5 days in Montreal

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.

Notre-Dame Basilica

The Notre-Dame Basilica is widely regarded as a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture. Upon completion, it was the largest church in North America for over 50 years. The facade, completed in 1865, is impressive, but the crown jewel is really the interior, completed in 1879, featuring intricate wood carvings and vaulted ceilings in blues and golds. Another unique feature can be found in the stained glass of the chapels: instead of depicting biblical scenes, they depict Montreal’s religious history. While there’s a relatively hefty entrance fee, it is worth it, especially since it ensures the upkeep of this architectural gem. Purchase your tickets online to skip the lines.

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).

Montreal Biodome

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.

Montreal Botanical Garden

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

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

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).

Jean Doré Beach and Circuit Jacques Villeneuve

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.)

The Biosphere in Jean-Drapeau Park on St. Helen's Island
The Biosphere in Jean-Drapeau Park on St. Helen’s Island


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.)

Mount Royal

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.

The Plateau

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.

Parc La Fontaine

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. If you didn’t make it to Schwartz’s for smoked meat, you can get a smoked meat poutine at La Banquise.

Day 5 – Saint Joseph’s Oratory, Atwater Market and Lachine Canal

Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal

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!

Atwater Market and Lachine Canal

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 (weather permitting).

Enjoying a local beer at Terrace St-Ambroise along the Lachine Canal
Enjoying a local beer at Terrace St-Ambroise along the Lachine Canal

In case of rain

If weather hits, do like Montrealers and hit the Underground City.

Underground City

Officially known as RÉSO (a stylized spelling of the French word for “network”), the Underground City is a network of shopping centres, office towers, hotels and other buildings, connected by a maze of tunnels, subway stations and train stations.

A large section of Montreal’s downtown core can be accessed entirely underground. In the northeastern corner, we have a series of connected shopping malls, including Les Cours Mont-Royal, Carrefour Industrielle Alliance, Place Montreal-Trust and the Eaton Centre. It’s worth exploring the upper stories of Les Cours Mont-Royal, because this mall was converted from the former Hôtel Mont-Royal, once the largest in the Commonwealth, where they’ve preserved the hotel’s entry fall featuring a chandelier from the Monte Carlo Casino. If you’re hungry, head over to the Time Out Market in the Eaton Centre, an upscale food court with curated dining options, including beer and wine bars.

From the Eaton Centre, you can connect southwards to Place Ville-Marie, Montreal’s original skyscraper in the shape of a cross, once the tallest in the Commonwealth, and then further south to Gare Centrale, Montreal’s main train station. Gare Centrale connects east and west to various office buildings. Going east, you can make your way to Palais des Congrès, the city’s main convention centre, and then upwards to the Complexe Desjardins shopping centre and the Quartier des Spectacles, the site of Montreal’s most exciting outdoor festivals and theatres.

Have you visited these attractions or tried this itinerary for your 5 days in Montreal? Let us know what you thought in the comments!

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