Discovering a city by bike is the perfect combo of getting to your destinations quickly and efficiently and the pleasure of wandering the streets with a mind open to surprises. Best of all, it puts you in a good mood. How great is that?
Montréal is laid out as an eminently bikeable city, and its network of bike paths is growing every year. Here are three bike tours to discover the city from three different perspectives: one that takes you to the city’s key attractions, another that tours through the city’s charming, distinctive neighbourhoods, and a classic Montrealer day excursion.
the grand tour
This tour takes to you to nearly all of the city’s main attractions, making it ideal for a first day in town. It brings you from downtown to Old Montreal, Parc Jean-Drapeau and the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood, with a number of spectacular views along the way. You can do it two ways: by renting a bicycle or by Bixi, the city’s self-service bicycle system.
1. Crosstown Montreal
Head north three blocks from the hostel to swing right onto the east-west Boulevard de Maisonneuve bike path and head east on it until you get to your first destination: Place Ville-Marie in the heart of downtown Montreal. Suspended over the esplanade of these first modern skyscrapers to grace the Montréal skyline is a 23-ton ring that frames iconic Mount Royal to the north. Take a good look because at the end of the tour, you’ll be on your bike looking down from the summit at the city.
The second stop is Place des Arts, the beating heart of the Quartier des Spectacles, where the city’s many big festivals take place. Every summer, the city makes it pedestrian-only: you’ll want to dismount from your bicycle and enjoy a pleasant stroll among the mix of fun-lovers and downtown workers taking a break. At La Vitrine on the corner of Boulevard Saint-Laurent and Rue Sainte-Catherine, you can buy tickets to the current shows, concerts and exhibits.
You’ll no doubt end up window shopping on foot later in your trip on Sainte-Catherine, the longest commercial street in the country, just like Montrealers do. After all, the street is just a few steps from the hostel!
2. Explore Old Montreal
Next, you’ll pedal to the Latin Quarter and its signature thoroughfare Rue Saint-Denis. At Rue Berri turn right onto the bike path and head to the southernmost point, the heart of Old Montreal. This is your playground for the morning.
Once you explore the docks of the Old Port by bike, it’s best to dismount and stroll the narrow old streets by foot. Rue Saint-Paul with its many art galleries was the city’s first commercial artery, while Rue Notre-Dame hosts most of the city’s grand institutions, like Notre-Dame Basilica. You’ll no doubt be tempted to pop into one of the cute eateries for a bite to get your energy up.
Head to the Grand Quay on the river for a spectacular view of the city from its rooftop. For a dip into the city’s history, visit the Pointe-à-Callière museum, built on the very spot where Montréal was founded.
3. Immensely Instagrammable Cité-du-Havre
Now that you’ve toured the city’s history, it’s time to get a little nature and a view from another angle. Get back on your bike and ride westbound toward the monumental grain silo in the distance. At Rue Mill, take the cycle path over the small bridge to ride on the south side of the canal. At the cycle intersection, under an overpass, turn left. The first section is not very hospitable, but you’ll soon find yourself pedaling alongside the St. Lawrence River, with Old Montréal to your left and the architectural masterpiece of stacked cubes that is Habitat 67 to your right. Finally, take a breather at Parc de Dieppe, the point of land jutting out into the St. Lawrence River, and enjoy another breathtaking view.
4. Chill at Parc Jean-Drapeau
The two artificial islands that were built to host Expo 67 from the earth that was excavated for the underground metro system have become a nature haven. Check out the famous giant sphere that one housed the United States pavilion: it’s now an environmental museum called the Biosphere. Just a quick spin further, you’ll see the monumental sculpture L’Homme, by Alexander Calder.
5. Parc Lafontaine: the summer living room of Montrealers
Return to the city via the Jacques-Cartier Bridge (the big green bridge), from which you’ll enjoy still more panoramic views, then ride up the slope until you arrive at a plateau. This is the Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood, and Parc Lafontaine is its playground. The most popular park in the city is alive with picnickers making the most of the short Montréal summer. Buy a local craft beer from a dépanneur (corner store) and some local take-out food and join them.
6. The cherry on the sundae: Mount Royal
Once you get the energy back for the final climb of the tour, swing onto the Rachel bike path and ride west to the highlight of the day: Mount Royal. Don’t fear the ride ahead though. The winding ascent up the mountain is quite gentle. Give into the quiet of this forest in the centre of the city. When you arrive at the look-out, you’ll have a view of downtown where your tour began. Notice the giant building-sized portrait of Montreal’s most famous bard Leonard Cohen.
When the time comes to return, descend the winding road through the park until you get to the entrance to Peel Street and coast down to the hostel.
Sightseeing is great, but to really experience Montreal, you need to bask in its “joie de vivre”. Here’s a tour of the neighbourhoods where Montrealers live life to the fullest, from hipster hangouts to foodie finds and vintage window-shopping. In fact, you may want to consider extending this tour over two days. It can easily be followed by either Bixi or rental bike!
1. Ride out of downtown
Head east on the Boulevard de Maisonneuve bike path then turn left northbound on Boulevard Robert-Bourassa to come out on pleasant Milton Street, which crosses the Milton-Parc neighbourhood. This hood is also known as the McGill Ghetto, as it’s where many of the university’s students reside.
2. Do some morning window-shopping on the Plateau
At the end of Milton, you’ll come out on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, the artery that historically separates the east and the west of the city. Wander the street for a bit to experience its unique shopping, which includes a number of vintage shops. Next, continue east on Prince-Arthur Street to peaceful Square Saint-Louis, which is surrounded by the old residences that once made up the centre of the French-Canadian bourgeoisie.
Cross the square to Rue Saint-Denis, then head north to Avenue Mont-Royal. The commercial artery of the neighbourhood, it’s converted into a pedestrian-only street every summer. Go ahead and cycle the colourful side streets as well to get a sense of this cool neighbourhood.
3. Taste the flavours of Mile-End
Once you get your fill of “the plateau”, pedal the Rue Clark bike path up to Mile-End. An enclave of musicians and artists, this hip little hood is centred around three short yet charming streets: Fairmount, Saint-Viateur and Bernard. This is where you can get a taste of the battle of the bagel shops of Fairmount and Saint-Viateur. Among the many other tastes to discover, you may want to check out Kem Coba for ice cream and sorbet and the deliciously affordable $5 gnocchi plates from Drogheria.
4. Treat yourself to a little more in Little Italy
Get back on the path and head northbound, cross under the viaduct, then swing onto the Rue Saint-Dominique bike path to explore Little Italy between Beaubien and Jean-Talon streets. The neighbourhood is chock full of cafés, pizzerias, pastry shops and mom-and-pop grocery stores, all topped off by Jean-Talon Market, an explosion of flavours and colours that’s the city’s biggest market. Yes, there are still more tasty discoveries to try!
If you need a little caffeine before heading back south, take a detour down pleasant Rue Castelnau and grab a coffee at Café Larue & Fils.
5. Go green on the Réseau-Vert
When you arrive again at the viaduct, cross Boulevard Saint-Laurent at the giant warehouse and its water tower to arrive on the Réseau-Vert, or the “green network”. It’s a bike path and park that runs nearly 4 km along the tracks, winding behind old industrial buildings, including an old waste incinerator with massive chimneys. Montrealers have adopted this strip as a long city park, so enjoy the people watching and expect surprises!
6. The Olympic Park
Once you reach the end of the Réseau-Vert, descend toward the Angus enclave, built on an old train yard, to the Rue Rachel bike path. Try a coffee at Kujira, which is run by former hostel employees, and for some history, visit the Provigo grocery store that’s housed in the old locomotive plant. It remains the imposing edifice that it once was!
Look east to the tall white Olympic tower in the distance and start pedalling. You’ll feel very small roaming around the huge Olympic Stadium with its brutalist architecture that’s heavy on the curves. If you have the time, visit one of the three museums dedicated to nature: the Planetarium, the Insectarium or the Botanical Gardens.
7. Return downtown
On the ride back, explore the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood, with its pretty public market and its pedestrian promenade on Rue Ontario. If you feel like one more experience, you can always raise a glass of natural wine to your successful cycle tour at Supernat on Rue Sainte-Catherine.
To return westward, simply take any street down to the river where the bike path along Rue Notre-Dame will bring you back downtown.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Montréal, cycle as Montrealers do. Here’s a classic sunny-day bike tour that includes the simple local pleasures of pedaling along the river and enjoying a drink with friends. This route is a little more athletic than the other two, so it’s better to rent a bike than take a Bixi.
1. Destination: Lachine Canal
Set off from the corner of Peel and René-Lévesque near the hostel, where a brand-new bike path crosses the Griffintown neighbourhood to the Lachine Canal. Head westward (to the right) and enjoy the pedal.
From a historical perspective, the Lachine Canal represents the beginnings of Canada’s industrialization. It was built to allow canoes to get around the Lachine rapids to head east to the Great Lakes. Today, a long park spans the canal.
2. Get provisions at the Atwater Market
The first stop is this pretty public market where you can put together a picnic for later. Just pedal toward the building’s clocktower in the distance. Memento, a new microbrewery just a short spin from the market on the south of the canal awaits if you’d like a social drink..
3. Detour via Verdun
From the market, leave the canal to cross the neighbourhood of Pointe-Saint-Charles and arrive in Verdun, for a tour on Rue Wellington, which “Time Out” magazine named the coolest street in the world. In the summer, it’s pedestrian only. For a pick-me-up, visit Palco, a jewel of a bar with a charming back yard.
4. Bike, nature, culture: from Verdun to Parc René-Lévesque
When you’re ready to get back on your bike, take any street to the left and start cruising along the 13 kilometres of path along the St. Lawrence. Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit, as there’s even a beach on the way!
Follow the bike path until it winds up at Parc René-Lévesque, a point that juts far into the waters of the St. Lawrence River and enjoy the big sculptures that dot the landscape. Now’s the perfect time to unpack your picnic on the river shore.
Parc René-Lévesque also marks the mouth of the Lachine Canal, and it’s via this segment yet unexplored that you’ll return downtown. Our favourite places to finish off the day include the Terrasse Saint-Ambroise, a long-established Montréal brewery with a terrace that looks out at a spectacular old grain silo. A hop and skip away is Messorem, a microbrewery that specializes in IPAs. Installed in a hip old industrial building, it offers a terrace overlooked by an old water tower, visible from the canal.
6. Since all good things come to an end…
When the time comes to return, take the canal again until Écluse Saint-Gabriel, and enjoy more views of downtown. From there, head for Peel Street, which after a final ascent will leave you on the hostel’s streetcorner.