1 Day Montreal Itinerary – Exploring Its Charm

montreal-skyline

Living in Greater Toronto, we have the opportunity to make quick trips to Montreal. This post presents our curated 1 day Montreal itinerary based on our last trip.

Our Previous Experience

We now have visited Montreal three times. First, as a one-day stop on a bus tour with Quebec City as the final destination. A weekend trip with visiting relatives followed. And recently, around the beginning of September, for a business conference.

The first two trips gave us quick and shallow glimpses of the city as we tried to see as many attractions as we can in a limited time. We didn’t feel the authentic vibe of the places we visited. So when we had the chance to go again this year for a conference, we decided to stay an extra day and re-discover Montreal, focusing on just a few areas.

Staying At The Heart Of The City

The hotel where we stayed for the conference was conveniently located in downtown Montreal. It’s at the foot of lush Mount Royal Park, next to the renowned McGill University and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

mont-royal-park

Fine dining, bars, and coffee shops are a few steps away. Shops for local and international brands, high-end and mid-range, are all within walking distance. There’s even a pharmacy around the corner that carries essential grocery and personal items.

Finding Our Way To Old Montreal

If time were not a constraint, we would have visited the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as it was just about 300 meters away from the hotel. However, to fully appreciate the history and details of the items on exhibit, we would need to spend a good part of the day in the museum alone.

We decided to re-explore Old Montreal instead, on foot, with the Notre Dame Basilica (located at the center of Old Montreal) as our primary target. We wondered how far a walk it will be to get there. The hotel concierge gave us very encouraging information – “thirty minutes if we don’t get distracted along the way”. It was a beautiful summer day, and we just had a full breakfast to wear off, so we decided to walk.

Pleasant Surprises Along The Way

We took the path with the least turns, again, as suggested by the concierge. There were ongoing constructions that blocked some of the major intersections, but these did not deter us. The detours allowed us to see snippets of day-to-day urban Montreal life. And more.

As we walked along St. Catherine Street, we passed by the Christ Church Cathedral, a national historic site. Its Neo-Gothic structure provides a sharp contrast to the skyscrapers that surround it. Fun-fact about the cathedral – it was elevated during the construction of the underground city beneath it. It has thus been referred to as the “floating” cathedral.

church-christ-cathedral

After walking a little over half a mile, we chanced upon an old building that looks beautifully preserved along Phillips Square that housed the 5-star Hotel Birks. Seeing its ornate front door, we can only imagine how intricately beautiful its interiors are.

hotel-birks

In the middle of the square stood a monument dedicated to King Edward V11. We marvelled at the juxtaposition of old and new architecture surrounding the area as we took a short break under the canopy of trees.

king-edward-vii

We continued along St. Catherine Street until we reached Place des Festivals. Great timing as we caught the ongoing Quartiers Danses Festival. A group of young people strutting their contemporary dance moves entertained us for almost half an hour.

Place-des-Festivals

As we headed towards St. Urbain Street, we were in for another pleasant surprise – quirky little scenes inspired by Montréal backyards. They called it “Dans ma cour… ç’a du chien” in French. Such a fun view to rest and people watch.

Montréal-backyards

Notre Dame Basilica – Montreal’s Oldest Catholic Church

Finally, we reached Notre Dame Basilica, Old Montreal’s jewel, after another half-mile walk.  We snapped a few photos of the church’s exterior, Place D Armes Square, and the historical buildings flanking the square.

notre-dame

There is a C$8 admission charge to the Basilica that includes a 20-minute guided tour. The fee allows you access to the main sections with a tour guide explaining its history and architecture. We opted for the Grand Tour, a 60-minute guided tour which gave us access to some private areas of the Basilica.

The stunning interiors of the Basilica blew us, and the deep blue ceiling with golden stars transported us to the heavens. The atypical stained-glass depicting Montreal’s religious history instead of biblical scenes were truly artistic brilliance.

notre-dame-altar

The ornate pulpit where priests used to pronounce the sermon is imposing.  Statues of Prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah sit at foot of this magnificent structure.  We were also able to access the second level where the organ stands. Majestic and well-preserved, the organ has kept its impeccable acoustics, and prestigious organists from all over the world are occasionally invited to perform great music.

organ

Our knowledgeable tour guide dove deeply into the church’s history and architecture, her narration peppered with anecdotes that entertained us throughout the tour. It was well worth the C$15 we paid per head.

After the Basilica tour, we wandered through the cobblestone-paved Rue Saint-Paul, one of the oldest streets in Montreal. We felt like stepping far back in time and experiencing the charm of Old Europe. Several 19th-century warehouses in the area had been renovated and now house artisanal boutiques and galleries. A welcome change from the usual shops you will find in malls.

shop in montreal

We further meandered through the back alleys and side streets and came upon old houses and lampposts bordering Rue des Récollets and Rue Sainte-Hélène. With our legs starting to feel the fatigue from all the walking, we were grateful to find a leafy park with benches. We took a break and enjoyed the quiet oasis.

We would have wanted to walk further towards the St Lawrence waterfront and end the day with a sunset view of the city. But, we were ready to reward ourselves with a hearty meal.

Montreal’s Flavours

From iconic to fusion to exotic, Montreal is bursting with flavours. You can indulge in the legendary dishes that Montreal is famous for like smoked meat, mouth-watering poutines, bagels, and foie-gras from locally tried and tested diners. Or try new, hip cafes offering Instagram-worthy delicious bites. Montreal offers unique dining experiences for all taste buds.

Despite having visited Montreal several times, we never had the chance to try their famous smoked meat. It will be a shame if we miss it again. There are several delis known for smoked meat in Montreal. Schwartz is popular with tourists, but we learned that another less known shop – Lester’s Deli – is more popular with locals, and we went for it.

lester's deli

The deli has a very unassuming facade, and the interiors are quite dated, but we liked the ambiance. Their smoked meat did not disappoint, and we were ready for the 5-6 hour drive back to Toronto

montreal-smoked-meat

Short, Yet Satisfying Visit

Montréal is the second-largest city in Canada by population and the largest in the province of Québec. It boasts an eclectic array of past and present architecture and provides surprises at every turn.

There is so much to see and explore. If you have only one day, we recommend you choose and focus on an area. We were glad that we did.


We hope this article will help you plan that extra day you may have on your next visit to Montreal.

Kindly leave us your insights or experience on this topic through the “comments” section below. And feel free to share this post with your friends.

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(12) Comments

  1. Sandra Hancock

    Oh my goodness – I have only visited the western provinces and Rocky Mountains in Canada. I love this information about Montreal – and with full inspiration the Eastern Canada is now 100% on my bucket list for me next trip – great pics !

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Sandra,

      Yes, you will love Montreal and the rest of Eastern Canada as well. Glad that the post will inspire you to make the trip soon. If you do make the trip, we recommend you set aside a few days for you to fully explore and enjoy. Look forward to hearing from you about how your trip went.

  2. Christine

    This is a very nice tour around Montreal. Even if it’s for just one day, you got to see a lot. I was also impressed by the cathedral’s stained glass depicting Montreal’s religious history. And the organ looks impressive! I would like to visit that church and basically do the tour that you did. I have never been to Canada, but one place I definitely want to visit one day is Montreal. It looks like an amazing city.

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Christine,

      A little bit of planning helped. You have to see the Cathedral for yourself – words are not enough to describe its beauty. Hope you can share your experience when you get the chance to visit.

  3. Raff

    Oh, how I miss the Montreal deli experience! I can practically taste your picture of the smoked meat sandwich. You’ve captured the essence of Montreal nicely in this article. It’s good to see a tourist article on Canada that showcases the beauty that can be found on the Eastern side of the country as well!

    Look forward to seeing more!

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Raf,

      That smoked meat sandwich was really good! Wish we can have it more often. We’re glad to have shared with you our experience of Montreal. Lots to explore in Eastern Canada and we will continue to share.

  4. Tamika G

    Hi there, this was a really great post. I’ve never been to Canada but reading you post took me back to my time in France due to some of the similarities I saw in the photos you shared. Now you’ve definitely made me add this city to my bucket list, thanks.

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Tamika,

      Glad you liked our post and let you reminisce about your time in France. It is definitely worth adding to your bucket list.

  5. Gabor

    Hi, this is such a great post! Never been lucky enough to visit Montreal, but with your post I had a chance to take a glimpse into this wonderful city. Whenever I travel somewhere I love to explore the place by walking! I think that’s how you get the closest to the vibe of a place. I really enjoyed the way you showed everything you loved on your way to the marvellous cathedral, from hotel door to parks. Lovely photos as well! Hope to read more from you about your next trips!

    1. JRandZen

      Thank you for your comments. Glad our post and the pictures provided you a glimpse into this city. We hope that entices you to consider visiting and actually experience the vibe of the city.

  6. Rex McMahon

    Been to Canada many times over the years but have yet to make it to Montreal. I really enjoyed the details of your trip. Sounds like it was a good time and some great photos too. Looks like such a beautiful and diverse city. I think I might just have to plan a trip for myself. Thanks again for the great article.

    1. JRandZen

      Yes, it was tiring towards the end but we had indeed a great time. And we really enjoyed having so many interesting photo subjects at our disposal. Time for you to plan a trip to this charming city.

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