is probably one of the reasons why the line to the only juice stall was crazy long.
7. Bicycle around the city
One thing we noticed is that Montreal is a very bike-friendly city. Nearly every house has a bicycle leaning against the front porch or even locked to the railing half way up the exterior stairs. In the warmer months, this definitely seems to be the preferred mode of transport.
We took advantage of the bikes for hire at our hostel and cycled along the path that followed the canal, starting at the south end of Rue Richmond and continuing up to Old Port. It was here that we happened to see a marching band playing a killer rendition of the Ghostbusters theme. Random, I know.
We didn’t make it any further as a freak downpour started right as we got to Old Port, but you can apparently keep going all the way out to the man-made island of St Helene in the river. Get a full day Montreal bike rental if you’re interested in seeing the old town and city centre by bike.
8. Eat some Poutine
Poutine is one of those dishes that looks kind of gross but tastes pretty freakin’ amazing. It’s a large serving of fries covered with cheese curd, gravy, and sometimes other toppings.
It was a challenge finding a vegetarian version, but eventually stumbled across the diner chain La Belle Province which served it up with some onion and capsicum. I’m very glad we decided to share it, because the huge serving proved to be way too heavy for one person’s stomach.
9. Get a Montreal Bagel
Montreal bagels are smaller than New York bagels, have a larger hole in the middle, and are slightly sweeter as they are boiled in honey-sweetened water before baking. If you’re interested in learning the process, try a Montreal-style bagel making workshop!
There are plenty of places to find bagels, especially in Mile End. Check out St-Viateur Bagel, Fairmount Bagel, Bagel etc, or basically anywhere with ‘bagel’ in the name.
10. Drink some local brew
As both Robert and I are fans of craft beer, we cannot visit a new city without taste-testing some of the local brews. We grabbed some German-style beer at Alexandraplatz in Mile End and our hostel bar also served us a French-Canadian brew, but if you want to sample a range of Montreal’s best beers, jump on a Montreal brew tour.
*I was a guest of HI Montreal Hostel during my stay in Montreal. I’m proud to be an honest and transparent blogger, so every opinion expressed on AGWT is a true review of my experience.