Montreal is like a little bit of Europe in the middle of North America. Known for poutine, bagels and joie-de-vivre, we’ll show you how to maximize your 5 days in Montreal.
Day 1 – Old Montreal and Old Port
Start your Montreal visit in Old Montreal and the Old Port. This is the oldest part of the city on the shore of the St. Lawrence river, featuring quaint cobblestone streets and buildings dating back to when the city was first settled.
Stroll along rue Saint-Paul Ouest from rue McGill towards Place Jacques Cartier, exploring the side streets along the way.
From Place Jacques-Cartier, walk along the waterfront until Marché Bonsecours and then turn back to walk along rue Notre-Dame towards Place d’Armes and the Notre-Dame Basilica. You’ll also find the temple-like Bank of Montreal main branch and legal headquarters.
Day 2 – Biodome, Botanical Garden and Insectarium
These three attractions, on the grounds of the 1976 Olympics will fill a day, and can be accessed on a combined entrance ticket. You can also consider adding a visit up the Olympic Stadium tower (the tallest inclined tower in the world).
The Montreal Biodome is a sort of indoor zoo/natural sciences museum divided into 4 ecosystems: the South American rainforest, the North American wilderness, the Saint Lawrence estuary, and the Arctic/Antarctic polar regions. The Biodome is housed in the velodrome from the 1976 Olympics.
The Montreal Botanical Garden is a stunning collection of themed gardens, and was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Not-to-miss gardens include the greenhouse complex (including tropical, orchid and cactus greenhouses), the Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden and the Alpine Garden.
The Botanical Garden also has a beautiful collection of bonsai, split between the Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Tree Pavilion (bonsai with North American tree species).
Consult the Garden’s calendar of blooms to determine what other gardens are in bloom while you’re in town. While in bloom, flower collections that are particular impressive include the tulips, lilacs, lilies, and rhododendrons and roses.
Day 3 – Habitat 67, Jean-Drapeau Park and Biosphere
If you’re up for a bit of a walk, make your way from Old Montreal along Ave. Pierre-Dupuis to Habitat 67, then over the bridge to Île Sainte Hélène (Saint Helen’s Island). Taking the bridge will give you great views of the Old Port and the Montreal skyline. Otherwise, you can take the subway to Jean Drapeau station.
Habitat 67 is a truly unique housing complex by architect Moshe Safdie. It was built as a pavilion for Expo 67, and over 50 years later, it’s still one of Canada’s (and the world’s) most iconic buildings. (Prestige and maintenance costs also make it one of Montreal’s most expensive places to live.)
Jean Drapeau Park covers 2 small islands south of Old Montreal in the St. Lawrence river: Notre Dame Island (Île Notre Dame) and Saint Helen’s Island (Île Sainte-Hélène). Designers built the islands for Expo 67 celebrating Canada’s centennial. They used over 15 million tons of rock and earth excavated for the Montreal subway to create Notre Dame Island, and enlarge Saint Helen’s Island.
The islands are worth a visit, even if just to stroll around the parkland. You’ll stumble upon various pavilions from the Expo, and during the summer there are numerous music festivals (Piknic Electronik happens every Sunday).
There is also a beach (Jean-Doré Beach) on an internal lake. An entrance fee is required, but the water is always clean owing to a unique natural filtrations system.
If you rent a car, you can drive on the Formula 1 race track, Circuit Jacques Villeneuve. (Or walk, cycle or inline skate on it.)
Finally, check out the Biosphere, a museum about the environment within a large geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller as the United States pavilion for Expo 67.
Day 4 – Mount Royal, Plateau Mont Royal and Parc La Fontaine
Start off this day with only a light breakfast, because we’re going to indulge in some classic Montreal food. (With a bit of walking and climbing to offset the calories.)
We’ll start the day by climbing the the top of Mount Royal (Mont Royal), the hill in the centre of Montreal Island. From here you’ll get amazing views of the city and the surrounding areas. There are several entrances to the Mount Royal park, but the closest to the Belvedere is the entrance at the intersection of Pine Ave and Peel St, three blocks north of Peel subway station.
After taking in the vistas from the Belvedere, make your way towards the Mount Royal Cross, and then head towards the exit at the Sir Georges-Étienne Cartier monument.
A few blocks away is the famous Schwartz’s deli. Established in 1928 and now partly owned by Celine Dion, Schwartz’s serves delicious Montreal smoked meat.
There’s really only 1 thing you should order: a medium-fat smoked meat sandwich, ideally with a pickle and cherry cola. They have lean smoked meat, but you’ll be sacrificing flavour and texture.
From here, make your way north to Mont-Royal avenue and wander eastward through the area known as Plateau Mont-Royal, or simply “The Plateau.”
Just past Christophe-Colomb avenue, you’ll find the St-Viateur Bagel café. While the original St-Viateur Bagel Shop is about 3 kilometres away, the café is a bit more accessible. Stop in for a freshly-cooked Montreal-style bagel. You can’t go wrong with a classic sesame seed bagel, or try an all-dressed bagel that combines sesame seeds, poppy seeds and dried onion.
Continue to Parc La Fontaine, an 84 acre park where Montrealers go to enjoy the summer weather.
For dinner, indulge in poutine at La Banquise. Open 24 hours, La Banquise features dozens of poutines with various toppings. You can’t go wrong with a classic (gravy and fresh cheese curds) or try something more adventurous.
Day 5 – Saint Joseph’s Oratory, Atwater Market and Lachine Canal
Start your final day with a visit to Saint Joseph’s Oratory on the west side of the Mount Royal hill. This is Canada’s largest church, and a National Historic Site of Canada. Its dome is one of the largest in the world!
Head south to the Atwater Market and get food for a picnic. Then take a leisurely stroll along the historic Lachine Canal. Pick up some local craft beer at the Fromagerie Atwater, or cross the street for a bottle of wine at the SAQ, because Montreal permits consuming alcohol in a park with a meal.
Make your way west along the Lachine Canal and stop in at the Terrace St-Ambroise, part of the McAuslan Brewery, for a fresh local brew. Opposite the Cote-St-Paul locks, they have a small kitchen that serves tacos, burgers, hot dogs and pizzas.
Have you visited these attractions or tried this itinerary for your 5 days in Montreal? Let us know what you thought in the comments!