Ottawa or Montreal Which one should you visit

Ottawa or Montreal: Which one should you visit?

Ottawa and Montreal are two very dynamic Canadian cities with plenty of similarities. They are both multicultural and bilingual, have a thriving arts and cultural scene, and have beautiful natural surroundings. 

Despite that, there are plenty of differences between them. Ottawa maintains a perfect balance of English and French, while Montreal puts a heavier emphasis on the latter language.  

Another thing to consider is the size of the two cities. 

Montreal is a much larger city with a cosmopolitan atmosphere and thriving urban energy. Meanwhile, Ottawa, although a major city, features a more laid-back mood that is perfect for relaxation. 

Being a local of Ottawa, I relish the peacefulness that the city has to offer, along with its neoclassical and Gothic Revival architecture.

Montreal also has plenty of good things going for it, after having been there several times. The outgoing aura has allowed me to make quite a few friends with some of the locals, and the modern design is truly a feast for the eyes.

Now the big question is, which one is the better city to go to? Here’s an unbiased assessment from someone who’s been to both. 

Ottawa is the perfect location to visit if what you desire is a balanced culture, bilingualism, and a relaxing atmosphere. If what you’re looking for is a city with vibrant streets and heavy French culture, Montreal is the one for you. 

Both of these cities have plenty of qualities that make them incredible tourist destinations for just about anyone. I think their unique offerings warrant a personal visit from you to truly make a solid decision.

Now, let’s take a more in-depth dive into what you can expect from Montreal and Ottawa. 

Visiting Costs

If you were to calculate your expenses, Ottawa’s food and transportation are slightly more expensive than Montreal’s by 1.059 % and 13.28%, respectively. 

However, Montreal’s accommodations are more expensive by 22.38%.

In terms of overall expenses, Ottawa is the cheaper city by around 20.48%.

This was based on data that was obtained from LivingCost.org and BudgetYourTrip.com. The two cities were compared in terms of overall cost. 

You can refer to the table below for a more detailed look at your projected expenses for accommodation, transportation, and restaurants in Montreal and Ottawa. 

ExpensesMontreal CostOttawa Cost
Accommodation
Hotel or hostel for one person$135$19
Typical double-occupancy room$270$38
Hotel (3 days)$431$367
Hotel (1 week)$1,006$856
Hotel (2 weeks)$2,013$1,712
Transportation
One-way ticket$3.50$3.75
Monthly pass$94.00$125.50
Taxis, buses, subway, etc.$21$7.40
Food
Meal, inexpensive restaurant$23.00$26.50
Meal for 2 people, mid-range restaurant, three-course$100.00$100.00
McMeal at Mcdonald's (or equivalent combo meal)$14.00$12.38
Beer at a pub$3.57$3.27
Water (1.5L)$2.35$2.30

Based on these prices, we can safely assume that Ottawa is overall more affordable than Montreal when it comes to travel and touring expenses.

For this reason, Ottawa is the better choice if you want to save money on your trip.

Safety & Security

Safety & Security

If you were to look at their crime severity index (CSI), Ottawa is by far the safer city, with a CSI of 50.2 based on the Canada Crime Index. Meanwhile, Montreal has a moderate CSI of 72.0.

The two enjoy relatively low rates of violent and non-violent crime. 

Ottawa enjoys relatively peaceful streets, which is a huge plus for its locals and many tourists. Although Montreal has a higher rate of crime, it’s still a lot safer when compared to other Canadian cities with significantly higher CSIs.

CrimeOttawaMontreal
Crime Severity Index50.248.2
Violent crime64.3105.3
Non-violent crime45.059.9

For tourists, both cities should be great options for travel. But if safety is a big deal for you, Ottawa might be your preferred destination. 

Now, let’s talk about the available attractions in both areas. 

Attractions in Ottawa and Montreal

Attractions in Ottawa and Montreal

Ottawa and Montreal are home to incredible landmarks and attractions that you are sure to enjoy. The two cities display their cultures proudly, and you will have to see them for yourself to truly appreciate them. 

Exploring Ottawa

Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, is known for its diverse range of attractions that reflect the country’s history, culture, arts, and natural beauty. Here are some landmarks that reflect these traits and let you appreciate the sights. 

Bank of Canada Museum

Bank of Canada Museum

Location: 30 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G9, Canada
Operating hours: Monday-Sunday: 10 AM–5 PM

The Bank of Canada Museum, located in Ottawa, offers visitors an engaging and interactive experience that explores the country’s economic history. 

The facility features a range of exhibits and displays that showcase the evolution of money in Canada. 

You can explore artifacts, currency, and interactive displays that highlight the history of Canadian currency. They have interesting information on its design, security features, and importance in the economy.

There are also several multimedia presentations, such as videos and audio recordings, for you to experience. These presentations provide insights into the Bank of Canada’s role in shaping monetary policy and maintaining financial stability in Canada.

There are also staff-led tours in the museum that can provide additional information, answer questions you may have, and give you a deeper understanding of the exhibits.

Lastly, you can find plenty of temporary exhibitions that focus on specific themes related to money and economics. These exhibits can vary over time, offering returning visitors something new to explore.

Peace Tower

Peace Tower

Location: Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6, Canada
Operating hours: Open 24 hours

In Ottawa, the Peace Tower is an iconic structure located on Parliament Hill and is part of the Parliament of Canada buildings.

There is a nearby observation deck next to the structure where you can get a wide and picturesque view of Ottawa and the area around it. 

In this part of the building, you can see amazing sights like the Ottawa River, the National War Memorial, and the downtown area.

As you continue to explore the area, you will find a room called the Memorial Chamber. Here, you can find the Book of Remembrance, which lists the names of Canadians who died in different wars.

If you’d like, you can open the book and pay your respects to the brave soldiers who have passed in service to the country.

During the summer, carillon concerts are held on Parliament Hill, and you can enjoy the beautiful tunes coming from the tower. This is especially great for lovers of classical music and instruments.

If you are a fan of architecture, you will adore the tower’s Gothic Revival structure. It is a beautiful thing to look at because of all the work that went into making it an iconic part of the city. 

Besides its looks, you can also learn about the tower’s history when you go there. The Peace Tower has quite a history as to how it became a symbol of peace and remembrance in Canada.

In the summer, you have the opportunity to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony. You can witness the Canadian Armed Forces and the Ceremonial Guard perform formal routines and learn how their military traditions are carried out.

Rideau Hall

Rideau Hall

Location: 1 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A1, Canada
Operating hours:

  • Monday-Saturday: 8 AM–4:30 PM
  • Sunday: 8 AM–5:30 PM

Rideau Hall is the official residence and workplace of the Governor General of Canada. It is also a historic site and property with expansive grounds.

The land and gardens around the hall are known for their gorgeous scenery. You can walk through lush greenery, explore the large parklands, and look at the natural beauty of the land around you.

There are also guided tours of the residence, which let you see the historic rooms inside Rideau Hall. These tours show how the architecture, artwork, and artifacts of the official residence are put together to form one incredible location.

This also gives you a chance to learn more about the history and role of Canada’s Governor General and what goes on behind the scenes of the administration.

Rideau Hall offers many events and activities for the public all year long. Some examples are concerts, exhibitions, cultural celebrations, and events that are good for the whole family.

During the winter, you can ice skate on the outdoor rink on the grounds of Rideau Hall. This gives you one of Ottawa’s best places to enjoy this classic Canadian winter activity in a gorgeous place.

If you want to get the most up-to-date information about upcoming events and activities, check the official Rideau Hall website to learn more.

National Arts Centre

National Arts Centre

Location: 1 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5W1, Canada
Operating hours (National Arts Centre box office hours): Monday to Friday: 10:00 AM–5:00 PM
Admission: Varies (Depends on current shows)

The National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa is a well-known cultural center that offers many different kinds of art experiences. It is known for its world-class live theater, music, and dance performances. 

The venue is used for a wide range of shows, from classical concerts and ballet to modern theater and Broadway shows. 

One prominent performance that you can catch is a show by the National Arts Centre Orchestra. It is one of Canada’s best bands, and you can hear great symphonic recitals by famous conductors and guest artists.

There are also departments for both English and French theater, which show a wide range of plays. You can watch classic and modern productions in these languages, depending on your preference. 

The NAC is also famous for its promotion of the arts and cultures of Canada’s natives. 

It has the Indigenous Theatre, which puts on shows, events, and festivals that celebrate their storytelling, theater, music, and dance. This gives you the chance to experience Indigenous arts and learn more about how Indigenous people see the world.

Besides the shows that I’ve mentioned, the NAC often hosts special events and festivals that focus on certain types of art, themes, or cultural celebrations. 

There are also plenty of educational programs available for you and other visitors. Workshops, lectures, panel discussions, and performances that offer unique and immersive experiences are just some of the things that you can expect. 

These give you a deeper understanding of theater and help you better appreciate it. 

Now If you want to see how the NAC works behind the scenes, you can take a backstage tour. These guided tours teach you about the technical side of putting on shows, the NAC’s history, and the facilities inside the venue.

Please keep in mind that the NAC’s offerings, schedules, and events can change. 

For the most up-to-date information about performances, make sure to check the official NAC website or call directly. This is your best way to inquire about tickets, backstage tours, and any special events or activities happening during your visit.

Exploring Montreal

Montreal’s landmarks are defined by notable traits: a rich history, diverse architecture, cultural vibrancy, and natural beauty. The landmarks that I’ve listed below are some of the city’s must-visit locations.  

The Underground City (RÉSO)

The Underground City (RÉSO)

Location:  747 Rue du Square-Victoria #247, Montreal, Quebec H2Y 3Y9, Canada
Operating hours (shopping): 

  • Monday-Friday: 8 AM–6 PM
  • Saturday-Sunday: Closed

Tour fee: 

  • $37.43 (Private Tour)
  • $19.10 (Walking Tour)

The Underground City, also called the RÉSO (Réseau Express de la Société de Transport de Montréal), is a huge network of tunnels and passageways under the streets of downtown Montreal. 

It is the world’s biggest underground complex, with a length of about 32 kilometers (20 miles) and an area of more than 12 square kilometers (4.6 square miles).

Upon entering, you will find several pedestrian walkways that are lined with shops, boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and entertainment venues. 

There are also plenty of art installations, sculptures, and architectural features that add to its unique feel. The underground complex is often the site of temporary shows and exhibits that add to Montreal’s lively artistry scene.

You can expect an incredible shopping experience at the RÉSO because there are so many different kinds of stores available. From big-name brands to small, unique ones, you are bound to find something incredible for yourself or for friends and family.

The Place Montreal Trust, Promenades Cathédrale, and Complexe Desjardins are just a few malls in the complex that you can browse. 

After a long day of shopping, you definitely want to get a bite to eat. You will be pleased to know that there are many places to eat in the RÉSO, including restaurants, cafes, and food courts that serve both local and international food. 

Regardless of your budget, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find plenty of places to eat, whether it’s a quick meal or something a bit more fancy. 

There is also a wide range of services and amenities in the Underground City, such as banks, pharmacies, convenience stores, beauty salons, fitness centers, and more. 

This makes the complex a popular center of daily activities and services for both people who live there and people who come to visit.

Of course, if you want to do something other than shopping, the RÉSO features places to have fun, like movie theaters and concert halls. 

Throughout the year, these places host a wide range of events, performances, and screenings, making for a lively cultural scene.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Location: 1380 Sherbrooke St W, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1J5, Canada
Operating hours:

  • Tuesday-Sunday (except Wednesdays): 10 AM–5 PM
  • Wednesday: 10 AM–9 PM
  • Monday: Closed

Admission fee: 

  • Ages 31+: $24
  • Ages 21 to 30: $16
  • Ages 20 and below: Free
  • Members: Free
  • Wednesday evenings: $12

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal) is a prestigious art museum in Montreal. It is one of the biggest and best-known facilities in Canada. 

The main attraction of the museum is its vast collection of artwork from different eras and styles. 

You can find an impressive collection of over 43,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, decorative arts, and installations as you explore the facility grounds. 

Some of the works you can find include those by well-known artists from all over the world. European, Canadian, Indigenous, Modern, and many more art styles are featured in the exhibits.

You can also take a look at a number of permanent exhibits that show off the history of art. These installations give you a broad look at past eras and let you explore different art styles and genres. 

Works by master artists such as Rembrandt, Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, and more are some of the few pieces that are featured here.

Of course, you can also find temporary exhibitions with works by modern artists, themed displays, or traveling shows from other well-known museums.

Now if you want something more educational, the museum has programs and activities for people of all ages that teach them various topics in art. 

This includes things like guided tours, workshops, lectures, and other hands-on activities that help you understand and appreciate the medium better. 

There are also places in the museum just for kids, like the Art Hive, where kids can do hands-on projects.

Finally, there is Bourgie Hall, right next to an old church near the main museum complex. There are many kinds of musical performances at Bourgie Hall, such as classical music concerts, recitals, chamber music, and more.

Jean-Talon Market

Jean-Talon Market

Location: 7070 Henri Julien Ave, Montreal, Quebec H2S 3S3, Canada
Operating hours: 

  • Monday-Saturday: 8 AM–6 PM
  • Sunday:8 AM–5 PM

The Jean-Talon Market is a vibrant and bustling open-air market located in the Little Italy district of Montreal. 

It offers a unique and lively atmosphere where locals and visitors can immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, and flavors of the Quebec province’s culinary scene.

This place is home to numerous stalls selling a wide variety of fresh produce, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. 

Take your time to stroll through the aisles, browse the colorful displays, and interact with local vendors while discovering unique and seasonal ingredients.

Besides that, the market is renowned for its diverse selection of local delicacies and gourmet products. 

Indulge in freshly baked pastries, artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, maple syrup, Quebecois specialties like poutine, smoked meats, and much more. Many vendors offer samples, allowing you to taste these delicious flavors. 

In addition to fresh produce, the Jean-Talon Market is a treasure trove of specialty food items. You can find organic products, homemade jams, honey, chocolates, spices, and international dishes at the different stalls. 

These things make it a fantastic place to stock up on unique ingredients and culinary treats.

For those in need of new kitchenware, there are charming shops and boutiques all around the market if you’re looking for cookbooks or other appliances. 

These shops add to the market’s appeal and provide an opportunity for unique finds.

If you’re looking for a good meal after some shopping, there is a variety of food options you can choose from, ranging from casual eateries to sit-down restaurants. 

You can savor dishes featuring fresh ingredients sourced from the market or grab a quick snack while enjoying the lively ambiance. There are also picnic areas available if you prefer to bring your own food.

And lastly, the market frequently hosts culinary workshops, cooking demonstrations, and food-related events. Check the market’s schedule to see if there are any workshops or events happening during your visit. 

These activities provide opportunities for you to learn new recipes, cooking techniques, and food pairings.

Biodome de Montreal

Biodome de Montreal

Location: 4777 Pierre-de Coubertin Ave, Montreal, Quebec H1V 1B3, Canada
Operating hours: Monday-Sunday: 9 AM–6 PM
Admission fee: 

  • 5–17: CA$11.50
  • 65+:CA$20.50
  • Adults: $22.75
  • Families: $62.75
  • Students (18+) with ID: $16.50

In Montreal, the Biodome de Montreal is a popular place to visit that gives visitors a unique and immersive experience. 

It is made up of different ecosystems, each of which represents a different type of habitat in the Americas. The Laurentian Maple Forest, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the Sub-Antarctic Islands are a few examples of places where these animals live. 

You can explore these ecosystems and look at their flora and fauna. This gives you a close-up look at the natural world and its beauty.

There are different species present, such as fish, penguins, monkeys, and more, going on with their daily routines. The habitats are near-perfect replicas of their natural environments, so you can see exactly how they would function when out in the wild. 

Plenty of educational activities and interactive displays are also available in the dome. You can get up close and personal with the animals, either by touching them or helping with their feeding. 

One interesting feature of the Biodome is its emulation of different seasons. Each ecosystem can be made to look like the time of year by changing the temperature, lighting, and plants. 

This gives you a chance to see how the seasons change and how they affect different ecosystems.

If you have questions that need answering, the staff members are more than happy to help you out. They are very knowledgeable about ecology and passionate about the preservation of nature. 

The staff can tell you about the exhibits, attend to your inquiries, and talk about how important it is to protect the natural world.

For its other facilities, the dome also has a café, a gift shop, and gardens outside. You can take a break, eat a meal, or go outside to explore the area.

The Ottawa and Montreal Food Scene

The Ottawa and Montreal Food Scene

Both Ottawa and Montreal offer exquisite culinary delights that are sure to get your mouth watering with excitement. Here’s what you can expect from the local dishes from the two cities. 

Ottawa’s Cuisine

Ottawa’s food scene reflects Canada’s diverse culinary landscape, with influences from various cultures. It offers a mix of international cuisines, including French, Italian, Asian, Middle Eastern, and more. 

While the capital city has its fair share of fine dining options, it’s generally considered to have a more relaxed and casual atmosphere. You can find a mix of upscale restaurants, neighborhood bistros, and cozy cafes, each offering a diverse range of dishes.

Ottawa is known for its farm-to-table approach, highlighting its use of local ingredients to support its local farmers and agricultural facilities.

Ottawa’s Cuisine

Some of Ottawa’s signature dishes include BeaverTails, shawarma, poutine, and maple-infused dishes. The city boasts a thriving food truck scene, offering a range of international street foods that gourmands everywhere will enjoy.

For its festivals, Ottawa hosts several food-related events. These include the Ottawa Wine and Food Festival, the Poutinefest (french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy), and the Ottawa Ribfest. 

Additionally, during the summer, the city’s ByWard Market is bustling with local farmers’ markets and food stalls if you want to take a look at fresh ingredients and dishes.

Montreal Cuisine 

The rich multicultural heritage of Montreal has a significant influence on its food scene, just like in Ottawa and other Canadian cities. In particular, you can expect traces of French, Italian, and Jewish flavors as you savor the city’s dishes. 

The food scene in Montreal exudes a bustling and lively atmosphere. It has diverse neighborhoods, such as Mile End and Plateau-Mont-Royal, which are known for their trendy and hip food spots, cafes, and bars.

Montreal Cuisine

The city is renowned for its smoked meat sandwiches, bagels, poutine, and Montreal-style steak seasoning. It is also famous for its wide variety of gourmet restaurants and fine dining establishments.

Montreal regularly hosts vibrant food events and festivals, such as Montreal en Lumière, the Just For Laughs Festival’s food component, and La Poutine Week. They celebrate local and international cuisine, attracting both locals and tourists.

Shopping in Ottawa vs Montreal  

Shopping in Ottawa vs Montreal

 Ottawa is more laid-back and peaceful. It places emphasis on smaller and independent brands that manufacture local products. 

In comparison, Montreal features cutting-edge fashion stores with bustling crowds. You can expect to find plenty of international brands as you explore the city. 

Shopping in Ottawa

Compared to Montreal, the shopping scene in Ottawa tends to be more laid-back and relaxed. Most districts and malls in the city are less crowded, which makes it a more peaceful experience.

Ottawa puts a lot of emphasis on helping small businesses in the area. There are many independent boutiques, artisanal shops, and craft markets where you can see the work of local designers, artists, and craftsmen. 

They sell clothes, accessories, home decor, and gifts that are unique and made in the area.

The best places to shop in Ottawa are in the downtown area, especially along Rideau Street. Rideau Centre in particular is a big shopping mall with a mix of specialty shops, department stores, and well-known fashion brands. 

The capital city is proud of its Canadian roots, with many shops and boutiques that sell goods made in the area. This includes local fashion brands, indigenous crafts and art, and items made by the citizens.

Shopping in Montreal

Montreal is known for featuring the latest fashion trends and having a cool shopping scene. There are a lot of flagship stores, concept stores, and unique boutiques in the city.

You can expect to find a wide range of high-end brands as well as small, independent shops with awesome styles. 

In terms of atmosphere, Montreal’s shopping districts are known for being lively and full of different things to do.

Rue Sainte-Catherine is a busy street with lots of shops, from well-known international chains to small, local stores. If you want to spend a little more cash, Rue Sherbrooke is famous for its luxury and designer brands.

The Underground City (La Ville Souterraine) is another place you can visit. It’s a huge underground network of shops and malls that are all connected to each other, where you can find just about anything you want. 

Another prominent feature of the Montreal shopping scene is its frequent overlap with arts and culture. You can find galleries, design shops, and concept stores that feature the work of both local and international artists. 

Some of the city’s neighborhoods, like Mile End, have a creative and eclectic feel, with trendy shops, vintage stores, and independent bookstores.

Lastly, open-air markets like Jean-Talon Market and Atwater Market are popular locations for foodies. These markets have a lively atmosphere and offer fresh food, specialty dishes, local goods, and new ways to cook.

Nightlife in Ottawa vs. Montreal

Nightlife in Ottawa vs. Montreal

Ottawa’s nightlife scene features a laid-back atmosphere with a strong emphasis on pub culture and a live music scene. 

Montreal, in comparison, is dynamic and energetic. It’s got a reputation for its lively and diverse entertainment options that cater to a wide range of tastes.

Ottawa’s Nightlife

Ottawa’s nightlife scene has a generally easygoing and relaxed atmosphere. The city’s offerings cater to a diverse range of preferences and tend to be less frenetic than in Montreal.

You can find a strong pub culture on its streets, with numerous pubs, taverns, and sports bars spread throughout the area. 

These establishments offer a casual and social setting for enjoying drinks, pub food, and live music, often featuring local bands and artists.

Ottawa has a thriving live music scene, with venues showcasing various genres like rock, jazz, folk, and blues. The city is known for its lively music festivals, including the RBC Bluesfest and CityFolk, which attract both local and international acts.

During the night, the ByWard district transforms into an incredibly vibrant district. It offers a mix of pubs, bars, clubs, and live music venues, creating a lively and diverse nightlife experience. 

These exciting activities make it an attractive location for both locals and tourists to visit, particularly on weekends.

To summarize, both cities have their own unique charm. They cater to different preferences and provide enjoyable experiences for night owls.

Montreal’s Nightlife

The nightlife scene in Montreal is known for being lively, full of energy, and happening very late in the evening. The city is famous for having lots of fun things to do that appeal to a wide range of tastes.

It has a vast number of nightclubs and dance floors. Besides that, the city is famous for its electronic, house, and techno music styles, which draw DJs from around the world into small clubs.

In Montreal, there are a lot of cool bars and lounges with stylish decor and creative beverages. Most of the time, they have a sophisticated and stylish vibe, making them more upscale places to hang out and drink.

For more nightlife options, I recommend that you check out Quartier Latin and Plateau-Mont-Royal. They are very popular places to go out at night in Montreal, with lots of cool things to do.

In these locations, you can find a mix of bars, clubs, places with live music, and restaurants open late, all of which add to the city’s energetic nightlife.