12 Must-Do Experiences in Montreal

Montreal is a city like no other, and its unique, unmissable attractions define it. Experience the city like never before with these Montreal must-dos, from going to the spa on a moored boat in the Old Port, to touring the legendary food trucks, to street art hopping on hip boulevard Saint-Laurent—not to mention ice skating in the summer, a quintessentially Montreal thing to do.

Yes, there is Old Montreal and the shops of rue Sainte-Catherine. But Montreal is much more, especially in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood, a place famous for its alternative atmosphere. Here you find tons of street art, each piece more delightful than the next. Most murals aren’t spontaneous works by local artists but are part of the many street art festivals taking place on Boulevard Saint-Laurent throughout the year, like MuRAL. Artists come from all over the world to paint, lending an international vibe to the city but also some amazing pieces. This here is one of my favorites, located on the corner of Saint-Laurent and Des Pins streets.
Rue de la Commune Ouest
Bota Bota began its life on the water as a ferryboat. Then called the Arthur Cardin, it sailed between the cities of Sorel and Berthier, just east of Montreal, back in the 1950s. Many years later, someone had the idea to transform this mothballed boat, docked in the old port of Montreal, into a floating spa. Mission accomplished. With its 25,000 square feet, 21 treatment rooms, 6 terraces, and 40 different types of services, the Bota Bota makes a pretty grand spa, if you ask me. What’s even greater about the spa is the location. Docked in the old port with stunning views of downtown and Old Montreal, the Bota Bota offers its passengers (not customers!) the healing benefits of a spa while they are lulled by the natural movements of the St Lawrence River.
1251 Rue Rachel E, Montréal, QC H2J 2J9, Canada
Hunting poutine is hard work, but it can do serious damage to your waistline if you’re not careful. Call in at Fitz & Follwell and work off some of those excess curds on a bike, snow, or walking tour of Montreal. The shop is located on beautiful Avenue du Mont-Royal, and should serve to whet your appetite for all things bipedal. Montreal is one of Canada‘s most bike-friendly cities, and the folks at Fitz & Follwell Co. can help get you on your way.
55 Rue Saint-Jacques, Montréal, QC H2Y 1K9, Canada
To me, no other place in Montréal represents the city better than Place d’Armes. After all, it is the second oldest public site in the city, and its center is home to a statue of Paul de Chomedey, the founder of Montréal. And the varied architectural styles surround the square in a way that clearly demonstrates just how old and historic Montréal is. A blend of Gothic Revival, classic Art Deco, and ultra-modern sleek skyscrapers illustrates the major periods of Montréal’s development. It’s definitely a great place to start or end an Old Montreal exploratory tour, or to stop and people watch!
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The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts
1380 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montréal, QC H3G 1J5, Canada
One of Canada‘s most popular museums, the MBAM (as the locals call it) was founded in 1867 and has welcomed its fair share of rotating exhibits, from Yves Saint-Laurent to Chihuly, and from Tiffany glass to Matisse, with many other exciting ones to come. Even more interesting for visitors is the permanent collection, an ode to Canadian art, from Amerindian artifacts to ultra-modern paintings—including the main players of the Quebec-based modernist movement: Alfred Pellan, Paul-Émile Borduas, and Jean-Paul Riopelle. Whether you visit for the popular exhibition or for the permanent collection, the MBAM is a must-do in Montreal. Insider tip: Wednesday nights are 50% off when major exhibitions are on.
4777 Avenue Pierre-de Coubertin
While most people head to the Olympic Center solely for the quirky stadium, I am happy to report that besides the biggest white elephant Montreal has ever known (it took 35 years to pay the stadium off after the Olympic Games were over), there is another attraction here to captivate both kids and grownups: the Biodome. What could be called Montreal’s zoo is in fact a space that recreates five different ecosystems from around the world: Laurentian Maple Forest, Labrador Coast, Arctic and Antarctic, as well as the St. Lawrence Gulf and the tropical rain forest. Anyone remotely interested in animals, science, or nature could easily spend a few hours here touring the different parts of the world. More reasons why you should go: lynx kittens, smiley rays, monkeys, and penguins. ‘Nuff said.
74 Avenue Fairmount O, Montréal, QC H2T 2M2, Canada
New York City vs Montreal. Oh, the debate. In the ongoing Great War of the Bagels between the two cities, Montreal has always been the favorite contender, both among the proud locals and the tourists. Let’s be honest here—Montreal wins, and there is no such thing as better bagels than Montreal bagels. If you agree with the premise of this highlight, then you might want to add this to your next Montreal trip: the Fairmount Bagel Bakery in the Mile End area. Founded by Jewish immigrant Isadore Shlafman in 1919, the knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation, and the family still uses the same methods even today. Everything is done by hand, and with love! It’s very rewarding, as a consumer, to buy things locally and encourage an almost-century-old family-owned business. And in this case, it’s double the reward: good conscience, and full stomach. What’s not to like?
160 Rue Saint Viateur Est
Did you know this is a Montreal-based brand? This menswear maker, specializing in shirts and suits hip professionals actually like to wear, has conquered indie circles all over the world with its web store, but over the past couple of years it has also opened flagship stores in Vancouver and Toronto. The Montreal store was the original, though, and you can soak up that cred in a stylish wood-and-iron shop on Mile End’s Rue Saint-Viateur. You’ll find Frank & Oak’s signature check shirts in both long- and short-sleeve, as well as suits and accessories like ties and a beautiful range of house-designed bags, whose combination of rugged canvas and thick leather has made them a favorite among women, too. Photo: Jocelyn Reynolds
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