Montréal is a must-visit — even if you only have a few hours to spare. With a history that dates back to 1642, Canada’s second largest city is vibrant and diverse; it’s filled with great food and proud locals willing to help you find your way around. From the best place to try its famous poutine, to climbing to the highest lookout point, check out these tips for making the most of a short layover in Montréal.
Explore Old Montréal
Old Montréal is the historic heart of the city, with a mixture of 17th century architecture and charming cafés and shops. From the airport, grab a cab and head straight to the Notre-Dame Basilica. Built in the 1820s, the basilica is a stunning example of dramatic Gothic Revival architecture, but the real beauty lies on the inside. For $5, visitors can enter the basilica and see the delicate buttresses, massive pipe organ, and turquoise-colored ceiling painted with thousands of 24-karat gold stars. From there, grab a coffee from Crew, a cafe and co-working space housed in the former Royal Bank of Canada building from the 1920s. The gold-and-white relief ceilings and the original teller windows have been pristinely preserved. If you’d rather stay on the move, place your order online for pick-up (we recommend the stuffed banana and chocolate croissant). Old Montréal also borders the magnificent Saint Lawrence River, so you can take your coffee and pastry spend the rest of your layover strolling along the picturesque riverwalk.
Stretch Your Legs on Mount Royal
The grand centerpiece of Montréal is Mount Royal — a small mountain from which the city received its name. Mount Royal is composed of three peaks, the highest reaching 764 feet. At the top of the mountain, visitors are rewarded with the best views of Montréal’s cityscape, Mount Royal Park, and a close-up of the Mount Royal Cross — a 103-foot-tall illuminated cross installed in 1924. Mount Royal is a popular place for hiking and biking, and it is the perfect place to stretch your legs and see the city all at the same time. From Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, take a cab to Maison Smith — the entry to point to Mount Royal Park, a nearly 500-acre green space designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, co-designer of New York City’s Central Park. From there, it’s a short hike to the Kondiaronk Belvedere — an overlook at the front of the Mount Royal Chalet where widespread views of Montréal and the Saint Lawrence River await. Before retrieving a cab to go back to the airport, grab a salad, sandwich, or even a refreshing bowl of ice cream at the mountaintop Café des Amis.
Fuel Up with a Local Brew and Poutine
Poutine is Canada’s comfort food and gift to the world. Since the dish — composed of French fries topped with warm gravy and cheese — originated in Quebec, Montréal has some of the best you’ll find. The city is also home to a booming beer scene and more than 30 breweries. For the best of both worlds, grab a cab and make your way to La Banquise. Located in downtown Montréal and open 24 hours a day, La Banquise serves more than 30 kinds of poutine — which include everything from the classic style topped with cheese curds, to a variation with pulled pork, creamy coleslaw, and sour cream. Choose from a dozen Canadian beers on tap to wash down this gooey, fried deliciousness before heading back to the airport to catch the next leg of your trip.