Ahhhh, Montreal! This Quebec city is unlike anywhere else you’ve ever been. A winning combination of a vibrant, modern city with the traditional charm of Old-World Europe. Montreal is the second-largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris. It’s a multicultural mecca whose French accent interweaves with English and dozens of other ethnic communities which help shape Montreal’s neighbourhoods.
Let’s discover Montreal through its 6 most beautiful neighbourhoods. From the best things to do to where to stay to back-to-back festivals, here’s my travel guide to the best neighbourhoods in Montreal.
Best Neighbourhoods in Montreal
Guide to Mount Royal
Right in the middle of Montreal sits Mount Royal often referred to by the locals as simply “the mountain.” This neighbourhood is home to only a few residential streets and is mostly made up of vast cemeteries and parkland. Mount Royal Park, a 200-hectare green space, is the most famous landmark in this neighbourhood. First opened in 1876, it was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, of Central Park NYC fame, and actually, you will easily the similarities.
What makes this park one of the top things to see in Montreal? The views of course! The Belvedere observatory offers amazing views of downtown Montreal. It’s also the serene views of the park itself. There is an endless amount of dedicated walking and bike paths that take you through large shade trees, gardens, and ponds – up and down over gently sloping hills. You’ll soon forget you’re in the middle of the busy urban city of Montreal.
Plan your Visit to Mount Royal Park
- You can reach the park on foot, by bike, by public transit, or by car. For more information on entry points, click here
- Metered parking is available at Smith House and Beaver Lake Pavilion and from there take the walking or bike paths to reach the top sites
- Three Café des Amis is the only restaurant in the Park and outposts can be found at Smith House, Beaver Lake, and Mount Royal Chalet. Having a picnic in the park is a popular thing to do
- In the winter, you can rent skates, cross-country skis, and snowshoes at the Beaver Lake Pavilion
- Attractions include the Mount Royal Cross from 1643, Mount Royal Chalet, Beaver Lake, and Sir George Etienne Cartier Monument
Bonus Attraction – Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal
Another landmark that lies very close to the Mount Royal Park that’s worth visiting is Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal. The Roman Catholic Basilica is Canada’s largest church, with one of the largest domes in the world. As the tallest building in Montreal, the pretty green domed roof can be seen from afar. This designated National Historic Site of Canada reminds me of the Sacré-Couer in Paris with its 233 steps leading up to the front of the church (there are 270 steps in Paris). The entrance is free, but if driving, there’s a parking fee.
Guide to Mile End
The Mile End neighbourhood is very laid back due to its artsy bohemian vibe. Think of the Mile End as Montreal’s Soho. There are plenty of coffee shops and boutiques in the area to keep shoppers busy for an entire day. If you only have time for a handful, here are my recommendations of shops to seek out: Frank & Oak, Unicorn, Annex Vintage, and V de V. Come nightfall, it’s the cocktail bars, music venues, and pubs that are the biggest draw to this hip Montreal neighborhood.
Mile End Montreal is a 10-block neighbourhood that lies between Le Plateau Mont Royal and Little Italy. It may be small in size, but big in character. It’s also home to some of the best bagel shops. Why not take the Mile End Montreal Food Tour – 6 stops for about $75. One of those stops is my all-time favourite bagel shop – St-Viateur Bagel. Located in the heart of Montreal’s vibrant Jewish community and the long-running rivalry between St. Viateur and Fairmont bagels. I had St. Viateur on my list to try after watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain. And, once you’ve had one, you’re hooked – there really is no better bagel (sorry Fairmont Bagel!).
Plan your Visit to Mile End
- Take the Montreal Metro to the Mont Royale station on the Orange Line
- Metered parking is available on all streets
- Popular streets to visit are Bernard and Fairmont Streets
- Eat your way through this neighbourhood with some of these top-rated eateries:
Best Hotels in Mile End
Looking to stay in Mile End, here are some recommended places to stay:
- Lofts du Parc LaHaie – apartment-style accommodations with mini kitchenette
- Parc Avenue Residences – light, bright contemporary style apartment
- MTLVacation Rentals – The Chic Laurier – is a 3-bedroom contemporary apartment with outdoor terrace seating and dining
Guide to Little Italy & Jean Talon Market
The Jean Talon Market or Marché Jean-Talon lies in the heart of Montreal’s vibrant Little Italy or Petite Italie neighbourhood. There are several public markets in the city, such as Marché Atwater and Maisonneuve, but Jean-Talon is the oldest. Founded in 1933, the market consists of the main market building with outdoor stalls, surrounded by small businesses such as cafés, restaurants, and specialty shops.
The market features products from around the world, but there’s a special focus on food from Québec such as Les Cochons tout ronds which sells specialty cured meat and sausage, and the Fromagerie qui lait cru which features cheese from different regions of Quebec. Add in a baguette from one of the boulangeries at the market such as Première Moisson and you’ve built yourself a charcuterie plate that will take your taste buds from Charlevoix to the Gaspésie.
The vendors are happy to tell you more about the products they sell, and in some cases, to give you a taste of the cheese or meat before you decide which one to buy. If you aren’t confident that your French is up to the job, ask first “est-ce que vous parlez l’anglais?” and creatively piece together French and English.
Plan your Visit to Jean Talon Market
- Getting to the market is easy by public transit or bicycle, but there are also underground and outdoor parking spaces.
- The market is open year-round (Monday to Saturday 8am-6pm; Sunday 8am-5pm), with the exception of December 25-26 and January 1-2. Even the outdoor stalls are open year-round, as the market erects walls around the outdoor kiosks!
- From June to October the alleys surrounding Jean-Talon are closed to cars and trucks on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (during these times cyclists are required to lock up their bikes at the market entrances).
After you’ve explored the Jean-Talon Market, you can stroll to Montreal’s Little Italy or Petite Italie. The Italian community in Montreal has been nestled around the Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense (Madonna della Difesa) church since 1910. Built in 1927, the neo-Renaissance church is open to the public. One of the unusual highlights of this church is the portrait of Benito Mussolini in one of the frescoes in the church’s apse.
Across the street from Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense church is Pasticceria Alati-Caserta, a traditional Italian pastry shop with cakes, cookies, and cannoli to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you’re searching for the perfect espresso or cappuccino, you need not look further than the throwback-in-time Caffè Italia at Saint Laurent Blvd at rue Dante.
Guide to The Plateau
Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood sits just to the east of the Mont-Royal mountain and north of downtown. The term “plateau” is a term for “high plain or tableland”, which you can see if you travel down the hill – literally downhill – to downtown Montreal. The Plateau arrondissement or neighbourhood is rich in arts and culture and boasts a vibrant mix of urban parks, restaurants, cafés, and semi-permanent art installations that often double as public spaces.
An excellent example of these installations can be seen in the pop-up linear park along Avenue Mont-Royal. Each summer 2.5 km of the avenue is closed to cars, and the city installs games for kids, creative seating, and artistic installations created from reclaimed or repurposed materials. The park’s design – created by architect and urban designer Jean Beaudoin during the summer of 2022 – encouraged people to slow down and enjoy life in the slow lane. Additional programming includes free music, dance, and circus performances.
While you’re on the Avenue Mont-Royal, check out Pâtisserie Au Kouign Amann (Avenue Mont-Royal between Ave Drolet and Avenue Henri Julien), which is famous for its “kouign amann” pastries (a sweet cake from the Brittany region of France), as well as their croissants and other pastries. It’s common to see a line out the door of this tiny shop; pick up your pastries and coffee and find a spot along Avenue Mont-Royal to people-watch.
While you are wandering around the Plateau, keep an eye out for surprises such as its colourful architecture and laneways-turned-into-gardens. These Ruelles Vertes (green alleys) are all over Montreal, but the highest concentration is in the Plateau and Little Italy. Some alleys to check out: Ruelle Milton between Clark and Saint-Urbain and Rue Demers between Avenue Henri-Julien and Avenue l’Hotel-de-ville north of Rue Villeneuve E.
If your wandering in the Plateau has made you hungry, head over to the sublime Boul Hof Kelsten bakery for a pastry, bread, or rugelach. Pair your treat with an excellent coffee and perch yourself in the window facing St. Laurent to watch the world go by. Quebec is known for its crêpes. If you’re a fan, treat yourself to a sweet crêpe or a savoury galette de sarrasin (buckwheat crêpe) at the Breizh Café.
Plan your Visit to The Plateau
- Take the Montreal Metro to the Mont-Royal station on the Orange Line
- Metered parking is available on all streets
- The Mont-Royal linear park closes at the end of August but reopens the next summer with new installations and events
- Other recommended eateries
Guide To Downtown Montreal
Downtown Montreal is like any large cosmopolitan city – it’s the hub for entertainment with endless shopping and restaurants, sports stadiums, and arts & culture buildings. With three universities and the business district – the crowd is a mix of students, business professionals, and tourists. No visit to Montreal neighbourhoods is complete without walking the most popular street – Ste. Catherine Street. This busy street is buzzing with energy no matter the time of day. Still want more, venture to the Underground City, where the downtown core is a series of unending passages lined with more shops, boutiques, and eateries. Perfect for those visiting Montreal in the winter.
Visit the Quartier des Spectacles area known as the city’s entertainment district featuring concert venues, museums, galleries, and cultural events. For art lovers, check out The Belgo Building where 27 different art galleries are under one roof – it’s considered the largest concentration of contemporary art galleries in Canada. Or simply stroll the streets in Downtown Montreal where you’ll find outdoor public art displays dotted everywhere you look.
Visit the very chic Golden Square Mile in the heart of the Downtown Montreal neighbourhood. It boasts bourgeois Victorian homes from the 1850s with elegant architectural details. The area can be located at des Pins Avenue, at the foot of Mount Royal, Guy Street, to the West, René-Lévesque Boulevard, to the South, Robert-Bourassa Street (formerly University), to the East.
Plan your Visit to Downtown Montreal
- Take the Montreal Metro to any station between Guy-Concordia and Saint-Laurent on the Green Line, or any station between Lucien L’Allier and Champ-de-Mars on the Orange Line
- Metered parking will be required or seek out parking lots for longer stays
- Museums include:
- Cultural venues include:
Best Hotels in Downtown Montreal
Downtown Montreal is a popular neighbourhood to stay in, and the choice of accommodations is endless. Here are a few recommended hotels:
- Hotel Monville – a chic boutique hotel with an amazing rooftop deck with city views at affordable rates
- Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth – the famous John Lennon and Yoko Ono site of the 1969 “bed-in for peace”
- Hotel Birks Montreal – an elegant 5-star luxury hotel with recommended Restaurant Henri Brasserie Française
- Hotel St. Thomas – a stylish boutique hotel where every room has a city view
Guide to Old Montreal
Old Montreal dates back to the early 1600s and yes, is the city’s oldest neighbourhood. It’s also the neighbourhood that most resembles Europe. The cobblestone streets are lined with tall buildings featuring a mix of architecture from Gothic to Renaissance to Art Deco. All with the backdrop of the waterfront of the Saint Lawrence River in Old Port. Stroll along Saint Paul, the oldest and more charming street lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants.
Plan your Visit to Old Montreal
- Take the Montreal Metro to any of the 3 stations: Victoria Square, Place-d’Armes, Champ-de-Mars on the Orange line
- Metered parking will be required or seek out a parking lot
Read more | If you want to know more about what to see, do, stay and eat in Old Montreal, check out my featured article here
Best Hotels in Old Montreal
One of the best areas to stay in Montreal is right here. The accommodations in Old Montreal are bound to be in old historic buildings, if you love character, check out some of these places to stay:
- Maison Sainte-Therese by Maisons & co – are boutique apartments with mini kitchenettes
- Hotel Gault – a 4-star contemporary boutique hotel
- William Gray – is a chic boutique hotel with a rooftop terrace and restaurant
- Auberge du Vieux Port – a historic building with exposed brick and views of Saint Lawrence river
Best Time to Go to Montreal
Unless you really want to experience a quintessentially cold and snowy Canadian winter the best time of year to visit Montreal is late Spring, Summer, and early Fall. The fall is ideal. The crowds of tourists start to clear out in September and the weather remains fairly warm until November.
Best Festivals in Montreal
If there is one thing Montreal is famous for, it’s the hundreds of festivals it hosts every year. There’s a reason it’s referred to as “Canada’s Cultural Capital.” Music, art, cinema, museums, culture – there’s something for everyone! Different Montreal neighbourhoods host their own events. See what this lively city has to offer with some of its most popular festivals.
January: Igloofest, Fête des Neiges de Montréal
Keep warm at Igloofest by dancing in an outdoor concert that draws local and international artists of electronic music. And, the family-friendly Winterfest embraces fun outdoor activities held at Parc Jean-Drapeau.
February: Nuit blanche
Montreal’s “open night” to dozens of museums and art galleries that are literally open all night long, along with music shows and markets in Old Montreal.
March: Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, Montréal En Lumière
Montréal En Lumière, held throughout late February and early March, is a local’s favourite with hundreds of food and wine tastings alongside endless live entertainment. While Montreal is a francophone city, it does host the oldest Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Canada.
April: Art Souterrain Festival
Get underground and see some art in Montreal’s pedestrian network where 50+ artists showcase their work.
May: Beer and Music Festival
Taste beers from around the world at what’s considered the largest international beer festival in North America.
June: Francofolies, Fireworks Fest, Jazz Festival, Canadian Grand Prix, Mural Festival
June is without a doubt the busiest month of Montreal’s festival calendar. You can listen to French music at the Francofolies, watch incredible fireworks shows at La Ronde, see the best public art, and enjoy the world’s best jazz bands at the famous International Jazz Festival. Lastly, watch the top Formula 1 drivers do the challenging Gilles-Villeneuve circuit in the Canadian Grand Prix.
July: Just for Laughs, Fantasia
Just for Laughs originated in Montreal and is now a festival known around the world. Not only do you get all the best stand-up comedians but there’s also a big “street festival” side to it. And there’s Fantasia, which is all about indie short films and fantasy movies.
One of the city’s biggest annual parties is Montréal Pride, featuring a rainbow of internationally beloved musicians and drag queens, held in the Gay Village quartier.
September: Nuits Blues
There’s no shortage of music and food festivals in Montreal, and the blues fest is one of those featuring some of the best blues musicians.
October: Gardens of Light
Stroll through the beautiful botanical gardens under twinkle lights with a different featured theme each year. 2022 is an ode to the Moon.
November: La Grande Dégustation de Montréal, MTLàTABLE
The largest wine event in eastern Canada where wine producers, brewers, and distillers from around the globe offer tastings. Also for foodies is MTLaTABLE where restaurants in some of the best gourmet neighborhoods across the city feature special menus.
December: Christmas Markets
Get into the holiday spirit with the multiple Christmas festivities and markets happening all over the city.
As a holidaymaker…
As you can see there is no real ideal time to visit Montreal. Any time you come to this vibrant city you are bound to discover something new and exciting to do in these culturally rich neighbourhoods in Montreal.
Thank you to Jane Snyder, based in Canada, who specializes in local, environmental, and family travel writing. She contributed to this article with the Guide to Little Italy & Jean Talon Market and Guide to The Plateau. Thank you to Tourisme Quebec and Tourisme Montreal for access to their photo library for some of the photos used in this article.