Last Updated on May 4, 2021 by Pamela
A vibrant cosmopolitan city, Montreal can feel overwhelming at times. Especially if this is your first visit to the city and you’re not sure which things to see and do in Montreal.
Montreal is a vibrant city, full of culture and history, cool cafes and delicious restaurants. The public parks are peaceful and the churches are magnificent. While everyone should see the tourist hot spots at least once, the true heart of Montreal can be found in its neighbourhoods.
That being said, some neighbourhoods are better than others when visiting Montreal for the first time.
Below you’ll find popular neighbourhoods, as well as a couple of my personal go-to ‘hoods whenever I’m in Montreal.
Are you ready? Let’s dive in!
Book a Montreal Walking Tour
One of the best ways to explore a city for the first time is through a walking tour. Led by knowledgeable and passionate tour guides, walking tours will give you a little history and culture lesson on Montreal, as well as introduce you to neighbourhood hot spots and icons.
While I have highlighted a couple in each neighbourhood, I want to also highlight the best of the BEST Montreal walking tours – no matter how many times you visit the city!
- Old Montreal Food Tour – This scrumptious food tour will guide you through the history, culture and food of Old Montreal – focusing on French cuisine. A total of five stops are included and portions are a decent size, so come hungry and wear comfy pants! Tour includes wine and beer pairings.
Duration: 3 Hours • Tour price: $75 CAD
- Beyond the Bagel: One of the BEST Montreal walking tours on Jewish history, culture and food. Wander through neighbourhoods like Outremont and Mile End. Taste Jewish food. Visit landmarks and icons. The only thing that would make this tour better is a visit to Lester’s Deli.
Duration: 3.5 Hours • Tour price: $96.25 CAD
The trick to exploring (and falling in love with) the city beyond the usual tourist areas is to choose a couple of Montreal neighbourhoods to focus on during your time in the city. Of course, you can always deviate from your plans at any time. Some of the best travel experiences happen at the last moment.
Here are the best Montreal neighbourhoods to explore on your first visit to the city.
Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal)
The oldest neighbourhood in Montreal, this beautiful area is the location of the first settlement in 1642 (known then as Ville-Marie). Rues (streets) Notre-Dame, Saint-Paul and Saint-Jacques were among the first in the city. Today, Old Montreal is one of the most tourist-heavy Montreal neighbourhoods, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it. Everyone should visit Old Montreal at least once in their lifetime.
Start with Notre-Dame Basilica (110, rue Notre-Dame Ouest) and its stunning altars and ceiling. Walk down rue Notre-Dame Est and visit Place Jacques-Cartier. Stop for a sweet treat at Bar à beurre (348, rue Notre-Dame Est; a favourite sweet spot!); I highly recommend a Nonno Carlo boule de beurre or a beurreo (it’s like a huge Oreo cookie, but a million times better). Walk down the cobblestones of rue Bonsecours to Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, a charming late-18th-century chapel and one of the oldest churches in Montréal. Wander down rue Saint-Paul, admiring the architecture, stopping to shop at Bonsecours Market. If you’re feeling peckish, go to l’Auberge Saint-Gabriel (426, rue Saint-Gabriel), Mangiafoco (104, rue Saint-Paul Ouest), or Garde Manger (408, rue Saint-François Xavier).
Closest metro: Place-d’Armes or Champ de Mars
Once the home of Irish immigrants (many of whom worked on the Lachine Canal), over time the Irish immigrants were slowly replaced by Jewish, Italian and Ukrainian communities. After the war, however, the area as a whole started to deteriorate as work was scarce. In time, the area became an industrial zone and remained so until 2012 when the city made the decision to revitalize the neighbourhood. Today, Griffintown is known for its art and food scene, as well as its large-scale gentrification. One of our go-to Montreal neighbourhoods.
Start at the corner of rue Peel and rue Wellington. Pop into La Bête à Pain (195, rue Young) for breakfast – the Nutella brioche grillée is a must. Walk to the junction of rue Wellington and rue Mountain to visit the ruins of Saint-Ann’s church (park benches are positioned where pews once stood) before walking down rue du Square Gallery and wandering down the Lachine Canal boardwalk. A walk along the canal trail can be relaxing and offers views of the Montreal skyline.
Visit art galleries like Galerie Lisabel (1481, rue Ottawa), 1700 La Poste (1700, rue Notre-Dame Est) or Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran (1892, rue Payette). If you’re feeling peckish (or starving) consider enjoying weekend brunch at Perles et Paddock (403, rue des Seigneurs; call to reserve 514.931.0004) or Le Richmond (377, Ave Richmond). Le Kitchen (1806, rue William) is a cozy healthy spot with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. Meatball House (1752, rue Notre-Dame Ouest; call to reserve 514.933.6663) is crispy white and known for their meatballs (obviously) and other Italian favourites. One of the best sandwiches in the city can be found at Boucherie Grinder (1654, rue Notre-Dame Ouest), seriously, the Philly Cheesesteak is incredible.
Stay at Hôtel Alt Montréal (120, rue Peel)
Closest metro: Bonaventure or Lucien L’Allier
Said to be named after Mile End in East London, UK (unconfirmed), this artsy and multicultural (Hasidic, Greek, Portuguese communities, as well as others) neighbourhood is a favourite among locals. Known has Saint-Louis in the late 19th-century, Mile End was annexed into the growing city of Montreal in 1909. Over the years the neighbourhood has been home to several famous Canadians, including Mordecai Richler, Arcade Fire, Bran Van 3000 and more! Today, Mile End is known for its houses with their long dashing wrought iron stairs, shopping and food scene. One of the more vibrant Montreal neighbourhoods, and our favourite hang-out.
Start with the most important quest one can take in Montreal, deciding who makes the better bagel, St-Viateur (263, rue Saint-Viateur Ouest) or Fairmount (74, Ave Fairmount). Wander down the tree-lined streets of rue Clark and Ave Esplanade. Visit the stunning Rialto Theatre (5723, Ave Park; http://theatrerialto.ca/), Admire the architecture of Église Saint-Enfant-Jésus du Mile End (5073, rue St-Dominique) and relax at Parc Lahaie. Église Saint-Michel-Archange de Montréal (5580, rue Saint-Urbain) is also quite beautiful. Shop at Annex Vintage (56, rue Saint-Viateur Ouest), Boutique Vestibule (5170, boul. Saint-Laurent), Boucle & Papier (5183, boul. St-Laurent) and LNF Shop (5319, Ave Park).
For cheap (and yummy) eats, stop in at Wilensky’s Light Lunch (34, Ave Fairmount; Once visited by Anthony Bourdain, but made famous by Mordecai Richler) or Drogheria Fine (68, Ave Fairmount; $5 gnocchi never tasted so good). Lounge over weekend brunch at Sparrow (5322, boul. St-Laurent) or Le Butterblume (5836, boul. St-Laurent). Of course, dining at Pizzeria Magpie (16, rue Maguire), La Panthère Verte (160, rue Saint Viateur Est; Vegan), and Bistro Lustucru (5159, Ave Park).
Closest metro: Laurier and Rosemont
Beautiful neighbourhood close to Griffintown, and next to the neighbourhood of Little Burgundy, Saint-Henri was once known as Les Tanneries and home to European blue-collar workers (many of whom were of Irish descent). Today, the neighbourhood of Saint-Henri is known for its lovely Art-Deco buildings (many designed by Québec architect, Ludger Lemieux), serene parks, shopping and food scene – many of which are located along rue Notre-Dame Ouest.
Begin your foray in Montreal’s Art Deco scene at Marché Atwater. Technically, the market is located in Little Burgundy, but as it’s a gorgeous Art Deco building, it should not be missed. Other notable Art Deco buildings are Caserne 23 (523, Place Saint-Henri; Fire Station), Banque Laurentienne (4080, rue St-Jacques; next to Place Saint-Henri metro), former Caserne 24 (4707, rue Notre-Dame Ouest) and Église St-Zotique (4565, rue Notre-Dame Ouest). Relax in Parc Sir George Étienne-Cartier (rue Notre-Dame Ouest and Square Sir George Étienne-Cartier).
Shop at Totem Tea & Spice (3467, rue Notre-Dame Ouest), Atelier New Regime (4632, rue Notre-Dame Ouest) and La Petite Robe Noir (4030, rue Saint-Ambroise). Grab a quick bite at Grumman ‘78 (630, rue de Courcelle; chilaquiles, papas78 and grilled k-towns are all good!), Tacos Frida (4350, rue Notre-Dame Ouest), La Luncheonette (4271, rue St-Jacques) or Sumac (3618, rue Notre-Dame Ouest). The best brunches can be found at Arthur’s Nosh Bar (4621, rue Notre-Dame; be prepared for a long line) and Foiegwa (3001, rue Notre-Dame Ouest). For a sweet treat, head over to Rustique Pie Shop (4615, rue Notre-Dame Ouest; a favourite sweet spot!).
Stay at: Repos & Manna B&B in Little Burgundy (2140, rue Quesnel).
Closest metro: Lionel-Groulx or Place Saint-Henri
Also known as Gay Village, this vibrant neighbourhood is should not be missed. From its rainbow-coloured ball garlands spanning across rue Sainte-Catherine (in summer) to the boutiques, antique shops, bars and restaurants. This is the heart of Montreal’s 24/7 culture. Of course, it has not always been this way. The LGBTQ community has faced many struggles in Montreal – the 1970s being a particularly turbulent decade, and the 1980s were not great either. The 1990s saw a turnaround though, and today this neighbourhood is electric with activity.
Start with a stroll down rue Sainte-Catherine, starting at rue St-Hubert. Make time for drag queen shenanigans at the always fabulous Cabaret Mado (1115, rue Sainte-Catherine Est) and honour AIDS victims at Église Saint-Pierre-Apôtre (1201, rue Visitation). Admire the Art Deco architecture of the former Marché St-Jacques (2035, rue Amherst). Visit the gorgeous Écomusée du Fier monde (a former 1920s public bathhouse) across the street. Participate in Montreal’s annual Pride Parade. Shop at Armada par The Men’s Room (1359, rue Sainte-Catherine Est), Dinh Ba Design (1453, rue Amherst) and Chez Priape (1311, rue Sainte-Catherine Est). Feeling hungry? Check out places like Agrikol (1844, rue Amherst), O’Thym (1112, boul de Maisonneuve Est), Le Resto du Village (1310, rue Wolfe; open 24 hours), and Kitchenette Montréal (1353, boul. René-Lévesque Est).
Closest metro: Berri-UQAM, Beaudry and Papineau
A largest Montreal neighbourhoods/boroughs, Le Plateau-Mont-Royal is also known as “The Plateau”. A working-class neighbourhood in the early-20th-century, the Plateau transitioned into a neighbourhood for both English and French bourgeoisie during the Great Depression. Over the years, the Plateau has also become home to communities of Jewish, Portuguese and Greek immigrants. Today, this multicultural neighbourhood is known for its parks, beautiful (and colourful) Victorian architecture, murals, cafés and food scene.
Start with some Instagrammable Victorian architecture on rue de Bullion and Square Saint-Louis. Visit Musée du Montréal juif (4040, boul St-Laurent) to learn about the history of Jewish Montreal. Wander up/down boul St-Laurent in search of funky murals. Relax in Parc La Fontaine (Ave du Parc-La-Fontaine & rue Rachel Est). Grab a quick lunch from Ma Poule Mouillée (969, rue Rachel Est; Portuguese chicken) or La Banquise (994, rue Rachel Est; 24hr poutine).
For an insanely delicious weekend brunch, go to L’Avenue (922, Ave Mont-Royal Est) or Hof Kelsten (4524, boul St-Laurent; Shakshuka!). Au Pied de Cochon (536, Ave Duluth Est) is an institution but extremely busy, try L’Express (3927, rue St-Denis) or Yokato Yokabi Ramen (4185, Drolet). Omnivore (4351, boul St-Laurent) and Arepera (73, rue Prince Arthur Est; Vegan & gluten-free options available) are excellent as well. Treat yourself to something sweet at Pâtisserie Rhubarbe (1479, Ave Laurier Est) or devour superb egg tarts at La Baguette Dorée (191, Ave Mont-Royal Est).
Closest metro: Sherbrooke, Mount-Royal, and Laurier are all within Le Plateau-Mont-Royal. Station Place-des-Arts and Rosemont are just outside the neighbourhood.
Little Italy & Mile-Ex
Second-Largest Little Italy in Canada, this community was first established in the 19th-century but saw its biggest immigration spike shortly after WWII when workers and peasants arrived in Montreal by the thousands. The local Mercato (Marché Jean-Talon; circa 1933) was the heart of the community, as well as small cafés. Today, Little Italy, and the small industrial enclave of Mile-Ex continues to be known for Marché Jean-Talon, as well as old-school cafes, delicious food and quiet neighbourhood streets.
Begin your Little Italy and Mile-Ex adventures at Marché Jean-Talon (7070, Ave Henri Julien). Open year-round, this market is at its best in summer/fall when additional stalls are set up outside. Visit Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense (6800, Ave Henri Julien) is a beautiful Romanesque church designed by Guido Nincheri and erected in 1919. If you have an opportunity to admire the colourful frescos, do it! Go shopping at Plaza St Hubert (Bellechasse & Jean-Talon) and visit the art galleries on boul St-Laurent. Relax in Parc Gaspé or Parc Dante.
Take an espresso at Caffè San Simeon (39, rue Dante), Moustache Café (35, rue Beaubien Est) and Caffè Italia (6840, boul St-Laurent; circa 1956). For a quick bite, pop by Dépanneur Le Pick Up (7032, rue Waverly) or Pizzeria Napoletana (189, rue Dante). Dinette Triple Crown (6704, rue Clark) is known for their southern comfort food, and amazing biscuits. Café Via Dante (251, rue Dante), Pastaga (6389, boul St-Laurent) and Impasto (48, rue Dante) are known for their Italian eats. Of course, if you’re in Little Italy, the best cannoli is at Pasticceria Alati Caserta (277, rue Dante). In Mile-Ex, Bar Alexandraplatz (6731, Ave Esplanade) and Manitoba (271, rue Saint-Zotique) are not to be missed.
Do a tour: Beyond the Market Food Tour in Montréal,
Stay at: Gingerbread Manor (3445, Ave Laval; Le Plateau-Mont-Royal)
Closest metro: Jean-Talon, Rosemont and de Castelnau