Discover the perfect itinerary for a weekend in Montreal, Canada! Learn what sights to visit, how to get around, the best area to stay, and what order to do it all in.
Montreal is the first city I visited in Canada and boy did it leave an impression. I left convinced, if it wasn’t so cold, I would love living there. It has everything you would expect from a metropolitan city. Crave-worthy restaurants, coffee shops filled with a mix of tourists and digital nomads, spectacular viewpoints of the cityscape, and countless opportunities for shopping between museum visits.
A weekend in Montreal will give you just enough time to see the highlights and get a good feel of the city. You’ll get to experience the varying personalities of Montreal and wander through neighborhoods that range from ultra-hipster to historic and charming.
Before we dive into how to break up your 2 days in Montreal, let’s discuss two very important subjects that are sure to come up at some point during your trip planning. How to get around Montreal and the best area to stay.
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How to Get Around Montreal
If you want to get as much out of your weekend in Montreal as possible, walking and biking will be the best way to experience your surroundings and get a feel for the layout of the city. I walked and biked everywhere when I visited in August. Not only did I burn a healthy number of calories, but I was also able to take everything in as I jetted from site to site.
Montreal is an active city, so you’ll see people walking and biking all over the place, which makes it even more fun! Don’t fret if you visit during the winter months. Montreal has an extensive underground pedestrian network complete with shops and restaurants.
I rely on Google maps for both biking and walking directions. Don’t forget to download an “offline” Google maps of Montreal before you leave so you don’t have to use data.
If you’re comfortable riding a bike, I highly recommend taking advantage of the ultra-cheap BIXI system. It’s similar to the Citi bike program in NYC. There are bike docks located throughout the city. A one-day pass costs $5.25 and allows unlimited 30-minute bike rides within 24 hours.
It’s pretty easy to stay within the 30-minute allowance since there are over 600 docking stations in Montreal. If you think you are about to exceed 30 minutes, just find a nearby station, dock your bike and then pick up a new bike to start a new 30-minute ride. A BIXI app is available to download on your phone so you can easily locate docking stations and even see how many bikes are available.
I would by no means call myself a routine bicyclist. Usually the thought of biking around a major city on my own would give me a bit of anxiety. Not so in Montreal! I was at complete ease biking my way between destinations.
The bike lane network throughout the city is extensive and gives a sense of comfort since you don’t have to share the lane with cars. I also felt more comfortable biking here than other cities because there were always other cyclists around. There’s something to that “crowd mentality”.
If walking or biking will eat up too much time during your 2 days in Montreal, the metro is a great alternative. Fast, easy, and cheap. 1 trip is $3.50, a 10-trip pack is $29, and a 24-hour pass is $10. Google maps offers step-by-step directions for using public transportation. It tells you what metro line to take, where to enter, departure time, etc.
Uber is also available in Montreal if you don’t want to mess with any of the above.
Best Area to Stay in Montreal
I stayed at the very northern tip of downtown Montreal and highly recommend it. Downtown is centrally located and the perfect spot if you want to be close to public transportation. The northern tip of downtown is the sweet spot because it’s a few minutes' walk to get to Old Montreal…where you will be doing a lot of sightseeing.
I booked the AC Hotel by Marriott Montreal Downtown. It took me less than 10 minutes to walk to the Notre-Dame Basilica and the heart of Old Montreal. Safe, centrally located, clean, and close to the metro…it hit all the boxes on my hotel checklist.
Now that we’ve got those two questions answered, let’s dive into our itinerary for the perfect weekend in Montreal, Canada!
DAY 1 OF YOUR WEEKEND IN MONTREAL
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
I can’t think of a better way to start day 1 of your 2 days Montreal than a visit to the breathtaking Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal. The interior is truly mesmerizing with the colorful ceiling and gold accents. Go first thing in the morning as it can quickly become crowded. It is one of the most popular attractions after all and tour groups start arriving around 10:00 am, sometimes earlier.
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal is open for visitors Monday – Friday 8:00am to 4:30pm, Saturday 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, and Sunday 12:30 pm to 4:00 pm. Entrance is $10 for adults 18 and up, $5 ages 7 to 17, and free for ages under 6. A 20-minute guided tour is included in the ticket price. Plan on a minimum of twenty to thirty minutes to tour the Basilica…though you could easily spend an hour here.
Old Montreal (Vieux-Montreal) and Old Port (Vieux-Port)
The Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal is located in the heart of Old Montreal, also known as Vieux-Montreal, so stick around and take some time to wander this charming area. The cobblestoned streets, sidewalk cafes, art galleries, and patisserie shops will have you thinking of Europe in no time. Morning is a wonderful time to wander the streets and get some fantastic pictures before the crowds arrive in the afternoon.
A five-minute walk from the Notre-Dame Basilica is Crew Collective and Café. One of my favorite coffee shops EVER. Located inside an old bank building, this grandiose café is sure to impress. Not only is the atmosphere remarkable, but the coffee, baked goods, and menu items are also top quality. I highly recommend the avocado toast made with thick home-baked bread.
If you’re a fan of French croissants, make a stop at Maison Christian Faure. The almond croissant is delightful. Be sure to get one in the morning because they sell out fast.
As you’re wondering through Old Montreal be sure to stop by Montreal City Hall and the Old Port of Montreal where you’ll enjoy prime views of the river and walk past a giant Ferris wheel, floating spa, and several small beaches (in summer). Check this calendar for special events around the Old Port of Montreal.
Consider joining a tour to learn the history of Montreal:
Montreal Botanical Garden
Take a break from the city in one the greatest botanical gardens in the world. This colorful escape has over 22,000 plant species, 10 greenhouses, 20 themed gardens and is a great photo opportunity. It’s a 20-minute Uber or 25-30 minute metro ride away.
You could easily spend half the day here, but since time is of the essence in this Montreal 2 day itinerary, plan on about two hours. The Montreal Botanical Garden is also right next to the Biodome Olympic Stadium, and Montreal Tower if you have an interest to see those.
The Montreal Tower is the largest inclined tower in the world leaning at a 45-degree angle and standing over 540 feet tall. For $24.25 (adult price) you can ride up to the observation deck and be rewarded with stunning views of Montreal below. Personally, I prefer the free view from Mont Royal, which we will visit on day 2 of your weekend in Montreal.
Sports fans will appreciate the Olympic Stadium which hosted the 1976 Olympics and is still used today for sporting events. Guided tours are offered Tuesday - Sunday at 10:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:00 pm, 2:30 pm, and 4:00 pm and costs $15 for adults.
The Biodome is a nature and science museum and a great activity for families. It’s home to over 250,000 animals, 500 plant species, and takes you through five ecosystems of the Americas. Tickets for adults cost $21 with varying discounts offered for children and those over 65.
Head back to the Old Port of Montreal.
Cirque Du Soleil
What better place to catch a Cirque du Soleil show than where it all began almost 50 years ago? Did you know this famous traveling circus started as a small group of street performances in Montreal? Shows are performed in Montreal in the spring and summer months. The location is ideal in the very heart of Vieux Port (aka Old Port).
Dinner in Old Montreal
Wander back to Old Montreal to take in the charming atmosphere, now filled with visitors, and enjoy evening cocktails and dinner. If you want to stay in Old Montreal, I recommend Jardin Nelson (touristy but a fantastic heated patio) or Modavie which offers French food in a jazz lounge setting.
Otherwise, stop at one of my favorite restaurants in Montreal, Tiradito. Located at the northern tip of downtown and about 8 minutes from Old Montreal, this trendy restaurant serves Peruvian tapas and is always packed. The cocktails are also outstanding and it seems to be a popular pick with the locals.
DAY 2 OF YOUR WEEKEND IN MONTREAL
Start the second day of your weekend in Montreal with a calorie-burning climb up Mont Royal. Known as “the mountain” by locals, Mount Royal is the perfect green space to enjoy sweeping views of the city below. Montreal was actually named after…you guessed it…Mont Royal.
This 761-foot-tall hill is home to cyclists, joggers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. You could easily spend an entire day walking around Mont Royal Parc. It’s massive. With limited time, you’ll want to focus your efforts on reaching Belvedere Kondiaronk…one of the best viewpoints in Montreal.
The best way to reach Belvédère Kondiaronk, is to start at the Grand Staircase of Montreal. I used Google Maps to walk there. There are other ways to get to the viewpoint, but they will take a lot longer as the staircase is the most direct route….which I learned the hard way after visiting several times.
This is a popular attraction with tourist groups. If you can, try to arrive before 8:30 am. You’ll have the place to yourself before the crowds descend by the busload. As with most viewpoints, sunset seems to attract the largest crowds. I visited both in the morning and at sunset. I preferred the morning as it was blissfully quiet and peaceful.
St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal
Walk back down the Grand Staircase of Montreal and either metro (get off at the Cote-des-Neiges stop) or Uber to St. Joseph’s Oratory.
St. Joseph’s Oratory is quite a majestic sight to behold from both afar and up close. Its dome is the highest point in Montreal and is the third-largest of its kind in the world. It may seem a bit out of the way, but it’s worth it. Guided tours are $5 a person and begin at 10:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 3:00 pm (check the website to confirm times). Otherwise, self-guided tour books are available for a suggested donation of $2.
St. Joseph’s Oratory is a pilgrimage site for many Catholics. You may witness people going up the stairs on their knees and saying a prayer at each step. Many miracles are supposed to have happened here which is one of the many reasons why people of faith make their way to St. Joseph's Oratory.
Whether you are a person of faith or not, this is a breathtaking place to visit.
Your Montreal 2 day itinerary would not be complete without a visit to the largest and most colorful public market in North America. Jean-Talon Market is a treat for the eyes and taste buds. Even if you have no intention of buying anything, it’s still a joy to walk past the overflowing fruit stalls and fragrant flower stands.
If you’re in the walking mood, head south down St. Laurent Blvd from the market. After about 20-25 minutes, you’ll arrive at the hipster and artistic Mile-End neighborhood. Otherwise, it’s a quick 5-minute Uber.
Start your tour of the ultra-hipster and artistic Mile-End neighborhood with an Italian style coffee at Café Olimpico. It’s always packed with a lively crowd and the coffee is sure to fuel your day. If you’re a wanderer like myself, you are going to love this area. Keep your camera out because you will have plenty of photo opportunities between colorful wall art, charming homes, and boho indie shops.
Mile-End also has some spectacular restaurants, bakeries, and cafes. Kem CoBa is one of the most popular ice cream shops in Montreal, Guillaume is a solid bakery, Larry’s is a popular brunch spot with the locals…to name a few.
You can continue down St. Laurent Blvd all the way back down to Old Montreal. It will take you about 30-35 minutes and is an enjoyable walk. St. Laurent Blvd is one of Montreal’s busiest streets with no shortage of coffee shops, boutiques, and restaurants. You’ll also find some fantastic wall art along this street.
You can take your time shopping and eating your way through the Mile-End neighborhood and end your second day in Montreal here or back in Old Montreal. Or, if you’ve kept a good pace and have at least two hours before dinner, I recommend squeezing one last experience in. The Lachine Canal.
As long as the weather is nice, this is a wonderful 2-3 hour activity. It was actually one of the highlights during my weekend in Montreal. Cycling along the Lachine Canal will show you a different, less touristy side of Montreal. Consider adding this to your itinerary if you are comfortable riding a bike, the weather is nice, and you have a minimum of two hours free.
The Lachine Canal bike path is over 8 miles, beginning in Old Montreal and continuing all the way to Parc Rene-Levesque. Grab your bike from this BIXI docking station and continue on the bike path heading southwest. The bike path is very straight forward and there is no reason why you would get lost or confused.
I decided to bike to the halfway point at Atwater Market, where there are several BIXI docking stations to return your bike and grab another for your return trip. This is a great spot to grab a snack and wander around the Little Burgundy and Saint Henri neighborhoods. Both neighborhoods have a wonderful residential and local feel.
Old Montreal to Atwater market is a quick 12-minute bike ride (or 40-minute walk). I stopped to take pictures several times, so it took me around 25 minutes. Plan on one to two hours to walk around the market and explore the neighborhoods.
Dinner in Old Montreal
Savor your last night in Montreal and splurge at Garde Manger. The cozy French bistro atmosphere and fresh seafood are sure to leave an impression.
A Note on Festivals
Montreal is known for its festival and event centered culture. Be sure to check what events are happening during your weekend in Montreal so you can plan your itinerary around that in advance. MTL.org and Go-Montreal.com list everything that’s going on in the city.
Montreal is sure to win your heart just as it did mine. It’s the perfect mix of old and new, trendy and hipster, charming and chic, city and nature. A weekend in Montreal will give you a good taste of what this city has to offer. This Montreal 2 day itinerary highlights all the musts while allowing time to slow down, relax, and take it all in. You should have enough free time for relaxed meals, shopping stops, and coffee breaks.
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