Wonder what the best things to do in Montreal in the summer are? I had a chance to visit with my friend, Alyshia for a few days in August, so I thought I’d share what we got up to below!
You know, for how close Canada is to Philadelphia, you’d think I’d have gone to the eastern side by now, but nope – this summer was my first proper time. I did cross over when I was visiting Niagara Falls, but we were there for maybe 15 minutes tops, so it doesn’t really count. Nope, this two-week trip was my first time properly exploring some of the most popular spots in the country!
Our whole itinerary also included Québec City, Ottawa, Toronto/Oakville, and the Niagara region, but it started with Montréal. I drove up to the largest city in Canada’s French province from Philly in an easy 7 hour drive, and we spent a few days enjoying the sunny weather. Since Alyshia went to school here, she already knew all the spots to take a first time visitor, and I got to just sit back and let her lead the way.
Here are all the best things to do in Montreal in the summer, though a lot of this can be copied for the winter too!
23 Unique Things to Do in Montreal in the Summer
1. Learn a bit about Montréal’s history
I always thought it was interesting how Canada had this whole province that differed so much from the rest of the country. It reminds me a bit of how Catalonia is with Spain. Québec, the province, is the largest of the thirteen Canadian territories with the second largest population. While the rest of Canada’s first language is English, Québec’s is French. In fact, if you own a business here, you have to speak in French before you use English, so all restaurants and stores we frequented said, “Bonjour, hi!”
As the largest city in Québec, Montréal is probably the most popular place to visit in the region. Its European origins go all the way back to 1642 when it was named Ville-Marie by French settlers from a town called La Flèche. Since then its named changed to Montréal after the mountain.
Of course, the area’s history goes back even further as First Nations people occupied the land for thousands of years. It’s the village of Hochelaga, where the Saint Lawrence Iroquoians lived, that Jacques Cartier visited when he first arrived in Canada in 1535.
If you’re familiar with North American history, you can probably guess how things go from here. It’s because this area initially fell under French colonization for fur trading that it’s the prevailing European influence. (Unlike Ontario which had both British and French settlers). The other big name with Cartier is Samuel de Champlain.
Montréal came under British rule during the Seven Year’s War between 1756-1763 and was declared a city in 1832. Today, it, with Canada, is still part of the British Commonwealth.
If you want to learn more about Montréal’s history, you can always do a guided history walking tour or a small group walking tour. Elissa did one when she went as her mom’s family is originally from the area and she loved it. Alyshia and I didn’t have time for a tour, so we relied on her high school history classes and some quick Googling whenever we were curious, ha!
2. Before you do anything, try some poutine
Ah, poutine. Some will say it’s just a dish of french fries with cheese curds and brown gravy. But it’s so much more, and I’d argue it’s Canada’s national dish! You should have it no matter where you go in the country, but you should especially enjoy it while in Québec. The dish comes from the Centre-du-Québec region and was created in the 1950s.
We went over to Dunn’s Famous for their classic poutine. I have no idea if it’s the best or even up there, but it is open late and we wound up ordering a second dish after thinking we’d only want one. Something about the way the gravy melts the cheese a bit and the french fries offer the perfect mix… Just writing this makes me want some more.
3. Stop at the Notre-Dame Basilica
Moving to a different part of Montréal, you’ll know you’ve started entering the historic area when you’ve reached the Notre-Dame Basilica, or Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal. In a place Mark Twain once nicknamed “The City of Hundred Steeples,” the Notre-Dame Basilica is the most well-known. The cathedral was constructed between 1824 and 1829 in a Gothic Revival style. Fun fact Elissa told me – Celine Dion got special permission to marry here in 1994!
Apparently the interior is one of the most stunning examples of Gothic Revival design and looks stunning in photos. Unfortunately for us, it was closed during our visit!
4. Pop into Le Petit Dep
Before you continue on to the rest of Old Montréal, pop in for a coffee at Le Petit Dep! You’ll see it instantly as the aqua green facade with greenery and flowers looks right out of a storybook. The cafe/store sits in a building dating back to 1822. While you’re there you can shop around the various Québecois artisan creations.
5. Stroll around Old Montréal
If you really want to feel like you’ve stepped into Paris (or at least in some European city), then you’ll absolutely love Old Montréal or Vieux-Montréal. This is the historic heart of the city, settled by Samuel de Champlain in 1605. He established a fur-trading post and later in 1642 Ville-Marie was established in the same area. These days you can still see many building from the 1700s and 1800s and the area is preserved to feel histori right down to the cobblestone streets. You’ll particularly want to walk along Saint-Paul and grab a drink and sit outside at one of the bistros or pubs.
6. Grab a drink and a snack at one of the Old Montréal restaurants with outdoor seating
Definitely take advantage of out door seating. Considering Montréal is cold most of the year, summer is the time to enjoy the outdoor patio seating! Especially in Old Montréal where the architecture is historic and pretty. We grabbed drinks and a snack at 3 Brasseurs.
7. Head to the Vieux Port
From Old Montréal head to the waterfront to enjoy the Old Port of Montréal, or Vieux-Port de Montréal. The whole area is around 2km along the Saint Lawrence River with the most famous spot being Montréal Ferris Wheel, which was built for the city’s 375th anniversary. It’s such a fun area in the summer with lots of cute food and drink trucks as well as little shops selling all sorts of Québec goods. I picked up a few illustrated postcards while there!
8. Soak in the tubs at Bota Bota
Also in Vieux Port is a unique spa experience known as Bota Bota. You obviously don’t have to go to this, but we went for my birthday and it was very welcome for some relaxing and soothing our sore calves. The team behind Bota Bota basically turned an old riverside ferry into a floating spa with quite a few pools and steam rooms. We did the water circuit, which gives you three hours to enjoy the different pools and to relax. Keep in mind no photos and you need a swimsuit and a some sort of sandal to wear.
If you’re the kind of person that always wanted to do a Korean sauna but was too afraid to be naked with strangers, than I think you’d love this! It’s nicer in the summer too as you can lounge around on the decks and not get frostbite. I also recommend bringing a refillable water bottle. They have water fountains around but you’ll definitely get dehydrated if you don’t drink something regularly. Also you can totally bring a book in to enjoy on one of the comfy lounge beds.
9. Stop into Libraire Betrand along Rue St. Pierre
We walked back to our hotel from Bota Bota which led us along the very pretty Rue St. Pierre and a lovely bookstore called Libraire Betrand. Obviously most of their selection is in French, but they did have a few English books, and I picked up a copy of The Mountains Sing while there.
10. Experience Chinatown during the day…
Moving to another area of Montréal – Chinatown! This one is pretty small as far as they go; it just runs along De la Gauchetière Street and you can walk up and down in maybe 10 minutes. It became known as Chinatown officially in 1902, and you know you’re there pretty easily with the gates that mark the entrances on each side. If you want to know more about the culinary scene, you can always do this food tour.
Since our hotel was nearby, we stopped in one morning…
11. and at night.
… and also at night! I’d say it’s even nicer at night, especially in the summer as it’s much cooler than the day. I don’t know what it is, but I love night photography in cities. When we went, there was a little Chinatown night market. We may have been too late but it was pretty quiet and not quite like the night markets we were used to in Asia. But it was nice to walk around and see what was open to find dinner. This is one spot I’d have some cash on you. While most places take credit card, you’ll have a few that are cash only, like this shop above!
12. Eat the xiao long bao at Sammi & Soup Dumplings
When we realized the night market wouldn’t mean sampling food from various stalls ala Taipei, we began looking into the restaurant windows to see if there was anything good. A soon as we saw the soup dumplings at Sammi & Soup Dumplings, we were pretty much sold. The xiao long bao here is excellent, and I feel like that says coming from me since my introduction to these delicious dumplings was at the famous Din Tai Fung in Kuala Lumpur!
13. Take in the views from Mont Royal.
If you want add a little nature on your list of things to do in Montréal in the summer, then head over to Mont-Royal! This small mountain reaches 233m (764ft) and was named by Jacques Cartier after his patron, John Royal. They say this is where Montréal got its name. The trek up is actually really easy in retrospect (though I worked out before and was whiny). It’s all smooth dirt paths to the main observation area. Though if you’re feeling lazy, you can just drive up. And if you’re feeling fancy, you could always do the helicopter ride.
14. Don’t miss Tam Tams in the park if you’re here on a Sunday.
Not gonna lie when Alyshia told me we were going to the park for Tam-Tams, I had no idea what she was talking about. My mind instantly went to the Australian brand Tim Tam and I was wondering if it was just some event where they were handing out free chocolate biscuits. I was very wrong lol.
Tam-Tams is this free performance/festival at the George-Étienne Cartier Monument in Mont-Royal Park that happens every Sunday during the warmer months. It’s easily one of the most classic things to do in Montréal in the summer!
Hippies gather to play drums, dance, and sell random goods, and it makes for a chill day at the park. We got especially lucky as Montréal Pride was also the same day, so the park was full of fun activity as the parade started nearby!
We just picked up food from the market near the subway exit and sat down to people watch and eat. I’d bring a blanket or something so you can more comfortably sit on the grass.
15. Find all the wall murals along Saint-Laurent Boulevard
Alyshia told me when she was a student, Saint-Laurent Boulevard was the street to be at. It’s one lone walking street closed off to cars (at least in the summer) and full of restaurants, boutique shops, and cool murals. You can even do a guided walking tour of Saint Laurent’s murals to learn more!
16. Grab a sandwich at Schwartz’s Deli
There’s always that one place on a weekend that has a line out of it, and when it comes to Saint-Laurent, that place is Schwartz’s Deli. The name comes from Reuben Schwartz, who a Jewish immigrant from Romania, in 1928, and it’s basically an institution in Montréal because of their famous smoked meat sandwich. Honestly just writing about it now is making my mouth water!
17. Or the bánh xèo at Sapa Cafe
This one’s for anyone who found me via Vietnam. There’s this random spot in Saint-Laurent that sells bánh xèo, and both Alyshia and I thought it held up pretty well! It’s definitely not anything like the duck and coconut ones outside of Jolly’s in Thảo Điền, but not many bánh xèos can live up to that one. If you go in and ask, you’ll probably shock the owner who’s probably used to selling bubble tea more than Vietnamese dishes!
18. Stop for a coffee at La Finca in Downtown Montreal…
There are a lot of fun, hipster-y cafes around Montréal, and this one happened to be right around the corner from our hotel. La Finca is both a café and a bit of a local market. The nice thing is while you’re waiting in line to order, all their goods are right there so you can take a look.
19. … or Tommy’s Cafe for the salmon bagels and coffee.
Another cool cafe in Montréal is Tommy’s, which Alyshia recommend we stop in for my birthday. They have three locations, and we went to the Rue Notre-Dame one. It’s one of those cafes built into an older building, so the bones feel Victorian while the design feels modern. Not to mention how stunning the hanging plants are! They’re more of a drink and pastry cafe, but we did get these delicious bagel and lox and coffees plus a little sweet treat.
20. For a heartier breakfast go to Allo! Mon Coco…
If you’re looking for something heartier for breakfast, then I’d look up one of the Allo! Mon Coco locations around the city. They have a ton of options on their menus and the dishes are absolutely massive, so don’t over order!
21. … or stop at the eggscellently named Eggspectation.
Now there are quite a few Eggspectation locations in Canada and the world, but the company was originally founded in Montréal in 1993, so I’d especially make sure to eat here! As you might guess from the name, there are a bunch of eggs-related breakfast dishes, though of course there are plenty of options even if you prefer something else.
22. Make a reservation for dinner at the vegan-friendly LOV Restaurant
If you love vegan food, you’ll love LOV! They have two locations in Montréal, and we came here one night for dinner. All their offerings of responsible and plant-based and absolutely delicious. We made reservations at their original location on McGill Street and split a few dishes.
23. And don’t forget to grab an orange julep drink at the Big Orange!
Of all the things to do in Montreal in the summer — this is a must! This 40ft (12m) hight orange ball, officially known as the Gibeau Orange Julep, serves up the most delicious drink. It was originally found in 1932 by Hermas Gibeau so he could move from serving the orange julep from the park to a proper restaurant. Today you can order the julep drink as well as some other fast food eats. It’s sort of a sweet orange drink that gets rid of the acidity of normal orange juice. We stopped in right before we drove to Québec City, and it was the perfect way to say au revoir to Montréal.
General Tours of Montréal
For those that want a more guided experience to Montréal, check out these tours:
Private Tour with a Local
This one allows you to customize your private tour and chat with a local who can help you find the best spots in the city and offer their own expert opinions on where to go. Book here
Enjoy the St. Lawrence River aboard a little cruise! This will give you skyline views of the city while you learn more about the history. Book here
Bike Sightseeing Tour
If you want to get some exercise in while sightseeing, this 4-hour bike tour covers the city’s architecture and neighborhoods of Montréal. It also includes a food tasting and beer or wine at the end. Book here
Scooter Sightseeing Tour
For a similar tour but less exertion, try this scooter tour! You’ll cover most of Montréal’s top spots to see and even stop for a bagel snack. Book here
Where to Stay in Montréal
Because you’re going to getting around on foot most of the time, I’d recommend staying as central as possible. We booked Hotel Monville for our trip, and it was right around the corner from the city’s little Chinatown. I definitely recommend this area as it was fairly close to everything. The only downside are the bathrooms which leak quite a bit from the shower. Book here
Other Hotels in Montréal:
Pretty much all the city luxury brands you’d expect are in Montréal including Sofitel Montréal Golden Mile, Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, The Ritz-Carlton Montréal, and Four Seasons Hotel Montréal. There’s also Hôtel Birks Montréal and Le Mount Stephen.
Montréal has so many fun boutique hotel options that it took us a while to pick which one we wanted to stay in. Some other places we looked at were Hotel Uville Montréal, Hotel Zero 1, Le Dauphin Montréal Centre-Ville, and Hotel Gault. They’re all in solid locations for sightseeing and their rooms look spacious and modernly designed.
Other Tips for Visiting Montréal in the Summer
It actually can get pretty hot and humid!
If you’ve ever been to Canada, you know it usually errs on the cold side even if it’s not all igloos all the time. When I went in mid-August it was hot. Like Saigon-levels, sweaty betty hot! Except unlike Saigon, Montréal isn’t built for humidity, so it kind of feels even hotter. (What’s with this country and not believing in fans?)
But, funnily enough, everyone told me even just a week before it was still cold, so it really depends on what time of summer you go. I’d say June and July you’ll want to keep and eye on the forecast and bring a light jacket but you can leave them at home if you come in August.
What to Pack/Wear
- Walking Shoes – Montréal will involve a lot of walking! My feet were pretty peeved with me when I insisted on wearing my flimsier flat slides. Bring a pair of walking sneakers for your Mont-Royal day (put my new Allbirds Tree Dashers to work) and sturdy sandals otherwise (always a Birkenstock fan).
- Wet Shoes – If you do Bota Bota, be sure to bring a pair of flip-flops or sandals that can get wet. (I always like the Birkenstock options)
- Swimsuit – also you’ll obviously want a swimsuit for Bota Bota too! You’re fine with either a one-piece or a two-piece, so wear whatever’s most comfortable.
- Linen – As always, I recommend linen and cotton everything when it comes to clothing even down to your pajamas as your hotel might be temperature controlled. I brought a lot of the clothes I had made in Vietnam but if you’re looking for more affordable pieces, than Old Navy often has some nice linen-rayon dresses. Etsy also has a lot of linen brands on there!
- Hats/Sunnies – I’d say there’s not a ton of shade during the day, so make sure you’ve at least got some good sunglasses. These ones are honestly always a go-to, but if you want a nicer pair, I’m still missing my Erika style from Rayban!
How to Get Around
Montréal is an incredibly easy city to walk around, and we spent most of our time getting around on foot! The only time we took the metro was from near our hotel in Downtown Montréal to go to the Mont-Royal neighborhood, and we Ubered once or twice when we were just too exhausted to even think of walking back.
If you do want to use Uber, just a warning to give yourself 10-15 minutes. Every time we tried to get one, there was always a long wait time!
How to Get There
I drove from Philadelphia to get to Montréal. It’s a really easy drive through the border that even takes you through the Catskills!=,
You can also obviously fly into the Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL), which is about a 25-30 minute drive from downtown Montréal. There’s public transportation and Uber or you can book a private transfer ahead of time.
Since Alyshia was coming from Toronto, she actually took the train in with VIA Rail Canada.
And there you have it! All the best things to do in Montreal in the summer as well as some of my tips for your visit! Let me know below you if you have anything to add!
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