7 Top Things to Do in Montrealby Danielle Contray | September 13, 2016
Montreal may be the largest city in Quebec, but it's still easy to see many of the top sights even if you are just in port for the day. Whether you are arriving on an ocean-going vessel or on a smaller river ship, you'll dock near the history-filled Vieux-Port (Old Port) district — a great jumping-off point for exploring the city. From there you can explore Montreal's scenic neighborhoods, sample the local cuisine, and take one of the most beautiful urban hikes in the world. Here, our picks for the top things to do in Montreal.
1. Go back in time in the Vieux-Port.
Cobblestone streets are lined with sturdy, stone buildings that once housed shipping company offices but now have charming restaurants and inns. There are also grand buildings, like the neoclassical Marché Bonsecours and the Second Empire-style Hôtel de Ville. If you are traveling with the kids, this is where you'll find the city's impressive science center as well as history museums.
2. Taste local flavors at Jean-Talon Market.
Montreal is surrounded by farmland, and markets around the city sell fresh-from-the-farm meats and produce. The best place to sample the local goods? This sprawling market in Little Italy. Go at lunchtime and you can make a meal of the meat pies or the sandwiches made with local cheeses and sausages. Be sure to stock up on thick, dark Grade B maple syrup, tapped from trees at the sugar farms just outside the city.
3. Hike up Mount Royal.
This hill in the center of the city is gorgeous year-round, from the lush green of summer to snow-blanketed winter (when the hiking trails attract cross-country skiers) and the gilded fall. It takes about an hour to hike up the hill from downtown Montreal, and you'll find that the paths are well-worn by locals as well as visitors. At the top you can take in the views of the city and explore the lakes, paths, and playgrounds in the 500-acre Mount Royal Park.
4. See the sights on Île Sainte-Hélène.
This island in the St. Lawrence was the main location for the World Fair Expo 67, and the biosphere now houses an eco-focused museum. The city view from the towering L'Homme statue by Alexander Calder — just one of 15 pieces of public art in the Parc Jean-Drapeau — makes for a striking photo.
5. Be wowed by the Notre-Dame Basilica.
This Gothic Revival church, one of the most striking buildings in the city, dates back to the 1820s. Inside, the ceiling is painted sky blue and lined with dark wood arches and ornate decorations. You'll see intricate statues of saints and biblical scenes, stained-glass windows that depict early life in Montreal, and an unforgettable 7,000-pipe organ.
6. Explore Mile End.
This neighborhood was historically the city's Jewish enclave, and over the years it has evolved into a trendy neighborhood that still manages to retain its Old World vibe. You'll find indie boutiques as well as enduring eateries, including Beautys Luncheonette, where you can order challah French toast all day long. Head to Fairmount Bagels to try the local iteration of the breakfast staple, which is boiled in honey water and baked in a wood-fire oven. Our favorite, the tout garnis, is similar to an everything bagel and topped with poppy, sesame, and fennel seeds.
7. Shop in the underground city.
Hidden under the main shopping strip of St. Catherine is a network of underground streets where you can shop and have lunch without ever braving the cold Montreal winter. It's worth exploring even on sunny days, when you'll still find the labyrinth full of shoppers.
Danielle Contray is the Brooklyn-based managing editor of ShermansCruise.