Montréal, a world away
Montréal feels like a world away from English-speaking North America. Just a few hours from where I’m from in New England, this lively city in French-speaking Québec, and the second-largest in Canada, will make you think for a second that you’ve traveled to Europe. There’s so many things to do in Montréal, especially in the summer, and I certainly have not done all of them, but I wanted to share my favorites with you. I’m already thinking about going back very soon.
Things to Do in Montréal
My top-7 favorite things to do in Montréal
Foodies, art enthusiasts, urban adventurers, there’s something in Montréal for everyone. These are seven of my favorites.
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1. Tour Marché Jean-Talon
No visit to Montréal is complete without a visit to Marché Jean-Talon, the city’s best public market. No ordinary farmer’s market, Marché Jean-Talon’s stalls are filled with artisanal Québécois food products as well as fresh produce. Open year-round, you can pick up supplies for a lovely picnic or even grab ingredients for cooking at your apartment, if you’re staying in an Airbnb. It’s also just perfect for a wander and a snack at the market. When you’re done, wander around Montréal’s Little Italy.
If you want to get more out of your visit to Marché Jean-Talon, then check out the Beyond the Market Food Tour, which enriches your experience at the market itself, as well as giving you a taste of the culinary delights Montréal has to offer beyond just the market. Note that while the market is open year-round, the tour is seasonal.
2. Eat and drink!
Speaking of the Marché Jean-Talon and things culinary, one of the absolute best things to do in Montréal is eat and drink! It isn’t just poutine, though that is food of the gods. Indeed, some of the best vegetable-forward food I’ve had in a long time I had at Le Vin Pappillon. And don’t get me started about the wine there.
You also have to try the bagels. Yes, really. Head to Mile End and explore the neighborhood with bagel stops on the way.
3. Go off in search of murals
Street-art lovers, this is your town. Finding murals was one of my very favorite things to do in Montréal. Murals abound all over the city. You can’t miss the giant Leonard Cohen mural Downtown (hint: check it out when visiting the fine arts museum—see below), but everywhere you go in the city, you’ll find a lively mural scene. My favorites were in Le Plateau/Mont Royal.
Montréal has embraced street art over the last twenty years and hosts festivals, including the internationally renowned MURAL Festival, held in June, and the Under Pressure International Graffiti Festival, held in August. Even if you’re not in town for the festivals, there’s more than enough art all over the city.
4. Explore Green Alleyways (Ruelle Verte)
Montréal’s housing is mostly very close together, with limited backyard space and an alleyway running the length of the street. This was mostly unused space and potentially dangerous.
Green Alleyway history
In 1997, the city developed a program where neighbors could band together and apply for a grant to create a Green Alleyway (Ruelle Verte) behind their homes. The alleyways get cleaned up, and have green spaces (hence the “green”—part of the benefit is to counter the heat-island effect), some have art, and the neighbors use them as a gathering place to socialize. During the pandemic, the number of Green Alleyways soared, and there’s now 450 of them in the city.
Open to you
The cool part is that most of them are open to the public, so you can tour them, too. I learned about them in the Beyond the Market Food Tour we went on, and then I went in search of a few near where I stayed in Le Plateau. If you’re looking for a bit of a respite from the bustle, exploring Green Alleyways is a great way to do it.
5. Stroll Le Plateau/Mont Royal
Montréal has so much to offer, but when I think back to my trip, I remember my early morning strolls in Le Plateau/Mont Royal most fondly. Normally a lively neighborhood, with visitors exploring the charming homes of the neighborhood and everyone filling Mont Royal Avenue’s open street, mornings in the neighborhood are quiet and peaceful. You can wander the side streets and photograph the charming houses with their metal curved staircases to your heart’s content. Head down to Square Saint-Louis, with the iconic colorful houses and have the place to yourself, even in the height of summer.
In the afternoons, Mont-Royal is an open-street fair, with public art and colorful benches, in addition to the festive terraces from the restaurants and bars in the area. The streets fill with music and it’s all a party. I miss it, but I especially miss those quiet mornings when I had it all to myself.
6. Wander Old Montréal
I love Old Towns, even when they are super touristy, which Old Montréal most certainly is. Even when they’re filled with mediocre food and trinkets, they still have something magical about them. I just love stepping back in time.
Old Montréal has graceful old buildings, an imposing cathedral, and about the best breakfast you’ll have anywhere at Olive et Gourmando, a rarity in an old town.
I’d suggest getting there earlier in the morning when the streets are quieter. The throngs of fellow tourists don’t add too much to the charm.
7. Go to the Museum: Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (Montréal Museum of Fine Arts)
Don’t miss the excellent Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (Montréal Museum of Fine Arts). It houses important collections of art from Québec and Canada, as well as international collections. It’s huge, with something for everyone. I particularly enjoyed the International Contemporary Art collection and its setting in the museum.
The sculpture garden is open to the public, and you can get one of the best views of the Leonard Cohen mural from the glass hall.
We went in the early afternoon and definitely did not see everything. I’d suggest going earlier in the day, on a weekday if you can help it, so that you can wander at your leisure.
Plan your trip to Montréal!
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What are your favorite things to do in Montréal?
What are your favorite things to do in Montréal? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!