Things to See and Do in Montreal

By: Sam Elsley
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Montreal is the perfect combination of old, new, Western, and European. With this melting-pot nature comes a burst of different types of sights, activities, cuisines, and attractions to check out.

With so many options, it can be tough to narrow down an itinerary when visiting a place like Montreal. To give you a starting point, here are eight essential things to see and do the next time you’re in Montreal.


St. Viateur Bagel Shop

If you’re looking for bagels that match — if not surpass — those found in New York, look no further than St. Viateur Bagel Shop.

Just from the shop’s steam-filled windows and never-ending line of loyal customers, you know the quality you can expect from St. Viateur. Cooked in a woodfire oven and hand-shaped in front of you, it’s hard not to grab a few extra bagels for the road. Add a dollop of creme fraiche, Montreal’s upgraded version of traditional creme cheese, onto the quality bagels and a stop at St. Viateur is the perfect way to start your day.

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Mount Royal

Jutting out from the city is Montreal’s 764-foot mountain, Mount Royal. There are different ways to get to the top depending on how long you want to spend hiking and how physically fit you are. There are easier, more direct paths lasting no more than 20 minutes or there are longer paths zig-zagging around the large wooded forest blanketing Mount Royal that can easily take a couple hours of hiking.

At the top of the mountain is a large observatory with panoramic views of the city and forest below. For those more musically inclined, there’s also a piano at the summit that’s free for anyone to play. During the winter, you can snowshoe, cross-country ski, toboggan, and snow tube.

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Sunday Morning Drum Circle

If you’re visiting Montreal during the summer, you can head down to the giant drum circle around the George-Etienne Cartier statue at the base of Mount Royal.

While no one really knows its origin, the drum circle — which includes drummers, DJs, and other performers — has been around since the 1860s. While the festivities typically start in the late morning, they actually continue all the way until sunset. This makes it the perfect start, middle, or end to your day.

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Schwartz Deli

Almost as iconic as Mount Royal is Montreal’s Schwartz Deli. In operation since 1928, Schwartz Deli has become famous around the world for its delicious smoked meat menu. As a result, it’s going to be busy no matter when you go. You can certainly eat inside the deli, but with a constant rotation of customers and orders coming in and going out, you’re probably better off grabbing your food to go and eat it somewhere else.

Regardless, carving out some time to experience Schwartz Deli is a Montreal-must.

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With so many beautiful parks to choose from, a picnic with friends, loved ones, or just yourself on a beautiful sunny day in Montreal is a great way to kill part or all of the day. Picnics are especially great in Montreal because you are legally allowed to sip wine or beer in public parks as long as you are picnicking.

If you don’t know where to picnic, Parc La Fontaine is especially gorgeous in late summer and early fall. You can also take a break from eating and drinking to paddleboat around one of the park’s two large ponds.

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Old Montreal

Much of Montreal’s appeal lies in the preservation of its history. When walking around Old Montreal — a small, cobblestone corner of the city by the St. Lawrence River — you’re surrounded by a mix of early European and North American history and architecture.

While there are plenty of shops and restaurants to check out, many of them of quite touristy. Your time is better spent aimlessly walking or biking around random cobblestone streets taking in the sights. When you’re done exploring, you can either go check out the nearby Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, a towering 200-foot tall basilica dating back hundreds of years, or the Old Port for a beautiful view of the St. Lawrence River.

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Gibeau Orange Julep

A roadside fast food restaurant with a huge three-story orange ball on top of it may not sound like a must-see. However, Gibeau Orange Julep is a Montreal staple. Although it was founded in 1932, everything from the packaging of the food to the outfits of the servers is more reminiscent of the 1950s. Because of this, Gibeau Orange Julep seriously feels like a step back in time. You can live out your own high school rom-com movie with a burger, fries, and famous Gibeau Orange Julep drink on one of the picnic benches outside of the restaurant.

Keep in mind that the restaurant is a little out of the way from most other Montreal attractions. As such, it’s best to make it the last stop before heading back to your hotel.

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Sometimes referred to as the Europe of Canada, Montreal is, of course, known for its nightlife. For those looking to dance or explore the bar scene, a trip to Le Village Gai — Montreal’s world-famous LGBTQ district — is a must. Mingling with drag queens at Cabaret Mado or dancing until morning at Stereo are just a couple of ways to experience the Village’s nightlife.

After you’re done dancing, or if you just need to refuel, you can walk 20 feet in any direction and indulge in some poutine or Portuguese food. If you’re not looking for just any old poutine or Portuguese food and want something more established, some famous spots to check out are La Banquise in the Plateau for poutine and Coco Rico on St. Laurent Boulevard for Portuguese food. Be warned: expect to be waiting around for a while at either of these spots, especially later in the night.

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