48 Hours in Montreal: The Best Things to Do in Montreal on a Two-Day Layover
Passing through Quebec? Treat yourself to a two-day layover and use our list of things to do in Montreal as your guide to the best this vibrant metropolis has to offer.
Experience a Multimedia Show Inside a 188-Year-Old Church
How can you make the Notre-Dame Basilica even more beautiful? By staging a state-of-the-art sound-and-light show within its walls, of course. One of the hottest tickets in Montreal is Aura: a three-act multimedia spectacle that breathes new life into the church's famed Gothic Revival architecture. Dozens of lasers and projection-mapped moving graphics—accompanied by orchestral and electronic music—illuminate Notre-Dame Basilica’s high altar, vaults, choir stalls and paintings, retelling Montreal's origins in the process. Aura is not only the best way to experience the Notre-Dame Basilica—it’s also one of the best things to do in Montreal.
Take in the Views from Canada’s Tallest Observation Wheel
As exciting as it is to see the skyline from the various vantage points on Mont Royal, there’s nothing quite like seeing Canada's own City of Lights from the Montreal Observation Wheel—at night. One of the newest additions to the city’s revitalized Old Port, this 60-metre high structure boasts jaw-dropping 360-degree views of the St. Lawrence River, Old Montreal and downtown buildings. For a truly opulent experience, skip the 20-minute ride in the regular cabins and book a 30-minute excursion in Gondola No. 42. This VIP cabin is equipped with leather black-and-white armchairs (courtesy of Rolls-Royce), temperature controls, and a glass floor. It'll set you back a cool $209, but you can split that between four passengers for memories that will last a lifetime.
Sample International Delicacies in an Open-Air Market
Craving multicultural flavours in the heart of Montreal's Little Italy? The bakers, butchers, fishmongers, cheesemakers and artisans at Jean-Talon Market—one of North America’s largest open-air public markets—have been attracting discerning foodies and home cooks since 1933. While browsing the market, be sure to stop by La Boite Aux Huitres for freshly shucked oysters, then look into La Fromagerie Hamel for a selection of the province’s best cheeses. Just don’t leave until you’ve treated yourself to the one-of-a-kind flavours at Épices de cru: a specialty tea and spice shop run by Ethné and Philippe de Vienne. (You’re welcome.)
Paddle the Lachine Canal
The idea of kayaking through a city may raise an eyebrow, but trust us: it’s one of the best ways to admire Montreal’s architecture and get back in touch with nature. If you’re visiting in the spring or summer, H2O Adventures offers kayak, paddleboat and eco-friendly electric boat rentals for tours along the 13.5 kilometre urban route of the Lachine Canal, located in the southwest section of the city. If you’re an intermediate paddler, check out H2O’s tour from Atwater Market to the Old Port, passing by the Saint-Gabriel Locks and Griffintown along the way. Beginners can opt for a two-hour initiation course, but be warned: you may find yourself immediately addicted to this thoroughly rewarding outdoor activity.
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Feast at One of the City's Best Restaurants
The restaurants in Little Italy aren’t always Italian. Case in point: Salmigondis, a trendy—and pricey—brunch and dinner spot launched by co-chefs Brian Peters and Robert Kaniak. Discarding any focus on specific cooking styles (Salmigondis translates to "hodgepodge"), the New Brunswick natives instead let the ingredients dictate the dishes: mains like bitter lettuce with Fiji pears, beef flank steak with chorizo, and venison tartare are par for the course on a seasonal, ever-changing menu. As if the food wasn’t enough reason to visit, the interior of Salmigondis—a cream-coloured dining room, dark oak tables and an open kitchen concept—is the definition of chic simplicity.
Go Underground at a Museum
Old Montreal’s Pointe-à-Callière is not only the largest history museum in Montreal, but also the largest archaeology museum in Canada. Begin your journey with Yours Truly, Montreal: a multimedia show that revisits landmark moments in the city’s history. The main highlight, however, is the museum's archaeological crypt where you can see firsthand the foundational remains of Montreal's earliest buildings and water systems. Along with its permanent offerings, Pointe-à-Callière also hosts several temporary exhibitions per year—a retrospective on the classic Montreal sketch comedy series, La Petite Vie, runs until April 7.
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Eat Local Under the Night Sky
Located on the third floor of the Society for Arts and Technology, Restaurant Labo Culinaire is part restaurant and part research lab. Its chef, Adrien Renaud, collaborates with designers and local craftspeople in his quest to achieve the perfect marriage between the rural and the urban. Its menu reads like a "best-of" list of Montreal's local producers, whether it's fresh fruit and veg (heirloom tomatoes with focaccia and buffalo mozzarella), meat (veal steak with ratatouille and cauliflower puree) or seafood (marinated trout with pickled carrots and wild rice). Visiting in the warmer seasons? Head over to Labo’s terrace for an incomparable view!
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Dance the Night Away at a Festival
What the Governors Ball is to rock and hip-hop, MUTEK is to electronic and dance music. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2019, the six-day festival—held at an array of venues across the city—will feature live music, digital art and audiovisual performances that push the boundaries of Montreal's art scene to its limits. Worried about feeling out of place in a sea of millennials? Not to worry: it isn't uncommon to find twentysomethings dancing right alongside seniors at MUTEK. Highlight performances from 2018’s edition include disco and deep house DJ Honey Dijon and ambient music producer Lawrence English. Festival passes are $280 each.
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Marvel at Habitat 67—From the Water
Too tired to walk, but still hungry for more of Montreal's unique architecture? Hop aboard one of Le Petit Navire's boats for a charming excursion along the Old Port and Lachine Canal. During the tour, you'll discover the Old Port’s marine life, Montreal’s well-preserved (and massive) grain elevators, and the world-famous housing complex, Habitat 67. Old Port tours run from May 5 to Oct. 14, while Lachine Canal tours run from June 21 to Sept. 3.
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Pamper Yourself on a Floating Spa
Montrealers know how to pamper themselves, and visitors to the city have their pick of several world-class spas during their stay. One of the most impressive options, however, is Bota Bota. Anchored on a 170-foot former ferryboat in the St. Lawrence River, this contemporary spa serves up chic saunas, private cabanas, lush gardens and minimalist décor. What sets it apart, however, is its Scandinavian-inspired water circuit: a form of spa therapy where guests alternate between hot and cold pools, steam rooms and saunas. Bota Bota is decadence you don't have to be intimidated about.
The Best Place to Stay in Montreal
For a little luxury that doesn’t break the bank, book a superior suite at the Saint-Sulpice Hotel—just a five-minute walk from the Notre-Dame Basilica in the heart of Old Montreal and the nearby metro. Starting from just $175 a night and boasting an impressive 550 square feet of chic loft-style space, it's the ideal option for your 48-hour stay. Amenities include free access to U.N.I. Training, a comprehensive gym, and Yoga Vieux Montréal, a yoga studio that’s perfect for beginners and experts alike. Both are located mere minutes away from the hotel.
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