As the biggest French-speaking city outside France, Montreal has a certain je ne sais quoi. It’s a city that loves food and festivities and is famous for both poutine, parades and a plethora of exciting activities. While you could spend days meandering down the streets of its historic city centre, there are ways to get a feel for the Quebecois lifestyle even if you’re only visiting on a day trip.

Here are six of our favourite things to do in Montreal when time is of the essence.

2 Beautys
Start your day right with a breakfast treat at Beautys. Credit: Getty.

One hour: Get a breakfast special at Beautys Luncheonette

Start your day off with a bang by heading out to Beautys. This Montreal mainstay has been serving up breakfast and lunch since 1942. Their iconic Breakfast Special is what you’ll see countless locals scarfing down first thing in the morning: a classic toasted bagel with fresh lox, cream cheese, sliced tomatoes and onion. Get it alongside one of their other breakfast dishes to fill up before a busy day. Beautys retro-chic diner is an easy find, just one block away from the famous Mount Royal Park. Enjoy it fast, or take your breakfast to the next level by climbing the hill and feasting with a view.

3 Notre Dame Basilica
Look up from your pew in the Notre-Dame Basilica. Credit: Getty Images / 2013 Wei Fang.

One hour: Let Notre-Dame Basilica enchant you

The Notre-Dame Basilica is one of Montreal’s most iconic sights, and for a mere $6 you can head inside to see what all the fuss is about. The church has been standing since 1829, making it older than Canada as a country. It’s at the centre point of the Old Montreal district, recognizable by its gate-like architecture which echoes the shape of the Notre-Dame in Paris.

Inside it’s all glitz and glam: a regal midnight-blue ceiling criss-crossed with gilded beams, an enormous central chandelier and a golden centrepiece of saintly statues. Stained glass windows let in rainbow-hued light and depict scenes of Montreal’s religious history. The Casavant organ is lauded, too: it has four keyboards, 92 stops and 7,000 pipes, making it a favourite on the choral music circuit.

3 Dish
Taste sustainable and delicious dishes at Manitoba. Credit: Philippe Richelet.

Two hours: Eat, drink and be merry at Restaurant Manitoba

Eater Montreal named Restaurant Manitoba the Restaurant of the Year in 2014. Since then, its modern Canadian menu has gone on to bigger and better things. Sitting just one block away from Parc Metro Station, it’s easy to drop by for dinner after a busy day. You’ll know it by the forest-branch M logo on its window and the delicious smells which drift out whenever the door opens. Inside, the restaurant is contemporary and sleek. Crisp white and reflective surfaces combine with retro-esque light fixtures and dark wood to create a refined yet relaxed atmosphere. But the star of the show has to be the food. Go for succulent deer with malt cream, mushrooms and potatoes for a taste of the woods, or try tender suckling pig, plated with garlic, zucchini and asparagus.

4 Fun At La Distellerie
Cocktails galore at La Distillerie.

Two hours: Drink up at La Distillerie No. 1

Nestled in the heart of the Plateau-Mount-Royal neighbourhood, La Distillerie No. 1 sits on East Ontario Street just a 20 minute walk from the Place-d’Armes Station. The cozy bar appeals to a trendy crowd, with an unassuming exterior, a light-wood and dark-metal aesthetic inside and carefully curated cocktails served in mason jars. Cocktails come in several varieties, depending whether you want something Powerful, Fresh, Tropical, Delicate, Fruity or Tart – though, we hasten to add, beer and alcohol-free drinks are also available. Try Le Patriot for something sweet yet herbal: Kamouraska vodka, Bacardi Black Razz rum and blue curacao are mixed with lime juice and lemon-lime soda to make a cheerful turquoise beverage. It’s finished off with a spring of fresh rosemary and plenty of sunshine feeling.

5 Museum Of Fine Arts
Check out 750 works of contemporary art. Photo ©Marc Cramer.

Three hours: Soak up beauty in the Museum of Fine Arts

Modern art fans should jump at the chance to visit Montreal’s largest museum, the Museum of Fine Arts. It sits midway between Guy-Concordia and Peel metro stations, close to Concordia University. More than a million visitors stream in every year, making it one of the country’s busiest museums. Five pavilions show off around 41,000 works by local and international artists. Go slowly and absorb as much as possible, or make a bee-line for whichever pavilion interests you most. Make sure to check out the pre-Columbian art in the Michael & Renata Hornstein Pavilion and the painstakingly restored Tiffany stained glass in the Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion.

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Find a spot of calm in the Montreal Botanical Garden. Credit: Getty Images/​iStockphoto.

Three hours: Enjoy the Montreal Botanical Garden

From downtown Montreal, head north to get to the Montreal Botanical Garden. Viau Station is right next to the Montreal Biodome, making it an easy ride. Afterward, it’s just a matter of paying for a ticket and stepping into the lush greenery of one of the best botanical gardens in the world – one that has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Within the 190-hectare space is a planetarium, insectarium and multiple greenhouses playing host to rare and exotic plants. The area is divided into separate gardens, so you can take in different botanic ambiences as you walk around. Experience a tea ceremony during summer visits to Ken Nakajima’s Japanese Garden, or check out indigenous medicinal plants growing in the First Nations Garden. Just like Montreal itself, the gardens present a mix of old and new, from across different cultures and countries, coming together to create something beautiful.

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