We knew it would be fun, a great long-weekend getaway, but we hadn’t expected Montreal to be so … well, enchanting.
Don’t get me wrong. We certainly encountered the unexpected and downright quirky in Montreal, including but not limited to Darth Vader, Predator, and some very creative and expressive street art. But overall, this city impressed us more each day with its fascinating history, diverse culture, stunning cathedrals, and spectacular food.
In just three days, you, too, can experience some of the best that Montreal has to offer. Here’s a suggested itinerary to help you make the most of your limited time in the city:
9:00 – 10:00 am Grab some breakfast at one of the bistros in Vieux Montreal.
You’ll pay a little more, but it’s good to get the experience of eating in the Old Town at least once if you feel you can afford it.
10:00 – 11:00 am Visit the Notre Dame Basilica
Notre Dame Basilica is Montreal’s most magnificent basilica and is not to be missed. Originally built in the 17th century it combines characteristics of both the Neo-Classical and Neo-Gothic styles. This stunningly beautiful church has enough seating for 3000 in the nave and two tiers of balconies on either side. When you visit, make sure to check out the elaborate wooden pulpit on the left side of the church. In its base stand spectacular statues of the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah.
11:00 – 12:30 Head to Chinatown for lunch
Chinatown is easily recognized by the two giant Asian style arches that bookmark this 18 block district. Originally formed by the Chinese immigrants who came in large numbers after 1880, it has been a distinctive part of the city for over a century. As one would expect, many of the restaurants serve distinctly and varied Asian cuisines including Szechuan and Cantonese food and has only benefitted from the expanding Asian influence that has come South East Asian countries in the past couple of decades.
1:00- 3:00 Visit the Chateau Ramezay
Originally built by Claude de Ramezay, Montreal’s 11th governor, this French style Chateau has witnessed almost every stage of Motreal’s history. Through the years it has been home to a number of Ramizey’s successors and even used as an office for the West India Company. Restored to its original splendor, this museum provides a valuable opportunity to learn about Montreal’s history and heritage. Important documents, uniforms, and furniture are displayed along with the city’s first automobile.
3:00 Montreal’s City Hall
Admire the beauty of Montreal’s City Hall located across the street from Chateau Ramezay at the end of Vieux Montreal.
This spectacular building was home to Canada’s Parliament in the early 1800s and was later used as a vegetable market. It is now home to several stories of fancy clothing and artisan shops, and is a great place to have a look around, even if you’re not in the mood to buy anything.
5:00 – 6:00 Stroll along the Vieux Port
The old port experienced the pinnacle of its glory days in the 19th century as one of the most important inland harbors in North America, but its importance declined throughout the 20th century. By the end of the 1980’s, however, it experienced a breath of new life as it was transformed into a recreational area. Now, whether it’s the cycling in the summer or skating on rinks in the winter, the old port’s 12.5 km of waterside walkways adds to the charm of this popular district of Montreal.
6:00 Enjoy dinner and shopping in Vieux (Old) Montreal
9:00 Enjoy a leisurely breakfast of coffee and pastries at Juliet and Chocolat.
This sweet cafe has locations throughout the city, but we recommend stopping in the Latin Quarter on Rue Saint-Denis, where we stayed, or heading to St. Laurent Boulevard for your fill of coffee, pastries, and of course chocolate!
10:00 – 1:00 Pointe-a-Calliere Archeology Museum
This has to be one of the most interesting museums that we have ever been to, and if we go back to Montreal, it would be worth checking out a second time! Built on top of excavated building foundations and water systems from the 17thcentury, this setting makes the perfect setting for learning about Montreal’s fascinating history and the role it has played in Canada’s history as a whole.
Not to be missed is the 20 minute 3-D introductory movie of Montreal. One of the most unique experiences we have had, this movie takes advantage of a fantastic light display, movie screens in front of and to either sides of the audience, and even the centuries old foundations of the city below. Just don’t visit on Monday … they are closed, come to find out.
1:00 – 4:00 Head to the underground city for lunch and shopping
What began in 1966 as Montreal’s first subway lines has expanded into a flourishing underground city. With more than 200 restaurants, 1600 shops, hotels, concert halls, and film theaters this underground city can appear to go on endlessly.
4:00 – 6:00 Take a walk along the Golden Mile
From University Street, near the underground city, head to Rue Sherbrooke, along the slopes of Mont Royal, to take in a piece of Montreal’s more affluent past. During the late-1800s, some of Canada’s most successful traders and industrialists built their homes in this area. Many of the remaining buildings are now up-scale boutiques, bistros, or hotels.
6:30 Dinner at Schwartz’s Deli on St. Laurent Boulevard
Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen is a Montreal landmark and is rumored to have the best smoked meat sandwich in the whole town. It was certainly delicious!
10:00 – 12:00 Take a walk at Parc Mont Royal
Although we had quite the misadventure atop this park, we still believe Parc Mont-Royal is a must see for any visitor to the city. Parc Mont Royal is a symbol of pride to its people and the name sake of the famous city that sits in its shadow. Established as a park in 1867 and landscaped by Fredrick Law Olmsted, the man who also designed New York’s famous Central Park, this iconic place offers visitors beautiful views of the skyline and a great place for a leisurely hike.
1:30 – 4:00 Visit St. Joseph’s Oratory
Architecturally, this is one of the most impressive buildings we’ve ever seen with its massive copper dome, one of the largest in the world. This cathedral was built in honor of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Each year, two million pilgrims climb the 300 steps to the entrance on their knees! We didn’t believe it until we saw them for ourselves, climbing the stairs on their knees in the snow! The site is famous for the miracles reported to have occurred here.
6:00 Find a pub and indulge in a classic French-Canadian tradition: Poutine!
What a weekend! Reward yourself with a relaxing meal. This delicious take on French fries (smothered in cheese, soaked in gravy!) is a must-eat before leaving Montreal.
Phew! That’s quite the weekend!
What else you need to know
There is so much more to do in Montreal that you cannot possibly fit it all into three days. You could probably spend three days just visiting museums alone in Montreal. Or, if the weather permits, relaxing with friends and family in the city’s many parks. We’ve offered you the highlights based on what we enjoyed, but we encourage you to explore some more on your own.
Don’t forget to plan your trip around one of the many festivals. Known as the city of festivals, Montreal hosts a different one each month of the year, including a world-renowned jazz festival in the summer.
And, last but not least, don’t forget they do speak French in Montreal! Although most people you meet will also speak excellent English, you may find that road signs are written predominantly in French. But don’t worry, just employ some common sense and look at the accompanying illustration — and remember: “Sortie” means exit. Happy travels!
Have you ever been to Montreal? What would you add to this itinerary?