From centuries-old landmarks and cobblestone lanes, to contemporary festivals and cutting-edge fashion, Montreal is an exciting tale of old meets new.
Along the cobblestone streets of the Old Port neighbourhood, two imposing towers announce the majestic the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. Completed in 1829, it was the first Gothic Revival church built in Canada, complete with spectacular stained-glass windows and beautiful religious paintings that will render you speechless. Walking through the Basilica, beneath its 24-carat gold stars twinkling in the shimmering blue ceiling, is like stepping back in time. Pope John Paul II visited the iconic landmark, and it also hosted the funerals of Prime Minister Pierre-Elliott Trudeau and Canada’s beloved ice hockey legend, Maurice Richard. Admission to the Notre-Dame Basilica includes a 20-minute guided tour that introduces you to its history, architecture, and art. Celebrate Mass or take an extended tour for access to the Sacristy, galleries, and baptistery.
Old Montreal is appropriately named in one sense: it’s the oldest neighbourhood in the city, and contains the site where Montreal was first established in 1642. Yet the district draws locals and tourists not only for its historic landmarks, but also its contemporary boutiques, cafes, and nightlife. Walk, bike, or boat the beautiful waterfront, known as the Old Port, during the day, and dine in the inventive, modern restaurants at night. During winter, don a snow suit and head to the harbour for Igloofest, an outdoor electronic music festival. Only OId Montreal captures the imagination with its historic architecture and excites the senses with its cutting-edge culture.
Few cities can lay claim to a mountain in the heart of downtown, but Mount Royal is just that. It was Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of New York’s Central Park, who designed Mount Royal Park, with both the park and the mountain serving as green spaces in the city for locals and visitors to meet, hike, ice-skate, picnic, and take in the city vista. Hike to the Belvédère Kondiaronk observatory for a bird’s eye view of Montreal. Visit on a Sunday for one of Mount Royal’s biggest attractions: tam-tams. Tam-tams are weekly gatherings of drummers, dancers, vendors, and just about anyone else! It’s a big outdoor party and you’re invited.
St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal
Driving around Montreal, you might notice a big, rounded, green roof standing tall on the horizon. It belongs to St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, the largest church in Canada and a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. At 97 metres, the dome of the Oratory basilica is the second highest in the world, behind Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Climb the long rows of steps and enjoy amazing views of the city before heading inside. Take a tour and visit the small original chapel, as well as the Basilica, the gardens, and the museum, showcasing religious and artistic exhibits.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Don your beret, wax your mustache, and pop over to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to see some of the 41,000 works in its collection. Founded in 1860, the museum is the most popular of its kind in Canada, attracting over one million art-lovers every year. This is an art museum in the broadest sense of the word, with traditional fine arts, music, film, fashion, and design all given a place inside its walls. In a few hours of browsing, you might encounter an ancient glass vase, a painting by Rembrandt, and unique modern furniture. Travelling exhibits join the collection every year, so you’ll never have the same experience twice.
Sainte Catherine Street
Sainte Catherine Street (Rue Ste.-Catherine locally) is the shopping hub of Montreal. Whether you’re after high-end designers, chain store brands, local boutiques or simple souvenirs, you’ll find it on this street. At nine miles in length, Sainte Catherine Street crosses Montreal’s downtown core from east to west. You could walk it for hours and enjoy a different experience at every corner. Restaurants, bars, and cafes line the street, which is easily accessible by bus or metro (subway). The Montreal Forum, former home of the legendary Montreal Canadien’s ice hockey team, and major venue Place-des-Arts are both located on Sainte-Catherine’s. Visit in the summer and watch the street come alive as footpaths are transformed into patios, where you can enjoy a drink and a meal outdoors.
The Underground City
Discover what lies beneath one of Canada’s busiest shopping streets. Montreal is home to the largest “underground city” in the world. Officially named RÉSO, the complex consists of 32 kilometres of underground paths and tunnels connecting shopping centres, subway stations, and buildings. Enter the network from the street, nine major hotels, or eight different subway stations, and have access to 2,000 stores, 17 museums, an ice hockey arena, a movie theatre, night clubs, and countless other restaurants and businesses. Whether you’re trying to escape a cold day outside, you love to shop, or just enjoy exploring, join the 500,000 people who make their way through the underground city every day.
Place des Festivals
In the heart of downtown Montreal is an entertainment district known as the Quartier des spectacles, with the Place des Festivals at its heart. The Place is essentially an outdoor public square built to host big festivals and big crowds, and it definitely stays true to that purpose. The Just for Laughs comedy festival, the Montreal Jazz Festival, and a number of other events make use of the space to host free shows and concerts year-round. The largest interactive fountain in Canada, with 235 water jets, sits inside the square, as do four huge light towers and two glass-encased restaurants. No matter when you’re in Montreal, the Place des Festivals will have something worth checking out.
Space for Life
Montreal’s Space for Life (Espace Pour La Vie) is a collection of four different experiences: The Biodôme, Botanical Garden, Insectarium, and Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. The collaboration aims to connect humans with nature and our place in the universe, all in one exciting destination. Stop and smell 22,000 flowers and plants, have lunch alongside penguins or lynx, witness thousands of beetles and butterflies in all their colourful glory, and then sit back and enjoy a 360-degree projection of the Northern Lights. You could do all this in just one day, but you might want to set aside a couple. There’s a lot to see.
It’s fitting that a museum of archeology and history sits on the exact birthplace of Montreal. The Pointe-à-Callière Museum was founded on Montreal’s 350th birthday in 1992, and now acts as a highlight reel of the city’s history dating back to the 14th century. With the help of multimedia and new technologies, you can discover how local First Nations cultures lived, how British and French influences shaped the city’s evolution, and how Montreal became the city that it is today. Remains of centuries-old buildings and grave sites? Archeological relics from the region’s first settlers? Regular travelling exhibits related to all things Canada? Yup, this museum is a history buff’s playground.