At the end of September 2023, I ventured to Quebec with my friend Katie for our first time exploring Montreal! This was our chance to explore the city that is regaled as a slice of Europe in North America, beloved for poutine, street signs in French, unmatched nightlife, and incredible bagels. We had a long weekend, an Airbnb right near all the attractions, and an eagerness to explore a new city and eat as much amazing Quebecois food as we could.
What to See & Things To Do in Montreal
I think three full days in Montreal is the perfect amount of time to see and do a lot of the highlights. I left feeling like we really hit the highlights and while more time is always great (especially for just more opportunities to eat more delicious things) I didn’t think we missed out on anything essential after our adventures. Here are some of the top things we did that I’d recommend to anyone venturing to Montreal.
Walk the Waterfront at the Old Port
We started at the Tour de l’Horloge and walked along the waterfront of the St. Lawrence River, enjoying views of the beautiful yachts moored in the harbor and the Vieux (Old) port area of the city. This historic area is a must-visit when in Montreal; it’s near a lot of the main attractions and there are tons of cute shops, bars, restaurants, and cafes in this area worth exploring. The foreground of the ferris wheel was so beautiful with the trees changing color. After walking to where the ferry port starts, we wandered up the hill a bit to the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal.
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
While I get that not everyone wants to pay an entrance fee in order to tour a church, I would say the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal is worth the $14 charge. Buy your tickets online ahead of time to skip the line and walk right in, and spend at least a half hour wandering around this beautiful cathedral. It has some impressive architecture, sculpture, and other features that are worth checking out. It’s open from 9 AM to 4:30 PM and is a great little stop to make while exploring Old Montreal.
Museum of Fine Arts
Have a rainy day or afternoon you need to fill while exploring Montreal? Head over to the Museum of Fine Arts to spend a few hours wandering the amazing galleries that span several buildings in the city’s Ville-Marie borough of the city, near Mont Royal and Bar George. It’s the largest museum in Canada in terms of gallery space, and the collections are fantastic, ranging from ancient Egyptian to contemporary pop art exhibits. Wander around for a few hours and admire some amazing works and views of the city from the upper floors of the museum.
Hike Mont Royal
This walk up the “mountain” that overlooks Montreal is definitely a must-do on a beautiful fall day! We had great weather, sunny and cool, so it was perfect for making the journey up to the top. It’s not a difficult climb – there is a portion with a lot of stairs that gets a bit congested, but you can taking winding paths up to the top. There is a chalet with bathrooms and a cafe for purchasing drinks and snacks, and there are bathrooms there too so not to worry if you drink too much water during the walk. It’s a great viewpoint of the city and a way to enjoy a mix of nature and urban landscapes while exploring Montreal.
Book a Boat Charter
Want to explore Montreal on the water? Look no further than Getmyboat! I was able to book a 3-hour sunset yacht charter with a private captain on the St. Lawrence River, which was the perfect way to spend our final evening in Montreal. We saw a beautiful sunset, got a tour of the waterfront and cruised around the river while sipping some Prosecco and enjoying snacks.
Explore & Eat at Atwater Market
Open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM, this market is a great spot to venture through for some delicious chocolates, pastries, snacks, or to grab lunch. There are many vendors and indoor shops selling all sorts of delicious items. Here we induged in a sandwich and picked up some essentials for our Airbnb — including a baguette, beautiful berries, brie cheese, wine, and truffles. It’s definitely more expensive than your typical grocery store, but I think there’s something special about giving business to these traditional vendors in appreciation of the beautiful atmosphere they create.
Explore & Eat at Jean Talon Market
We ventured here for a little explore before our dinner reservation at Mon Lapin and it was a great find. I think I’d opt to go to this market over Atwater if you only have time for one. Here we indulged in some oysters and enjoyed shopping around for maple syrup and other Canadian staples.
Bars, Restaurants, & Cafes in Montreal
There is no shortage of amazing restaurants and bars to indulge in while in Montreal. While we didn’t even scratch the surface of gastronomic possibility, I do think we had a great preview of what the city has to offer with these spots we visited during our trip.
Cafe La Cave a Manger
For a coffee and an unbelievable croissant experience, head to La Cave a Manger. Located near Notre-Dame, this quaint spot is serving up amazing pastries and other baked goods, coffees, wine, and beer. We grabbed a chocolate almond croissant and coffees and enjoyed them on their sunny patio. The interior of this shop is quite like a cave (you walk down the stairs into a cramped area to order) so I wouldn’t venture here on a rainy day — being able to enjoy your baked goods and coffee on the patio is a must.
Chez Mere Grand
This cute cafe was our first breakfast stop on our first day! Delicious coffees, a ham and cheese crossaint and a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich were shared and enjoyed before we set off to explore the city. Definitely pop into Chez Mere Grand for a delicious (and aesthetic) brunch experience.
It is cash-only, so make sure to get out some Canadian money before heading here. There were quite a few places that we encountered that were cash-only, which was a bit surprising, so it’s good to be prepared and withdraw some upon your arrival in Montreal to avoid a hassle once you’re enjoying the city.
This was one of the best dining experiences I’ve had! When it comes to the best restaurants in Canada, Vin Mon Lapin has been mentioned in many articles and received various awards and recognition, and after eating here, it’s easy to see why! The service was fantastic, and everything we ate was delicious. From a scallop crudo with Concord grapes to a beef tartare, with wine pairings to match, it was all really good. The menu changes frequently, and the staff is very well-versed in all the items and will help guide you in ordering the best options for your palate and interest.
The biggest tip I can give anyone looking to experience this restaurant is to make reservations well in advance — we got lucky and snagged a spot from being on a waitlist!
This is a must-visit in Montreal, but be prepared to wait in line. We ventured here after our jaunt up Mont Royal and the line was already out the door just before noon. Thankfully, it didn’t take terribly long before we were seated, smushed in next to other diners in a tiny space that seems to just churn out delicious deli classics all day. Schwartz’s Deli is one of the oldest in Canada, and the smoked meats from here are awesome. We shared a smoked meat poutine and a smoked sandwich and it was heavenly. Well worth the wait!
For a great brunch in a stunning, gilded-age mansion atmosphere, check out Bar George! This restaurant is housed in a heritage mansion that was once owned by Sir George Stephen. It has gorgeous architecture and antiques throughout, and the food is great too. I had avocado toast with a poached egg, and Katie had an omelette that came with a side of incredible duck fat fried breakfast potatoes. Unreal. We explored a bit upstairs after our brunch; it’s a very cool setting for a meal and some photos.
St. Viateur Bagels
The famous Montreal bagels! We had to try them and opted to indulge for breakfast before our day of venturing up Mont Royal. St. Viateur has a few locations around the city, and has been in operation since the 1950’s. It’s a very simple bakery set up — don’t come here expecting a fancy bagel sandwich. It’s the basics – cream cheese and a few varieties of my favorite breakfast carb. Pop in here and grab a few to go, they are well worth it!
Looking for some tasty Italian in a relaxed ambience in the Vieux Port area? Look no further. Salumi Vino had some of the best mushroom ravioli I’ve ever had, and the fried zucchini flowers appetizer was also a treat. The service was very friendly, and it’s a small, cozy but charming atmosphere that was perfect for a delicious dinner after our first day of exploring.
Drinks at Coldroom
Can you find the door to this speakeasy? I’ll give you a clue — look for a rubber duck.
The Coldroom in Montreal serves up gourmet cocktails in a hidden basement bar that you’ll need to find with a little detectice work. Ring the doorbell and wait for a staff member to usher you in. The drinks here were awesome; my key lime pie cocktail really hit the spot and the atmosphere is very cool without being pretentious or snobby. All the bartenders were super nice.
Drinks at Cloakroom
Another speakeasy in Montreal! We ventured here after our amazing dinner at Mon Lapin and were not disappointed. This cocktail bar does not have a menu — you describe your preferences to a server or bartender and they whip up a concoction that will be agreeable to your palate. It’s like every order is a custom drink, and it was great! I went with a dirty-martini style drink while Katie opted for something more fruity. This would be a great romantic spot on a date as it’s very dark and intimate. It’s another venue where you should be prepared to wait in line for a bit, but it was worth it.
Those are the highlights of my Montreal adventure. Overall it was a fantastic destination for a girls trip, and I think it would also be great for a romantic weekend away. I’d love to go back just to eat and drink for a few days.
If there are some essential restaurants or things to do that I missed, please drop a comment below!