If you’ve never been to Montreal, you absolutely need to put it on your travel list right now! It’s like getting transported to Europe while never leaving Canada. Plus the food, oh my god the food!
I’ve been lucky enough to have visited this beautiful city 3 times already, most recently this past June. My husband and I visited Montreal for a week with friends, and had an amazing time. Honestly, when we travel, it’s not really about doing things, it’s about eating ALL THE THINGS. And we definitely hit up all the best spots in town (which I list below).
But since travel can be expensive, we made sure to save up for this trip and find deals where we could.
So, instead of flying or taking the train, we crunched the numbers and found that driving all four of us from Toronto to Montreal was the cheapest option.
We also opted to stay in a 2-bedroom apartment via AirBnB instead of a hotel, which was way cheaper. That and we were able to stay in Little Italy which is now my favourite Montreal neighbourhood. We honestly spent most of our time there because it had so many amazing bars, restaurants, and cafes.
Travelling around the city, I thought we’d save money by taking transit (as we usually do when travelling), but we actually either walked or took an Uber to our destination. By splitting the cost of the Uber four ways, it was actually cheaper to Uber everywhere since most of our trips cost no more than $12 from our apartment.
Another way we saved money was by making sure to go to all the best, affordable places. We don’t have expensive taste anyway, so we weren’t interested in spending $100 per person on dinner. Just give us some poutine and a beer and we’re have a grand ol’ time.
Below is a list of the places we check out, places we ate at, and a few extra pieces of advice if you’re planning on making a trip out there yourself soon. Enjoy!
Things to See & Do
You can’t miss this architectural wonder if you visit Montreal. It’s right in the heart of Old Montreal, and it’s where Celine Dion was married…so it’s kind of a big deal.
Step back in time in Old Montreal, where you’ll forget in your in a major Canadian city and feel like you’re in Paris. There are lots of great art galleries, restaurants and shops here, but you could just spend a few hours walking around taking some major Instagram snaps.
Mont Real (Mount Royal)
This mountain may not seem like much if you’re used to seeing the Rockies everyday, but it’s a great hike for a nice day, and the view of Montreal at the top is not to be missed.
Marché Jean-Talon (Jean-Talon Market)
This is one of the best outdoor markets I’ve ever been to. Way bigger than Granville Island’s Market in Vancouver and way nicer (and less stuffy) than the Saint Lawrence Market in Toronto. Not only can you get some of the freshest produce in the city, but the food vendors are all amazing. I had the best crêpe I’ve ever had there, and I’d go back for that same crêpe in a heartbeat.
I haven’t been to the Biodome since I was a teenager, on my first trip to Montreal to visit family. But I remember having the best time there, and have the photos in an album to prove it. This is a great place to check out if the weather is rainy or cold because everything’s indoors. It’s got hours of distractions with a botanical garden, insectarium and planetarium…and PENGUINS!
Places to Eat & Drink
Since I’m talking about Montreal here, obviously I’m going to start my places to eat list with the best poutine in the city. It’s called La Banquise and they’ve got every kind of poutine you can think of. They’ve also got hot dogs which are also quite delicious.
Best Steak Frites
This place reminds me of Paris, which is why I’ll go there every time I visit Montreal (I’ve already been twice!). L’Entrecôte St-Jean is this blast from the past looking restaurant that will make you feel fancy eating steak with fries. Make sure to make a reservation online beforehand because this place gets busy.
Best Montreal Smoked Meat
If it’s your first time going to Montreal, you need to go to Schwartz’s. End of. This place is an institution. It’s what Montreal smoked meat is all about! But, because it is the place to go for the best smoked meat sandwich, there’s usually a line. Last time I was there, I waited an hour…for a sandwich. But it was totally worth it.
Another thing you need to do when in Montreal is get a legit Montreal-style bagel. And where you need to get that legit Montreal-style bagel is from Fairmount Bagel. There is just nothing that compares to these bagels.
I actually stumbled upon this place by accident, and wow was it a pleasant surprise. Probably the coolest looking donut bar I’ve ever seen. Like, I almost felt not cool enough to go in there. Almost. If you’re a huge donut fan (like myself), then you need try out a few different varieties from Trou de Beigne. I’d say, they’re a pretty good rival to Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts (and that’s saying something!).
Best Southern Food
You probably wouldn’t think of getting southern food while in Montreal, but this was literally the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. Plus, the place is just so cool. You feel like you’ve walked into a hidden treasure in the city that only the locals know about. I’m of course talking about Dinette Triple Crown. So good!
Best Tiki Bar
Who doesn’t love a tiki bar! They’re kitschy, they’re fun and you can pretend you’re sipping your Painkiller on a beach somewhere. If you love a good cocktail with an umbrella in it, you’ll definitely want to check out Snowbird Tiki Bar.
I love bread. So much so that bread and I have a love/hate relationship. Mainly that I love bread so much, if I were to fully express my love for it, I’d be 1,000 pounds right now.
Anywho, if you’re in love with bread as much as I am, then you’ll need to make a stop at this amazing Montreal boulangerie. It’s called Boulangerie Guillaume, and not only is the bread incredible, it’s insanely cheap!
Other Great Places to Dine
Le Cartet for breakfast and brunch.
L’Avenue Bistro for brunch.
Olive et Gourmando for brunch, pastries and sandwiches.
Beauty’s Luncheonette if you like classic diners.
Icehouse for dinner and drinks.
Restaurant L’Orignal for drinks.
L’Assommoir for tapas.
Bistro-Brasserie Les Soeurs Grises for beer.
Espace Café for coffee.
Caffe Italia for traditional italian coffee.
Things to Remember During Your Visit
French is Quebec’s Official Language
French is the official language of Quebec, which means that most people you’ll encounter will be bilingual. You’ll only really encounter total francophones (who speak limited to no English) outside Quebec’s main cities.
That being said, whenever you’re interacting with service staff at a store or restaurant for instance, because of Bill 101 you’ll always be greeted or spoken to in French first.
I actually had no idea this was a thing until I asked our waitress at one of the restaurants we ate at. She said it was the law that they had to start with French first, then switch to English if customers spoke only English.
I personally really love this. It made it feel less like I was visiting just another Canadian city, and more like we were in Paris. It just made the whole trip that much more culture-filled.
Now, in case you are an English-only speaker, that doesn’t mean you should just always speak English while you’re there. Take this trip as an opportunity to expand your horizons, and at the very least, say these words in French instead of English when interacting with staff or locals.
Hello during the day = Bonjours
Hello during the evening = Bonsoir
Goodbye = Au revoir
Please = S’il vous plaît
Thank you = Merci
Thank you very much = Merci beaucoup
Save on Booze at the SAQ
Although it’s fun to buy a drink while you’re out and about, you can save a ton of money by buying your booze at the liquor store to drink before or after you take the streets of Montreal.
There are two ways you can do this. First, you can buy beer or wine at the depanneur (which is french for “convenience store”).
Second, you can buy beer, wine and hard liquor at the SAQ (Societe d’Alcool du Quebec), which is Quebec’s liquor commission. I suggest the SAQ only because they have a better selection and lower prices than the depanneur. But, since it is the government’s liquor store, just beware that it usually closes between 6pm and 8pm.