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Hidden Gems Around the World

Visiting Montreal for the First Time? Here’s What To See and Do

Man wearing buffalo check shirt sits on a balustrade high above the city and looks at skyline at sunset
Hallo, mein Name ist Liam!

Liam Greenwell is a writer and teacher based in Mexico City. He is originally from Cambridge, Massachusetts. You can read more of his work at and find him on Twitter @liam_greenwell.

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Hi, I'm Liam!

Liam Greenwell is a writer and teacher based in Mexico City. He is originally from Cambridge, Massachusetts. You can read more of his work at and find him on Twitter @liam_greenwell.

Mehr anzeigen

Montreal is a city both inseparable from Quebec and completely unique from much of the rest of the province. Diverse, bustling, and multilingual, it has a different vibe from the province’s capital, Quebec City, which retains a frozen-in-amber feel. Citizens here, though, are still very much proud of their Quebecois culture. On your first trip, make sure to get a sense of the city’s nature, dig into its storied cuisine, and treat yourself to its lovely neighborhoods, filled with art, music, and shopping.

Climb (or bike) Mount Royal

View to city skyline at sunset with fall foliage in foreground
Views from Mount Royal park overlook the city. | Bildquelle: Songquan Deng / Shutterstock

The city’s forested namesake.

Rising from the middle of Montreal is the peak of Mt. Royal, from which the city got its name. The good news is that the views from the top have been preserved for everyone, since it’s protected as a park—one of the best urban green spaces in the world. Mosey up the steep staircases or bike up the curvy paved roads to emerge at one of several viewpoints that look over the St. Lawrence River and Old Montreal. You’ll be hanging out with local Montrealers, who picnic, drink wine, and otherwise relax on the summit. If you want an even better view, the only way is a helicopter tour, far above even the city’s highest point.

Go on a market crawl

Woman and young girl shop produce inside a large market lined with tables of fruit and vegetables
Local produce and specialty foods are the focus of Montreal's food markets. | Bildquelle: Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock

Gourmet excellence.

There are two major markets in the city that every visitor should check out for food stalls, fresh produce, and local fare. The first is Jean-Talon Market, northwest of the city center (but a quick metro ride away) in the neighborhood of Little Italy. There, you’ll find a warren of fresh cheese, veggies, and meats from nearby farms, as well as Quebecois specialties such as maple pies. You can explore the market’s surrounding neighborhoods with the help of a local expert, as well.

In the other direction, southwest of the center near the hipster enclave of Saint-Henri, you’ll find Atwater Market, where the emphasis is similarly on specialty local products and prepared foods. Take your purchases to one of the communal picnic tables and have a feast.

Tour Jewish culture

Men dressed in traditional Orthodox Jewish attire walk down a city sidewalk
Montreal is home to a large Jewish community. | Bildquelle: Catherine Zibo / Shutterstock

Bagels and beyond.

Montreal is widely considered to have some of the best bagels in the world—smaller and denser than their famous cousins in New York City. This is thanks to the robust Jewish community in Montreal (around a quarter of all Jewish people in Canada call the city home), which has included such members as the singer Leonard Cohen. Explore the old Jewish neighborhood of Outremont on a walking tour, trying classics like the smoked meat sandwich at Lester’s Deli. You can also try a more contemporary interpretation of many classics at Arthurs Nosh Bar in Saint-Henri.

Take a plunge at Bota Bota

Riverboat with updated exterior docked at harbor with skyline in background
Bota Bota is a riverboat converted into a spa. | Bildquelle: Awana JF / Shutterstock

Luxury on the St. Lawrence.

It’s not often you board a boat floating on the chilly St. Lawrence River … to get a massage. But that’s exactly what’s in store when visiting Bota Bota, a riverboat converted into a spa and located just steps from the famous Old Port. Here you can indulge in facials, massages, pools of varied temperatures, and sauna rooms. After your experience, continue your relaxation with a drink in the neighborhood, perhaps at the basement speakeasy Clandestino, by the Notre-Dame Basilica. Or, if you’re feeling more ambitious, you can try a private walking tour through the neighborhood instead.

Visit the botanical garden

Large outdoor fountain and sculpture of woman covered in plants
The garden covers more than 190 acres (75 hectares). | Bildquelle: Richard Cavalleri / Shutterstock

An inspired landscape of flowers and foliage.

Considered one of the most impressive plant collections in the world, the Montreal Botanical Garden stretches over 190 acres (75 hectares) in the north of the city. The complex features a mixture of indoor and outdoor spaces with plants from all over the world. Highlights include the Chinese Garden, Japanese Garden, and First Nations Garden, each meticulously constructed to honor both culture and botany, as well as a huge plant sculpture of a woman that doubles as a fountain. Nearby, catch a glimpse of the Olympic Stadium, completed for the 1976 games.

Hunt for culture

Glass-fronted entrance to a University of Montreal building
Three universities are located in Montreal. | Bildquelle: Marc Bruxelle / Shutterstock

Seek out second-hand books and indie films.

Montreal is a city built for intellectuals. Three major universities are nestled amidst the city blocks, including English-language McGill University and French-language Université de Montréal. What that means for visitors is that, in addition to their picturesque campuses, there is a plethora of art-house cinemas, bilingual bookstores, and affordable eats in the city. Check out Cinéma Moderne in the Mile-End neighborhood for an indie flick and a coffee or beer. Then, shop at The Word Bookstore, near McGill’s campus, a hot spot for rare and collectable second-hand volumes since 1975. Top it all off with a bowl of delicious noodles on the strip of student-friendly Japanese restaurants near the Guy-Concordia metro station, like Kazu or Otto Yakitori Izakaya.

Dive into the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Large gallery with brightly colored furniture, glassware, and other household objects
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is the largest in Canada. | Bildquelle: Benoit Daoust / Shutterstock

Impressive exhibitions and bilingual events.

The largest art museum in Canada, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) plays host to a varied and deep collection. Browse the building’s five pavilions, some newly expanded, set around a central courtyard just steps from Mt. Royal. The museum houses works by Rodin, Degas, and El Greco, but the real highlight is the unique exhibition of Canadian and Quebecois art. Make sure also to explore the events offered, which are routinely presented bilingually and provide insight into different overlooked features of the collections.

Have a beach day

Blue beach umbrellas and lounge chairs on beach next to river with industrial-looking buildings and bridge in background
Montreal has many nearby beaches. | Bildquelle: Anne Richard / Shutterstock

Put winter behind you.

A city known for its cold may not be the first place one would look for a beach vacation. But as soon as summer rolls around, Montrealers embrace the season by taking the plunge at one of the city’s many nearby beaches. Jean-Doré Beach, for instance, is a 5-minute drive from the Old Port on nearby Notre Dame Island. A touch further, Cap-Saint-Jacques Nature Park (at the far end of the Island of Montreal, about 30 minutes from the city center) promises a bit more seclusion. And if you’re a thrillseeker at heart, you can give white-water rafting in the nearby Lachine Rapids a try.

Listen to live jazz

Man plays trumpet as part of jazz band on stage
The Montreal Jazz Festival is the world's largest. | Bildquelle: Alina Reynbakh / Shutterstock

A world-class music scene.

One of the best reasons to visit Montreal is the annual Jazz Festival, held every summer for about a week in the Quartier des Spectacles borough. In 2004, the festival was recognized as the largest of its kind in the world by Guinness World Records, and it seems to get bigger every year—now attracting more than 3,000 artists from more than 30 countries. Even if you miss those shows, Montreal is a great city for live music: Check out the House of Jazz in the suburb of Laval or Modavie closer to downtown. Or, to dig deeper into the past, take a tour that spotlights Black history in the city’s jazz scene.

Engage with modern architecture

Aerial view of large glass dome with green trees and some other buildings around
Some exhibits from the 1967 World's Fair are still in use today. | Bildquelle: R.M. Nunes / Shutterstocl

The legacy of a World’s Fair.

Expo 67 was one of the most popular World’s Fairs of the 20th century, and its legacy remains a point of pride for Montrealers today. The city’s mayor at the time, Jean Drapeau, led a pioneering effort to take the Expo as a serious opportunity to celebrate Canada’s 100th anniversary. On St. Helen’s Island, check out the Biosphere, a unique glass dome that houses an environmental museum and originally formed part of the US pavilion at the Expo. Then, venture to Cité du Havre to see Habitat 67, an apartment building that provided a template for mixed-use urban housing in a Brutalist style.

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Sehen Sie sich alle Touren in Montreal an
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Hidden Gems Around the World |
Hidden Gems Around the World