The Best Things to Do in Montreal This Summer
As writer Leah Rumack discovers, few Canadian destinations embrace summer quite as wholeheartedly as Montreal.
10 Things to Do in Montreal This Summer
Stay in the Old Port
While lots of shmancy hotels have bubbled up in the city centre over the last few years, nothing beats staying right in Montreal’s Old Port. You’ll feel like you’re in a charming European city with its preserved cobblestoned streets, gorgeous historical buildings and, of course, primo location on the banks of the St. Lawrence River (which is also where the legendary Cirque du Soleil pitches its tent if that’s on your to-do list).
If you’re looking for something with a more modern vibe, bunk at the Auberge’s hip baby sister Hotel William Gray. Named after the sheriff and merchant who built a home and warehouse on the site in 1785, the hotel is a cool integration of two historical buildings and a new glass tower that includes a hidden-gem rooftop pool and a subterranean spa.
Get Your Festival Pass
Even if you’re a titch beyond your electronic music festival years (oh, sweet—though somewhat hazy—memories!) there are still tons of festivals in Montreal. And I mean tons. Like, c’mon guys—leave some for other cities, ‘kay?
Of course there are the biggies like the International Jazz Festival, the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival and the International Fireworks Competition, but summer in Montreal is home to lots of smaller events too, like the free Mural Festival, Comiccon and the International Circus Arts Festival.
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Eat For Cheap
While Montreal has no shortage of cool restaurants that are on the pricier side, a bustling food scene means there are lots of equally delicious options that are more affordable, too.
The Satay Brothers have garnered a cult following for Singaporean specialties (they have a summer stall at the Atwater Market and a sit-down restaurant a few blocks away), check out Ma Poule Mouillé for Portuguese chicken, Comptoir Sainte-Cécile for lunch or weekend brunch (as well as one of the best Québec wine collections in town) or Le Super Qualité for tasty Indian street food. And don’t forget the classic Olive & Gourmando bakery café!
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Be a History Nerd
If you’re an obsessive historical plaque reader (guilty!), then Montreal is for you. It has it all—a rich Indigenous past, buildings dating back to the 1600s, and a complicated relationship with its deeply Catholic roots. What more can you ask for?
For a rainy-day activity, be sure to check out the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History (Pointe-à-Callière). Built on the site of the city’s original fort walls, you can see the actual remains of the fort in a unique excavated exhibit. Join a historic walking tour of Jewish Montreal with the Museum of Jewish Montreal or take a trippy after-dark spin through old Montreal and downtown with La Cité Mémoire, a cool series of massive video tableaus featuring people and key moments from Montreal’s past. I accidentally stumbled across this installation when I found myself facing the spectre of a 18th-century nun projected onto a massive building. Turns out it wasn’t the wine!
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Montrealers didn’t need a pandemic to convince them of the benefits of outdoor dining, and the city’s endless permanent “terrasses” means that nobody ever has to have an improvised al fresco experience next to an orange pylon and a moving streetcar (I’m looking at you, Toronto!). Most restaurants—particularly ones in the Old Port—have some sort of patio because they’re very European here, oui?
Enjoy perfectly cooked steak and zippy cocktails at Maggie Oakes‘s patio right on Montreal’s Place Jacques-Cartier, the city’s iconic meeting place, or a relaxing weekend brunch (don’t forget the mimosas) on Vieux-Port Steakhouse’s expansive, shady garden terrasse. Prefer your bevvies with a crazy view of the city? Check out one of Montreal’s many incredible rooftop patios like Perché (above), Terrasse Nelligan, Terrasse sur l’Auberge and Les Enfants Terribles.
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Burn Off Those Baguettes
Montreal is a major walking city (though be warned: there are hills—you’ll have a tush of steel after a day or so) and the metro is cute and comprehensive, so it’s easy to get your steps in while taking in all the charming scenery. (Hot public transit tip: if you’re visiting over a Saturday and Sunday, a $14.75 unlimited weekend pass pays for itself after two trips.)
If you don’t feel like wandering around with a map yelling at your spouse that they’re definitely going the wrong way, try a walking tour. Free Montreal Tours offers a pay-what-you-can walking tour of Old Montreal, while 16/42 provides off-the-beaten-path walking tours of the city’s less touristy neighbourhoods.
Seeing the city from two wheels is also a lovely summer activity, whether it’s by borrowing one of the BIXI bikes scattered throughout town, renting your own, or signing up for a tour with Montreal on Wheels. In any case, if there’s a gym in your hotel, you won’t be needing it.
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March to a Museum
Montreal is home to lots of interesting spots for art fans. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is the biggest show in town, with tens of thousands of works from across the ages. If you’re more of a modern-art lover, be sure to check out the recently renovated Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (just “MAC” to the cool kids). For edgy works that question what “art” is, pop in for a free visit at The PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art right in the Old Port.
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Fancy Food Halls and Funky Food Trucks
Yes, this is the third section about food, but 1) I love to eat, 2) Montreal is a prime destination for foodies, and 3) I’m hungry, okay?!
European-style food halls—which are basically fancy food courts that are prettier and have much better food than your local mall—have become a major thing in Montreal and they’re all conveniently located in the heart of downtown. There’s the Marché Artisans at The Queen Elizabeth Fairmont Hotel, Le Cathcart Restaurants et Biergarten nearby and the Time Out Market in the Montreal Eaton Centre, where I had a bowl of ramen from Marusan that was as good as any I’ve ever had in a restaurant, followed by a gourmet Key lime donut from Espresso Tunnel that I’m still thinking about. Kids (and big kids) will love Time Out’s vintage arcade games, and if that fails to keep mom and dad entertained, there are three bars—one for beer, one for wine, and one for cocktails because they’re civilized that way.
Gourmet food trucks are also having a big Montreal moment, especially at the monthly First Fridays food truck event at Olympic Park. It bills itself as Canada’s biggest food truck festival, but you’ll be too full of burgers from Nouveau Palais Winneburger to bother pulling out your measuring tape.
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Montreal is littered with lush parks that are perfect for picnicking, bike riding or just taking a load off under the sunny skies. Of course there’s the city’s namesake Mount Royal Park (known as “The Mountain” to locals), a massive green space in the heart of downtown that offers stunning city views. Stroll around Parc La Fontaine, which was originally a farm but is now surrounded by the hip restaurants of the Plateau neighbourhood, or cross the river to Parc Jean-Drapeau for a long riverside walk. Flower lovers will have no problem parting with $22 for access to the outdoor gardens and greenhouses at the Montreal “Space For Life” (aka the Montréal Botanical Garden).
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Sure to Shop
It’s not truly a vacation unless you spend some money on cute stuff you don’t really need. Browse one-of-a-kind creations from local makers at Boutique Artisans Canada, check out the many museum boutiques for arty gift ideas, and leave yourself plenty of time for a pilgrimage to that affordable fashion mecca, La Maison Simons.
Now that you know the best things to do in Montreal in summer, check out 10 great day trips from Montreal worth adding to your itinerary.