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Welcome to your Montréal guide

This article is part of the Montreal News section of the Best day ever daily news.

 

In the following post, you’ll find everything you need to experience the city of joie de vivre, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.


This is your guide to living like a local, with cool businesses, landmarks and attractions, plus ideas for shopping, restaurants, entertainment and much more.


1. Downtown Montréal / Business, fun, entertainment – downtown buzzes with excitement.


2. Old Montréal and Old Port / There’s always something new in the city’s historic district.

3. Parc Jean-Drapeau / One park, two islands: lush green spaces and exhilarating events and festivals.


4. Mount Royal and Outremont / A nature haven at the heart of the city with chic boutiques and luxury buildings next door.


5. Plateau-Mont-Royal and Mile End / Hip neighbourhoods that eat, sleep and breathe artistic creativity.


6. Olympic District and HochelagaMaisonneuve / Family-friendly and home to the Olympic Park and the Space for Life museums.


7. The Village / The biggest LGBTQ village in North America welcomes everyone with open arms.


8. Little Italy and Villeray / Tree-lined streets, cozy cafés and a public market bursting with flavours from around the world.


9. Les Quartiers du Canal / Waterfront views, aquatic adventures and up-andcoming spots to shop, eat and drink.


10. Pôle des Rapides / Outdoor fun with water sports, bike paths, picnics and parks along the river.


11. East, west and north of Montréal / Step off the beaten path for a breath of fresh air and discover six nature parks.




Portrait of Montréal



Montréal is an exciting urban centre with countless things to see and do. In this vibrant and welcoming city, change is always in the air and there’s a surprise waiting around every corner.


Tiohtià:ke, the Montréal of the First Nations

Its name comes from its key position in the St. Lawrence River. The island of Montréal was once a strategic trading hub for First Nations peoples, particularly the Atikamekw to the north, the Anishinaabe (Algonquins) to the west, the Kanien’kehà:ka (Mohawks) from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Iroquois) to the south. With the present-day communities of Kahnawá:ke on the South Shore and the Kanehsatà:ke territory near Oka, the Kanien’kehà:ka are the First Nations people most closely linked to the island of Montréal, which they called Tiohtià:ke. The first French colonists were soon followed by the English, Scottish and Irish, then by myriad peoples from around the globe who came to settle on the lush land at the foot of Mount Royal.


Proud of its roots, with its eyes on the future

Today with more than 4 million inhabitants and no less than 120 different nationalities, Montréal boasts a rich and vibrant cultural fabric. The second-largest francophone city in the world after Paris, Montréal has rightly earned its title as a cosmopolitan metropolis. A world leader in many sectors — from aerospace, to information technologies, biotechnologies to video games — the city has also been garnering attention for its innovation in medicine, multimedia, arts and major cultural events. Thanks to its avant-garde outlook, it was named a UNESCO City of Design in 2006.


A young Frenchman by the name of Asseline de Ronval was the first tourist to visit Montréal in 1662.



Nature, culture and good food

Season after season, Montréal satisfies millions of visitors’ cravings for culture, nature and excitement. Not only is Montréal recognized for its world-class culinary scene, but its wildly creative artisans and artists continue to bring crowds to its concert halls, designer ateliers, art galleries and pretty boutiques.


A warm and friendly city

Life is good in Montréal, every day of the week. Soak it up with a leisurely stroll along its lively streets and in its vast parks or explore the underground pedestrian network. To get a feel for the city, stop off in its colourful neighbourhoods, where markets, businesses and restaurants are buzzing with locals. Friendly and quite often multilingual Montrealers easily strike up conversations. And it’s this innate sense of warmth and hospitality that has made the city renowned as an exhilarating festival destination. Charming, multifaceted and relaxed — is it any wonder so many people fall in love with Montréal?


Skyscrapers must not be taller than Mount Royal on the island of Montréal.



moments in montreal history

  1. Pre-European period The oldest trace of Indigenous occupation in the area of Old Montréal dates back at least 4,000 years.

  2. Between 1000 and 1535 Several First Nations inhabit the territory.

  3. 1535 While exploring the St. Lawrence River, Jacques Cartier discovers an island where cornfields border a village called Hochelaga. Members of the First Nations lead Cartier to the summit of a mountain that he names “Mont Royal”, the origin of name “Montréal.”

  4. 1611 On the island, Champlain clears a tract of land that he names “Place Royale,” site of the present-day Pointe-à-Callière Archaeology and History Complex. It is here that Montréal is founded in 1642.

  5. 1642 Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, and Jeanne Mance found Ville-Marie. However, the settlement gradually becomes known as Montréal and nearly 25 years after its founding, the colony begins to prosper as a military and trading centre.

  6. 1701 At Pointe-à-Callière, more than 30 Indigenous nations sign a peace treaty — The Great Peace of Montréal — with the governor of New France, putting an end to the conflicts between the French and the Indigenous Peoples.

  7. 1760 War rages on the continent and Montréal falls into the hands of the British. New France, with 60,000 colonists, is officially ceded to Great Britain.

  8. 1840 to 1930 Canada’s anglophone upper class, representing 70% of the country’s wealth at the time, moves into downtown’s Golden Square Mile, establishing cultural institutions, elegant stores, mansions and monuments that stretch from McGill University to west of the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts.

  9. 1867 Canada becomes a nation with the Dominion of Canada, uniting the British North American colonies and the Province of Canada (Ontario and Québec) through the Confederation Declaration in Charlottetown on July 1, 1867, what is now celebrated as Canada Day.

  10. 1930s During the Great Depression, manufacturing output is halved and over a quarter of workers lose their jobs. Re-elected in 1930, Mayor Camillien Houde offers financial assistance to the unemployed and launches major public works, including the Montréal Botanical Garden, chalets in Mount Royal Park and Parc La Fontaine, viaducts and other infrastructure projects.

  11. 1945 The French-speaking community of Montréal starts to make its mark in the arts, sciences and business in a movement that will culminate in the Quiet Revolution, a transformation of Québec society throughout the 1960s. Montréal opens to the world.

  12. 1967 From April 27 to October 29, the world came to Montréal for Expo 67, the Universal and International Exhibition, which was the highlight of Canada’s centennial celebrations in 1967. Expo 67 was considered the most successful World’s Fair of the 20th Century, with over 50 million attendees and 62 countries participating.

  13. 1976 Montréal hosts the XXI Olympiad from July 17 to August 1, with over 6,000 athletes from 92 nations. Montréal was the first, and remains the only, Canadian city to have ever hosted the Summer Olympics.

  14. 1980s Montréal’s festival scene sees explosive growth with the founding of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, Just For Laughs and Les FrancoFolies.

  15. 1992 Montréal celebrates the 350th anniversary of its founding with festivities that run from May until October, leaving legacies such as the Pointe-à-Callière Archaeology and History Complex and the Montréal Biodôme.

  16. 2006 Montréal is officially designated a UNESCO City of Design, joining the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

  17. 2017 and beyond In 2017, Montréal celebrates its 375th anniversary, leaving legacies like a coat of arms and flag for the city and the illuminated Jacques Cartier Bridge. Since then, the city continues to renew itself with projects like the redesigned Parc Jean-Drapeau, new public spaces and the makeover of Sainte-Catherine Street. After a record number of visitors in 2019, Montréal focuses on local tourism given the context of the worldwide pandemic in 2020 and 2021.



Montrealers of the Main –and beyond


Here’s a trip through history that gives a peek at some of Montréal’s main communities.

When Montrealers talk about the Main, they’re talking about Saint-Laurent Boulevard, the city’s main north-south thoroughfare (and shopping mecca) that divides the city into east and west. The Main is a street rich in history, and through the years, it’s been home to many of the cultures that give Montréal its unique personality.



South


Jean-Talon Street

THE GREEKS

Montréal first welcomed immigrants from Greece around the end of the 19th century. Many opened businesses and restaurants in various areas of the city, including in Mile End, off the Main.


THE JEWS

Jews from Eastern Europe began to arrive in Montréal at the turn of the 20th century, while many more also arrived from Sephardic countries by the 1950s. Jewish culture is at the heart of the Main.


Mont-Royal Avenue

THE IRISH

Montréal’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is the oldest in Canada and — technically — the oldest continuously held in North America (every March since 1824). Immigration began in 1815, and by 1900, they formed the second largest cultural group in the city.


THE SCOTTISH

Street names in the city’s Golden Square Mile are a veritable who’s-who of Scottish families responsible for the city’s boom years, from 1840 to 1930.


SHERBROOKE STREET

THE ENGLISH

Montréal surrendered to British forces in 1760 during the Seven Years’ War. Residents of British origin were the majority in the city around 1831, due to large-scale immigration.


THE FIRST NATIONS

Because of its position in the St. Lawrence River — where the Main begins, and after which it’s named — Montréal was a place where First Nations had been coming together for millennia.


NOTRE- DAME STREET


North


Villeray


THE HAITIANS

The small Haitian community of 500 in 1967 grew so that by 1978, Haiti was the country with the largest immigrant population in Montréal: 14.7% of all immigrants that year. The influx continues, especially after the country’s devastating earthquake of 2010.


Little Italy

THE ITALIANS

On the northern stretch of the Main, Little Italy is still the heart of Italian culture. The first Italian immigrants came in the 19th century, and in 1971, Italian was Montréal’s third most-spoken language.


THE LATINOS

The end of the 1950s marked the first boom in Latino immigration to Montréal, featuring mainly students and skilled workers who set down roots in a variety of neighbourhoods, including Villeray, adjacent to the Main.


THE PORTUGUESE

Portuguese immigration began in the 1950s and settled around the lower Plateau section of the Main, where you can still find many famous restaurants today.


Plateau Mont-Royal

FROM THE MIDDLEEAST

Middle Eastern immigration to Montréal started at the end of the 19th century, leading to the formation of Little Syria, then located on the Main. In the last three decades, many more Arab immigrants have put down roots in Montréal.


Downtown

THE EASTERN EUROPEANS

Immigrants from Eastern Europe began joining in the Montréal workforce in the 19th century, but the influx really picked up after the Second World War. They established themselves in various areas, including the lower Main.


THE CHINESE

Go up the Main from the Old Port, and you’ll hit Chinatown. In 1825, the Census listed only one single Montrealer of Chinese descent! By the early 20th century there were over a thousand.


THE FRENCH

Montréal was founded in 1642 by the French. In the 19th century, French Canadians in search of work poured into the city from rural areas. By 1865 Francophones made up most of the city’s population.


Old Montréal


Montréal musts for first-time visitors


A first-time visit to any city can be overwhelming — but no more! To simplify your initial Montréal visit, we’ve compiled a list of crowd-pleasing to-dos and attractions that promise to give you a sense of the city. In no particular order, here are a few absolute must-sees for any firsttime visitor to Montréal.


Play by the water in the Old Port

Enjoy the mighty St. Lawrence River from the shores of the Old Port, where you can explore the Grand Quay terminal, the scenic boardwalk and activity-packed piers. Enjoy exhibitions and IMAX® films at the Montréal Science Centre, become a pirate for the day at Voiles en Voiles, ride the zip line, take a river cruise, go ice skating in winter and relax on the beach in summer. Day or night, yearround, view the entire city from the observation wheel, La Grande Roue de Montréal.


Head back in time in Old Montréal

See how the city first began along the cobblestone streets of Old Montréal, with architecture dating back as far as 1685. Watch street performers from a terrasse at historic Place Jacques-Cartier before you stop by Notre-Dame Basilica for the stained-glass art and, by night, the incredible multimedia creation AURA. After dark, you can also step into chapters of Montréal’s history with Cité Mémoire projections on building facades all around the neighbourhood.


Roam from the river to the mountain

Starting at the Pointe-à-Callière Archaeology and History Complex in Old Montréal, enjoy a river-to-mountain walk featuring spacious sidewalks, greenery, rest stops and public art. Stroll northward to the foot of Mount Royal, “the mountain” in local parlance. Its park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame. Give yourself a breezy two hours to reach the lookout at the top, alone or with a guided tour. Nearby, visit one of the most popular Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, Saint Joseph’s Oratory. It’s a Montréal masterpiece and home to a magnificent Rudolf von Beckerath organ, ranked among the 10 most prestigious in the world. Ride the metro to Côte-des-Neiges station and then climb the famous staircase to the oratory.



Shop along Sainte-Catherine Street

As one of the longest commercial strips in Canada, Sainte-Catherine Street is the perfect place for retail therapy. You’ll find street-level shops, a handful of great malls, styles ranging from streetwear to formal wear and international fashion mainstays – but don’t miss the local, only-here retailers and pop-up shops.



Bite into iconic Montréal cuisine

To truly taste Montréal, sink your teeth into a juicy smoked meat sandwich, taste our unique wood-fired bagels, sample our notorious poutine and quench your thirst with a locally brewed beer. To explore the full range of regional products, head to one of the city’s public markets. Jean-Talon Market, located in the heart of Little Italy, is the largest and most culturally diverse, while the art deco-style Atwater Market is located beside the picturesque Lachine Canal.



Get a dose of local culture

Start by picking up a Passeport MTL to explore museums and galleries aplenty. Next, a public art tour is sure to wow, before you browse through show listings and buy tickets for dance, theatre, opera and circus performances, film screenings and concerts. For what’s sure to be a memorable night out, settle into one of Montréal’s many live music venues.


Discover Montréal’s “underground”

Montréal contains a vast network of pedestrian walkways — 33 km (20 miles) of connecting passageways, to be exact — below street level. Particularly popular in the winter, this network — officially called the RÉSO (“network” en français), but known as the “Underground City” — connects offices, trains, restaurants, the city’s convention centre, major hotels and a handful of shopping malls!


Reach a new Plateau

The colourful spiral staircases typical of the Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood make for an iconic image of Montréal. Meet the predominantly French-speaking community of artists, students and professionals, with a healthy dose of other cultures and languages. Stroll along Mont-Royal Avenue, and, if it’s a sunny day, do as the locals do and grab a picnic to enjoy in peaceful Parc La Fontaine.


Go east for a feast of attractions

Montréal’s east side neighbourhood of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is home to the Olympic Stadium, where visitors can ride to the top of the inclined tower (the tallest in the world) for a bird’s eye view of the cityscape. Also in the neighbourhood are the internationally-lauded Space for Life Museums, which include the Montréal Botanical Garden and the Insectarium, the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium and the Biodôme.


Gastronomy


Musts


The Montréal bagel is boiled in water, sweetened with honey and cooked in a wood-fired oven, giving it a crisp, golden top. The bagel was introduced to North America by Jewish immigrants from Poland and other Eastern European countries.


Montréal’s smoked meat was invented by Aaron Sanft, who was born in Romania. The smoked meat sandwich is piled high with thin slices of succulent meat smoked with a blend of secret spices.


Poutine is a decadent mix of fries, gravy and cheese curds (that squeak when you eat them!).


The icons


Montréal cuisine is a delicious combination of influences that started with Indigenous, British and French origins, but now knows no rules nor boundaries. Chefs across the city transform fresh, locally grown products into creative culinary concepts. An everchanging whirlwind of flavours has elevated classic Québécois dishes from everyday cooking to surprisingly inventive delights. You won’t be disappointed by the aptly named nouvelle cuisine québécoise.


  1. The Jean-Talon Market is open 361 days a year and offers products coming from a 60-kilometre radius of the city.

  2. The Wilensky’s Light Lunch restaurant has not changed much since 1932. Travel back in time and order a “special” —a beef bologna and salami sandwich.

  3. The Gibeau Orange Julep is a fast food restaurant built in the shape of a giant orange, a nod to the delicious juice it serves.

  4. The pretty little store Le Petit Dep is the ultimate candy shop of grown-ups and kids alike, with special treats, gourmet products, pastries and all the special touches to sweeten your stay.

  5. Open since 1968, La Banquise is a go-to spot for poutine in Montréal with over 30 varieties available.

  6. Hot dogs have been a must since 1912 at Montréal Pool Room, one of the city’s institutions.

  7. La Binerie Mont-Royal, now located on Saint-Denis Street, serves iconic FrenchCanadian cuisine.


Montréal boasts over 400 BYOW restaurants.

Close to 30 microbreweries have set up shop on the island of Montréal.


30 gourmet festivals and events take place in Montréal each year, including MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE, the Festival Mondial de la bière, the YUL EAT Festival and MTLàTABLE.


The city has around 67 restaurants per square kilometre in its tourist areas.


Need a pack of gum? Head to the dep! That’s what Montrealers call corner stores, short for the French word dépanneur. Not your average 7-Eleven, most are mom-andpop shops that sell everything from beer to tea biscuits.


Did you know?

The Montréal bagel travelled in space with astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, all the way to the International Space Station.


Céline Dion is a part owner of Schwartz’s smoked meat restaurant.



Nightlife


Never quiet in the day, Montréal becomes supercharged after dark, igniting a fun-loving, welcoming edginess rarely found anywhere else.


Montréal’s nightlife isn’t limited to one single scene — it features red-hot nightclubs, sure, and some of the world’s most renowned electronic music festivals and events, but there are also twinkly jazz bars, crowded film premieres, all-night art events and internationally renowned fireworks shows. Wander into one of the many live music bars to discover the next Arcade Fire or join an organized tour group on a brewery hop. Or how about a late-night dose of history as you watch incredible light projections come to life on the building surfaces of Old Montréal? There truly is something for everyone, of every age and every interest. Because when the sun sets, it’s only the beginning.


Casino de Montréal


A scintillating playground and destination for a multitude of attractions, only minutes from downtown, the Casino de Montréal delivers entertainment and excitement year-round. At the Cabaret, comedy shows, dance performances, tribute nights and local and international artists are all part of the program.


Montréal’s pop-up villages

Colourful riverside bowers, playful green spaces at the heart of downtown, stages for all kinds of shows, playgrounds for activities for the whole family, relaxing areas for happy hour with friends: these pop-up installations bring fun and vitality to city’s neighbourhoods. Pick your spot!



Four seasons, four experiences


Montréal is blessed with four seasons of amazing fun, so the true question is not when, but how often to visit. Spring gets things popping with bright flowers, inspirational art and cool gatherings. Summer signals major outdoor fun with thrilling festivals, street-side performances and lively cocktail patios. Fall, for its part, features a bounty of food and culture against the landscape’s jaw-dropping colours, while winter wraps the city in a sweet cocoon of twinkling lights, snowy fun and outdoor entertainment.


Spring

Spring in Montréal is a pretty sensational time: with flowers blooming, people pedaling — especially on public-share BIXI bikes — and everyone flocking to sun-kissed outdoor terrasses, the city’s vibrant scene plays out in colour, fun and spontaneity. This season, be sure to check out street-side circus acts, fringe performances, outdoor murals, digital arts, and while you’re at it, why not try urban sugar shacking?


Summer

Pack your sense of discovery and your sunnies, it’s summertime in Montréal! With its feast of festivals that draw international star power in music, comedy, sports and circus, you’ll want to take it ALL in. For a deeper dive into the local culture, check out the colourful street art, neighbourhood activities and tasty fare of food trucks. What are the hallmarks of a cool, vibey Montréal summer? When you can dance the day or night away, lounge on outdoor terrasses, catch some rays on sunny beaches and hang out at the city’s many cool seasonal markets and biergartens.


Fall

Fall in Montréal is all about food (scrumptious), foliage (spectacular), fashion (so stylish) and a cultural calendar that’s overflowing with choice. Autumn musts include getting front-row seats to hot new premieres in dance, film or symphony, exploring the city’s mouthwatering culinary scene and letting your hair down at epic dance parties. For inspiration of a quieter nature, why not steal away to a cozy café, snap pictures of nature’s breathtaking palette or indulge in some luxurious spa treatments?


Winter

Let it snow! And… let it glow! Montréal’s winter charm lies in its luminous layers: streets strung with colourful holiday lights, dazzling outdoor installations and the great, glittering snowscape. Follow the lead of Montrealers and turn frosty into fun by indulging in cheery holiday markets, outdoor parties, world-class dining and conversationsparking cultural all-nighters. Are you an incurable romantic? Bring your sweetheart for a starlit ice skate, reserve a table at a gourmet restaurant or book some blissful spa pampering.



Montréal murals and urban art


Street art has become an essential visual language in Montréal with a robust scene that draws local and international artists. Their work has not only transformed the visual landscape of the city but has also engaged communities and residents in the creation of new works.



Two annual summer graffiti festivals put the spotlight on this scene. Founded in 1996, the Under Pressure festival focuses on community development, artist empowerment and positive youth development. The festival features live painting sessions by Montréal artists along with other events that draw crowds to Quartier Latin every year.


On nearby Saint-Laurent Boulevard, the MURAL festival has a mission to democratize urban art. The event closes traffic along central Saint-Laurent Boulevard for three days and invites a select group of local and international artists to paint live. Over 80 large-scale murals and installations have been created since the festival launched in 2012, effectively turning a stroll around the Plateau neighbourhood into an outdoor gallery experience.


In addition to the art created during these festivals, Montréal sponsors public art initiatives and neighbourhood mural commissions to enhance the city. Finally, the not-for-profit organization MU has a mission to beautify the city by creating murals that are anchored in local communities. They have produced several notable pieces in their Tribute to Montréal’s Great Artists series, including a beloved homage to Leonard Cohen that can be admired from the Kondiaronk Belvedere on Mount Royal.





 

For more information and travel tips about cities and things to do, we suggest visiting our city guides section with over 100 cities and our upcoming events section for the USA andCanada.

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