A Tour of Montreal through Its Street Art
One of the most distinct — and beloved — cities in North America beckons travelers for its similarities to Europe. But what locals will tell you about Montreal is that its distinct neighborhoods that really set it apart and deserve a second (or third) look.
At Travelzoo, we are travelers who like to see the sights on foot, and what better way to get to know a city than by strolling its neighborhoods. Montreal’s famous spaces are dotted with some of the most dynamic street art, often many stories tall. Want to see the city? Walk around — and look up.
For those planning a trip, there’s a citywide mural festival each year, with 2016’s dates set for June. And, with the Canadian dollar currently near 10-year lows vs. the U.S. dollar, great hotel deals are available across Montreal.
These neighborhoods are worth a look …
Downtown and the Golden Square Mile
Known by French speakers as Centre-Ville, this area is where you’ll find skyscrapers, luxury and chain hotels, business headquarters, department stores, fine dining, museums, main transportation hubs and just about everything else you can think of.
Best explored: On foot or by métro. As with any city center, downtown Montreal has districts that are best explored one by one. The McGill University campus that occupies the northern edge of downtown has a more urban feel while areas like the Golden Square Mile are more suburban.
Don’t miss: Architecture and history buffs will enjoy touring the Golden Square Mile and the other areas where Old-World European architecture is mixed in with contemporary structures.
Those interested in Montreal’s unique artistic and cultural history will want to check out museums like Musèe des Beaux-Arts de Montrèal (Montrèal’s Museum of Fine Arts), Canada’s oldest museum. The arts and entertainment district is home to the Place des Arts, Montreal’s main performing arts complex.
If you’re visiting in summer, this is where most festivals are held. If you’re visiting in winter, you’ll want to go to Montreal’s unique Underground City, a vast subterranean, climate-controlled system that gives you access to railroad stations, hotels, shops and restaurants.
There are boutique shops and world-class restaurants sprinkled on St-Laurent (a.k.a. La Main), and the nightclubs and bars on Rue Crescent. St-Denis is also worth exploring as it leads to Université du Québec à Montréal and has some of the city’s most popular bars and clubs.
How to get there: Downtown is the center of Montreal’s transportation system, so take either the Green Line to the McGill métro station or the Orange Line to the Bonavenure station. The mural below is at Guilbault and St-Urbain.
Recognized for its riverside location and cobblestone streets, Old Montreal, also known as Vieux-Montreal, is where the city was originally founded in 1642.
Best explored: On foot or on a bike. You’ll want to take this part of town at a leisurely pace so you can really appreciate in the 18th and 19th century buildings, museums, art galleries, boutique hotels, shops and quaint cafes. The area’s narrow streets and position along the river also make it a perfect place to take a waterfront stroll, skate or bike ride.
Don’t miss: Old Montreal has some of the city’s most well-preserved historical buildings, which have been transformed into shops, hotels, cafes, bars and museums. If you’re visiting in summer, be sure to walk down St-Paul and take-in the European charm — the street is pedestrian only in the warmer months.
If you’re walking, biking or skating, you’ll also want to visit Old Port (Vieux-Port), a large waterfront promenade that’s perfect for picnicking.
Little Burgundy is a bit outside Old Montreal’s center, but still worth the visit as it has some of the quirkiest boutiques, bars and eateries.
How to get there: Take the Orange Line to Place-d’Armes métro station. The rooster above is on St. Jacques between St Laurent and St. Urban.
Walk down any of the colorful streets within the Plateau Mont-Royal — a.k.a. the Plateau — and you’ll understand why this neighborhood is “where many Montréalers feel most at home” (Frommer’s).
Best explored: On foot! This community is a quieter alternative to downtown and is recognized for its cultural diversity as well as its independent cafes and bistros, specialty shops and lively nightspots.
Don’t miss: Check out the shops, restaurants, synagogues and churches along Boulevard St-Laurent, Mont-Royal and St-Denis to authentically experience Montreal’s culture and diversity.
In the summer, visitors to Parc La Fontaine can stroll around the park’s gardens, play at one of the tennis courts, paddle around one of the park’s ponds or enjoy free events at the park’s open-aired theater, In the winter, there’s ice skating.
How to get there: The easiest and cheapest way to the Plateau from downtown is taking the Orange Line from Station Square Vicotria to Station Mont-Royal. To see the mural above, head to the corner of Saint-Laurent and Des Pins.
Parc du Mont-Royal
Mont-Royal — a.k.a. Royal Mountain — is the towering peak within the city for which Montreal got its name.
Best explored: On foot. Parc du Mont-Royal is 500 acres of green space within the city that is comparable with New York City’s Central Park because it was laid out by the same man, Frederick Law Olmsted.
Don’t miss: If you’re in relatively good shape, it’s worth taking the one- to three-hour trek up the mountain from downtown. Once you get up, you’ll find incredible hiking trails and acres upon acres of narrow paths through majestic maples and red oaks. You can also explore the two cemeteries on the northern slope and are representative of the city’s historic linguistic and religious divisions – one is traditionally Anglophone and Protestant while the other is Francophone and Catholic.
If you’re visiting in summer, this is one of the best spots to picnic and hike. If you’re visiting in the winter, the park is an ideal place to cross-country ski, snowshoe, ice skate or even snow tube. If you’re looking for a more relaxing route, take a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh.
How to get there: If you’re not up for the hike up, take the Green Line to the Peel métro station or the Orange Line to the Mont-Royal métro station.
Nestled on the Plateau’s norther edge, Mile End is an “up-and-coming neighborhood” (U.S. News) home an increasingly popular shopping district and several cultural neighborhoods.
Best explored: On foot! Mile End has often been overlooked by tourists, but is becoming a major shopping destination with its designer boutiques and household and handicraft shops. The diverse cultural identity of the neighborhood also makes it one of the best places to get ethnic delicacies.
Don’t miss: Cozy up to a little cafe like Cafe Olimpico (124 Rue St-Viateur Ouest), one of Mile End’s most popular spots for authentic Italian coffee.
If you’re big into vintage shopping, be sure to check out Citizen Village (5330 Boul. St-Laurent), a curated boutique, or if you’re looking for something more hip and funky, check out General 54 (5145 Boul. St-Laurent). S.W. Welch Bookseller (225 St-Viateur Ouest) is a haven for any true bibliophile and Vestibule (5157 Boul. St-Laurent) is the best place to go for household goods.
If you’re exploring the neighborhood at night, you’ll find everything from dive bars to swanky lounges.
How to get there: Mile End is accessible via the Orange Line — get off at either the Mont-Royal or Laurier métro stations.
Montreal has not one, but two islands in the St. Lawrence River — Île Ste-Hélène (St. Helen’s Island) and Île Notre-Dame (Notre-Dame Island) — now used for Parc Jean-Drapeau, “Montreal’s indoor-outdoor playground” (Fodor’s).
Best explored: On foot or on a bike. Both islands are almost entirely car free and really are like two giant playgrounds. As the larger of the two, St. Helen’s Island was the site of Expo 67, Montreal’s successful 1967 world’s fair, and later the 1976 Summer Olympics. Notre-Dame Island, next to St. Helen’s, was made from the rubble from the construction of Expo 67 and the construction of the city’s métro.
Don’t miss: If you’re visiting St. Helen’s Island, thrill-seekers should visit La Ronde, Montreal’s amusement park that has the world’s highest double wooden roller coaster. If you’re looking for something more low-key, visit the island’s iconic Biosphere, an interpretive museum about the Saint Lawrence River. Visiting in the summer? Take a dip at one of the Aquatic Complex’s outdoor pools or check out one of the island’s annual festivals.
If you’re visiting Notre-Dame Island, stop in Casino de Montreal. The large casino not only has gaming tables, but also over 3,200 slot machines. If you’re visiting in the warmer month and you’re with a younger crowd, take a canoe trip in the Olympic Basin or, if you’re visiting in June, head to the race track and watch Canada’s three-day Grand Prix. Visiting in the winter? Take to the Olympic Basin on your skates or take cross-country ski or snowshoe around the island.
How to get there: Take the Yellow Line to Jean-Drapeau métro station or one of the island’s two bridges to get to the islands. To see these murals, take a stroll through Parc Jean Drapeau.