Things to do in Montreal
Presently, our tour of Canada continued with 2 days in Montreal. Here, I’m going to share our schedule and show you what sightseeing we did during that time. This will give you a good idea of what things there are to do in Montreal and also just how much you can fit into 2 days.
2 Days in Montreal: Itinerary
Waterfront & Old Port of Montreal
Mount Royal Park
Firstly, our 2 days in Montreal started with a walk around the campus of McGill University. This is the oldest university in Canada and also one of its best so I was keen to take a look. It’s certainly a pleasant campus with lots of green space and some interesting buildings.
Especially interesting, James McGill, the man for whom the university is named was from Scotland. Indeed, there are a lot of British connections in Canada. McGill thought that the provision of education in Montreal should be significantly improved and left money in his will to start the college which is now McGill University.
We came across Chateau Ramezay on the edge of Old Montreal. It is a historical building which now also functions as a museum. Inside you can also view an extensive art collection which includes over 2,000 items relating to Canadian history. Additionally, the museum houses a collection of photographs and a library. Both the library and collections are dedicated to Canadian history. As you tour the inside of the chateau you can view exhibits which showcase what life was like from prehistory until the early 20th century.
Although you need to pay to go into the museum, you can view the gardens free of charge. The small garden is laid out in a formal design and includes both ornamental flower plantings and vegetables.
Chateau Ramezay: Practical Information
June to October: 9.30 am to 6 pm every day
November to May: 10 am to 4.30 pm from Tuesday to Sunday
Over 65s: $10
Children 5 to 17: $5.75
Under 5s are free
You can also buy a family ticket for $26.50 which allows entry for 1 or 2 adults and up to 3 children.
Then we wandered into the heart of Old Montreal. I love places where you can just stroll around and look at the sights. At one point this was a walled city but it’s open today. However, there are some lovely historical buildings to see and the area is pedestrianised which is always pleasant for walking.
Spend time browsing the market stalls or stop for coffee in one of the pleasant cafes. This historic part of Montreal has a quite European feel to it with both its pavement cafes and souvenir stalls. Admire the architecture and then take the time to visit one of the small museums or exhibitions on offer.
Waterfront & Old Port of Montreal
Afterwards, keep walking down towards the water and you will come to the Old Port. We started at the far end near the Clock Tower then walked along the waterfront. This striking building was erected in the early 20th century and it has marked the entrance to the port ever since.
Behind the clock tower, there is also a beach area with umbrellas which must be lovely in the summer. However, when we were there in September it was deserted. From here you can then follow the path along the waterfront for some amazing views of the St Lawrence River.
You can also take a ride on the Montreal Observation Wheel. At 60 metres high it is the tallest wheel in Canada and of course, offers panoramic views across the city and port area. The wheel is also open in the evenings if you want to get a great view of the city lights in the dark.
Keep following the path along the waterfront and past these pretty waterfalls. The path swings out onto a bridge at this point so you are actually walking over the St Lawrence River.
We walked on along the waterfront as far as the cruise port so we could see the ships. On the day we visited the Viking Sun was the only ship in port. You can also go up on the roof of the cruise terminal to get a better look at the ships.
We finished our exploration of the old part of Montreal with a visit to Notre-Dame Basilica. In fact, this is Montreal’s oldest catholic church and it is very popular with tourists. Outside you can see the horse-drawn carriages which also seem to be quite popular but which aren’t for me.
You can take a guided tour of the inside of the cathedral and then spend some time admiring the stained glass windows on your own. Guided tours take place every 20 minutes although you do not need to take one. The admission fee is the same whether you take the short guided tour or not.
You can also take a more in-depth 60-minute tour for an extra fee and this will give you access to more private parts of the basilica such as the balcony and crypt. There is even the opportunity to get close to the magnificent organ and hear some music on the Take a Seat at the Organ tour.
Notre-Dame Basilica: Practical Information
Monday to Friday: 8 am to 4.30 pm
Saturday: 8 am to 4 pm
Sunday: 12.30 pm to 4 pm
In addition, the church is open for prayer in the early morning.
Children 7 to 17: $5
Under 7s are free
Mount Royal Park
Finally, we finished our first day in Montreal by taking the bus up to the Mount Royal lookout. If you want to visit the lookout but do not fancy the steep climb then you’ll be pleased to know that you can get to the top using public transport. Before we visited we considered walking up but having seen how steep it was as we walked down I am very glad that we chose to get the bus.
We started our journey from Victoria Square which is near the Notre-Dame Basilica. From there we took the metro to Montmorency Station and then took bus number 11 to the top of the hill. Of course, you could just take a taxi but this is a cheap and easy way to make the trip.
At the top of the hill, you then just cross the road where the bus drops you off. It’s really obvious where to get off but you can always ask the driver. Here you’ll get a view right across Montreal but don’t stop yet. As you look out across the city you will see a few wooden steps on your right. Climb these to head into Mount Royale Park.
Mount Royal Cross
After a short while, you will come to this large cross which has stood on the hill since 1924. At night it is illuminated and can also be seen from quite a distance.
If you keep walking through the picturesque park you will eventually come to the main visitor centre and lookout area. This part of the park was quite busy especially at the walls overlooking the city.
Afterwards, we decided to walk back down. In the photo below you can see some of the wooden steps that lead down the side of the hill. They seem to go on forever and I was so glad that I was going down not up.
We did meet a lot of people making their way up the staircase but I’m not sure they all knew quite what they were taking on. However, most people, like us, were coming down. As we walked down the steps I started thinking about Mount Royal and it finally occurred to me that this is what Montreal is named after. After all, Montreal is a French-speaking city and Mount Royal in French is Mont Real! I don’t know why I didn’t realise that earlier.
Our 2 days in Montreal continued with a visit to the Montreal Botanical Garden. Firstly, we took the metro to Pie-IX station which is just a few minutes walk from both the Botanical Garden and the Olympic Park.
We actually arrived a bit early so were at the front of the queue when the ticket booth opened. It was a rather chilly morning so I’m glad I had warm clothes on especially with standing around.
Something to be aware of when you purchase your tickets for the Botanical Garden is that you can buy a combined ticket for the Montreal Tower. If you want to visit the tower then you need to do this. You cannot buy a separate ticket for the tower later on.
Exploring the gardens
Once inside, you’ll find that the gardens are divided up into different themed areas. For example, the Japanese and Chinese Gardens, Alpine garden and First Nations garden. Each area is a different design and showcases plants and structures which fit in with the theme.
For example, this beautiful display of Bonsai trees is in a pavilion as part of the Japanese garden. As well as the lovely plants and flowers throughout the gardens there are also some exhibitions on related histories. Such as the exhibition on Chinese cultural history which had some fascinating insights into everyday Chinese life throughout history.
When we finished wandering around the outside gardens we headed for the greenhouse displays. To visit these you need to exit the main garden and then walk past the ticket booths. You will need to show your ticket again to enter the greenhouses but anyone can go into the entrance foyer where there are toilets, information and a small plant shop.
I really enjoy wandering around these greenhouses. There are several which are also divided into different zones. So you get tropical plants, temperate plants, rainforest plants for example. There’s a lot to see in here and it’s lovely and warm too which was nice on such a chilly day.
Botanical Garden: Practical Information
Tuesday to Sunday: 9 am to 5 pm
Seniors (Over 65): $19
Students (With Card) $15.25
Children 5 to 17: $10.50
Under 5s are free
(Garden with Montreal Tower)
Seniors (Over 65): $37.25
Students (With Card) $31.50
Children 5 to 17: $20.75
Under 5s are free
Note that if you want to visit the tower, you must buy a combined ticket. You cannot buy a ticket to the tower on its own.
Afterwards, we headed across the road to the Olympic Park. Montreal hosted the Summer Olympics in 1976. Although Canada has hosted the Winter Olympics a number of times, this is the only time that the Summer Games have been held here.
There are a number of activities available at the Olympic Park but we only visited the Tower. I wanted to visit the Biodome which showcases different ecosystems but it was closed during our 2 days in Montreal.
The Montreal Tower is the tallest inclined tower in the world and has an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. It’s 165 metres high and the viewing platform is accessed by a funicular railway. It leans at 45 degrees and it’s quite unlike any tower I’ve been up before.
As well as ascending the tower you can also visit the Olympic exhibition which is in the same building. This self-guided tour walks you through some of the events of the 1976 Olympics. At the end, you can stand on the winner’s podium in front of a wall of photographs of Olympic winners, which is quite cool.
You will notice the Olympic Stadium in some of my photos of the Tower. Although we didn’t go inside, you can’t miss the stadium as it is so huge. Moreover, you can take a guided tour and see inside if you want to. The tours start from near the Montreal Tower and you can buy an add-on ticket when you purchase entry to the Gardens and Tower.