Travel & Culture

A Walking Weekend In Montréal

May 29, 2024

Get to know Montréal by exploring it on foot. Stroll amongst the skyscrapers of downtown, walk through the cobblestoned streets of Old Montréal, and meander along the riverside paths of the Old Port—with plenty of stops along the way to shop, eat, and relax. —Sheri Radford

Getting There

Porter Airlines recently started daily direct flights between Vancouver and Montréal. Porter is known for having no middle seats and for offering—for free!—fast Wi-Fi, premium snacks, wine, and beer. For an even comfier experience than PorterClassic, choose PorterReserve, which includes front-of-cabin seating with extra legroom, two checked bags, meals, and cocktails. The alcohol is served in glassware, a welcome throwback to a more genteel era of flying, and the flight attendants wear chic uniforms complete with delightfully kitschy pillbox hats.


Situated right across the street from the convention centre, Humaniti Hotel Montréal, Autograph Collection is the ideal home base for a weekend of wandering. The luxury hotel features bold décor throughout and large guest rooms flooded with natural light. Work up a sweat in the fitness centre (open 24/7), then cool off in the outdoor rooftop pool (summertime only). Enjoy local cuisine and creative cocktails at H3 Restaurant and Lounge, and treat yourself to a massage, facial, manicure, and more at Spa Humaniti.

See & Do

Spade & Palacio describes their offerings as “non-touristy tours,” and it’s an apt description. Join their three-hour Beyond the Basilica walking tour to explore the ornate Notre-Dame Basilica; amble through some of the underground city (the world’s largest underground complex), including the huge Lipstick Forest art installation; and visit areas such as Chinatown, Esplanade Tranquille, Saint-Laurent Boulevard, and the former red-light district that is now the city’s entertainment hub.

See Notre-Dame Basilica in an entirely different way at The Aura Experience. Words can scarcely do justice to this sublime multimedia display that blends orchestral music with a dynamic light show on the interior architecture of the gorgeous old church. For 23 minutes, the presentation sweeps across the basilica’s altarpiece, walls, and vaulted ceiling, easily rivalling the sensory overload of a Hollywood blockbuster. Arrive early to score the best seats.

Enjoy a different type of immersive experience at Root for Nature, inside Palais des congrès de Montréal (Montréal Convention Centre). This collaboration between Oasis Immersive Studios and National Geographic focuses on biodiversity, spotlighting nature’s grandeur in wall-sized videos of bumblebees, lions, whales, and everything in between. Filling the walls (and sometimes the floors) of three huge galleries, the breathtaking imagery emphasizes the interconnectedness of the ecological and human worlds and shares a message of hope for the planet’s future.

Root for Nature is just one of the many attractions included in Passeport MTL, a city pass that helps visitors save money while exploring either three or five of the city’s most popular places. Other pass possibilities include La Grande Roue de Montréal, a 60-metre-tall Ferris wheel on the waterfront; Port of Montréal Tower, a glassed-in observation tower that affords stellar views of Old Montréal, the St. Lawrence River, and Habitat 67; the Montréal Science Centre, with its interactive exhibits for visitors of all ages; the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada’s oldest art museum; and McCord Stewart Museum, which focuses on life in Montréal, both past and present.

Every Barbie fan needs to make a pilgrimage to the free Barbie Expo in Les Cours Mont-Royal. Of the 1,000+ dolls on display, the most glamorous are dressed in outfits by big names in haute couture—Oscar de la Renta, Vera Wang, Christian Dior, Giorgio Armani, Christian Louboutin—while others are based on celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Farrah Fawcett, and Audrey Hepburn. The Elvis and Priscilla Presley dolls are kitted out in their wedding finery, as are the Prince William and Kate Middleton ones. Make sure to pose for a snapshot in the human-sized Barbie box, and leave a donation for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Montréal bursts with festivals all year round. There’s a fest focused on every interest you can imagine, from theatre (St-Ambroise Montréal Fringe Festival, May 27 to June 16) and jazz music (Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, June 27 to July 6) to pop-culture geekery (Comiccon Montréal, July 5 to 7), Pride (Fierté Montréal Festival, August 1 to 11), and fashion and design (M.A.D. Festival, August 22 to 25).

This year’s Mural Festival takes place from June 6 to 16. For more than a decade, this annual celebration of urban art has been brightening up city walls with larger-than-life murals, including one of Leonard Cohen wearing a fedora, tucked away on Napoleon Street in the singer-songwriter’s old Saint-Laurent neighbourhood. The nine-storey mural by Kevin Ledo isn’t to be confused with the 20-storey Tower of Songs mural on Crescent Street, which also depicts Cohen in a fedora but was created for the city by Gene Pendon and El Mac.


Try to resist singing “I’m on a Boat” while on board Bota Bota, spa-sur-l’eau, especially since this unique floating spa demands silence—anyone who wishes to talk (or sing) needs to head to the gardens section on land, where quiet conversations are permitted. Moored at the Old Port, with spectacular views of Habitat 67 and the river, Bota Bota offers a circuit of heat (saunas, steam baths, hot tubs), cold (showers, plunge baths), and relaxation (deck chairs, hammocks, guided meditations). To reduce stress and improve sleep quality, complete the circuit three or four times. Massages, wraps, and facials are also available, as is seasonal fare in the on-site restaurant. Note that most of the signage is only in French.

Eat & Drink

It’s futile trying to resist the trifecta of Montréal cuisine—bagels, poutine, smoked meat—that pop up on menus throughout the city. Locals like to argue over which bagels are better, Fairmount or St-Viateur, and where to find the perfect combination of French fries, gravy, and cheese curds that epitomizes poutine, but the truth is it’s hard to go wrong in this foodie paradise.

When it comes to smoked meat sandwiches, Schwartz’s Deli has been a favourite for almost a century. Order one of the signature sandwiches on rye bread with yellow mustard, and when offered the choice of lean, medium, or fat smoked meat, always choose medium (trust us). Wash it all down with a black cherry cola (again, trust us). In 2012 Céline Dion became part-owner of Schwartz’s, and she even makes occasional appearances in the deli.

Paparmane takes the stuffiness out of high tea with its sassy décor and unfussy service. Crew Collective and Café serves hot drinks, sandwiches, and pastries in a stately old building that was once the Royal Bank of Canada. The pastries at cozy Café Nocturne tend to sell out quickly.

Olive + Gourmando is a charmingly bohemian spot for breakfast, lunch, or to-go croissants and chocolatines. If you can’t decide what type of cuisine you’re in the mood for, visit Le Central and choose from 25 quick-serve versions of beloved Montréal restaurants that dish up poutine, Neapolitan pizza, tapas, poke, and more.

Steaks are the stars of the menu at Le Butterfly, a modern French bistro where it’s crucial (but difficult) to save room for dessert. If the weather cooperates, request a seat on the small patio.

Find lobster done every way you can imagine—including grilled, in ravioli, on risotto, and (of course) in a roll—on the menu at Pincette Lobster Bar. Hanging from the ceiling are assorted lobster traps transformed into light fixtures.

Enjoy contemporary cuisine that mixes French brasserie with modern American at Les Enfants Terribles. Natural light fills the large, bustling room, thanks to three walls of glass, and plush curved banquettes absorb most of the din. Branded tees, hoodies, hats, bags, and wineglasses for sale entice anyone who personally identifies as a “terrible child.”

When visiting the Place Ville Marie location of Les Enfants Terribles, be sure to snap a photo of The Ring. This gigantic outdoor sculpture drew mixed reactions from the public when it was installed in 2022.


To fully experience the Montréal shopping scene, far more than a weekend is needed, but here are just a few places worth browsing through. Boutique Eva B may look like a condemned building on the outside, but inside two crowded floors of thrift-store treasures await; be sure to look up, since the items hanging from the ceiling are wonderfully bizarre. Kemmi sells handcrafted sterling silver and 14K gold vermeil jewellery, all designed in Montréal. L’empreinte cooperative has gifts ranging from jewellery and stationery to candles and clothing, handmade by Quebec designers. Though Marché Bonsecours is quite touristy, the market does have a few quirky gems, such as MTL Décor, along with every maple syrup souvenir you could possibly dream of.


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