My Recommendations After Spending a Month in Montréal
I spent most of June 2023 in Montréal, Canada. I treated it as my home for the month, and although I was far from considering myself a “local”, I got to experience more of the city than a tourist typically would.
Here’s what I’d recommend to people taking a short trip to Montréal (3–5 days).
Don’t rent a car. You won’t need one unless you have mobility issues.
Get a 3-day transit pass at the airport, or at any metro stop. Reload it with 1-day passes once that expires. That’ll give you unlimited rides on all the buses and trains within the city. There’s a bus (747 line) that’ll take you from the airport to downtown.
The trains within the city are great. Looking at a map, the metro system doesn’t seem very extensive compared to other cities, but it got me close to everywhere I wanted to go. The trains came every 5–6 minutes in literally every stop I visited on every line. I rarely had to wait more than 3 minutes for a train.
As with any urban area, half the fun of being in Montréal is exploring the different neighborhoods. I’ve broken down most of my recommendations by neighborhood.
If you’re visiting for a short trip, you’ll likely be staying in Old Montréal or somewhere not too far away. This is obviously a super touristy and crowded area, but it’s very charming and definitely worth walking around. Just don’t spend too much time here, as there’s so much more to explore.
Don’t miss the Notre-Dame Basilica. The inside of this church is gorgeous. I highly recommend checking out the Aura light show in the evening, and getting your tickets online to avoid the long line. This was one of my favorite attractions in the city. I expected it to be a generic light show with a single projector, but it was so much more than that. Much of the interior architecture has lights built into it, which is perfectly timed with everything projected onto it. There’s also a laser show towards the end. Afterwards, they turn the normal lights on so you can see the inside of the church in its full glory.
See a Cirque du Soleil show if there’s one going on. Although they have shows all over the world, this region of Canada is their birthplace. The building looks like an old-school circus tent, and this definitely felt like more of an “experience” than other Cirque shows I’ve seen where they just rented out a general-purpose theater. I saw ECHO, which was fantastic, and I’m sure all the future shows here will be equally great.
While I don’t have much food to recommend in Old Montréal, I can definitely recommend getting a Beaver Tail as a little desert. It’s a thin piece of deep fried dough, sort of like a doughnut, but a little crispier. My favorite flavor is Killaloe Sunrise, which has cinnamon and sugar and lemon juice. Hazel Amour (which has a Nutella-like spread) is also really good. Here’s a video I made about this place.
This is a super fun neighborhood. It’s easy to walk to from downtown, and seems to have a good mix of tourists and locals.
St. Denis street, St. Laurent street, and Mont-Royal avenue are all super lively streets to walk along. St. Denis has a ton of shops and is great in the daytime. St. Laurent is great at any time of day or night, as there are tons of restaurants and street murals, and also a lot of nightlife.
Schwartz’s Deli has a great smoked meat sandwich. It’s very simple — basically just meat and mustard on bread — and makes you realize you don’t need all kinds of toppings to have a great sandwich. This is a pretty touristy spot and the line can get long, but it’s worth it. If you don’t want to wait, go in the takeout line (which moves pretty quickly) and enjoy your sandwich while strolling along St. Laurent street.
You can’t visit Canada without having some poutine. You can get poutine all over Montréal, but La Banquise is probably the most famous spot among visitors. There’s a huge variety of poutine and it’s open 24 hours, making it great for any meal including late-night drunk food. If you don’t want to dine in, you can order from the takeout line and eat it on the public benches around the corner.
There’s even better poutine across the street at Ma Poule Mouillée, which seems to be where more of the locals go (judging by the number of local police who were waiting in line with us). There’s only one variety, which comes loaded with Portuguese-style chicken. Go here if you’re in the area multiple times. If you’re visiting the city and can only make it to one of these spots, I’d recommend La Banquise (see above) as it’s more of an experience.
This is my favorite neighborhood in Montréal. It’s super artsy and laid-back, and also very tiny. You can see the entire neighborhood in an afternoon.
You can’t visit Mile End without getting a bagel. Montréal is famous for its unique style of bagels. They’re super different than a New York bagel, so don’t try to compare them. These are smaller and mostly eaten as a snack without slicing them or topping them with anything. The two big spots are Fairmount and St-Viateur, which are named after the streets they’re on. There’s no clear consensus about which one is better, and everyone has a different opinion, so try them both! Definitely get a sesame bagel from each place, as the sesame ones are typically fresh out of the oven. Any other flavor is likely to be cold by the time you get it.
The best value food I had in Montréal was from Drogheria Fine, which serves $5 gnocchi in a Chinese takeout box out of a window. It’s a pretty substantial amount of food for the price, and so tasty. There tends to be a long line, but it moves really fast since they only sell one thing.
For ice cream, go to Kem CoBa and get the soft serve swirl. They had different flavors each week, and all were delicious and very picturesque.
Chez Pinkita is a super interesting spot that’s worth stopping in. It’s a cross between a laundromat and a convenience store with lots of Asian snacks and drinks. And lots of pink. Their house dragonfruit drink (non-alcoholic) is pretty good, especially on a hot day.
Recommended lunch plan: If you come here for an afternoon, here’s what I’d suggest. Start with a sesame bagel from St-Viateur’s original location ($1.20), walk along Parc Ave over to Fairmount Street, get a sesame bagel from Fairmount ($1.20), gnocchi from Drogheria Fine ($5), and finish it off with the soft serve swirl at Kem CoBa ($5.30). All of these are great for eating while walking.
This neighborhood has the best food I had in Montréal. A great way to spend an afternoon is by walking along Wellington Street and then circling back through the park along the St. Lawrence River.
I’m from Chicago, which has its fair share of great Italian subs. But I was blown away by Bossa. This little Italian deli has AMAZING sandwiches. Even if you don’t plan on spending much time in Verdun, it’s worth going to this neighborhood just for these sandwiches. We got the Porchetta and the Philly Hoagie, and both were insanely good. Don’t pass on the Olive Oil Cake either! Really, the only thing missing from this place is some Chicago-style giard. There’s not much seating, so if it’s a nice day, take it to go and have a picnic along the river.
My friend who grew up in Montréal said, Beba has the best food in the city, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s by far the most expensive place in this whole post, but totally worth it. Great for a date night or a nice night out with a small group of friends. The tables get reserved well in advance, but it’s not too hard to snag a last-minute reservation at the bar (which serves the full food menu). Resy alerts are very useful for this. Sitting at the bar is great because the bar staff is super friendly, and you can look into the kitchen and watch your food being made. The menu seems to change frequently, so I won’t bother recommending specific items. We got 6 things (which was about half the menu) and all of them were excellent.
Chinatown is right outside Old Montréal, so you’ll probably be near here anyway. Walk along the pedestrian-only part of Rue de la Gauchetière.
Stop outside Nouilles de Lan Zhou and watch them make hand-pulled noodles, which can be seen from the street. It’s mesmerizing to watch how quickly they work. The food looks better than it tastes, and it’s not worth actually eating here. My favorite place to eat in this area was across the street at a Vietnamese spot called Pho Bang New York.
Go to the Biosphere and take some pictures in front of it. There’s a museum inside, but I heard it’s not worth it so I didn’t go inside. Definitely take the metro, since the tunnel it takes is way more convenient than the bridge that cars and pedestrians have to take.
The Botanical Garden is huge, and you could easily spend a whole day here. It’s not near anything on this list, but it’s right by a metro stop, so it’s very easy to get to. If you don’t want to spend too much time here, go straight to the Chinese Garden, which is the most beautiful thing I saw in the whole city.
Next to the Botanical Garden is the Insectarium, which is well worth the additional fee. I normally hate insects, but I’m very glad I went to this. There’s one room that’s full of live butterflies, and another where you can see thousands of ants carrying bits of leaves across a log.
Mount Royal Park is a massive park in the middle of the city. Geographically, it reminds me of Central Park in New York City. You won’t have time to explore the whole park, but definitely check out this lookout point for amazing views of the city. The journey to the top will make you forget you’re in a city for a bit. Don’t forget to bring water!
If you’re in Mount Royal Park on a Sunday in the summer between noon and sunset, head to this monument for the weekly Tam-Tams festival, where you’ll find hundreds of people playing drums and dancing, all in a very uncoordinated way.
If you’re in a bar and can’t decide what to order, get some maple whisky. It’s great for sipping, or as a shot. It’s really sweet (but not too sweet) and doesn’t really taste like whisky.
Last but not least, don’t forget that you’re in the French part of Canada! If you pass a French bakery (look for the French word “boulangerie” — they’re everywhere), stop in and grab a croissant or another pastry.
Boulangerie Pain à Tartine, my favorite bakery near where we stayed.
Montréal is such a beautiful and vibrant city. While I can’t speak about the winter, summer in Montréal is so full of life. I love how walkable it is, especially with so many streets being pedestrian-only during the summer months. It’s like a little slice of Europe that just happens to be located in North America. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
For more, check out a map of all the food I ate in Montréal.