Old Montreal: A Walking Itinerary For First-Time Visitors

visit old montreal

If there is one thing Montreal is well-known for (besides the crazy food scene, of course), it’s the mix of European and North American cultures. And the best place to experience this for yourself, well, it’s in Old-Montreal.

I could go on and on about what makes this district beautiful but the only way to truly understand what makes it so special is to roam its streets, admire its views, take in its old-world atmosphere. Take my word for it!

To help you enjoy your time there as much as possible, I put together an Old-Montreal walking itinerary that I think will be helpful for first-timers in the city; it includes must-see stops as well as picturesque streets you don’t want to miss.

Let’s start by making something very clear: I absolutely forbid you to visit Old-Montreal by car!

Not only is it terribly unpractical (try and find parking in these streets, see if you still think I lied), but it also ruins the whole Old-World experience (21st-century transportation doesn’t exactly scream 17th-century charm). Instead, do like the locals: take the métro and exit at Place d’Armes.

 

Place d’Armes

Place d'Armes in Old Montreal

Place d’Armes is one of the most beautiful and historical public squares in Montreal. It’s the best spot to enjoy the view of the Notre-Dame Basilica, whose facade is quite outstanding. Once inside, you can see the many unique traits of the church, starting with the unusual stained glass, which depicts scenes of the religious history of Montreal, instead of traditional biblical scenes. The organ is one of the most impressive of its kind and perfectly complements the magnificent ceiling.

Oh, and most importantly, that’s where Celine Dion got married in 1994 (with her questionable headpiece).

The square is also flanked by several of Montreal’s most notable buildings, including the old Bank of Montreal on the northern side and the Aldred Building on the western side; this was the first skyscraper in the city which oddly resembles New York’s Empire State Building, seeing as they were completed at the same time.

Old Montreal Food Tour

old port montreal food tour

Gone are the days where Old Montreal was an absolute no-go for local foodies, who were not enthused by the touristy and overpriced offering; the district has gone through a culinary rebirth over the past decade and is now home to mouth-watering restaurants and markets. The Old Montreal Food Tour takes visitors around the historic cobblestone streets of North America’s most European neighbourhood, with highlights like fancy poutine, gluten-free sweets, craft beers, and many other yummy things, in addition to several of the landmarks listed in this article.

Museum Pointe-à-Callière

visit old montreal

Now, exit Europe, and cue modernity. A bit further south, down Saint-Sulpice Street, you’ll end up on Place Royale and the fascinating archaeology and history Museum Pointe-à-Callière, which is set right above the birthplace of Montreal. Despite its topic, the museum is surprisingly modern thanks to its futuristic architecture and interactive displays. When you’re done, walk along the Old-Port promenade, towards the famed and über-cool Science Center.

Saint-Paul Street

visit old montreal

Back in the cobblestone streets, walk for a while on Saint-Paul Street, the most picturesque and popular street in Old-Montreal. While there isn’t much to do on the street per se (except maybe shop for tacky souvenirs), the beautiful architecture and ambiance are going to be worth your while.

You will eventually end up on the beautiful Place Jacques Cartier, named after one of the discoverers of Canada, where you’ll find several overpriced restaurants as well as buskers and ice cream vendors. But despite the tacky feel (touristy things are touristy for a reason, right?), it’s definitely worth a visit – Place Jacques Cartier will definitely make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

Montréal Town Hall

visit old montreal

The Montreal Town Hall has a little something reminiscing of France, and with good reason: it was modeled after the Tours Town Hall, near Paris. The building is absolutely splendid and will soon integrate a large green space that will connect to nearby métro station.

A few steps further, you will find the prestigious 18th century Château Ramezay, where you can learn even more about the history of Montreal and Quebec.

Bonsecours Market

visit old montreal

Down Saint-Claude Street is the gigantic 150-year-old Bonsecours Market, the oldest and largest public market in Montreal. Even though its mission changed a bit throughout the years (it now houses upscale cafés and boutiques instead of potatoes and pork chops), it’s still a major piece of French-Canadian architecture and one that shouldn’t be neglected.

Next up is the most beautiful chapel in the area, and also the most photogenic: Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours. Built in 1771, it’s my favorite one – there’s just something about its unassuming facade that gets to me every time. Try and make your way inside to admire the painted ceilings and, if your calves can take it, climb all the way to the dizzying bell tower to get the most amazing views over Old-Montreal and downtown Montreal.

***

That itinerary should take you at least half a day, if not a whole one (depends if you decide to visit the museums, and not just stare at them from the outside). Every season’s a good season to visit Old Montreal; from the lively buskers and street food in the summer to the fairytale-like whiteouts in the winter, there’s just no choosing a best time!

 

things to do in montreal city guide

For even more things to do in Montreal as well as restaurant suggestions, local photography tips, pre-set itineraries, and exclusive discounts, get the Montreal city guide for just $9. It contains everything I know and love about Montreal!

45 Comments on Old Montreal: A Walking Itinerary For First-Time Visitors

  1. Jeremy
    May 16, 2012 at 1:04 pm (5 years ago)

    Wow, you took some really stunning photos. I visited Montreal at age 18, but that was because I just wanted to be able to drink beer legally. I walked through the old quarter but I would love to go back now and really take it all in, thanks for sharing!!!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      July 6, 2012 at 11:09 am (5 years ago)

      Not all photos are mine, but they are stunning ideed!

      Reply
      • Jim
        December 24, 2015 at 10:07 am (1 year ago)

        Can you recommend a romantic bed and breakfast/hotel

      • Marie-Eve
        December 28, 2015 at 9:50 am (1 year ago)

        Hotel Nelligan, Auberge du Vieux Port.

      • Genese Hewston
        March 1, 2017 at 9:37 am (2 months ago)

        Hi Marie, I’m reading this blog for the first time. First response was in 2012 so I’m assuming that was the timeframe of the original post. Do you have any updates to add? I would like to visit Old Montreal for the first time in September 2017. Afterwards we would be interested in some contemporary jazz or a comedy show or night life clubs or dancing. Are you familiar with anything like that?

  2. Laura @Travelocafe
    May 16, 2012 at 2:51 pm (5 years ago)

    Oh, such a well mapped itinerary. Old Montreal looks amazing. I love how you presented it. Very useful. I can see myself printing this and using it on my first visit to Montreal.

    Reply
  3. ehalvey
    May 16, 2012 at 4:52 pm (5 years ago)

    Perfect timing! I’m roadtripping to Montreal at the end of the month. I think we’re just a few blocks from the Bonsecours Market, too.

    Reply
  4. Lisa Goodmurphy
    May 16, 2012 at 7:08 pm (5 years ago)

    Lots of great suggestions! It has been years since I’ve been to Montreal and I would love to go back soon – my daughters have never been!

    Reply
  5. Melissa
    May 16, 2012 at 7:57 pm (5 years ago)

    I finally visited in 2010 and walked all around Old Montreal. Notre Dame was a highlight but more so the bike ride that my friend and I went on one day to explore the city. I have to return, actually I am not thinking of potentially moving there if I move back to Canada. Got to keep my options open.

    Reply
  6. Alexa Meisler
    May 16, 2012 at 9:08 pm (5 years ago)

    The Bassin Bonsecours is so beautiful! I will also follow your tip about not driving around Old Montreal. This place looks too spectacular to see it just through a window.

    Reply
  7. Alouise
    May 16, 2012 at 10:06 pm (5 years ago)

    I still can’t believe I’ve never been to Montreal. That definitely has to change, and when it does I’ll try out this itinerary (providing I don’t get hopelessly lost like I normally do when I travel).

    Reply
  8. Cath
    May 17, 2012 at 2:56 am (5 years ago)

    I loved Old Montreal when I went there. It was so beautiful, especially the heart of the old town.

    Reply
  9. Monika @ Kanada Reisen
    May 24, 2012 at 4:25 pm (5 years ago)

    I love your itinerary through Old Montreal. I was there last fall and the only thing I missed was the Bassin Bonsecours – should have had your itinerary then. Great tips.

    Reply
  10. Uttoran Sen
    June 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm (5 years ago)

    Excellent, so many places to visit, also, i like your way of traveling places. It is best not to act like a traveler, rather do it like the natives, explore the place on foot… there is so much that you will miss out if you are sitting inside the comfort of the car.

    Reply
    • Marie
      June 19, 2012 at 7:44 pm (5 years ago)

      I much prefer walking places than driving. Much more peaceful!

      Reply
      • Chris
        August 12, 2013 at 3:53 pm (4 years ago)

        I’ve done a bit of travelling, though never been to Old Montreal.
        But from your pictures, especially the leaves in Fall, it looks like a pretty colourful and amazing place to go. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Michel Tanguay
    June 19, 2014 at 1:06 am (3 years ago)

    For those who enjoyed this avant-goût, I would suggest a follow-up down South on promenade du Vieux-Port… you can walk or rent a bike-share called Bixi… the bike path follows the Canal-de-Lachine wich was the main waterway until 1957.
    You’ll get a good view of the faded 19 th century industrial era. Stop for a beer at world famous “taverne Magnan “. Then head for Charlevoix Métro station next door. Bixi is a good deal ! You can take one for 40 minutes max ,bring it back to a station then ,after a few minutes , get another one while being billed only once for the day.

    Reply
    • Michel
      September 29, 2015 at 3:27 am (2 years ago)

      Note to myself : Taverne Magnan has closed for good unfortunatly. For those who like to jog , the canal is the place to go. Less polluted area of the city center with long streches with no traffic lights.

      Reply
  12. Laurence
    June 27, 2014 at 6:17 pm (3 years ago)

    Thank you for this great itinerary, and your 15 Things to do blog post. I am a Quebecker, but not from Montreal, and I will be coming for a weekend with a bunch of immigrant friends who are eager to discover the city… so hopefully your many tips will help me give them a great tour!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres
      July 7, 2014 at 10:18 pm (3 years ago)

      Happy to help Laurence, I hope you and your friends enjoy my fair city ;-)

      Reply
  13. Sarah
    April 25, 2015 at 10:03 pm (2 years ago)

    Beaver Lake is gorgeous! Although not in old Montreal the view is exceptional from where the Pavillion is! I went in December and unfortunately I saw more Ice fog than anything else, but the wildlife and different activities going on made it all worthwhile.

    Reply
  14. Prakash
    August 5, 2015 at 4:37 pm (2 years ago)

    This blog was very helpful for us. We were in Montreal this week and we enjoyed it a lot. Went to all the places you have mentioned here. Great work. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      August 7, 2015 at 10:07 am (2 years ago)

      Glad to hear this, Prakash! Happy to help.

      Reply
  15. Bronwyn
    August 8, 2015 at 6:11 pm (2 years ago)

    I have an aunt who lives on Longueuil so I have visited Montreal many times. I love the Pointe a Calliere and was so glad to recently share it with my own kids for the first time. I agree. No cars in Old Montreal. But a bike is great!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      August 10, 2015 at 10:51 am (2 years ago)

      Yes bikes are a great way to explore the city!

      Reply
  16. CajunLady
    April 29, 2016 at 12:33 am (12 months ago)

    Hi Marie,
    Enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks for your ‘Top 15 List”. It will come in handy during our time in Montreal.My husband and I will be driving up on the 7th of May from New Jersey through the 11th. Driving to Toronto until the 16th,from there to Niagara Falls until our departure out of Buffalo on the 20th.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      April 29, 2016 at 12:15 pm (12 months ago)

      Wonderful, have a great trip!

      Reply
  17. Ediyie
    May 21, 2016 at 7:14 pm (11 months ago)

    I’ll be in Montreal in a few weeks and this itinerary will be a big help. soo excited to visit :D

    TY!!!

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      May 26, 2016 at 2:00 pm (11 months ago)

      Wonderful! Have a great trip.

      Reply
  18. Sam
    January 10, 2017 at 3:30 pm (3 months ago)

    We will be driving in for the day from Burlington, VT. Where do you suggest we park our car while we explore Old Montreal?

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      January 17, 2017 at 12:49 pm (3 months ago)

      At the Science Centre!

      Reply
      • SAM
        January 19, 2017 at 9:22 pm (3 months ago)

        Thank you!

  19. hannah
    February 28, 2017 at 10:46 am (2 months ago)

    Thank you so much for the great itinerary. I am planning to go there this April, and I will definitely follow this.
    By the way, I am from Vietnam, And so you are currently stay there?

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      March 14, 2017 at 1:40 pm (1 month ago)

      I was in Vietnam very briefly, in Chau Doc and Saigon! :-)

      Reply
  20. Tanisha
    March 18, 2017 at 4:41 pm (1 month ago)

    Hello,

    I will be visiting Montreal in the first week of April. Will it still be very cold? I really want to see as much of the city as possible, and hoping that winter is nearing its end by then.

    Reply
    • Marie-Eve
      March 24, 2017 at 5:51 pm (1 month ago)

      Honestly, it’s hard to tell. It’s snowing right now and it’s late March! I don’t think it will be “Very cold” but it could be anywhere between 0 degrees and 20 degrees Celsius in April.

      Reply

6Pingbacks & Trackbacks on Old Montreal: A Walking Itinerary For First-Time Visitors

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  2. […] Old-Montreal is also a must because of all its history, and the dozens of attractions it’s home to. […]

  3. […] sightseeing on Sunday included a walking tour I modified from a blog post I found. We saw a good number of things listed in the post and I would recommend using that. I […]

  4. […] If you’re new to Old Montreal, you might want to check out my itinerary for first-timers. […]

  5. […] tour, and walking along St. John street to admire the old side of Montréal. Here’s their itinerary for first timers. However, Matt at Landlopers wants to make sure we don’t make integral mistakes while […]

  6. […] aka Old Montreal is a must for the first time traveler to this Canadian city. When I arrived, it was 14° and the streets were a ghost town in sections. Come spring, those same […]

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