Montreal is named after the triple-peaked mountain that towers over the heart of the city. Long inhabited by First Nations people then settled by fur traders, it has throughout its history been a welcoming home to many: immigrants, students, the LGBT community and travelers too.
This is a city of neighborhoods. Historical Vieux-Montreal and the Old Port stretch along the water, where cobbled streets wind around old buildings and the stunning Notre Dame Basilica. To the north and east, the Plateau and its Mile End district are home to the city’s creative types and the funky shops, cafes and bars they frequent. Most every area is walkable or bikable; traversing this city on foot leads to the discovery of its many charms.
No matter the neighborhood you call home during your stay, you’ll find plenty to welcome you. Here are some of our favorite things to do, see, eat and drink--and of course some of our favorite B&Bs to book).
Outdoors and Indoors
First, know that most parts of Montreal are best seen by foot or wheel. Rent a BIXI (the city’s bike-share program) and pedal up Parc Mont-Royal’s many moderately challenging paths. (Don’t worry—walkers are welcome, too.) In summer, kids can enjoy Mont-Royal’s rowboats as they ply the park’s Lac Aux Castors; in winter, sled or snowshoe instead. Also consider a stop at the city’s other green spaces, Parc Jean Drapeau and Parc La Fontaine.
Got a green thumb? The Botanical Garden and its flowered walkways contain some 22,000 different plant species in a vibrant array of colors. Thematic gardens, greenhouses and a pavilion are all worth exploring, and concert series, exhibitions and guided tours offer many angles on Montreal’s crown jewel.
Walk along Vieux-Port, Montreal’s photogenic waterside neighborhood. Catch a ferry or fireworks, grab a cocktail and snap photos of the St. Lawrence around this working port.
Enjoy the city’s many museums, including the Biodome, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and more. Arts and culture fans should consider picking up a Museums Pass that includes admission to dozens of spots plus three days of public transport and shop discounts.
If your bed and breakfast comes with a kitchenette, there’s no better place to pick up local produce, flowers, herbs, cheeses and baked goods than at Jean-Talon. It’s one of the largest public markets in North America and offers a bounty of Quebec’s freshest ingredients.
Montreal’s Plateau has a slate of top consignment shops, designer clothing boutiques and cutting-edge interior design studios. Stroll and spend along Rue St. Denis and Boulevard St. Laurent. For amazing vintage pieces, Mile End is bursting with options, from critical darling Citizen Vintage’s well curated collection to Annex, where everyone can relive the '90s with great abandon.
Visiting in winter? Don’t skip Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal lit up in its holiday finest. The grand Gothic Revival basilica looks magical dusted in snow and aglow with blue lights. Guests can take a brief guided tour in English or French; enjoy an hour of music led by organist Pierre Grandmaison; or snag a coveted ticket to the basilica’s moving Christmas Eve Mass.
Events and Festivals
If you’re looking for an event around which to plan your visit, you’re in luck. Montreal’s calendar is packed around the year with festivals, fetes and parties.
- Pack your warmest mittens for outdoor music festival Igloofest (January/February)
- Catch music, circus acts, dance, and lights during Montreal En Lumiere (February)
- Sample from a miles-long list of beers during Le Mondiel de la Biere (June)
- Spectate the Formula One during jetset favorite Grand Prix Montreal (June)
- Listen to top jazz acts at the world-renowned Montreal International Jazz Festival (June)
- Or catch some big names -- like Radiohead big -- at outdoor festival Osheaga (July)
- Join the parade (and PM Justin Trudeau) at Montreal Pride (August)
- See the city in its holiday finest during Noel dans le Parc (December)\
Eating and Drinking
Poutine is more than just a mere bar snack or a guilty pleasure; it’s something of a cultural institution. Experts say a perfect poutine should have crisp browned frites smothered in flavorful brown gravy and studded with squeaky white cheese curds. La Banquise dishes up some of the city’s most famous renditions of the dish, from a classic poutine with no added frills to L’Obélix, a local favorite piled high with Montreal-style smoked meat. Try a fancy version at Au Pied de Cochon, Martin Picard’s temple to meat, where the poutine comes with rich lobes of foie gras. Patati Patata on Saint-Laurent is also a favorite, a tiny diner-style spot that serves a tasty classic poutine alongside burgers for unbelievably cheap prices.
Beyond the famous fry dish, Montreal has a few other dishes that can’t be missed. Start with some wood-fired bagels at St-Viateur or Fairmount Bagels, where the flat, slightly sweet, always smoky bagels are best topped with a smear of Philadelphia cream cheese and ribbons of bright smoked salmon. For even more smoky flavor, grab a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s or Lester’s, both upholding the Jewish tradition of peppery brisket. Other musts are Portuguese roast chicken, any number of classic French bistro dishes, and a perfectly pulled espresso (Montreal has a serious cafe culture).
Speaking of intoxicating drinks, Montreal’s beer scene is vibrant, with world-class and wonderfully affordable breweries dotting the city. Dieu du Ciel brews right on-site in the Plateau; if you’re lucky enough to nab a seat on the terrace, you can spend all night sipping from the dozens-long beer list (including our favorite brew, the darker-than-night Péché Mortel stout). Other top spots include Vices & Versa, Brouhaha, L’Espace Public, and Le Saint Bock.
Bed and Breakfasts
Montreal has a lengthy list of bed and breakfasts from which to choose, but we selected a few favorites for their artsy vibe, great locations, and little extras.
In downtown Montreal, just steps from Le Centre Bell, Auberge Les Bons Matins resides in a row of Victorian townhouses. Here, interiors are bright and funky, and wood-burning fireplaces warm guests in winter months. Extra-large deluxe suites have Jacuzzi tubs and cozy private terraces. Plus a generous all-you-can-eat breakfast includes Montreal’s best wood-fired bagels and local maple syrup.
A fabulous 1927 home surrounded by hundred-year-old trees, Le Terra Nostra is also a quick walk from downtown (but its location feels downright residential). With only three rooms, the accommodations are quiet and private, and each room has a distinct, well-decorated theme—Europe, Asia or Africa. A den, garden and living room offer plenty of nooks for reading.
La Loggia Art and Breakfast’s rooms are airy and modern, filled with works by local Canadian artists. Bilingual hosts Rob and Joel (a personal trainer and sculptor by trade, respectively) have created space focused on tranquil creativity right near Vieux Montreal. Guests are even welcome to take sculpture classes at the nearby studio.
Perched on the edge of Plateau, one of the planet’s hippest neighborhoods, is Gingerbread Manor. Traditional decor, private baths, homemade breakfasts, and a garden are well worth coming for, but it’s the surroundings that make the Victorian manse a worthy stay—Square St. Louis and Rue St. Denis are just steps away.
Finally, A La Carte more than lives up to its well-earned reputation as one of the top B&Bs in Canada. In the family-friendly neighborhood of Rosemont with easy Metro access to downtown Montreal and the Plateau. Private rooms and a self-service apartment offer options if you’re coming with a large group. And the cute-as-a-button resident miniature poodle, Monsieur Petit, will be happy to show you around his digs.