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Montréal, Canada: A Complete One Day Guide

I recently had the pleasure of spending one day in Montréal in October, a distinctly beautiful month to visit. Whilst there are a huge number of things to do in Montréal, I found one day in Montréal still gave me a wonderful insight and experience of the city. 

I started my New England and Canada cruise trip in Montréal as the flights to here from London were far cheaper than to Québec City, which was where the ship was actually departing. Therefore, I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to include a visit to Montréal at the start of my autumnal adventure in Atlantic Canada.

You can easily spend a couple of days in Montréal and its surrounds, but this guide will cover how to spend one day in Montréal, and all the top things to do, see and eat! 

Charming residential streets in Montréal
Charming residential streets in Montréal

History of Montréal

Montréal is an eastern Canadian city island located on the St Lawrence River with notable French colonial history. It dates all the way back to the 16th century when Jacques Cartier became the first European to reach Montréal in 1535. At this time, the area was home to the St Lawrence Iroquoians, an Indigenous population. Before the Europeans arrived, the island of Montréal was a trading area for First Nations from across the region.

In 1642, a fortress name Ville Marie was built as part of the creation of the French colonial empire, before the city was surrendered to the British in 1760. Montréal formally became a city in 1832, swiftly becoming the key economic and cultural centre for Canada.

Today, Montréal is a bustling port city, and is in fact the world’s second largest French-speaking city after Paris. A truly international city, over 120 ethnic communities call this city home. Its population totals over 3.6 million.

Leafy autumnal streets near Saint Laurent Boulevard
Leafy autumnal streets near Saint Laurent Boulevard

How to get to Montreal

Downtown Montréal is just 20 minutes from the international airport, called Montréal-Trudeau (YUL). The airport is served by direct flights from London Heathrow on British Airways and Air Canada, as well as dozens of airports across Europe and the USA.

Upon landing, simply head outside to the bus stops outside the terminal and hop on the 747 airport bus to Downtown, which runs 24/7.

If you’re already in Canada, then it’s very easy to arrive in Montréal by train. The VIA Rail network connects many major cities to Montréal, as well as Amtrak from major American cities.

Getting around Montréal

I was really surprised to see how well equipped Montréal is for cyclists. From expansive bike lanes (covering a huge 780km!), to its own BIXI bike hire system. It’s a very cycle-friendly city.

It’s also a great city for walking, which was my main choice for getting around Montréal. The city is easily navigable on foot.

For longer journeys, the metro system in Montréal is super efficient, clean and safe. It is easy to navigate and a 24 hour transit pass is just CAD$11.

A chilling dog at a cafe along Saint Laurent Boulevard in Montréal
A chilling dog at a cafe along Saint Laurent Boulevard in Montréal

Where to stay in Montréal

Montréal has a huge variety of places to stay, from large international chain hotels, to cute boutique spots.

Two of the most luxurious stays in Montréal are The Ritz Carlton (starting from £383 per night). And then of course, the stunning Four Seasons hotel (starting from £427 per night).

Other more affordable hotels in Montréal include:

And for great value stays in Montréal, consider:

Charming streets of Montréal
Charming streets of Montréal

Must visit places to eat and drink in Montréal

If you eat one thing during your time in Montréal, make sure it’s poutine!

This famous dish of French fries and cheese curds, topped with lashings of brown gravy is a must-try on any trip to Canada – and specifically the region of Quebec, from where it originates. Poutine is a right of passage here, and in fact they even have yearly poutine celebrations. The dish was created in late 1950s, and there are several claims as to who first created poutine.

Either way, Montréal is of course a fantastic place to sample the delights of Canada’s national dish!

I’d heard La Banquise was the location to try poutine in Montréal. And so, I headed up to the area of La Fontaine, and specifically to Rue Rachel on foot to sample their delights. La Banquise began serving poutine in the late 1960s, and has arguably one of the most extensive poutine menus in the world. In fact, chef Anthony Bourdain recommended La Banquise as one his favourite spots in the city.

Anyway, with my one day in Montréal, it made most sense for me to visit La Banquise at breakfast. On one hand, it is a little strange to be eating poutine at 9.30 in the morning. However, a huge benefit to this was avoiding the crazy long queues that build up at La Banquise each day, and especially at the weekend. You could see the line barriers in place for when the queue gets really big. In fact, 9.30am was such a great time to visit that I was one of just two tables in there and I really got some great service from the waitress. Also, it’s worth noting that La Banquise is open 24 hours a day, so as popular as it is in the day, it’s also a great late-night eating spot too.

As it was breakfast time, I opted for the poutine with an egg on top, just to feel less bad about having a big bowl of fries for breakfast!

Other key places to try whilst in Montréal include the iconic Beavertails, also known as Queues de Castor in Montréal. These pastries are a kind of stretched out dough, something between a flat donut and a crispy pancake. They come with a huge number of toppings, or you can opt for The Classic, which is a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar. My personal favourite was the Triple Trip – a delicious combination of chocolate hazelnut spread, peanut butter and Reese’s pieces! Paired with their Classic Lemonade, it really is the best pitstop snack!

Another of the best places to eat in Montréal is Schwart’z Deli. This iconic Jewish deli is almost unchanged since it opened nearly 100 years ago in 1928. This is the place to try their brisket meat which is smoked daily. Their smoked meat sandwich is their famed signature order.

Lastly, an alternative spot to visit in Montréal is the Time Out Food market, on the upper levels of the Centre Eaton de Montréal shopping mall. It’s over 40,000 sq ft of top notch foodie outlets, and a brilliant Christmas Market in December.

For a truly definitive list of the best restaurants to eat in Montréal, make sure to check out Time Out’s guide here.

Best Things to Do in Montreal

One of the best things about Montréal is the sheer number of things to do year round. Just because Montréal experiences serious chill during the winter months, it certainly doesn’t shut down or slow down. Here are the top things to see and do in Montréal:

Old Montréal

The Old Town of Montréal, also called Le Vieux Montréal in French, is sandwiched between the Lawrence River and Rue Saint Antoine. This charming area is a must-visit on any visit to Montréal and is the city’s oldest collection of charming stores and buildings that take you right back in time.

In fact, a great way to explore Old Montréal is by joining a guided ghost tour, taking in all the best haunted sites! Or perhaps an ‘off the beaten’ path guided tour or a small-group walking tour?

Here you can find the iconic Notre Dame Basilica, which is a must visit attraction in Montreal, as well as St Joseph’s Oratory, two famous religious sites in Montréal. In fact, St Joseph’s Oratory holds the title as the largest church in Canada!

Another spot to visit in Old Montréal is Place Jacques-Cartier. This famous square connects the City Hall area to the waterfront alongside the Lawrence River. Place Jacques-Cartier is packed with history, and for centuries, this square served as a meeting place for locals and visitors. Today, it’s a great spot to soak up the atmosphere, with dozens of musicians, artists and market stalls.

Old Montréal is also home to the Old Port. So if you’re visit Montréal on a cruise, you will literally dock in the heart of the action. The port is a lively area, also home to an IMAX theatre, a Science Centre as well as a big observation wheel and seasonal activities such as a zip line in summer, and an ice rink in winter. You’ll spot plenty of locals running, walking their dogs and enjoying picnics down here.

Why not consider a sightseeing river cruise along the St Lawrence River departing from here?

Or purchase your tickets to the giant wheel ‘La Grand Roue’ here.

Mont Royal Park

This beautiful park rises high above the city, and is a must-visit sight on any trip to Montréal. On a clear day, the views from its summit stretch far and wide, showcasing breathtaking views of Montréal and the surrounding area. You can walk up here from the heart of Montréal city, or jump on bus lines 11 or 711. In the summer months, this stunning park is packed with locals enjoying BBQs and picnics, and even concerts and bird-watching. During the winter, head to Mont Royal for snowshoeing, tubing and ice skating.

Mont Royal Park in Montréal
Beautiful views from Mont Royal Park in Montréal

Biosphere of Montréal

Located on a Île Saint-Hélène in Parc Jean-Drapeau, the Biosphere is a brilliant family-friendly attraction. It’s also the largest spherical structure of its kind in the world! The Biosphere was built for Expo 67, and after it was decided to turn it into a museum focused on the environment. The museum offers a busy schedule of activities, installations and exhibitions.

Parc Jean-Drapeau is well worth a visit on its own too. In the summer months, head here for a beautiful city beach at Jean Doré. There’s also canoeing, pedal boats, cycling, a brilliant water park and plenty of spaces to picnic amongst the flowers and public art installations. In the winter, visit the park for ice skating, tobogganing, snowshoeing and winter hiking.

The Biosphere of Montreal
The Biosphere of Montréal

Saint Laurent Boulevard

This famous street encompasses some of the city’s best shopping, eating and nightlife.

It’s a must-visit for anyone keen to take in Montréal’s culinary and fashion scene. During the day, stop by for artsy cafes and eclectic stores. And in the evening, head back for craft beers, cabaret shows, cool nightclubs and divebars.

Visit the Underground City

I first read about Montréal’s subterranean city in the Guinness World of Records back when I was a kid. Also known as La Ville Souterraine, this underground world has over 20 miles (32km) of tunnels linking together shops, restaurants, hotels and transport links, all helping residents avoid the cold in the winter months.

If I’m honest, I was a little disappointed with the Underground City. Mostly because it was so hard to navigate. The signage in the Underground City isn’t clear and I got really lost inside. Unless you’re really into shopping, I would actually give this a miss. Or, alternatively join a tour of the Underground City & Downtown?

Big city streets in Montréal
Big city streets in Montréal

Marché Jean Talon

On the other side of the city, this foodie market is popular with locals, particularly on the weekend. Whilst possibly not feasible in one day in Montréal, if you have longer or are particularly keen to take in all the culinary scene, then this market is a must-visit. Jean Talon Market is actually one of the largest open-air markets in Montréal and is the perfect place to pick up some local specialties.

Beautiful fall day in Montreal
Montréal’s city skyline

Best Things to Do in Montréal

So, there’s my complete guide to all of the best things to do in Montréal, Canada. I really hope this blog post has helped in your research and planning for your trip to Montréal, and how to best spend one day in the city. If you’re looking for a more detailed blog post on nearby Québec City, make sure to check out my guide here.

As always, let me know if you have any questions.

If you’re also planning a New England and Canada Fall cruise, then make sure to check out my detailed blog post on my experience here.

Disclaimer: This guide has no involvement from the local tourism board or a hotel.

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