There’s always something going on in Montreal. It’s the kind of city where you can be out enjoying your evening, and suddenly see Cirque de Soleil performers dangling from a crane high above the crowds. Yes, that really happened. Montreal is older than Canada itself, and it’s full of interesting neighbourhoods, great food, and iconic places. With this Montreal itinerary 3 days is all you need to experience the city.
Growing up in a neighbouring city just 2 hours away from Montreal, I’ve visited many times. Most visits were day trips for sporting events or class field trips, which didn’t involved much exploring or getting to know the city. It was only when I visited Montreal for 3 days as an adult that I really felt immersed in the city, and discovered just how much there is to do and see.
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- What to Expect in Montreal, Canada
- The Perfect Montreal Itinerary – 3 Days
- Day 1 – Old Montreal
- Day 2 – Mile End and Mount Royal
- Day 3 – Olympic Park
- Montreal Neighbourhoods Worth Exploring
- How to Get Around in Montreal
- Where to Eat in Montreal
- Where to Stay in Montreal
What to Expect in Montreal, Canada
French is the official language, but most residents speak English. There are a lot of places in Quebec where knowing a little bit of French is essential, but Montreal isn’t one of them. The majority of the residents speak English, and particularly in the downtown you won’t have any trouble in English. However, you might run in to a few people who only speak french, so learning a few phrases before you go is a good idea!
There are special events and festivals all the time. Montreal is bumping, all the time. Festivals, free shows in the park, special events. It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit, there’s always a festival or event of some kind, and it just might be your thing. Make you sure you check out Montreal Tourism’s festival and event page before your visit to find out what’s on while you’re there.
Montreal is incredibly diverse. Montreal is super LGBT-friendly (there’s even an area called the Gay Village) and it consistently has some of the highest immigration rates in Canada, and has for a long time. The result is people of all different backgrounds, and it’s part of what makes Montreal so incredible, particularly when it comes to the food. Families have been moving to Montreal from all over the world for generations, and bringing their amazing recipes with them.
3 days really is enough. In truth, if you’re wondering how many days to spend in Montreal – 3 is ideal. A weekend in Montreal or a few days is perfect, either as a getaway or part of a longer cross Canada trip. A few days in the city is plenty of time to learn it’s history, see the major landmarks, eat good food, and explore. It’s all about having a good plan, and this with this Montreal itinerary, 3 days will be perfect
The Perfect Montreal Itinerary – 3 Days
Day 1 – Old Montreal
Montreal is a big city, so it’s best to explore by area. The first, and my favourite area of the city, is Old Montreal and the Old Port. There are often events going on in this area, at the Old Port, and it’s great place for walking and eating out. This itinerary can be done in any order, depending on what time you want to start your day, or are arriving in Montreal.
If you’re breezing through and trying to decide what to see in Montreal in 1 day instead of 3, this Day One itinerary + Mount Royal is what I recommend!
Old Montreal Walking Tour
Wherever I travel, walking tours are one of my favourite ways to start a trip. They help you get oriented, and learn you way around so that you can see and do more later. While Montreal is way too big to cover in just one walking tour, Old Montreal is an area that you will want to keep coming back to. It’s a great point of reference for other areas and many points of interest, too. I absolutely love history, and with Montreal being one of the first cities in Canada, it is brimming with interesting (and straight up bizarre) stories.
Old Montreal is separated in to two sections, East and West. Go on a walking tour that covers both sides, like this one. This is the one that I went on, and our guide had great suggestions, pointed out spots that we went back to visit later, and took us to really cool places. Old Montreal is full of little secrets that you just won’t find on your own.
Montreal City Hall
If you want to add a little more history to your day and you’re visiting Montreal in the summer, guided tours of City Hall are available Monday to Friday. The tours begin in late June and go until the end of August. The tour takes about 40 minutes and is free, and they’re offered in English and French at different times. The last English tour of the day is at 4 PM. Check out the full schedule here.
Notre Dame Basilica
Notre Dame Basilica can be visited any time of day, depending on how you want to visit. This iconic basilica is one of Old Montreal’s most popular attractions, but it’s main purpose is still to offer services on a daily basis. Every single option involves long line ups in front of Notre Dame in the summer, so come early!
- Attend a service: Mass runs Monday through Friday at 7:30 AM and 12:15 PM, Saturdays at 5:00 PM, and Sundays at 8:00 AM, 9:30 AM, 11:00 AM, and 5:00 PM. This is a real church service – no photography or related tourist-like behaviours. The main advantages to visiting this way are, first, that you get to experience the basilica as it was intended, organ music and all. Secondly, there’s no fee.
- Go on a guided tour: Guided tours run every 20 minutes, every day. There’s a $6 fee, and you will learn about the history, construction, and architecture of the Notre Dame Basilica. You can also go in without the guide, but you still pay the fee.
- And Then There Was Light: This is a sound and light show, that takes you through the history of the basilica. The show runs Tuesday – Saturday evening, and it costs $10 for adults.
- Include it in a tour: The Old Montreal Walking Tour that I recommended above includes the Notre Dame Basilica in the tour.
Stay Out Late for Cité Memoire
Once you’re in Old Montreal, I recommend staying there to explore. Revisit some of the same places again after the sun goes down, and explore Old Montreal with Cité Memoire. This is a free app that you can download, and then follow a map around Old Montreal to find historical video locations.
The entire area is set up with Wifi, so you won’t blow through you data plan and if you’re travelling without one, you can still take part. When you find a Cité Memoire marker, use the app to activate a video projection. A projection will appear on the side of the nearest building with a brief video, and voice over to share a fun moment or interesting fact from Montreal’s history.
Day 2 – Mile End and Mount Royal
Eat Your Way Through Mile End
The Mile End area is one of Montreal’s trendiest neighbourhoods these days, as it’s got a growing artistic community and some incredibly skilled chefs and bakers in the area. It’s one of those picturesque areas, with houses that have exterior staircases and big flower baskets. There’s also a lot of fun, funky street art so make sure you bring your camera.
When I visited, I decided to do a Food Tour of Mile End, which was a fantastic way to try a ton of different foods in a short time. It included a couple of neat historical locations, too. Whether you go with a tour or on your own, there are a few places you’ve got to try:
- St-Viateur Bagels: this place is famous for making the best bagels in the world. My expectations were high, and totally met. Delicious!
- Kem Coba. This is the best ice cream in the area. I had a rose / raspberry ice cream here that I will never forget.
- Drogheria Fine. My personal favourite, Drogheria Fine is a small Italian spot, with homemade gnocchi and family-recipe pasta sauce.
Hike to the Top Mount Royal
Mount Royal is only a short ways from Mile End. Follow Avenue des Pins in to the McGill campus until you find a wooden staircase that leads up to the top. This is a significantly faster way up than starting the hike elsewhere. If you enter from Avenue de Parc, you’re in for a long walk.
Once you’re at the top, Mount Royal is one of the best skyline views of Montreal there is!
There are a couple of options once you reach the chalet – go back down, or keep walking to Beaver Lake. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the Mount Royal Chalet to Beaver Lake, which is beautiful area with lots of seasonal activities. There’s paddle boats, a park, and a nice picnic area.
The easiest way to leave is to walk back up to the Chalet and exit the same way you came up.
St Joseph’s Oratory
If you’re up for a little history and culture, St Joseph’s Oratory is on the far side of Mount Royal. This beautiful basilica is Canada’s largest church, and it has one of the largest domes in the entire world. Don’t walk here from Mount Royal’s chalet, it’s far. Go back down, then bike or walk over.
Guided tours of St Joseph’s operate daily from June to August for $5, at 1:30 PM and 3:00 PM. If there’s not a guided tour going on while you visit, you can pick up a self-guided tour pamphlet for a $2 donation. The self-guided tour is very comprehensive, this is what I followed on my visit. It takes you everywhere, and you’ll learn tons of history!
Aside from it’s impressive size, St Joseph’s Oratory is also a place where many miracles are said to have taken place. Thousands were reportedly healed through a man Brother André. He says it was St Joseph that made the healings possible, thus the name of the basilica.
Day 3 – Olympic Park
On Day 3, you’re headed across the city to Montreal Olympic Park and Espace de la Vie, and then back to the downtown in the afternoon.
The Olympic Stadium
The Olympic Stadium opened in 1976, and today can take a guided tour and go up the observation tower for an incredible view of Montreal. The Biodome actually used to be part of Olympic Park, the building was home to a velodrome for track cycling races.
The Olympic Stadium itself is still an operational sports stadium, with seating for 56,000 spectators.There are tours available, or you can enter the stadium and walk through the pools yourself. The Montreal Tower Observatory (view ticket prices) can be accessed separately, and it’s a pretty quick ride to the top. Once you’re up there, the views and photo opportunities are amazing, and there’s a nice gift shop to pick up souvenirs.
Montreal Botanical Gardens
The Montreal Botanical Gardens are among my favourite gardens in the world. There’s a lot of variety within the gardens, including everything from a First Nations Garden to a Chinese Garden.
One of the things that comes up every time you search for information on the Montreal Botanical Gardens are pictures of beautiful, massive living plant sculptures. I’ll try to spare you some disappointed by telling you right now – that was a special exhibit. It moves around, and there are not always living sculptures in the Montreal Botanical Gardens. Even so, the permanent gardens are beautiful!
Catch a Show at Place Émilie-Gamelin
Place Émilie-Gamelin is a park that exploded in to an outdoor theatre and events venue a few years ago. Come summer, pretty much every afternoon and evening is accounted for with some kind of awesome show. And, a lot of the events are free. Check out the events schedule to find out what’s on while you’re there.
One element of Montreal that you can’t miss of your visit is the incredible performances. Theatre, music, and other performing arts are a big part of the city’s culture.
Montreal Neighbourhoods Worth Exploring
Got another day, just not feeling one of the items on the suggested itinerary, or want to see more? There are lots of other areas in Montreal worth exploring. You can either see them on an additional day in the city, or slide a neighbourhood in to one of your days.
- China Town: This is fun if you want a change of scenery, or to dry some interesting foods. China Town is incredibly vibrant, lots of bright colours, noise, and very busy. On our way through we tried bubble tea and dragon candy. If you want to visit China Town on this itinerary, add it to Day One.
- Plateau-Mount Royal: this neighbourhood is close to Mile End (they blend together) and it’s adorable. With it being so close, it’s only natural to add it to Day 3 of this itinerary. Plateau is a very trendy, great for Instagram kind of area where you can go for a nice walk and have a great coffee. This blog has great suggestions of things to see in the area.
- The Underground City: there’s a whole other world underneath Montreal. There are stores, walkways, fountains, and “outdoor” patios (as in you’re under ground, but you’re outside the under ground restaurant… still technically outdoors?) There are entrances all over the city, and one is right by McGill, near the staircase for Mount Royal. This makes it a great addition to any day!
- The Village: The Village (also known as the Gay Village) and the Latin Quarter are areas of Montreal with great bars, shows, and clubs. The Village has become Instagram famous in recent years because of the thousands or tiny bulbs hung over the street that form a rainbow. This is a great area to have lunch after a busy morning at Olympic Park.
How to Get Around in Montreal
Montreal is a big city, but it’s transit systems and paths are well-designed and easy to navigate. Whatever method of transit you choose, there are great maps available and lots of signs through out the city to help you find your way.
- Bixi Bikes: The Bixi bikes sytem is one the easiest and cheapest ways to get around in Montreal. The stations are all over Montreal the place in the downtown, so returning or exchanging the bikes is never an issue. There are beautiful bike paths all through Montreal, so you rarely have to ride on the road. It costs $5 for a day pass, which gives you unlimited 30 minutes rides.
- The Metro: There are 68 metro stations in Montreal, over 4 different lines. Honestly, if you can avoid taking the metro that is better because it is a confusing and overwhelming place. If you are going a far enough distance to merit the metro, make you sure to plan your route carefully before you go, and get familiar with the metro system map.
- Walk: Montreal is a very walkable city, particularly if you’ve got a good plan for the day (hint hint, like this itinerary!) that keeps you within one area. There’s no need to be in transit more than a couple times a day!
- Take the bus: the city buses in Montreal are easy to use and come frequently. Once again, make sure you know your route ahead of time.
Where to Eat in Montreal
Montreal is known for it’s food, so be prepared to eat a lot, and to eat well. These are a few of my favourite places that I found during my last visit, with great food and reasonable prices.
Tip: The more you use bixi bikes and walking as your transit, the more beaver tails you can have.
- Montreal Poutine and Beaver Tails: When in Montreal, there are two Canadian favourites that you absolutely must try. These are poutine and beaver tails. You can find both in Old Montreal. Montreal Poutine is right off of Place Jacques Cartier, the main square in Old Montreal. The Beaver Tail stand faces the water on the other side, along Rue de la Commune.
- Taverne Gaspar: We were thrilled to discover hearty breakfast at very reasonable prices (around $12) at Taverne Gaspar. They have lunch and dinner menus too, though we didn’t try them. This restaurant is part of a boutique hotel in Old Montreal. There is street access, and you don’t have to be a guest to have breakfast here.
- Bonaparte: Bonaparte is a great option if you want to enjoy an upscale, multi-course dinner without breaking the bank. The Table d’Hôte menu has many options and includes an appetizer, a main course, dessert, and tea or coffee. FYI they offer you water or sparkling water when you sit down. The sparkling water was notably good, but also $10.
- Mile End Montreal: I touched on this in the Day 2 itinerary but I’ll share it again; eats lots in Mile End. St-Viatuer Bagels, Kem Coba, Panthere Verte, and Drogheria Fine are some of my favourite places in the area.
Where to Stay in Montreal
- Auberge du Vieux-Port: a boutique hotel that opens out on to the main street of Old Montreal. It’s has it’s own spa, a gym, and roof top patio looking out over the Old Port. I loved Auberg du Vieux-Port because I could get up to take photos of Old Montreal early in the morning – you’re already there!
- Hotel Zero 1: a beautiful hotel with a prime location. It’s right by the entrance to China Town, and a short walk from Old Montreal. This budget friendly option includes kitchenettes, so you can prepare your own meals in-room.
- Auberge Le Pomerol: fun yet cozy, this hotel is located part way between Old Montreal and Olympic Park, and it’s near the Greyhound station. There’s a great breakfast spread every morning!