Old Montreal: 29+ Amazing Things to do this Year 2016Published June 3, 2016 by Tobia Galipeau
So you want to time travel in Montreal… Take a look at our list below for suggestions on what to do while you visit Montreal’s Old Montreal.
We hear it all the time: Montreal is such a European city. Depending on where you’re standing, you may or may not agree. But if you take yourself to Old Montreal, it’ll be hard to contest the statement. Cobblestone this and cobblestone that, narrow streets, old buildings and tons of history all work together to transport you in space and time to a breathtaking “European” place. This makes it a prime spot for summer activities. Take a look at our list below for suggestions on what to do while you visit Old Montreal.
Before you go get all blown away by Montreal’s stunning historic district, catch some shade deep down under in our underground city. The elaborate tunnel is about 32 km long, and features some of the city’s best spots. The Old Montreal portion of the deep down under hides away a piece of the Berlin Wall, free for your viewing. You can also make a few wishes in a fountain, and tackle your high end shopping duties down there. Check out our article for more tips!
The Darling Foundry is a visual arts center showcasing, promoting, and supporting all things contemporary art. A trip there is an encounter with fresh creations from some of today’s most creative minds. And now, the center has its own restaurant, Le Serpent. A restaurant in a visual art center is a lot like eating inside an art installation, it turns out. Crazy high ceilings, marble tables, lights lining the walls… Look around you while you consume their culinary creations: you’ll realize you just might be part of the art, too.
The cobblestone is great, but it’s no secret: Montreal summers get hot and humid. Dip into a few air conditioned art galleries as you stroll around, and cool off surrounded by beauty! The cute roads and St. Lawrence river will patiently wait for you outside while you do so. Our top picks include The Darling Foundry (of course), and Galerie Saint-Dizier for its Canadian art collection and lovely spaciousness.
Clocktower: a word that doesn’t make itself into our modern vocabulary too often. Unless… You’re an avid Clocktower Beach goer or Clocktower climber! The oversized watch was built in England in 1919, and could be said to be something like Montreal’s mini Big Ben. It may not be used to tell the time much anymore, but no one’s complaining. Come walk up its 192 steps and look at its mechanism, all for free! Half the fun will be found post-climb though: a Parisian style “beach” finds itself at the bottom: classic lounge chairs and parasols speckle at the bottom of the clocktower, forming the city’s classiest relaxation haven, Clocktower Beach.
On top of being breathtakingly awesome all year round, Old Montreal also hosts a bunch of events. This year the Lole White Tour is back, providing Montreal with a mass yoga class on August 8. If mind/body/spirit doesn’t do it for you, maybe you’ll want to let loose at Montreal’s International Reggae Fest from August 14 to 16. If really, you’re just in it for the food, thank your lucky stars: Montreal has finally gotten its act together and will be holding a Poutine Fest this year. So mark your calendars for July 3 to 5– the rest of the city already has. If you’re still a foodie and you’re still reading this, Yul Eat Festival takes place September 5 to 7. For this one you’ll want to get your sweaters and appetite ready for the plethora of artisanal goods. And if you’re so unfortunate that you’re reading this in winter, we’ve got good news! Old Montreal is home to Igloofest, a one of a kind outdoor electronic music event that happens every January.
Best known for its Scandinavian baths, this award-winning spa offers a variety of relaxation techniques, so there’s something for everyone. Body warming, rinse sensations, candlelit relaxation areas… You must experience it to believe it. Since its located in the Old Port, you can pair it with a romantic stroll along the river, or as a pre-dinner activity.
Sure, Montreal’s got endless scrumptious lunch options. Olive & Gourmando has consistently made the cut among locals as long as they’ve been open. If you’ve eaten here, chances are it’s because a (very) good friend brought you, saying “you’ve just got to try this place!” Avocado chicken sandwiches, fresh salads, decadent brownies… Scoot over here with time to spare because you might need to wait for a table.
So you’re walking down windy streets, you’re encountering horse carriages, you’re intaking historical facts like there’s no tomorrow… You might as well go shopping like it’s the 1903 while you’re at it. Marche Bonsecours is just that: a functional, four level market that’s been around since 1848. The historical site is quite impressive, allowing you experience the shopping experience (almost) the way our Canadian ancestors did. But don’t worry: they’ve got tons of modern stuff to choose from.
This eco-friendly way to buzz around the St-Lawrence river will probably remind you of that time you did it when you were 7, and adults were doing all the work for you. What better place to experience such nostalgia than the old town itself?
Want to experience the city’s finest venues with best views, but not ready to dish out that kind of cash? Grabbing a few (yes, a few) drinks on an Old Port terrace is a smart, lower cost way to go. The Nelligan Hotel’s rooftop serves as the exemplary Old Montreal outdoor spot: one side features the old architecture and the other, the St-Lawrence river. The drinks? Picture this: a strong sangria made with lychees. Terrace Bonsecours is another top pick with a view of the St. Lawrence, perfect for music lovers wishing dance with drinks in hand until 3am.
If you’ve got time in your itinerary to visit a neighbouring area, make it Little Burgundy. Known locally (and internationally) as one of Montreal’s most buzz worthy neighbourhoods, it’s a small but rewarding trip to make. Internationally reviewed Joe Beef restaurant on Notre-Dame will delight meat lovers (as it did a certain Anthony Bourdain). Art gallery Parisian Laundry is inside a 15 000 square foot restored industrial complex, a building that accurately represents the area’s history and architecture. Alt Hotel is your go-to if you’re looking to spend the night: affordable rooms, contemporary decor, and Little Burgundy savvy staff.
The DHC is like a little paradise for contemporary art, where contemporary art collections come to exist, be themselves, and just hang out blissfully in Old Montreal. Come get blown away by the Yinka Shonibare MBE exhibition on this summer, and see what the art world has to say these days. If you’re around in June, you’re in luck: the centre’s curator is offering guided tours of the exhibit.
Écorécréo, the people behind Old Montreal’s pedal boats, are creating a brand new, totally awesome (and crazy) adventure for us this year: aerial courses on a life size pirate ship! The courses vary from 2 feet high (for tiny tots) to 35 feet high (for big kids like us). Voiles en Voiles is extreme fun for the whole family, and promises to leave everyone happily exhausted from excitement. Climbing and inflatable games are also planned of this ambitious playground. Come live out your childhood dreams of being a pirate and being able to fly, all at the same time! Keep an eye on their Facebook page to find out when they’re ready to open.
Toqué is a fine food eatery that has been winning over critics and making “top 100” lists from all over since 1993. Not a bad resumé, right? It’s your go-to choice if you’re looking to take your partner out for a nice fancy meal in Montreal’s most romantic district. With dishes featuring edible flowers and that look like Picasso masterpieces you can eat, the price tag is well worth it. Pro tip: make an online reservation right now! Check out our article on other restaurants in the area here.
The Horse Palace stable has been housing horses since 1860. Its Old Montreal location has made that continuity possible, allowing passerby’s to get an authentic glance at the important presence of horses during the industrial revolution. Unfortunately, the recent condo boom combined with a new ownership has meant a steady decline in the maintenance of this historic stable. And for some reason, the government hasn’t been on board to support it. Come walk by for what might be your last chance to get a look at Montreal’s original parking lot. Side note: there’s currently a community effort seeking to restore and maintain the stable, check it out here.
Ever hear Leonard Cohen’s song Suzanne? Here’s a little-known fact about it: when Cohen sings “And the sun pours down like honey/On our lady of the harbour”, he’s talking about the Montreal sun shining down on Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours chapel’s rooftop statue! And that river he’s talking about? That’s right– it’s the St. Lawrence river! Not only can you come get a firsthand experience of Suzanne’s shenanigans here, but the gorgeous inside of the Chapel is open to visitors, too.
Take a stroll, grab a bite, support a busker… You can pretty much do all that at the same time inside Place Jacques Cartier. The square, originally the gardens to the Château Vaudreuil, was created in 1803. Today, it’s a pedestrian friendly spot where you’ll find outdoor vendors, cafes, restaurants, and buskers. If you’re looking for a relaxed stroll on a sunny afternoon, come join in on this classic Old Montreal space.
Rooney, a men’s clothing and accessory boutique, seeks to provide its patrons with the best of the latest trends, from both well known and up-and-coming brands. That means a more intimate shopping experience: the items you take home aren’t just another product, they’re a quality product with a story. Come shop here worry-free: Rooney’s collection won’t even let you make a fashion faux-pas.
Muvbox Lobster Roll is Montreal’s new favourite lobster spot. Or is it box? Either way, its philosophy will make you feel good about eating here. A Muvbox is an eco-friendly concept: the container is made of recycled and sustainable materials, and is solar powered! Operating similarly to a food truck, the menu is small, but delicious, and even better… reasonably priced!
This history and archeology museum is surprisingly diverse. With 5 different permanent exhibitions, a variety of events, as well as temporary exhibitions, this museum may be about history but it keeps everything fresh. The current temporary exhibit explores how Canadians have dealt with snow since their beginnings, showcasing both hardships and ingenious thought. Check it out until January 2016.
The Phi Center is kind of the best place ever. It offers a diverse array of artistic special events, exhibits, film screenings… And honestly, the curating in this bubble of imagination showcasing is one you can trust. It’s a one of a kind place you bring a date you want to impress, bring yourself after a particularly boring week, or bring your friends to dance the night away.
Did you really think you had to hop in a car and drive a couple hours North to go ice fishing? Really? Ok fine, I did too… Turns out that, keeping with the old way of doing things that seems to abound in the Old Port, ice fishing is a winter time activity you can do there. Right by the Clock Tower, and equipped with heated shelters, “Ice Fishing Village” is open every winter.
These seasonal restaurants on wheels make their way around the city, making them difficult to catch sometimes. That’s part of the fun though, right? They’re often parked at the Place Jacques Cartier, making them a perfect way to grab a gourmet snack and walk down to the St. Lawrence. Check out our article for our top food truck suggestions here.
Old Montreal is the city’s mecca of high end hotels. You may have had the chance of staying at one, but if you haven’t, a great way to peer into their golden ceilings, crimson couches, detailed mouldings and pricey paintings is by going to one for brunch! The Nelligan offers an amazing brunch buffet, and the St-James’s Restaurant, XO, is an inevitably delicious option too.
This high end men’s clothing store could actually double as an art gallery. That’s because the collections you’ll find here are so meticulously chosen that just perusing through the items transports you into the minds of some of the best international designers.
Auberge St-Gabriel’s nightclub, The Velvet, is unique in its juxtaposition of concept and location. The club encourages patrons to be themselves all the way, no matter how fun, wild, and crazy, even though they’re in the world of ghosts past. And it’s the perfect blend of addictive music, strong delicious drinks, and people you’ll never forget.
This fine dining spot offers an excellent lunch, dinner, wine list… you know, your usual best-of-the-best standard that you’ll find all over the area But they actually do lunch impressively well, making it a great pitstop in between Old Montreal activities. They have an extremely creative chef who prides himself on building dishes around local ingredients, so your ethics won’t be compromised either.
Ok, admit it: you secretly own (or wish you owned) a remote control car. Or truck. Or… maybe a boat? The Old Port makes that dream come true. A fun activity for groups of all ages, this one’s sure to make you feel like a kid again, no matter who your with. Getting silly never goes out of style.
That’s right, Canada’s first bank is right here in Montreal’s Old Town. Think about it: our very first coins were here! A short but unique visit, it’s a must-see for anyone walking along Saint-Jacques. Built in 1817, this bank is like a mini museum that showcases the bank as it was, historical documents, old banknotes and other historical items. Pro tip: while you’re there, look up– the ceiling is like nothing else. Monday to Friday, 11am to 4pm, 129 Saint-Jacques street.