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How to Spend 72 Hours in Montreal

  • 5 min read

Here’s a secret only the savviest travelers know — Montreal is one of the most underrated cities in North America. Often overshadowed by wilder destinations along Canada’s West Coast, this overlooked gem brims with reasons to visit. With its movie set-perfect Old Town, world-class restaurant scene, and gorgeous hodge-podge of architectural styles, Montreal makes it easy to fall in love. She’s a looker in all seasons, too — visit during spring or summer for balmy days and beautiful blooms, in fall for breathtaking foliage, or in winter for holiday decorations and winter wonderland vibes. There are so many things to see, do, and savor here that you may want to stay forever. Only have a long weekend? We can work with that. Here are our picks for where to stay, eat, and explore during 72 hours in Montreal.

Checking In

Best Overall

Humaniti Hotel room in montreal

Humaniti Hotel, Autograph Collection. Photo, courtesy of hotel.

If you’re looking for a hotel that puts you within arms’ reach of iconic city sights, book a room at Humaniti. Part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, this head-turning, LEED-certified hotel sits at the intersection of vibrant Chinatown, Old Montreal, and Downtown Montreal. If you visit during warmer months, bring a bathing suit — the outdoor pool here is lovely.

Best of Old Montreal

If you prefer to immerse yourself in the historic charm and romance of Montreal’s Old Town (and don’t mind being a little further from its buzzy downtown), you have two fabulous options. The first is Hôtel William Gray, a contemporary beauty housed within an unassuming 18th-century greystone Rue Saint-Vincent. Head to the rooftop garden for delicious drinks and spectacular views. There’s also Hôtel Nelligan — the perfect home base if you’re in need of some top-notch retail therapy. It’s located on one of Montreal's buzziest shopping streets and also offers incredible views from a rooftop deck.

Best for Foodies

Located just south of Old Montreal, Griffintown boasts an impeccable food scene. Hotel Griffintown puts you right at the heart of all that lip-smacking flavor. The rooms feel more like fuss-free, furnished apartments, eschewing many of the superfluous amenities that might drive up the price per night. If you’re looking for a minimalist (yet tasteful) hotel that’s stumbling distance from some truly wow-worthy bars and restaurants, it doesn’t get better than this.

Day 1 - Fill Up on Art & Culture

Montreal offers an abundance of outstanding street art and murals. The city itself is a living museum, and nothing beats soaking it all in on a long walk when the weather’s nice. You’ll find the largest collection along Boulevard Saint-Laurent. Need help charting a path? The MURAL Festival put together a helpful map.

museum of fine arts montreal

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  Photo, courtesy of La Petite Noob.

 

You’ll also want to check out the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Founded in 1860, it now hosts around 43,000 works spanning the ages (the Napoleon collection is a big hit). And that’s just its permanent collection — keep an eye out for unique exhibitions that rotate seasonally.

The Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology and History is a great option for history buffs. Canada’s largest archaeology museum is located in Old Montreal and offers a stunning glimpse into the settlement's history. Its great location also makes it a wonderful jumping off point to explore the neighborhood’s historic architecture. And no visit is complete without checking out the Notre-Dame Basilica in the city’s historical quarter. Its stunning exterior and interior offer hte perfect backdrops for photos to remember your visit by.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, grab an aperetivo and light bites at Stem Bar then head next door for some delicious seafood at Joe Beef. The lobster spaghetti is a must. Both are about a 35-minute walk (or a 12-minute car ride) from the museum.

Day 2 - Get Outdoors

Montreal offers a wonderful selection of gardens, parks, and green spaces. Spend some time enjoying the outdoors at Space for Life, the largest natural sciences museum complex in the country. Complete with a botanical garden, an insectarium, a biodome, and more, it offers endless hours of discovery and natural beauty.

Mount Royal Park MontrealMount Royal Park, Montreal. Photo, Alexi Hobbs for the New York Times.  

If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, stop by Mont Royal Park — landscaped by the man behind New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted — for Les Tams-Tams, a gathering of percussionists, performers, and perfect strangers who gather at the base of the George-Étienne Cartier Monument. Expect drum circles, craft stations, and live action roleplayers acting out everything from medieval jousting to lightsaber battles.

When you’re ready to eat, hail a cab and grab lunch at Olive et Gourmando. It’s 18 minutes away by car, but their freshly baked pastries and just-pressed paninis are well worth it. Craving Thai? Venture 17 minutes north instead for delicious eats (and ultra-quaffable wines) at Pichai. Once the sun goes down, duck into Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill for some seriously good acts ranging from local favorites to international stars.

Day 3 - Get to Know Griffintown

Visiting Montreal’s Downtown and Old Town are a given, but Griffintown (and its neighbor Little Burgundy) have a special place in our hearts and deserves their own day of exploration. They are two of the city’s most hip and creative neighborhoods — an oasis of art galleries, performance spaces, cozy cocktail bars, and stellar restaurants. During the neighborhood’s boom in the early 20th century, it attracted people of all walks of life — Irish, Ukrainian, Italian, Jewish, French Canadian, etc. That vibrant blend of cultures and traditions is still present in Griffintown’s architecture and cuisine.

Spend some time walking along the Lachine Canal, home to the Marché des Éclusiers outdoor market during the summer months. You can also catch an exhibit at Arsenal Montreal exhibition space or browse some local artwork at the Montreal Art Centre and Gallerie Division. You’ll find plenty of great restaurants along Rue Notre-Dame Ouest when you’ve worked up an appetite for lunch. Want to browse some sensational vintage finds from haute couture labels? Head to E.R.A. Vintage Wear. And you can jam out to up-and-coming bands and performers at New City Gas.

Vin mon lapin restaurant montreal

Vin mon Lapin, Montreal.  Photo, courtesy of Tastet.

Once it’s time for dinner, grab a ride to Vin mon Lapin in Montreal’s Little Italy (aka the Williamsburg of Montreal). The food here is farm-focused and hands-down some of the best dining you’ll do during your visit. Pair every seasonal bite with a sip of delicious red or white from the restaurant’s selection of natural wines, and see for yourself why Vin mon Lapin was named the top restaurant in the country by Canada's Best 100. If you can’t snag a resy, then go to Helicoptere in Hochelaga. Eater’s review captures the vibe perfectly. “Combining a culinary approach that feels like fine dining with an atmosphere that’s casual and carefree, Hélicoptère has been capturing the best of both worlds. Prepare for an ever-changing menu of vibrant and creative plates marrying seasonal ingredients and international flavors, courtesy of chefs David Ollu and Marianne Lafleur. ” For a post-dinner craft cocktails head to Atwater Cocktail Club (ACC to the cognoscenti), in the Saint-Henri neighborhood or Cloakroom Bar serving speakeasy vibes behind a menswear shop in Ville-Marie.

Need a Pick-Me-Up?

tommy cafe montreal

Tommy Cafe, Montreal. Photo, courtesy of Tastet.

Montreal’s coffee culture rivals that of Seattle. There’s no shortage of great spots for a delicious cup of joe, but the brews and pastries at cozy Cafe Olimpico and Cafe Myriade are among our favorites. If you’re living your best digital nomad life and need to get some work done, check out Crew Collective & Cafe or Tommy Cafe’s Notre-Dame location. The latter spans two stories and offers great WiFi (and coffee, of course).

Cover photo: Kris Davidson for Destination Canada & National Geographic.

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