Montréal bucket list bike rides perfect for visitors

Mark Hamilton

Mark Hamilton is the community director for QueerMTL, an internationally-touring musician with his projects Woodpigeon and Frontperson  and a graduate studies student of history researching LGBTQ+ activism in the city. He’s lived in Montréal since 2015, during which time he’s most often spotted atop a BIXI bike usally running a few minutes late.

This article was updated on April 13, 2023.

Its one of the first things youll notice when you first hit the city streets: Montréal is a bona fide biking city. From rushing students cycling to and from classes, pleasure riders racking up the kilometres and locals making their way from Point A to Point B on the citys BIXI bike-sharing system, Montréal loves getting around on two wheels—and were even ranked one of the top biking cities in the world by the Copenhagen Design Index!

 

In recent years, Montréal has also added hundreds of kilometres of bike-friendly zones and pathways, bringing the citys total of bike paths to nearly 1,000 km, linking up six of the citys biggest park areas—Mount RoyalParc MaisonneuveParc JarryParc Frédéric-BackParc Jean-Drapeau and Île-de-la-Visitation. The city has also announced an additional 200km of protected bike lanes to be open for use by 2027! Weve chosen five local favourite “must-rides” to get you on your way, and better yet, youll catch a glimpse of another side of the citys neighbourhoods that most tourists dont experience on foot.

These rides arent particularly challenging, but they do range in distance from 15 km to 40 km each way. Weve selected Parc Jeanne-Mance on the edge of the Plateau as the starting point for these distance measurements, but actual distances will change based on the location of where youre staying. Make sure to bring some essentials—sunscreen, water, comfortable clothing and a helmet, which are available at the rental shops below. (Wed also suggest checking out our picnic and park pairings list for some en route food suggestions too).

 

BIXI grows bigger and better than ever!

2023 marks the 15th anniversary of Montréal’s iconic BIXI bike sharing system, and they’re celebrating in grand style with an increase of bikes—now numbering over 10,000, including nearly 3,000 electric bikes—and bringing up the number of stations across the city from 2022’s 611 to almost 900 this season. It’s no hyperbole to say BIXI’s presence in the last decade and a half has had a palpable impact on the city, and the proof is in the numbers. Since the system’s arrival, BIXISTs have traveled more than 150 million kilometres (saving 15 million litres of gasoline and producing 35,000 less tons of CO2), and the bikes were designed and produced in Québec! Don’t forget to wear a helmet and follow the Highway Safety Code while riding, and enjoy this truly local—and speedy—way to get around. (Check out BIXIs fees and rental periods on its website, as well as planning when and where to drop off your BIXI if taking longer rides. In some cases, youll need to keep the bike with you).

 

The Lachine Canal

(Approximately 35-40 km round-trip)

A local gem, the bike paths alongside the steady flow of the Lachine Canal passes gently through the Quartiers du Canal district, a union of the up-and-coming Griffintown, Saint-Henri and Little Burgundy neighbourhoods. Not only does the Canal pass by some of Montréals hippest spots and trendsetting shopping, the path has long been a place of respite and relaxation for Montréalers.

Make your way onto the canal on the outskirts of the Old Port of Montréal, and cycle to the Atwater Market—take a break en route for photos of the water—whose historic high tower is a symbol of this part of the city. Once youve stocked up on all the snacks youll need for the rest of the ride, its onwards to Lachine and along whats considered one of the worlds most beautiful urban biking circuits.

The joke goes that the founders of the canal thought their hard work would take them all the way to China. Thus, the town of Lachine (La Chine being China in French) received its cheeky punch-line of a name. But the stately vistas and waterfront architecture of the town make for a taste of old world charm unique in North America. History fans will love a stop en route at The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site of Canada museum for a glimpse into the area’s storied past.

Perfectly picturesque for picnics amongst the sculptures, the Musée plein air de Lachine and Arboretum featuring tree species from around the world in Parc René-Lévesque is spread across a finger of land that stretches out into the St. Lawrence River on both sides. Great for a food break or rest, its the ideal finish line.

Head back for a well-deserved hearty meal and beverage at The Burgundy Lion on bustling Notre-Dame Street West in Little Burgundy and check one of Montréals most beloved bike routes off the bucket list.

BONUS ROUTE: Rather than returning along the Lachine Canal, redirection south and follow along the entirely waterfront Boulevard LaSalle through the aptly-named Parc des Rapides and the borough of Verdun (Verdun Beach making for a perfect break and rest point). Youll also be well-positioned to turn into the neighbourhood and explore Wellington Street, recently named the coolest in the world. 

 

The Bike Link and Route verte

(Approximately 45-60 km round-trip, with options for further distances)

Making up one of the most picturesque urban segments of the coast to coast Trans Canada Trail and the 5,300 km long provincial Route verte bike path, the Bike Link between Parc Jean-Drapeau and the Sainte-Catherine Locks offers some of the best views of waterfront Montréal and the sensation of actually riding on the Saint Lawrence Seaway on the thin jetty, the Digue de la voie maritime. This route is also one for bridge lovers including an awe-inspiring crossing on both the Estacade du Pont Champlain on the surface of the water towards Nuns Island (home to the well-deserved Strøm Nordic Spa) and the iconic Jacques-Cartier Bridge linked into the Gay Village. Both bridges are perfect spots for souvenir snapshots—and its worth the added mileage to tackle the new Samuel-de-Champlain Bridge for its four eye-popping rest and lookout areas.

If you start from the Parc Jeanne-Mance, head through Montréals Downtown and Gay Village neighbourhoods and take the Jacques-Cartier Bridge bike path over to Parc Jean-Drapeau. From there, the Digue de la voie maritime is easy to locate at the southernmost point of Île Notre-Dame. Carry on under Victoria Bridge and the Champlain Bridge to the Sainte-Catherine Locks stopping for a beach break at RécréoParc or a rest on leafy Île Seigneur, where you can also take in a view of the spooky-sounding Devils Island. The most adventurous riders will want to continue on River Way past Kahnawake to the fishing pier at the far end of the Digue for that unbeatable end of the trail feeling.

Double back and when you hit the Estacade du Pont Champlain, cross over to Nuns Island (architecture fans will want to seek out a modernist gas station masterwork by Mies Van Der Rohe) and make your way back towards the Plateau via Griffintown, the Old Port and up busting Rue Berri past the Grande Bibliothèque.

Wed also suggest a small side trip to the Circuit Gilles-Villneuve, site of the Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada for the past four decades in Parc Jean-Drapeau. When not used for the race, its open to cyclists—youll be sure to hear more than one local making engine revving noises as they power around the track.

 

The Réseau Express Vélo

(Expect around 20 km as a minimum, but the distance on this one is up to you!)

A boon to quick and speedy cycling across Montréal, the Réseau Express Vélo (AKA the REV, fittingly pronounced the same as rêve, or dreamin French, or the EBN: Express Bike Network in English, although painted street signs use the REV moniker) brings 184 km of newly installed bike lanes across five axises that criss-cross some of the citys busiest neighbourhoods. A good starting point is AXIS 1 Berri / Lajeunesse / Saint-Denis, which links the northernmost Gouin Boulevard all the way down bustling Saint-Denis Street, ending at Roy Street, a distance of nearly 9 km.

The REV also offers glimpses into neighbourhoods like Rosemont (via its AXIS 5 down de Bellechasse Street) and AXIS 3 through the borough of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. AXIS 4 on Peel Street takes riders from the heart of downtown directly to Griffintown and an easy entry to the Lachine Canal. While plans include expanding the systems reach even further across Montréal, whats already in place has doubtlessly transformed the cycling landscape.

And for the purposes of these bike rides, the REV can also quickly get you from one route to the next, should the desire to mix-and-match hit you mid-route!

 

L’Île-de-la-Visitation

(Approximately 25-30 km round-trip)

Basically a direct line from the city centre to the northern edge of Montréal island, biking to L’Île-de-la-Visitation gives a rare insight into how Montréalers really live, passing through Le Plateau-Mont-RoyalLittle Italy and La Petite-Patrie, hipster Villeray and along Gouin Boulevard West on the banks of the Prairies River.

If you start from the Parc Jeanne-Mance, make your way to La Fontaine Park, and cycle north along the parks western edge. For a complete overview of Montréals biking system, pick up a map of the city and surrounding areas at La Maison des cyclistes at the northwestern tip of the park and chat up some local bike enthusiasts more than willing to make suggestions. Most streets through the Plateau are quiet and equipped with bike lanes, so explore to your hearts content and cycle past some of the citys most characteristic stairwells and postcard-pretty homes.

Once you hit Laurier Park, take the underpasses of either Christophe-Colomb Avenue or Saint-Hubert Street and continue into Little Italy and La Petite-Patrie, where no trip is complete without a visit to the Jean-Talon Market. Those in need of a caffeine-injection wont want to miss an espresso standing amongst Italian locals at the counter of Caffè Italia.

Refuelled and recharged, continue north through Villeray, one of the citys newest cooler districts, home to young artists and artisans. Using the biking lanes of Christophe-Colomb Avenue, use your pedal power until you reach the Prairies River. Swing right and both the Parc-nature de l'Île-de-la-Visitation and the Île-de-la-Visitation itself await.

Taking its name from the parish of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin-Mary founded in 1736, Montréalers have been visiting this peaceful slice of heaven for hundreds of years. The buildings of the historic Sault-au-Récollet district here were proclaimed a historic site, and a wander past them and the ruins on the island is like stepping back in time. The calm flow of the river is well-suited for a lazy break in the grass – and the myriad paths and hills here are popular with cross-country skiers and toboggan riders in the winter months.

Ready to head back? Treat yourself with a meal at the Plateaus famous Au Pied de Cochon, a just reward for an afternoon of biking.

 

Plage du Cap-Saint-Jacques

(Approximately 80-100 km round-trip)

Want to impress the folks back home? This circuit not only takes you through several intriguing outer Montréal arrondissements, but ends on a sandy beach with prime swimming and shady spots to rest the day away.

Starting from downtown, pass through the McGill University campus—were not the only ones who think it looks a bit like Hogwarts—and then up bustling Parc Avenue with Mount Royal on your left and Jeanne-Mance Park on the right, passing the Monument to Sir George-Étienne Cartier where, every Sunday, hundreds gather for the beat-driven Tam-tams, a Montréal tradition of drumming and dancing.

Join the slow-moving traffic on de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine Way as it winds through the Outremont neighbourhood. Some of the citys most beautiful homes, buildings and parks are nestled in these streets, and those in need of a quick rest should head to the beautiful Outremont Park. Fill up with classic Québec bistro fare at the classic Restaurant Leméac, a short detour a couple of blocks down Laurier Avenue.

With the hillside towers of the Université de Montréal in view, turn right up Dunlop Avenue and head north, with a slight zig-zag left on Ducharme Avenue, right on de Vimy Avenue, left on Barclay Avenue, and right again on Wilderton Avenue. Proceed across Jean-Talon Street West and right into the Town of Mount Royal, a self-proclaimed garden city in the heart of Montréal that lives up to the hype. Take a breath at the Connaught Park Rose Garden and see it for yourself.

 

 

Back on-route, pass through the Bois-Franc and past Saraguay suburbs, and take Gouin Boulevard West through leafy Roxboro on the banks of the Prairies River. The Île de Roxboro makes for another quick rest-stop amongst the trees and continuing west on either Gouin or de Pierrefonds Boulevards, youll pass through what locals refer to as the West Island.

Enter Parc-nature du Cap-Saint-Jacques, surrounded on three sides by water, and navigate to the western-most side where the beach looking out on Lac des Deux Montagnes awaits!

Rest up and feel the sand between your toes, because now youve got options. Its easy to head back the way you came, but youll see even more by continuing around the western-most edge of the Island of Montréal through green Senneville, the beautiful small town of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, and back towards downtown on Montréals southern banks on the St. Lawrence River. Passing Dorval Island to your right, youll soon arrive at the town of Lachine and head straight down the Lachine Canal and back to your accommodation with a major urban bike ride under your belt.

And best of all? This is just the tip of the iceberg: theres so much more to discover and experience on a bike in Montréal.

 

Where to get a bike in Montréal

First thing first: youll need a bike. These local rental locations are well spaced around the city, and each of these rides has a perfectly-based shop from where to start. Most also offer guided bike tours of the city worth checking out before heading off on some solo exploration.

Happy biking!

Mark Hamilton

Mark Hamilton is the community director for QueerMTL, an internationally-touring musician with his projects Woodpigeon and Frontperson  and a graduate studies student of history researching LGBTQ+ activism in the city. He’s lived in Montréal since 2015, during which time he’s most often spotted atop a BIXI bike usally running a few minutes late.

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