Best Toronto Road Trips: How to spend a weekend in Montreal?

Montreal View From Mount Royal

Montreal's View byNiloufar Dadfar


They say Montreal is a slice of Europe in North America! However, I think it is more than that. As you arrive in Montreal, or as locals call it MTL, you’ll witness a beautiful mixture of Canadian-European culture and architecture, which makes it one of the best getaways from Toronto within a few hours.

This week we want to share our short yet refreshing road trip experience from Toronto to Montreal and highlight the best restaurants to try and things to do in this unique city.

Let’s begin our journey!


Toronto to Montreal

Toronto to Montreal Road Trip

Photo byTim Gouw onUnsplash

Although the 6 hours drive from Toronto to Montreal on highway 401 could be long and tiresome for many people, we made it quite interesting by adding a few stops and scenic routes to our plan. There are many ways to take a road trip from Toronto to Montreal and enjoy the exquisite nature of Ontario and Quebec. However, since we only had a weekend for this trip, we decided to take the shortest way through the toll-free highway 401 with some quick scenic detours. HWY 401 is one of the busiest highways in Canada, with many ONroute locations where you can use facilities such as coffee shops, restaurants, and gas stations. Make sure to check google maps to avoid rush hours and 401’s heavy traffic.

October in Montreal

Montreal's October byNiloufar Dadfar

It is said that the best time to visit Montreal is during Spring or fall when the weather is milder and the city is less crowded. Nevertheless, you can take this trip any time of the year and customize your stops based on the season and weather. For example, you can visit the lavender farm in Port Hope to take striking pictures in mid-July or enjoy a campfire under the starry sky of Prince Edward county in the fall. 

We started our journey in late October, and I doubt the road could be as enticing any other time of the year. The weather was excellent, not too cold, and we were surrounded by colorful trees and the most beautiful sky all the way to Montreal.


Kingston

Kingston City Hall

Kingston City Hall byNiloufar Dadfar

Our first stop was the first capital of a United Canada. 3 hours from Toronto, located at the beginning of St.Lawrence River, Kingston is a great place to rest a little, have a delicious meal, and even visit some historical sites. 

Our short stay in "Limestone City" started at Princess Street, one of the most crowded streets of Kingston downtown, to have some lunch. 

There are many parking lots in the area with hourly rates of around $1. However, It's more convenient to select a place within walking distance from the waterfront. 

After parking the car, we explored this vibrant street, full of cute local shops selling clothes and artisan crafts, and found the best spot to have lunch! In this area of Kingston, you can find any type of restaurant, but since we are a couple of burger lovers, a little search on the internet got us to Harper's Burger Bar, which many people believe has the best burgers in town. It's a small place with friendly staff that gives you a relatively wide range of burgers, including vegan options.

Harper's Burger Bar

Photo fromHarper’s Burger Bar on Instagram

After lunch, we walked down the street to Kingston City Hall, where you can visit inside the building and check the Springer Market square behind the building. Known as the oldest market in Ontario, Springer Market operates as a farmer market every day, 9 Am-4 Pm, and becomes an ice skating rink in winter. 

Across from the City Hall, there is an Information Center in the Confederation Park by the waterfront. 

Kingston Confederation Park

Kingston Confederation Park byNiloufar Dadfar

You can take a Trolley tour of all the significant attractions in Kingston, or a cruise to the famous 1000 islands. Don't forget to take pictures with the Kingston sign and the restored old steam engine behind it! 

Kingston Sign

Photo byNiloufar Dadfar

Walk a little closer to the water, and you'll be able to see some Towers of Fort Henry National Historic Site. Initially built during the 1812 war between the United States and Great Britain to protect the Rideau Canal, the fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and operates as a museum. To visit Fort Henry, head east and pass the river using LaSalle Causeway. It's a 2.5 Km walk that takes around 30 minutes, but if you're already too tired and also don't want to take the trolley ride to the fort, Fort Henry offers free parking, so you can easily make the trip by car.

Kingston Waterfront and Fort Henry's Towers

Kingston Waterfront and Fort Henry's Towers byNiloufar Dadfar


1000 Islands

The Thousand Islands

Photo of Thousand Islands by amanda on Unsplash

You probably had the creamy sweet Thousand Islands sauce on your salad or sandwich on many occasions, but have you ever wondered where its name came from? Discovered at the turn of the 20th century, there are many theories around the origins of this popular American sauce. Despite their different narratives, they all point to an area in North America called The Thousand Islands. Straddling the US and Canada borders with 1864 small to large Islands, this group of islands are tourists favorites for their beautiful nature and activities such as Kayaking, hiking, and fishing.

How can we visit them?

Well, we have a few choices:

  • Take the Heart of the 1000 Islands 3 hours cruise from Kingston downtown, which operates in specific months
  • Drive for 30 minutes to Gananoque town, known as the Gateway to 1000 Islands, and one of Ontario's most beautiful waterfronts. Enjoy the 2.5 or 5 hours cruises through the lush islands and view the old authentic castles, or join a kayak tour of the islands at the waterfront.
  • Enjoy the view of the islands from a parallel road called Thousand Islands Parkway. 

Unfortunately, we didn't have much time to explore the islands, so we picked the last option. From Kingston, we continued HWY 401 and changed the route toward the Thousand Islands Parkway. This is a more scenic route parallel to the islands and HWY 401, with some stops to take pictures. 

View of Thousand Islands Parkway

Thousand Islands Parkway byNiloufar Dadfar

Google Maps or Waze might not show you this road as a possible route, so just set one of its landmarks, such as Landon Bay, as one of your destinations. Then continue the Thousand Islands parkway until its end, when you'll be back on the 401 HWY again, and continue your trip to Montreal. Since most of the road is very close to the US border, be mindful of which cellular provider your cell phone is connecting to! 


Arriving and having the best poutine in Montreal

La Banquise Poutine in Montreal

La Banquise Poutine byNiloufar Dadfar

We reach Montreal by the evening, quite tired and hungry. So we quickly checked-in at our rental in downtown Montreal. We highly recommend staying at this part of town since it is within a 30-40 minutes walking distance from most attractions. Finally, it was time to have an authentic Québécois dish for dinner, a delicious bowl of crispy fries topped with cheese curd and gravy. That’s right, we had one of the best Poutines in Montreal, at the famous La Banquise, a friendly restaurant with a wide variety of poutines that’s open 24 hours. The dining-in line might belong, and the restaurant might be a little crowded, but it is well worth the tasty dish! 


A Day in Montreal

Montreal Landscape

Montreal View by Olivier Collet on Unsplash

Initially settled by first nation native people 4000 years ago, Ville-Marie or today's Montreal, especially its Downtown and Old Town, has a different and more authentic vibe than Toronto. You can easily spend a week exploring the city and its nearby attractions. But if, like us, you only have a weekend to get to know this stunning city, don't worry! Here we will tell you how to enjoy Montreal to the fullest in only a day.


Have a Montreal-Style-Bagel and Hike Up the Mount Royal

Fairmount Bagel in montreal

Photo byRachel McDermott onUnsplash

We started our one-day adventure in Montreal by having another one of its signature foods, Montreal-Style-Bagel, for breakfast and have a panorama view of the city on top of its best-known mountain and its namesake, Mount Royal.

One of the best places to have bagels in Montreal is Fairmount Bakery near Mount Royal. Originally named Montreal Bagel Bakery, Fairmount was the first bagel bakery in the city. Even after more than a century, it still is one of the locals' and tourists' favorite places for bagels.

Mount Royal Starting Point

Mount Royal Trail Starting Point byNiloufar Dadfar

Within a 40-50 minutes walk, you’ll reach the observatory on top of Mount Royal. However, if you plan to make the trip from downtown, one of the most common trails of the mountain starts near the McGill University. 

Mount royal view and Cross

View of Mount Royal byNiloufar Dadfar

This is an easy and short trail, but it includes many stairs. If you have problems with taking stairs, you can always drive to Mount Royal Park. From there it is a 9 minute walk to the observatory with fewer stairs. 

Mount Royal Trail

Mount Royal Trail byNiloufar Dadfar

Upon arriving at the foot of the mountain we’ll notice a giant cross on top of it. Depending on the trail your using it might not be on your way to the observatory but it’s only a 10-15 hike from there.This 30 meters high cross is a replacement for the original Mount Royal Cross, placed there by the founder of the city, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, in 1643, when a destructive flood was stopped after people prayed to Saint Mary. Around 30 years ago, on Montreal’s 350 birthday, a time capsule, including thousands of children's paintings illustrating their thoughts on how their city will look in 150 years, was buried next to the cross, where a plaque points out the placement of the capsule due to opening in 2142.

View From Mount Royal Observatory

Mount Royal Observatory byNiloufar Dadfar

After reaching the observatory and savoring the view of eastern Montreal along with the Plateau-Mont-Royal and Mile-End districts, we took some great pictures with the Olympic stadium, Jacques-Cartier bridge, and St. Lawrence River. We continued our journey to one of Montreal's largest greenspaces, which houses a four-leafed clover-shaped artificial lake called Beaver Lake. This is a great place to rest and enjoy  Mount Royal Park or join one of its many recreational activities.

Beaver Lake at Mount Royal Park

Beaver Lake in Mount Royal Park byNiloufar Dadfar


Saint Joseph’s Oratory

Saint Joseph’s Oratory

Saint Joseph’s Oratory byHansel Wong onUnsplash

The next stop was one of the most sacred places and the highest building in Montreal with a spectacular view! Once a small wooden chapel, Saint Joseph Basilica is now the largest church in Canada with one of the largest church domes in the world and attracts millions of visitors each year. The Oratory welcomes tourists when there is not a mass session, and the admission is free.

The strange fact about the Oratory is that it actually displays the heart of Brother Andre, the original founder of the chapel!


Where to have lunch in Montreal

Le Boucan Smoked Chicken

Le Boucan Smoke Chicken byNiloufar Dadfar

Ok, that’s enough sightseeing for now! We decided to head back near our place, have lunch, and rest a little to recharge and explore Montreal’s old town in the afternoon. Though you will find many good restaurants in Mile End District or Saint-Denis Street in Downtown, our choice for this meal was Le Boucan Smokehouse in Little Burgundy District. This was a small cozy restaurant with friendly staff, and it is better to make a reservation before reaching there. We were pretty happy with our choice of tasty Brisket sandwich and Smoked Chicken and had a great time relaxing after such a fascinating yet tiring day.


Stroll Around The European Style Valleys of Old Montreal

Old Montreal Streets

Photo byEduardo Vázquez onUnsplash

Our Afternoon plans consist of exploring Old Montreal, one of the liveliest places in this city, full of historical and modern attractions. 

Walking through the European-styled streets of a district dating back to the 1600s makes you want to spend hours in its vibrant atmosphere, explore the small shops, and maybe have a delectable dessert! If that's the case, we highly recommend Mlle Cathrine, where we had the best Hazelnut chocolate-covered soft serve. 


Old Port Montreal 

Old Port Montreal Wheels

La Grande roue de Montréal byZhanhong Cheng onUnsplash

Just across the old Montreal, by the water, the Old Port of Montreal, which was once a trading hub for french fur traders, houses many activities and entertainment centers, such as an IMAX cinema, Science center, fishing spots, and children’s playground. As you reach the Old Port, it is hard not to notice La Grande roue de Montréal, the huge Ferris wheel spinning by the water. Its gondolas are a perfect place to appreciate the Saint Lawrence River and the bustling of old Montreal. 


Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal Light show

Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal

Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal byLiz Fitch onUnsplash

One of the highlights of visiting Montreal is the 350-year-old basilica in the heart of the Old town. Being an architectural masterpiece with dramatic and uncommon characteristics, Notre-Dame Basilica is one of the most visited monuments in North America. Visiting its dreamy blue and gold interior, for tourists, is only allowed on specific hours and by purchasing tickets in advance.

Notre Dame Basilica After The Aura Show

Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal After Aura Show byNiloufar Dadfar

An extraordinary way to visit Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal and feel its majesty is Aura, a 20-30 minutes light show, illuminating Notre Dame’s gothic-inspired interior in a captivating way.

After the show, the lights will be turned on, and you’ll have around 15 minutes to explore the building. Aura tickets might be a little expensive, but it is a unique way of getting to know a historical basilica. We really enjoyed it, and think it was worth it.


Best Smoked Meat Sandwich in Montreal

Schwartz's Smoked Meat Sandwich

Schwartz's Smoked Meat Sandwich byNiloufar Dadfar

It's not a trip to Montreal if you don't eat Schwartz's signature smoked meat sandwich at least once! The 95 years old Schwartz Deli has a simple and nostalgic interior with packed tables and walls covered in pictures and newspapers narrating the story of the most loved deli in town. It's just a 30 minutes walk from Notre-Dame, and you should definitely try their smoked meat sandwich and poutine!


Getting backTo Toronto: Montreal Specialities From Costco, and Long Sault Parkway

Long Sault Parkway

Photo of Long Sault Parkway courtesy of St Lawrence Parks

We had planned on a couple of detours on our way back to Toronto, but unfortunately, on our last day, the whole area was affected by extremely heavy rain, so we had to get back to Toronto directly. However, that didn't stop us from visiting Costco. You probably already know that each Costco has some products specific to its region. Well, for Montreal's branches, these products include Schwartz Smoked Meat and Fairmount bagel! It is very nice to reach your home after a fabulous trip and still have pieces of it with you to relive your memories. 

Our last destination on this road trip was supposed to be Long Sault Parkway, a 10 Km scenic route passing through eleven small islands. Although we were not lucky enough to explore this beautiful road and camping site to share it here, you can still learn more about Long Sault Parkway on one of our previous blogs here.

I hope you enjoyed this road trip guide and have a lovely stay in Montreal. This city has many stories on each and every corner of it. Our Lokafyers can help you have an even more enjoyable time by accompanying you as a local friend and showing you all of Montreal's secrets!

See you on the next road trip!