Montreal is Canada’s European city. It’s one of the five largest French-speaking cities in the world, and at one point it was even the capital of the country.
I love visiting Montreal; I think it’s one of the best cities in Canada. The city’s Old Town looks like something straight out of medieval France and the French-inspired cuisine and eclectic nightlife (especially the jazz clubs) leave little to dislike. For outdoor explorers, there are a lot of incredible bike paths and nearby mountains to hike too.
I first came here when I was 18 because it was the closest place to where I lived that allowed me to drink (the legal drinking age is 18). Subsequent visits as an adult have only made me appreciate the city on a deeper level, and it remains one of my favorites in North America.
It’s also noticeably cheaper than Canada’s other large cities (I’m looking at you Toronto and Vancouver), so there’s good reason to stay awhile and soak up the unique culture.
This travel guide to Montreal can help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most out of your time in this cool French city!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Montreal
1. Walk around Old Montreal
2. Visit the Place des Armes
3. Relax on Mont Royal
4. See the Biodome
5. Tour the Museum of Fine Arts
Other Things to See and Do in Montreal
1. Take a free walking tour
Whenever I visit a new destination, one of the first things I do is take a free walking tour. It’s the best way to see the main sights and connect with a local guide who can answer all your questions. Free Montreal Tours has a comprehensive two-hour tour that covers all the main highlights. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end!
2. See the Jardin Botanique
Montreal is home to the second-largest botanical garden in the world. Opened in 1931, it showcases ten indoor greenhouses including a Chinese garden, a Japanese garden, a lily garden, and a rose garden. There’s also a tranquil First Nations Garden designed to represent the natural environment of Quebec’s First Nations, including plants from the Nordic Zone. Admission is 21.50 CAD. Combined tickets offering discounted rates are available if you also want to visit the Biodome or one of the other museums in the Espace Pour La Vie (Space for Life) natural museum complex.
3. Wander the Jean-Talon Market
The city’s largest market hosts hundreds of stalls in the middle of Little Italy. Shops and small specialized grocers surround the square, so be on the lookout for Quebecois delicacies like pure maple syrup or ice wine. One of the oldest markets in the city, it’s a great place to have lunch or grab fresh food for later. There are often events like workshops and culinary demonstrations, so you never know what you might stumble upon here.
4. Take a half-day bike tour
On a three-hour guided bike tour with Fitz & Follwell, you’ll visit some of Montreal’s key sites like Old Montreal, Mile-End, Mont-Royal, and the Plateau. They also offer themed tours to certain neighborhoods, like the North End, where you’ll explore open-air markets and street art. Bikes and helmets are provided, and the 16km (10 mile) route has an easy-going pace, making this tour accessible for anyone who can ride a bike. Tours are 85 CAD. They also offer bike rentals (40 CAD/day) if you prefer to go off on your own.
5. Relax in Parc La Fontaine
Whether you want to play beach volleyball, tennis, or just have a picnic, Parc La Fontaine is a relaxing spot to kick back and enjoy. This former farm became a public park in the 19th century and has been a beloved community greenspace ever since. In the summer, there are free performances at the outdoor Théâtre de Verdure, while in the winter you can skate on the pond or go cross-country skiing.
6. Walk around Le Plateau
This popular neighborhood combines shady residential streets, colorful old Victorian homes, boutique shopping, and trendy restaurants. Walk around and admire the architecture, pop into some antique shops, and keep an eye out for colorful street murals. In the summer, the Ave. du Mont-Royal even transforms into a huge street fair!
7. Take a boat ride
Montreal is on an island and there are 234 islands in its vicinity. To explore, you can take different boat tours of the harbor from the Old Town, as well as longer tours of the Lachine Canal and the nearby Boucherville Islands. Along the way, your guide can tell you all about the area’s maritime history. Some tours are limited to 30 passengers, which means you’re never competing for the best view. La Petit Navire offers tours starting at 23.50 CAD for the Old Town tour and 32 CAD for Lachine Canal.
8. See the St. Joseph Oratory
Standing nearly as tall as St. Peter’s in Rome (97m/318ft) high, this basilica towers over the city skyline. It is one of the most visited shrines in the world, also housing a chapel and a crypt. Canada’s largest church, it’s the final resting spot for Brother André, a simple porter turned miracle worker from the early 1900s who supposedly had healing powers. The architecture is interesting as well, with a Renaissance Revival facade and Art Deco interior. Entry is free and guided tours cost 5 CAD (tours currently suspended due to COVID-19). You can even stay at the Oratory overnight (55 CAD for a twin room, with breakfast included).
9. Visit the Notre-Dame Basilica
This 17th-century Gothic Revival basilica started as a tiny stone church. Now, it’s a testament to the importance of religion and art in the city’s history. Its dual towers are reminiscent of the cathedral in Paris, and its interior is a stunning display of religious paintings, colorful stained-glass windows, and gold-leaf decoration. There’s also a 7,000-pipe organ inside. You can visit and do a 60-minute self-guided tour for 14 CAD.
10. See the Cabaret Mado
This entertaining drag cabaret is hosted by Mado Lamotte, an iconic diva from the city’s Gay Village. It’s been going on for 30 years and makes for a wild night of music, comedy, costume, and dancing, with guest performers each night. Don’t sit too close to the stage or else you’ll get roasted! Tickets start at 30 CAD.
11. Explore Parc Jean-Drapeau
Made up of two islands, Parc Jean-Drapeau covers 662 acres of green space and contains a racetrack, museums, and even the La Ronde amusement park. The park was the site of the 1967 World’s Fair, and today it remains an important event space. Most of the city’s major festivals are held here, including Osheaga, the Canadian Grand Prix, and the Fête des Neiges (a free winter carnival). If you visit during the summer, check out Piknic Électronik, a weekly electronic music festival held each Sunday. Everyone brings a picnic and a bottle of wine! Tickets are 20 CAD.
12. Take a food tour
Montreal is Canada’s food capital. Local Montréal Food Tours has several different food tours around town on which you’ll sample Montreal classics like Montreal bagels as well as poutine, a purely Canadian dish of fries, a gravy-like sauce, and cheese curds. They also have a brewpub tour. Prices start from 65 CAD.
For more information on specific cities in Canada, check out these guides!
Montreal Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed in a 4-8 bed dorm costs 35-45 CAD while a dorm with 10 beds or more costs 30-35 CAD per night. A standard private room starts at 75 CAD per night for two people but averages about 150 CAD. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels have self-catering facilities. A couple hostels also include free breakfast.
For those traveling with a tent, camping is available outside the city for around 25 CAD per night. This gets you a basic plot without electricity for two people.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels start at 125 CAD in the center of town. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi, TV, AC, and a coffee/tea maker.
Airbnb is available everywhere in Montreal, with private rooms costing around 45 CAD per night. An entire home/apartment starts around 90 CAD per night.
Food – Like the United States, food culture and cuisine varies widely from region to region in Canada. Overall, the food here is a collage of dishes from other cultures, owing to the country’s diverse history of immigration. In Montreal, you’ll want to make sure you try poutine (it has the best poutine in the country), smoked meat, and Montreal bagels, as well as more general Canadian staples like beaver tails (fried dough with maple syrup), Canadian bacon, and the oddly tasty ketchup chips.
For budget travelers, Montreal has an endless selection of fast-food joints and takeaway spots. You can find poutine for 7 CAD, or burgers and small pizzas for about 10 CAD each. A smoked meat sandwich can cost around 19 CAD with fries and coleslaw, while a hearty bagel sandwich costs about 10-12 CAD. Fast food (think McDonald’s) is around 12 CAD for a combo meal.
A meal at a casual restaurant is about 15 CAD. A beer to go with it is about 6 CAD. If you want to splash out, a meal at a high-end restaurant costs about 35 CAD for an entree without a drink.
If you cook for yourself, expect to spend around 50 CAD per week on groceries. This gets you basic staples like rice, pasta, produce, and some meat.
Some of my favorite restaurants in Montreal include Fairmount Bagels, Damas, Wilensky’s, Le Serpent (for something upscale), La Chilenita, Olive et Gourmando, Main Deli, Sushi Momo, and Drogheria.
Backpacking Montreal Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Montreal, expect to spend at least 60 CAD per day. This assumes you’re staying in a hostel, cooking all your meals, limiting your drinking, walking everywhere or taking public transportation, and doing mostly free activities like hanging out on Mont Royal and doing free walking tours. If you plan on drinking, add 10-15 CAD to your daily budget.
On a mid-range budget of 115 CAD per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb, eat out for a few meals, take the occasional taxi, have a couple drinks, and visit some museums or do a food tour.
On a “luxury” budget of 240 CAD or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, drink more, take more taxis or rent a car, and do whatever tours or activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in CAD.
Montreal Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Montreal is an affordable city to visit, but there are always ways to slash your spending. Here are some ways to save money in Montreal:
- Stay with a local – If you plan ahead, you can usually find a Couchsurfing host in Montreal. This way, you not only have a free place to stay but you can connect with a local host who can share their insider tips.
- Take a free walking tour – Walking tours are a great way to get familiar with a city and the culture. Free Montreal Tours offers one that covers all the main highlights. Just remember to tip!
- Get the museum pass – A Montréal Museum Pass provides access to over 40 different museums around Montreal. A three-day pass is 75 CAD, while a three-day pass with unlimited transportation is 80 CAD.
- Apportez-votre vin – Many restaurants in Montreal have a sign displayed out front that says “Apportez-votre vin” (bring your own wine). You can pick up a cheap bottle of wine at the supermarket and bring it to dinner with you!
- Look for free events – Montreal has tons of free events year-round, but especially during the summer. Many of the major music festivals (like the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the largest jazz festival in the world) have free concerts or shows in the streets. There are also free art shows, theatrical performances, and even stand-up comedy (the annual Just For Laughs comedy festival is the largest comedy festival in the world). Mtl.org lists all events!
- Check out Montreal Sweet Deals – Mtl.org also has a selection of “Sweet Deals,” where if you book a room with one of the partner hotels directly, you’ll get special perks like late departure, breakfast included, or a discounted room rate (sometimes up to 30% off).
- Pick up a Passeport MTL – Much like the museum pass above, the official city pass, Passeport MTL, lets you choose admission to five attractions from a list of over 28 attractions when you buy a card. The card also includes discounted offers to other attractions too. It’s 95 CAD.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money. LifeStraw makes a reusable bottle with a built-in filter to ensure your water is always safe and clean.
Where to Stay in Montreal
Montreal has lots of hostel accommodations, and they’re all comfortable and very sociable. These are my recommended places to stay in Montreal:
For more hostel suggestions, here’s a list of my favorite hostels in Montreal!
How to Get Around Montreal
Public transportation – The bus covers the entire city center and the outskirts of town, including the airport. It’s 3.50 CAD for one ride or 6.50 CAD for a return trip. An unlimited day pass is 10 CAD, which is your best option. You can use your tickets on the subway as well, which the best way to get around the city.
If you’d like to be able to top up your transit card, purchase an OPUS card for 6 CAD. Otherwise, the L’Occasionnelle card is non-rechargeable.
You can take bus 747 to and from the airport for 10 CAD each way.
Taxi – Taxis are not cheap here. Their base rate is 3.75 CAD, and it’s an additional 1.30 CAD per kilometer afterward. Skip the taxis if you can as prices add up fast!
Bicycle – Montreal is a very bike-city friendly and there are plenty of bicycle rental businesses around town. The public bike rental system is Bixi Bike. It costs 50 cents to unlock a bike, and then 10 cents/minute for a regular bike or 25 cents/minute for an e-bike. With over 8,000 bikes available at 700 stations across the city, you can easily hop around the city by bike. If you purchase an OPUS transit pass, you can link it to Bixi Bike to easily tap and rent a bike, as well as receive 10% off fares.
Ridesharing – Uber is available in Montreal and is a bit cheaper than taxis, however, it’s still much more expensive than public transportation and likely not much faster if you’re downtown. Skip them if you can!
Car rentals – Car rentals start at 40 CAD per day for a multi-day rental. However, I wouldn’t suggest renting one here are parking is expensive and you’ll get around much faster by subway and bus.
When to Go to Montreal
Montreal is at its busiest in the summer, especially when all the outdoor patios are open and there’s a festival practically every week. July and August are the hottest months, with temperatures averaging 25°C (78°F). Just note that accommodation prices increase and tourist attractions can get crowded during this time so you may want to book early.
Both early fall and late spring are excellent times to visit as the weather is warm, you can do all the outdoor exploration you want, and there aren’t many tourists around. It’s stunning from late September to the end of October when the leaves start turning color.
Winters in Montreal are bitterly cold, with temperatures averaging about -7°C (19°F) in January though it can get much colder. Expect lots of snow too. In short, I wouldn’t suggest visiting in the winter!
How to Stay Safe in Montreal
Montreal is very safe and you’re unlikely to experience any violent crime here. Your greatest risk is petty crime, like pickpocketing, but even that is rare. Pickpocketing is most likely to occur in busy restaurants and cafes or on public transportation, so keep an eye on your items.
Avoid neighborhoods like Notre Dame Ouest and Wellington Street after dark as sometimes gangs frequent the area. Never walk home alone intoxicated anywhere in the city and always keep an eye on your drink at the bar just to be safe.
If visiting in the winter, dress warmly. The temperature can get extremely cold (to the point where people have died).
Scams here are rare, but if you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about common travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, move somewhere else.
The number for emergency services is 911.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Montreal!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Montreal Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Montreal. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or in their spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can share the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Canada, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there, as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat a home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Montreal Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Montreal Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden
As amazing as Canada is, like most other colonized countries, its history is steeped in violent, bloody conflict…especially with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. This book takes place in the wilderness of 17th-century Canada and follows the lives of a missionary, a young Iroquois girl, and a great warrior of the Huron Nation. The Huron have always battled the Iroquois — but now the tribes face the threat of settlers from Europe. It’s a jarring, graphic read that you won’t be able to put down.
Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada, by Will Ferguson
Will Ferguson is like the Canadian version of Bill Bryson and his travel adventures are laugh-out-loud funny. This travel memoir is about Ferguson’s three years crisscrossing Canada, with adventures as far-flung as the subarctic to the Underground Railroad. He goes coast to coast from the colorful neighborhoods of St. John’s to the idyllic streets of Victoria, encountering interesting people and offbeat attractions along the way (and yes, there’s actually a place in Canada called Moose Jaw).
In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje
Considered a true Canadian classic, In the Skin of a Lion follows Patrick Lewis as he arrives in Toronto in the 1920s, where he earns his money searching for a disappeared millionaire and tunneling beneath Lake Ontario. His life intersects with other special characters along the way, giving us a smart, passionate story that blurs the lines between fiction and reality.
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
You can’t have a Canadian reading list without Margaret Atwood! The year is 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted of the murders of her employer and his mistress (who is a housekeeper). However, Grace has no memories of these vicious murders, and so an expert in mental illness steps in to seek a pardon for her. He listens to her story as it gets closer and closer to the day she can’t remember. This book is disturbing but completely captivating, especially if you’re already a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx
A Pulitzer Prize winner, this story follows Quoyle, a newspaper hack who gets thrown out of his regular, mundane life when his wife dies. He moves back to his stark and remote ancestral home of Newfoundland with his two young daughters, where the local delicacy is cod cheeks and it’s easier to travel by boat and snowmobile than by car. This book reads like poetry. It’s beautiful and although it’s fiction, it gives you plenty of insight into the uniqueness of Canada’s easternmost province.
Montreal Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Canada and continue planning your trip: