Old Montreal is the first place you need to go when you visit Montreal. It’s got that charming, old European city feel is full of iconic landmarks and lesser known finds. There are so many things to do in Old Montreal, from exploring on your own to enjoying a museum or tour, or trying some of the local cuisine.
If you’re visiting Montreal for the first time and only have a few days, check out my Montreal itinerary to make the most of your visit. The first day is spent exploring Old Montreal! This blog post is perfect for you if you’re looking to spend a couple of days in Old Montreal, or if you have been before and want discover more of the area. There are some places in the Old Montreal Sights section that I’m confident you’ve never heard of!
I’ve been to Old Montreal several times, and every time I have done or seen something different. Sure, the most classic of the things to do in Old Montreal is explore St. Paul’s street, but there’s so much more to the area than that. Given more time to explore or a repeat visit, you’re going to find that Old Montreal is full of awesome places.
Tips for Visiting Old Montreal
Here are a few things to know before you visit Old Montreal!
Walk everywhere: Old Montreal is the perfect place for walking. Many of the main streets are actually pedestrian only. The area is relatively small and very walkable and easy to navigate. Leave your car, and take the metro to Old Montreal.
Take the metro to Old Montreal: Montreal’s metro consists of three lines. The orange line services Old Montreal. Stops Champ-de-Mars, Place-d’Armes, and, though a little ways out, Square-Victoria–OACI will all bring you within a couple minutes walk of Old Montreal. Choose your stop based on where you want to go first. If you’re not sure yet, get off at Place-d’Armes. It’s the most central to Old Montreal.
Bring cash: there are some vendors, particularly smaller food vendors, that only accept cash in Old Montreal. It’s good to have a little bit of cash on hand, but otherwise most sit-down restaurants do accept debit and credit.
Public washrooms: There are two public washrooms in Old Montreal, at either end of the greenspace by the water front. Most museums also have washrooms that you can use once inside. Cafés and businesses may require you to make purchases.
- What to do in Montreal for 3 Days: Suggested Itinerary and Travel Guide
- Montreal in the Winter: Winter Activities, Festivals, and Food
- Mile End Montreal Food Tour
Things to do in Old Montreal
Old Montreal is one of the most beautiful areas of Montreal, and no matter how many times you’ve been there are always more things to do in Old Montreal and more places to find. There might be a few familiar places listed here if you’ve been before… but I’m confident that some of them will be new to you!
Old Montreal Sights and Photography Locations
The Clock Tower
The Clock Tower at Old Montreal’s port is one of the most recognizable landmarks along the water. This summer from May 31 – September 2 (2019) you can climb to the top of the clock tower for free from 11AM to 7PM for beautiful views of the St Lawrence river.
The Clock Tower itself makes a great photography subject! Walk along the paths nearby to enjoy different vantage points.
Outside and in, La Basilique Notre-Dame is a must-see on your visit to Old Montreal. If you’re looking to take photos, enter without or without a guided tour for $8 (adult). The guided tour lasts 20 minutes, and it’s a great way to learn more about the space and the important historical events that have taken place here.
BAnQ Vieux Montreal
I couldn’t believe my ears when a clerk that works here told me that only a few dozen people a day come through this beautiful library. BAnQ Vieux-Montreal is a research and archive library, and considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. It’s free to enter any time during regular business hours.
Please note that this is primarily a functioning research library. There will be people working during your visit, so be respectful and silent!
The heart of Old Montreal, Place Jacques-Cartier opens on to the Old Port at one end and the regal City Hall stands tall at the other end. Whenever a festival is on in Old Montreal, this is the hub. Come summer, the patios are beautiful and covered in flavours.
Note: There’s construction going on here right now (updated summer 2019). The bottom quarter of the square is not accessible, but the top part is.
Bonsecours Market is a shopping market located in Old Montreal, along St Paul Street. It has the domed roof that you recognize in skyline photos of Old Montreal. The building is also beautiful from the ground, with a magnificent entry-way comprised of tall pillars.
There are usually beautiful flower boxes out front, too. Get the best view of Bonsecours Market from the sky by going for a drink at the rooftop patio of Auberge du Vieux-Port, or on a visit to Marguerite-Bourgeoys museum.
World Trade Centre
The World Trade Centre might not sound like one of the most exciting things to do in Old Montreal but believe me, if beautiful places and photography are your thing this building is for you. The lobby has beautiful, angled windows that throw light throughout the building and there’s a fountain further back with amazing reflections.
Tip: There’s a piece of the Berlin Wall hidden in plain sight! The concrete, graffiti slab you see in the photo below is an important piece of history, gifted to Montreal on it’s 350th birthday.
Montreal Conference Centre
The Montreal Conference Centre has all the rainbow-tinted glass you could ever want. This multi-story building has an entire facade of different coloured panels of glass on one side (making it really easy to find). For fun, colourful, and creative photos, stop by earlier in the day when sunlight is projecting colours around the inside of the building.
Easily Old Montreal’s most beautiful street, Rue Saint-Paul has been a definite need-to-see location for years. Note: Rue Saint-Paul is undergoing major renovations in 2019. Like, major. The splendour of Rue Saint-Paul is temporarily gone so if you’re visiting right now… here are some substitute streets with charm: Rue Saint-Urbain and Rue Sainte-Hélène. No, they’re not quite as cute and colourful as Rue Saint-Paul, but you will enjoy some old buildings and cobblestones!
Le Grand Roue
This is quickly becoming Montreal’s prime photo spot. Fortunately, in my experience, people are super respectful of letting everyone get the photograph they’re hoping. Le Grand Roue is a Ferris wheel in the Old Port, and you can ride it year round. It makes a stunning backdrop for photos summer and winter in Old Montreal.
Château Ramezay Gardens
I walked right past these gardens a few times, without ever knowing that they were there. The Château Ramezay gardens are fully enclosed by a tall stone wall, so they’re easy to miss. Once inside, these small but beautiful gardens are the perfect place to escape busy streets and relax for a moment. They’re extraordinarily well-maintened, and the overgrown walls make an incredible portrait photography background.
Old Montreal Museums, Tours, and Activities
If this is your first visit to Montreal, then I recommend using my 3 Days in Montreal Itinerary: Day 1 – Old Montreal to start your trip! It includes the highlights that will give you the best first-time visitor experience of Old Montreal. Use this list of things to do in Montreal if you’re on a longer trip, or are revisiting Montreal.
Historical Walking Tour
If you love history, then you’re definitely going to want to go on an Old Montreal Historical Walking Tour. Old Montreal is separated in to East and West sections. This walking tour (which I absolutely loved) takes you through both. There are all kinds of fun and fascinating stories through out Old Montreal that you can’t begin to guess at. Even if you’ve done sightseeing on your own using the Old Montreal Map + Guide, I highly recommend the historical walking tour to really get familiar with Montreal’s stories.
Catch an interesting hour or two at Marguerite-Bourgeouys museum, and take in great views from the highest lookout in Old Montreal in the tower while you’re there. Marguerite-Bourgeous was Montreal’s first teacher, and a Saint after her death. The museum includes an audio guide, so you can listen and learn about this remarkable woman’s story. There museum is inside a building that was once a church, and there’s even a crypt below that you can visit.
Open daily May 1 to October 31, 10AM to 6PM. Closed Mondays the rest of the year. $12 entrance fee for adults.
Paddle Boat or Skate
Enjoy Old Montreal from the water by renting a paddle boat in the summer or going skating beneath Le Grand Roue in the winter. One of my all time favourite things to do in Old Montreal is skate at Natrel Skating rink in the river. I haven’t gone out on a paddle boat in the summer myself yet, but I saw them beneath Le Grand Roue on my last visit and can’t wait to do it myself!
Old Montreal Food Tour
I went on the Mile End Montreal for tour with Local Food Tours, and they also have an Old Montreal food tour. While I haven’t done this tour myself, I can vouch for Local Food Tours being a great experience. They’ve chosen some really unique and interesting locations for their Old Montreal tour that are sure to delight!
The Château Ramezay is a museum and historic building in Old Montreal, across from Montreal City Hall. It was built in 1705 to be the residence for the governor of Montreal at that time. Today, it’s Quebec’s oldest museum and you can visit to learn what life was like in the early 1700’s. I love that the guided are dressed up appropriate for the time-period!
Montreal City Hall
If you’re looking to add a little more history to your trip, visit Montreal City Hall during the summer months. Guided tours are available daily until 4PM. Note: Montreal City Hall is closed to the public in summer 2019 for renovations.
Pointe-à-Callière Museum is a great addition to your day if you love history. This is a museum of archaeology and history, home to artefacts from First Nations of the Montreal area. The museum will take you through the history of the British and French arriving in Montreal. The permanent exhibit is the main attraction, and there are also visiting exhibits a few times a year.
Relax and unwind at Montreal’s waterfront spa, Bota-Bota. The primary spa experience is a Scandinavian-style thermal experience consisting of heat, cold, and relaxation. Spa, body, and facial treatments are also available. Most notably, Both-Bota has a beautiful and unique view of Old Montreal. The upper deck looks out over the water. Combine the layover treatment (3 hour access to the pools) with a facial or massage.
Bank of Montreal Museum
I’ll be transparent and say the word “museum” is a bit of a stretch – but, it’s always free! This is an exhibit, located in a stunning neoclassical building. Think traditional, out-of-a-movie banks, and you’ve got it. There’s a short exhibit located inside that gives a history of how the Bank of Montreal came to be what it is today. It’s worth visiting for the architecture alone, because banks certainly aren’t build like this anymore.
Old Montreal Food and Cafés
While you’re out and about exploring Old Montreal, you will need to refuel! Here are some of my favourite restaurants and cafés in the area. Bonus: they’re all super beautiful.
Tommy Café: this beautiful, 3 story café is set in the former British Empire building. It’s got all the natural light, wooden furniture, and hanging plants of your café dreams.
Collective Crew: once a bank, now a glorious co-working space, Collective Crew is the perfect place for lunch, coffee, and good-quality wifi if you’re travelling for work.
Xavier Artisan: this café is in the same square as Basilica Notre-Dame, making it the perfect place to stop and rest your legs between time spent exploring Old Montreal.
Restaurants and Food
Ikanos: for a delicious, 3 course meal table d’hôte style for only $24 visit Ikanos on McGill street. It’s an incredibly good deal on some delicious food.
Montreal Poutine: off of Place Jacques Cartier, Montreal Poutine is my Montreal go-to for this Canadian favourite. Try it at least once!
Hà Restaurant: for traditional Vietnamese food in the heart of Old Montreal, head to Hà restaurant. It’s open for lunch and dinner and is known for it’s cocktails.
Venice MTL: want a lighter, beach-like feel? Venice MTL serves tacos, salads, and poke bowls perfect for keeping it healthy while travelling. Gluten free and vegetarian foods are on the menu!