How To Get The Most Out Of Montreal In A Day
Montreal is possibly the easiest day trip from Toronto. So easy that I literally booked my trip two days before I left for my whirlwind two-day getaway. The main aim of this trip was visiting my brother, who was living in Montreal for about 5 weeks, before he flew back to Edmonton. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to see more of one of my favourite Canadian cities before leaving!
Whether you’re in Montreal for a day trip, a layover or just looking for some inspiration for your upcoming trip to the French capitol, here is your perfect 24-hour itinerary to Montreal.
How To Plan The Most Perfect Day in Montreal
Breakfast at Copper Branch
Address: 600 Boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest
After coming off a six-and-a-half hour overnight bus, I was ready to eat! Naturally, my first stop was at Copper Branch, a vegan restaurant chain in Quebec and Ontario. I was drawn in mostly by their waffles, which were gluten-free and incredible! There were also several other gluten-free and vegan breakfast options that I would have definitely been up to trying if I were in town for more than one day. (I’m looking at you Matcha Lime Smoothie Bowl & South West Wrap Scramble!)
The waffles with blueberry compote was the perfect way to start my morning. I’m generally one for savoury breakfasts, but the compote wasn’t too sweet and didn’t send me on a downward sugar spiral. Topped with my two favourite nutritional powerhouses, chia seeds and hemp hearts, I was in a gluten-free, vegan foodie paradise!
I was also really impressed by Copper Branch’s almond-milk cappuccino. The espresso was rich and creamy, and the milk didn’t taste boxed as steamed almond milk sometimes does.
View Copper Branch’s menu here.
Musee des Beaux-Arts
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily
Admission: Varies per age group/exhibit (check here)
Address: 1380 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest
The Musee des Beaux-Arts – otherwise known as the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – is one of the most culturally significant museums in Canada. Although there are a number of international artists shown at the museum, MMFA also celebrates Quebecois and Canadian artists. Two sections I found absolutely fascinating were the Inuit art section and the ‘New France’ era. The latter explored how French European colonizers first experienced Canada. It also shows the Indigenous perspective of colonization through authentic First Nations artwork.
Address: 1085 Rue Cathédrale
In 2000, Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du Monde became a designated National Historic Site of Canada. And it’s no wonder why! The iconic neo-gothic church is known for its 13 statues lining its roof. Instead of showcasing the 12 apostles, the church is topped by statues of the patron saints of 13 parishes of Montreal who donated them. And instead of depicting biblical scenes inside the church, there are nine paintings depicting historical events in the early days of Montreal.
I didn’t spend too much time at the cathedral, but there was a park next door and across the street from it. This would easily make for a beautiful way to admire the architecture before making your way over to Old Montreal.
Ask anyone what their favourite part of Montreal is, and chances are they’re tell you that Old Montreal was their fave. And it’s easy to see why! Samuel de Champlain first set up a trading post at Place Royale in 1604. The post didn’t last long, as French colonizers were chased out by the Iroquois, who were defending their land. Old Montreal was then permanently founded by French colonizers as ‘Ville-Marie’ in 1642. Since then it was one of Canada’s first fortified towns, the city centre in the early 1800s, and is now a historic district!
With stunning old buildings and narrow streets, Old Montreal feels like a step back in time to a small French village. I really enjoyed walking through the streets of the former city centre of Montreal and Old Port, which runs along the riverfront. Some favourite buildings of mine were the Saint-Sulpice Seminary, the Montreal History Centre, Marché Bonsecours, Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, and Place Jacques-Cartier. Wander through the streets as you make your way over to Place des Armes to see…
Notre Dame Basilica
Address: 110 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest
Located at the heart of Old Montreal is the iconic Notre Dame Basilica. Built from 1824-1829, the basilica was the largest of its kind in North America upon completion. The church is highly decorated in a Gothic Revival style with deep blue vaults and gold stars, hundreds of wood carvings and beautiful stone statues. And unlike most churches, the stain glass windows aren’t scenes from the bible, but rather scenes of Montreal’s religious history. It’s also a National Historic Site of Canada!
Tucked behind Notre Dame is a small chapel, Chapelle du Sacré-Cœur. The chapel was completed in 1988, but it was rebuilt in the late 1970s after it burned down. The first two levels were reproduced from old drawings and photographs. Although I didn’t see the chapel for myself, I’ve heard it’s quite beautiful inside so I’d recommend taking a peek for yourself!
Address: 994 Rue Rachel Est
Did you even go to French Canada if you didn’t try poutine? Most Canadians would say no. The iconic french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds is at the heart of Canadian cuisine. Although poutine was created in Warwick, Quebec, you are truly spoiled for choice in Montreal. Now I’ve had poutine many times in my life, both before and after removing dairy (and gluten) from my diet. So instead of trying just any poutine, I decided to go to one of Montreal’s best known poutineries, La Banquise. They had at least 20 or 30 different poutines to choose from- some of which could be made vegan and gluten-free. I ordered La Rachel, which was made with vegan and gluten-free gravy, Daiya cheese, green pepper, onion and mushrooms. I am a sucker for all the above, so the poutine really hit the spot.
Address: 7070 Avenue Henri Julien
After a filling lunch, make your way toward the Jean-Talon Market for one of North America’s largest open-air markets. Located in the heart of Little Italy, this bustling gem is the best place to get produce and local delicacies. During the winter months, the market puts up walls to keep out the cold. But, in the summer months, those winter walls are tucked away until fall and roads in the immediate area become pedestrian only. Take your time exploring the market stalls and keep your eyes peeled for any maple goodies! After all, Quebec is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup!
Baked 2 Go bakery
Address: 4255 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
Another iconic Montreal food you must try while you’re in Montreal is bagels! They’re a bit different to the New York bagel, as the Montreal bagel is smaller, sweeter, denser and thinner. Unfortunately in the three times I’ve been to NYC, I haven’t been able to track down a gluten- and dairy-free bagel. But I was in luck in the French Canadian capitol! I stumbled across Baked 2 Go bakery, which serves gluten- and dairy-free poppyseed bagels. I haven’t been able to track down a gluten-free and vegan bagel shop in Montreal quite yet, but I was still pretty excited to be able to pick up a pack of four fresh bagels for the road!
Don’t worry, I had planned to balance out all that delicious food with a little bit of exercise. And what better way than to hike up Mont Royal! Located at the heart of Montreal, Mont Royal offers one of the best views of the city. From Baked 2 Go, continue on Rue Rachel Est toward the mountain. Around the base of the mountain is Montreal’s largest park. Take your time to enjoy the beautiful statues and people watch before starting your hike to the top of Mont Royal.
From the base, it takes about 30 minute to hike to the top. There is a paved route with a soft incline leading up the mountain. But there are also some dirt paths that you can cut through to reach the top quicker. About half-way up Mont Royal, there is a staircase on the right-hand side that leads up to the viewing platform. This is the most direct way of getting there. I will warn you that it may feel like the stairs never end though!
But once you get to the top, it’s one of the most beautiful views of the city. There was someone playing piano when I was there, which made the viewing experience very relaxing and peaceful. After you take in the scenery, be sure to fill up your water bottle at the water fountain or inside the lodge before heading down the mountain. Take the stairs all the way down and aim to end up where you first climbed up, as dinner is close by!
Eat ALL THE THINGS at Lola Rosa
Address: 4581 Avenue Du Parc
After working up an appetite hiking up Mont Royal, I was ready to eat! Thankfully Lola Rosa was located at the northern tip of Mont Royal. Although Lola Rosa is a vegetarian restaurant, there are many dishes that are or can be made vegan upon request. There were also a couple of gluten-free dishes as well, which meant I had a few options to pick from. I was feeling a bit adventurous, so I tried their Tunisian Stew sans feta, which was all kinds of delicious. Each bite was filled with cabbage, tomato, chickpeas, raisins, cinnamon, turmeric, homemade preserved lemon and roasted almonds.
My friend, who met me after finishing work for the day, had the mac & cheese (a Canadian favourite). Although there were jalapeños in it, she said it wasn’t too spicy. Our server had described it as similar to having a jalapeño popper, which she said was pretty accurate!
Finish off the night with drinks at Saint-Houblon
Address: 1567 Rue Saint-Denis
After dinner, my friend and I decided to continue our little catch-up over drinks in the Latin district. As she did part of her CEGEP (the mandatory high-school-to-university transition college in Quebec) in the area, she knew all the best bars in the area. Saint-Houblon was no exception. The bar’s interior is the perfect combination of cozy and rustic. The walls are entirely exposed red brick with some wood panelling. On the entrance wall, there are chalkboard signs advertising some of their specials. And the authentic wooden tables are clearly built to last even the most lively of discussions.
As it was a lovely evening, we nabbed a seat on the patio and enjoyed the sun set. I ordered a Moscow Mule at first, but switched to their red sangrias by the end of the night. They were dangerously delicious!
What’s your favourite way to spend a day in Montreal? Do you know some hidden gems in Montreal?
Please share your Montreal stories in the comments below and let me know if I missed any incredible sights in the Quebec capitol!
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