Montreal is easily one of my favorite cities in North America. It has a chic, European flair, is a haven for foodies, and I loved soaking up the very distinct French-Canadian culture. Not to mention: it’s a very short plane ride away from the Northeast!
Looking for a guide to the city of Montreal and its best attractions? Look no further! This article will provide all the information you need to make the most out of your visit. Montreal has something for everyone, from the best restaurants in town to exciting activities and cultural hotspots.
The Ultimate Guide to Montreal:
Travel Guide to Montreal — Best Time to Go
In the past, we’ve visited Montreal in October, and in my opinion, that was an incredible time to go. It wasn’t too cold (highs ranged between 50-60 F), and the fall foliage was at its peak. Montreal should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for a cosmopolitan leaf-peeping trip this fall.
Suppose you’re a big fan of winter and can handle frigid temps. In that case, I’d plan on a winter trip: Montreal is magical during the holidays, and underground tunnels in town can get you to some of the most popular spots in the city. If you’re like me and aren’t Winter’s biggest fan, I’d visit between Mid-May to Mid-October.
Travel Guide to Montreal — Culture: Language, Tipping, & The Canadian Dollar
The official language of Montreal is French, but you won’t have many issues if you’re an English speaker: over half of the population of Montreal is bilingual and can also speak English. However, I would still greet people in French (Bonjour, Bonsoir) and ask if they speak English before continuing your conversation, just to be polite. Also, most of the restaurants we visited had French and English menus.
I would check the exchange rate for the Canadian Dollar before you go, but when we visited, the rate favored Americans. I took advantage of this and did quite a bit of shopping while I was there!
Unlike in Europe, you do need to tip in Montreal for meals. You would tip in Canada just like in the United States: between 15-20%.
Travel Guide to Montreal — Getting There & Getting Around
If you’re from the Northeast, getting to Montreal is an absolute breeze: dozens of nonstop flights from D.C. and New York area airports leave daily, and those flights are less than 2 hours. However, Montreal has a relatively large international airport, so you should easily be able to fly in from any destination.
Just make sure to bring your passport: if you’re traveling by air, passport cards and U.S. driver’s licenses will not be accepted at an airport if you’re a United States citizen traveling to Canada.
Montreal has a pretty incredible Metro and bus system in town that will get you around to nearly every part of the city. There is also Uber in Montreal (but no Lyft, just FYI!), and every Uber driver we had spoke English, so we had zero issues communicating. There’s no reason to rent a car unless you want to explore more of Quebec!
Travel Guide to Montreal — Where to Stay
We enjoyed staying at Hotel Monville during our time in Montreal and loved every minute of it. It’s located conveniently in Downtown Montreal and is steps away from some of Montreal’s best museums, dining, and shopping. You can view my full review of Hotel Monville here.
Travel Guide to Montreal — Things to Do
- Visit the Museum of Fine Arts. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is the city’s largest museum, and with 140,000 square feet of exhibition space, you could spend an entire day in this incredible space. You can view works from all over the world, from all periods, and check out their main exhibit during your trip (we loved viewing the Alexander Calder: Radical Inventor exhibit during our visit!)
- Experience Old Port Montreal. There’s something for everyone at Old Port Montreal: take a ride on La Grande Roue de Montreal and soak up the best views of the city, go ziplining if you’re bold enough, head on a cruise, go ice skating — the possibilities are endless here! This is the one part of Montreal that I wish I had more time to explore.
- Stroll through Old Montreal. Old Montreal is one of my favorite spots in all of Montreal: the cobblestone streets and historic charm make me feel as if I’ve been transported to Europe. You’ll inevitably end up in Place Jacques Cartier, a huge square that’s a tad touristy but makes for great people-watching. We also took a quick stroll by the Notre Dame Basilica — a pretty great replica of the one we saw in Paris. Break for drinks at Hotel William Gray’s rooftop or coffee at Tommy Cafe.
- Walk or Bike a Formula 1 Track. Did you know the Formula 1 track is a public park you can access year-round? The last time we went to Montreal, we walked Circuit Gilles Villeneuve at Parc Jean-Drapeau, and it was so cool to see the track up close — and honestly, mind-blowing to know that it isn’t a super wide road!
Aside from walking the track, you can go cycling, have a picnic, play sports, explore the gardens, go on tours, and even do maple syrup tastings at this park. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon!
- Sample local produce at the Jean-Talon Market. If you want to enjoy local cuisine, stop by the Jean Talon Market in Little Italy. They’re open daily and have dozens of produce stands and small restaurants to try. Admittedly, you might need to speak a little bit of French to get around the market &mdash if your French isn’t the best, try to greet vendors with a “bonjour,” and politely ask if they can speak English. Don’t let this deter you, though — this market is a must-visit if you’re a foodie!
Travel Guide to Montreal — Where to Eat
I know I overloaded you with the food photos for this guide — but the food in Montreal is impressive. I had some of the best meals of my life in Montreal, and I cannot wait to eat through this city on my next visit!
A pro tip: download the app DINR to search for same-day reservations at the best restaurants in Montreal. Thanks to this app, we snagged reservations at really tough to get into spots!
Breakfast & Brunch
- Tommy: A super cute, Instagrammable cafe that has two locations in Montreal (and serves a great cup of coffee).
- Ibéricos: This Spanish restaurant just recently started its brunch service and did not disappoint. For only $20, you can get a 2-course meal with either a cheese and charcuterie plate or an entree. Since their brunch is still super new, their menu isn’t up on their website — but this Eater article shares a few more details about their new brunch!
- Foiegwa: Really, any meal is fantastic here, but Foiegwa is known for their brunch. You can add foie gras to pretty much anything on their menu — and if your server recommends it, I would go for it. I love the selection of sweet and savory dishes on their brunch menu, and the scallops with foie gras on their dinner menu were one of the best meals I had in town.
Lunch & Dinner:
- Lawrence: Lawrence recently renovated their space in the last few years, and the result is incredible: it was one of the chicest, most sophisticated spots I visited in Montreal. If you’re hunting for one of the best burgers in the city, Lawrence is your spot.
- Emilia Cantine Portugaise: Cantine Emilia is a casual Portuguese Grill that serves up some of the city’s most innovative fusion dishes. If you’re a fan of poutine, you won’t want to miss Emilia’s take on the dish: they offer three unique versions, each featuring their special ‘Emilia Poutine Sauce.’
- Maggie Oakes: If you’re enjoying an afternoon in Old Montreal, stop by Maggie Oakes for a delicious lunch. Here, you can enjoy incredible steaks, vegetarian dishes, and wines. The location is unbeatable, and the wine list is divine. We enjoyed ourselves here! It’s pretty easy to walk in for lunch, but I would make a reservation for brunch or dinner.
- Joe Beef: This restaurant was named one of the best restaurants in the world, and I couldn’t agree with the critics more: I had one of the best meals of my entire life at Joe Beef (Real talk: I shed a tear while eating the veal plate). The menu at Joe Beef changes daily, but they have one staple that you can order at any time: the lobster spaghetti (it’s a must!) It is tough to get a reservation here, but we snagged a last-minute spot with the DINR app!
- Au Pied de Cochon: Au Pied de Cochon offers innovative takes on rustic cuisine and has consistently been named one of the best restaurants in Canada for years. I was mind-blown by the presentation of some of the dishes: for the cavatelli, a server comes with a giant cheese bowl and will mix the pasta, cheese, and sauce right in front of you. They paired cured ham with pancakes and maple syrup, an unexpected yet delicious combo. I could go on, but this article is already getting pretty lengthy — try your best to snag a reservation here; you will not regret it!
- Pullman: Pullman was one of Montreal’s very first wine bars, and they offer a fantastic selection of small plates and an extensive wine list. Dinner here was a little more intimate and cozy, and IMO, this is the perfect spot for date night.
Travel Guide to Montreal — Nightlife
- Bar Cloakroom: Bar Cloakroom is a cozy speakeasy that seats 25 people and exclusively serves dealers’ choice-style beverages. Depending on when you go, there might be a bit of a line, but trust me: it is worth the wait. I can easily say this is one of the best bars I’ve ever visited!
- Brasserie Harricana: This chic, upscale brewery offers an incredible selection of craft beer and comfort eats. Great for a more casual night out!
- Atwater Cocktail Club: This back-alley bar serves specialty cocktails and snacks. It has a great ambiance, and we were blown away by the presentation (get the Smoke Show, you won’t be disappointed!) You can also order snacks from the attached restaurant, Foiegwa, at the bar.
- Dieu du Ciel!: Dieu Du Ciel is a craft brewery that isn’t afraid to experiment with bold flavors. We loved that they incorporated unique ingredients (their hibiscus beer was my favorite!), and we thought the staff was amiable and knowledgeable. Dieu du Ciel! had an incredible vibe, and we cannot wait for our next visit.
- Hotel William Gray Rooftop: This bar is only open seasonally, but we made it in before the season closed and got to experience one of the best views of Montreal. They also offer their full menu at the rooftop bar so that you can order brunch/dinner/etc. In addition to drinks.
- Cold Room: Looking for another speakeasy? Cold Room serves up gourmet cocktails in a cozy environment. This would be a great bar to visit for a date night or with a small group. No reservations — this spot is first come, first serve.
- MARCUS Lounge: While this is a full-service restaurant, I enjoyed MARCUS for its beverage program! This is a chic, upscale bar located in the Four Seasons, and at night, the focal point becomes the dark and luxurious Nightbar. This is a great place to be social and let loose!
Have you ever been to Montreal? Let me know in the comments, and make sure to catch my other travel guides here!
Photos by Tom McGovern