3 Days in Montreal: The Perfect Montreal Itinerary

Discover Montreal's blend of European charm and North American energy through historic sites, cutting-edge arts, world-class cuisine, and vibrant festivals. Follow this 3-day Montreal itinerary for best results!

West Parker
By
West Parker
July 18, 2024

You're strolling down a cobblestone street, the aroma of freshly baked bagels wafting through the air, when suddenly you hear a street performer belting out a French chanson. Welcome to Montreal, where Old World meets New World in the most delightful way possible!

When my wife Sarah and I first planned our trip to Montreal, we thought we were in for a nice, quiet Canadian getaway. Boy, were we in for a surprise! This city knocked our socks off with its incredible food scene, rich history, and infectious joie de vivre. By the end of our three days in Montreal, we were already planning our next visit!

So, buckle up, mes amis! I'm about to take you on a whirlwind tour of the best way to spend 3 days in Montreal. Trust me, by the time you're done reading this Montreal itinerary, you'll be booking your tickets faster than you can say "poutine"!

What to Pack for Your 3 Days in Montreal

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of what to do in Montreal for 3 days, let's talk about what to pack. Montreal's weather can be a bit... let's say, temperamental. Here's what you'll need for your Montreal trip:

  • Comfortable walking shoes: You'll be doing a lot of exploring on foot, so pack shoes that can handle cobblestone streets and won't give you blisters.
  • Layers: Montreal's weather can change faster than a chameleon on a mood ring. Pack layers that you can easily add or remove.
  • Umbrella or rain jacket: Better safe than sorry!
  • French phrasebook: While most Montrealers speak English, they appreciate it when visitors try to speak French. Plus, it's fun!
  • Portable charger: You'll be taking tons of photos, trust me.
  • Reusable water bottle: Stay hydrated while being eco-friendly.
  • Sunscreen: Even in winter, the sun can be strong.
  • Appetite: You're going to eat. A lot.

Check out this comprehensive packing guide for more tips on what to bring to Montreal.

Where to Stay in Montreal

Choosing where to stay in Montreal can be as tough as deciding between a Montreal-style bagel and a New York-style bagel (spoiler alert: always choose the Montreal bagel). Here are our top picks for different budgets:

Luxury: Hotel William Gray

Located in Old Montreal, this boutique hotel offers stunning rooftop views and is within walking distance of many attractions.

Mid-range: Le Petit Hotel

Another gem in Old Montreal, this charming hotel offers a perfect blend of modern amenities and historic charm.

Budget: M Montreal

This stylish hostel in the Gay Village offers both private rooms and dorms, perfect for travelers on a budget.

Airbnb Option

For a more local experience, consider renting an apartment in the trendy Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood.

Check out more hotel options in Montreal here.

Getting Around Montreal

Montreal's public transportation system is efficient and easy to use, even for tourists. Here are your options:

  • Metro: Montreal's subway system is clean, safe, and extensive.
  • Bus: Complements the metro system and can get you to places the metro doesn't reach.
  • BIXI: Montreal's bike-sharing system is perfect for exploring during warmer months.
  • Walking: Many attractions in downtown and Old Montreal are within walking distance.
  • Uber: Available for convenient point-to-point travel.

Pro tip: Consider purchasing a multi-day pass for unlimited use of public transport during your stay.

Now, let's dive into your perfect 3-day Montreal itinerary!

Day 1: Old Montreal and Downtown

Morning: Step Back in Time in Old Montreal

Start your 3 days in Montreal where it all began: Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal). This historic district is like stepping into a European fairy tale, complete with cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and buildings dating back to the 17th century.

Our first stop? The iconic Notre-Dame Basilica. Trust me, even if you've seen your fair share of churches, this one will leave you speechless.

Notre-Dame Basilica

Interior of Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, showcasing its stunning Gothic Revival architecture and blue ceiling
The moment I stepped into Notre-Dame Basilica, I was awestruck. The blue ceiling dotted with golden stars is simply breathtaking!

As you step into Notre-Dame Basilica, prepare for your jaw to drop. The interior is a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture, with intricate wooden carvings, vibrant stained glass windows, and a deep blue ceiling dotted with golden stars. It's like stepping into a jewel box!

Fun fact: Celine Dion got married here. If it's good enough for Celine, it's good enough for us mere mortals, right?

  • Location: 110 Notre-Dame St W, Montreal, QC H2Y 1T2
  • Hours: Monday-Friday, 9am-4:30pm; Saturday, 9am-4pm; Sunday, 12:30pm-4pm
  • Admission: $12 CAD for adults, $8 CAD for children (7-17)

Why Visit: It's one of the most stunning examples of Gothic Revival architecture in North America.

Insider Tip: For an extra $10, you can attend the sound and light show "AURA" in the evening. It's a mesmerizing experience that brings the basilica to life with music and projections.

After the basilica, take some time to wander the charming streets of Old Montreal. Pop into the boutiques, art galleries, and cafes that line the streets. If you're feeling peckish, grab a quick bite at Olive et Gourmando, a local favorite known for their incredible sandwiches and pastries.

Afternoon: Dive into Montreal's History

Next up on our Montreal itinerary, we're heading to the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, Montreal's archaeology and history museum. This isn't your typical stuffy museum - it's built on top of actual archaeological sites!

Pointe-à-Callière Museum

Archaeological ruins displayed in Pointe-à-Callière Museum, Montreal's archaeology and history museum
Did you know Pointe-à-Callière Museum is built on actual archaeological sites? Walking through Montreal's first sewers was surprisingly fascinating!

As you descend into the museum, you'll literally be walking through layers of Montreal's history. The museum is built atop the actual ruins of the city's first settlement, and through interactive exhibits and multimedia presentations, you'll travel through time from the Indigenous settlements to the present day.

My favorite part? The underground walk through the city's first sewers. Yes, you read that right. It's surprisingly fascinating (and don't worry, they've been cleaned since their sewer days).

  • Location: 350 Place Royale, Montreal, QC H2Y 3Y5
  • Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm
  • Admission: $25 CAD for adults, $16 CAD for children (5-12)

Why Visit: It offers a unique, immersive journey through Montreal's history from its very foundations.

People strolling along the waterfront of Montreal's Old Port with boats in the background
The Old Port is perfect for a leisurely walk. I loved watching the boats and feeling the vibrant energy of the area.

Insider Tip: Don't miss the panoramic view of the old port from the museum's tower. It's a great spot for photos!

After the museum, take a stroll along the Old Port. If the weather's nice, you might want to take a river cruise to see the city from a different perspective.

Evening: Dinner and Drinks in Old Montreal

Charming cobblestone street in Old Montreal with historic buildings and quaint shops
Wandering through Old Montreal feels like stepping back in time. These cobblestone streets have stories to tell!

For dinner, I highly recommend Garde Manger. Chef Chuck Hughes' restaurant serves up incredible seafood and their lobster poutine is to die for. Yes, you read that right - lobster poutine. It's as decadent and delicious as it sounds.

After dinner, head to Terrasse Nelligan for drinks with a view. This rooftop bar offers stunning views of Old Montreal and the St. Lawrence River. It's the perfect spot to reflect on your first day in Montreal and plan for the adventures to come.

Day 2: Mount Royal and Plateau

Morning: Conquer Mount Royal

Panoramic view of Montreal from the Mount Royal lookout, showcasing the city skyline
The hike up Mount Royal is worth every step for this view. Pro tip: Pack a picnic and enjoy it at the lookout!

Rise and shine! We're starting day two of our Montreal itinerary with a bit of nature and the best views in the city. Mount Royal Park is Montreal's green lung and a favorite spot for locals and tourists alike.

Mount Royal Park

Colorful row houses with iconic spiral staircases in Montreal's Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood
The Plateau's colorful houses and iconic spiral staircases are so photogenic. Each one seems to have its own personality!

Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (the same guy who designed Central Park in New York), Mount Royal Park is a beautiful urban oasis. As you hike up to the Belvedere Kondiaronk lookout, you'll be rewarded with panoramic views of downtown Montreal and beyond.

Sarah and I packed a picnic breakfast and ate it at the lookout. There's something magical about watching the city wake up while munching on a Montreal bagel (more on those later).

  • Location: 1260 Remembrance Rd, Montreal, QC H3H 1A2
  • Hours: Open 24/7
  • Admission: Free

Why Visit: It offers the best views of Montreal and is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Insider Tip: If you're not up for the hike, you can take bus 11 from Mont-Royal metro station directly to the lookout.

Afternoon: Explore the Plateau

After your morning in nature, it's time to dive back into city life. The Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood is one of Montreal's hippest areas, known for its colorful murals, trendy shops, and great restaurants.

Start your exploration on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, also known as "The Main". This street is a microcosm of Montreal's multicultural heritage, with influences from French, Portuguese, Italian, and Jewish communities.

As you walk, keep an eye out for the incredible street art. The Plateau is like an open-air gallery, with massive murals adorning the sides of buildings. One of my favorites is the Leonard Cohen mural on Napoleon Street - it's nine stories tall!

Classic poutine dish served at La Banquise restaurant in Montreal, featuring fries, gravy, and cheese curds
La Banquise's poutine is the real deal. I tried the 'La Taquise' - a Mexican-inspired version. Delicious at any hour!

For lunch, head to La Banquise. This 24-hour diner is famous for one thing: poutine. If you haven't tried this quintessential Quebec dish yet (french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds), now's your chance. La Banquise offers over 30 varieties of poutine. My personal favorite is the "La Taquise" - a Mexican-inspired version with guacamole and sour cream.

  • Location: 994 Rue Rachel E, Montreal, QC H2J 2J3
  • Hours: Open 24/7
  • Price range: $10-20 CAD

Why Visit: It's the place to try Montreal's signature dish in all its glorious variations.

Insider Tip: If there's a line (and there often is), don't worry - it moves quickly.

After lunch, walk it off by exploring more of the Plateau. Pop into some of the vintage shops on Mont-Royal Avenue, or if you need a caffeine boost, stop by Café Olimpico for what many consider the best espresso in the city.

Evening: Dinner and Entertainment on Saint-Denis

Decadent foie gras poutine dish served at Au Pied de Cochon restaurant in Montreal
Au Pied de Cochon's foie gras poutine is the epitome of indulgence. It's a must-try, even if your arteries might protest!

For dinner, head to Au Pied de Cochon. This restaurant is a Montreal institution, known for its rich, indulgent Québécois cuisine. The foie gras poutine is their signature dish, and while it might sound over-the-top, trust me - it's worth every calorie.

Audience enjoying a comedy show at Montreal's Just for Laughs Festival, world's largest international comedy festival
Just for Laughs Festival turns the whole city into a stage. I couldn't stop laughing at the street performances!

After dinner, it's time for some entertainment. If you're lucky enough to be visiting during the Just for Laughs Festival (usually in July), you're in for a treat. It's the largest international comedy festival in the world and takes over the entire Quartier des Spectacles.

If you're visiting outside of festival season, don't worry - Montreal has a great comedy scene year-round. Check out Comedy Nest or The Wiggle Room for some laughs to end your night.

Day 3: Museums and Markets

Morning: Immerse Yourself in Art

On the last day of your 3-day Montreal itinerary, we're going to feed your mind and your stomach. Start your day at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Interior of an art gallery at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, showcasing diverse artworks
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is massive! I particularly loved the Quebec and Canadian Art collection.

This isn't just any art museum - it's the largest art museum in Canada by gallery space. With over 44,000 works in its collection, you could spend days here and not see everything. From ancient artifacts to contemporary installations, there's something for every art lover.

My personal favorite is the Quebec and Canadian Art collection. It's a great way to understand the cultural identity of Quebec and Canada through art.

  • Location: 1380 Sherbrooke St W, Montreal, QC H3G 1J5
  • Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm (open until 9pm on Wednesdays)
  • Admission: $24 CAD for adults, free for those under 20

Why Visit: It's a world-class museum with an incredible range of art from different periods and cultures.

Insider Tip: On the last Sunday of each month, the museum offers free admission to their permanent collections.

Afternoon: Feast Your Senses at Jean-Talon Market

Vibrant produce stalls at Jean-Talon Market in Montreal, displaying fresh fruits and vegetables
Jean-Talon Market is a feast for the senses. The local cheese samples were a delightful surprise!

After feeding your mind with art, it's time to feed your body. Head to Jean-Talon Market, one of North America's largest open-air markets.

Jean-Talon Market

As soon as you enter Jean-Talon Market, your senses will be overwhelmed (in the best way possible). The colorful displays of fresh produce, the aroma of baked goods and flowers, the sound of vendors calling out their specials - it's a feast for all your senses.

This is where Sarah and I discovered our love for Quebec cheeses. Don't miss the chance to sample some - the local producers are usually happy to offer tastings.

  • Location: 7070 Henri Julien Ave, Montreal, QC H2S 3S3
  • Hours: Monday-Wednesday & Saturday, 7am-6pm; Thursday-Friday, 7am-8pm; Sunday, 7am-5pm
  • Admission: Free

Why Visit: It's the best place to experience Montreal's food culture and pick up some local specialties.

Insider Tip: Come hungry! There are plenty of stalls selling ready-to-eat foods. The maple taffy on snow (available in winter) is a must-try Quebec treat.

Evening: Farewell Dinner and Drinks with a View

Cozy, rustic interior of Joe Beef restaurant in Montreal, known for its innovative Quebec cuisine
Joe Beef's ever-changing menu keeps you on your toes. The intimate atmosphere makes you feel like you're dining in someone's home.

For your last evening in Montreal, let's go out with a bang. Start with dinner at Joe Beef, one of Montreal's most renowned restaurants. Their menu changes daily based on what's fresh and in season, but you can always count on innovative, indulgent dishes that showcase the best of Quebec cuisine.

Stunning nighttime view of Montreal from the Observatoire Place Ville Marie observation deck
The 360-degree view from Observatoire Place Ville Marie is spectacular, especially at night. It's the perfect spot for a farewell toast to Montreal!

After dinner, head to the Observatoire Place Ville Marie for a nightcap with a view. From the 46th floor, you'll have a 360-degree view of Montreal lit up at night. It's the perfect way to say goodbye to this beautiful city.

As you sip your drink and look out over the city, take a moment to reflect on your 3 days in Montreal. From the historic streets of Old Montreal to the artistic vibrancy of the Plateau, from the natural beauty of Mount Royal to the culinary delights of Jean-Talon Market, you've experienced the many facets that make Montreal such a unique and captivating city.

Alternative Itineraries

For Time-Crunched Travelers

If you're short on time and can only spend 2 days in Montreal, here's a condensed itinerary hitting the can't-miss spots:

Day 1:

  • Morning: Old Montreal and Notre-Dame Basilica
  • Afternoon: Mount Royal Park
  • Evening: Dinner in the Plateau

Day 2:

  • Morning: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
  • Afternoon: Jean-Talon Market
  • Evening: Farewell dinner and drinks with a view

For Families

If you're visiting Montreal with kids, you might want to adjust your itinerary slightly. Here's a family-friendly version of a 3-day Montreal itinerary:

Day 1:

  • Morning: Old Montreal and Notre-Dame Basilica
  • Afternoon: Old Port activities (zip line, Ferris wheel, or pedal boats)
  • Evening: Dinner at a family-friendly restaurant in Old Montreal

Day 2:

Day 3:

  • Morning: Mount Royal Park
  • Afternoon: Jean-Talon Market
  • Evening: Farewell dinner at a casual eatery in the Plateau

For Food Lovers

If you're a foodie (like Sarah and me), you might want to structure your Montreal itinerary around culinary experiences. Here's a food-focused 3-day Montreal itinerary:

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

  • Morning: Cooking class at Ateliers & Saveurs
  • Afternoon: Beer tour in the Mile End neighborhood
  • Evening: Farewell dinner at Toqué!

Safety Guidelines for Your Montreal Trip

Montreal is generally a safe city, but as with any urban destination, it's important to take some precautions:

  1. Be aware of your surroundings, especially at night.
  2. Keep your valuables secure and be cautious of pickpockets in touristy areas.
  3. In winter, watch out for icy sidewalks and falling ice from buildings.
  4. Learn basic French phrases – locals appreciate the effort and are more likely to help if needed.
  5. Keep emergency numbers handy: 911 for emergencies, 311 for non-emergency city services.

Check out more Montreal etiquette and safety tips here.

Seasonal Considerations

Montreal is a city that truly embraces all four seasons, each offering a unique experience:

Summer (June-August)

Summer is festival season in Montreal. The city comes alive with events like the Jazz Festival, Just for Laughs, and Osheaga. It's the perfect time to enjoy outdoor activities and terraces. However, it's also peak tourist season, so expect higher prices and crowds.

Fall (September-November)

Fall brings beautiful foliage to Mount Royal Park and comfortable temperatures. It's a great time to explore the city on foot or bike. Don't miss the Gardens of Light festival at the Botanical Garden.

Winter (December-February)

Winter in Montreal is cold, but the city knows how to make the most of it. Check out Igloofest, an outdoor electronic music festival, or go ice skating at the Old Port. Just make sure to pack warm clothes!

Spring (March-May)

Spring is maple syrup season in Quebec. Many sugar shacks around Montreal offer traditional meals and maple syrup experiences. As the weather warms up, the city's many parks and green spaces come back to life.

Final Thoughts on Your 3 Days in Montreal

As you plan your 3 days in Montreal, remember that this itinerary is just a starting point. Montreal is a city that rewards exploration and serendipity. Don't be afraid to wander down a charming side street, pop into an interesting-looking café, or chat with locals for recommendations.

One of our favorite memories from our trip was an impromptu jazz performance we stumbled upon in a tiny bar in the Plateau. It wasn't in any guidebook, but it ended up being one of the highlights of our visit.

Montreal is a city that effortlessly blends history and modernity, European charm and North American energy. From the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal to the colorful murals of the Plateau, from world-class museums to bustling markets, Montreal offers a diverse array of experiences that will leave you wanting more.

Whether you're a history buff, a foodie, an art lover, or just someone looking for a unique urban adventure, Montreal has something for you. And with its friendly locals, efficient public transport, and walkable neighborhoods, it's a city that's easy to fall in love with.

So pack your bags (don't forget that French phrasebook!), bring your sense of adventure, and get ready for an unforgettable 3 days in Montreal. Who knows? Like Sarah and me, you might find yourself planning your next visit before you've even left!

Bon voyage et amusez-vous bien à Montréal! (Have a good trip and have fun in Montreal!)

West Parker
West Parker
Article updated:
July 18, 2024 8:16 AM

West Parker, a Cornell University School of Hotel Administration graduate, has spent two decades as the secret weapon of the jet-set elite, crafting bespoke adventures that redefine luxury travel. Now a resident writer for Town & Tourist, this 45-year-old "Architect of Extraordinary Journeys" combines razor-sharp insights with unparalleled industry connections to deliver experiences that even the most discerning globetrotters can't help but rave about. West's expertise spans from exclusive real estate to fine dining, making him the go-to strategist for those who demand nothing but the extraordinary in their travels.

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