Things to Do in Montreal
Once a busy shipping hub, the Old Port of Montreal (Vieux Port de Montréal) is now an entertainment center stretching along the St. Lawrence River. In addition to the promenade, the port is also home to the Montreal Science Centre, La Grande Roue de Montréal, an observation wheel, a boat spa, and seasonal outdoor attractions including an urban beach and an ice rink.
Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal) charms visitors with its picturesque squares, grand old-world architecture, and winding cobblestone streets. Whether in the Old Port or walking down the main street Rue Saint-Paul, it’s easy to feel transported back in time—in fact, some architectural remains date back to New France. The historic site is considered to be the best preserved Old Town in North America.
Built in the 1840s, this neoclassical silver-domed building has served as a farmers market, theater, and for a brief stint as Montreal's city hall. It was threatened with demolition before being converted into the current market complex, which contains cafes, restaurants, galleries, and shops selling Quebec-made crafts and design items.
Mount Royal (Mont Royal), a 764-foot (233-meter) “mountain” in the midst of urban Montreal, is much-loved by locals and visitors alike, with Montrealers frequenting the leafy slopes as if the area were their own backyard. Cyclists, joggers, sunbathers, picnickers, and strollers abound in summer, while snowshoers, tobogganers, ice skaters, and cross-country skiers dominate in winter. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted—the creative force behind New York City’s Central Park—the 470-acre (190-hectare) Mount Royal Park (Parc du Mont-Royal) encompasses forest trails, manmade monuments, and grassy meadows for picnicking. On a clear day, the views from the Mount Royal summit lookout can’t be beaten.
St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal (L'Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal) located in Montreal’s Westmount neighborhood, is Canada’s largest church and a registered National Historic Site. Started as a small chapel in 1904, the Roman Catholic basilica has grown to contain a cryptic church, a museum, gardens, a 56-bell carillon, and one of the largest church domes in the world.
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal (Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal) is the city's oldest Catholic church and the venue of Quebec hero Celine Dion’s wedding. The Gothic Revival-style church is one of Canada’s most lavish cathedrals, with stained-glass windows, intricate wood carvings, frescoes, sculptures, and a 7,000-pipe organ all vying for attention beneath a blue ceiling studded with gold stars.
Built for the 1976 Olympic Games, the Montreal Olympic Park (Parc Olympique de Montréal) now houses several attractions that form Montreal’s Space for Life museum district. There’s the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, the 56,000-seater Olympic Stadium, the Biodome, an indoor zoo with around 4,500 animals, as well as the Botanical Gardens and Insectarium in neighboring Maisonneuve Park.
The historic and scenic St. Lawrence River flows 743 miles (1,196 kilometers) across a vast chunk of North America, from the Great Lakes all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The lifeblood for Ontario and Quebec, the mighty river has long sustained communities of both native tribes and European colonizers who settled along its banks. Its waters play host to a vast variety of wildlife, including a number of whale species such as sperm, minke, fin, blue, North Atlantic right, and endangered belugas.
Montreal's Place d’Armes, meaning parade square, is a major public venue in Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal). The picturesque plaza is bordered by some of Montreal’s most notable architectural landmarks, including the 17th-century Saint-Sulpice Seminary, the Gothic Revival-style Notre-Dame Basilica, and the art deco Aldred Building.
Artsy and laid-back, Plateau-Mont-Royal, aka the Plateau, captures the spirit of Montreal perhaps more than any other neighborhood. Spiraling iron staircases crawl up Victorian-era residences on tree-lined streets, while magnificent street murals add color to commercial thoroughfares. Restaurants, cafés, bars, and boutiques abound.
More Things to Do in Montreal
First opened in 1933, Jean-Talon Market (Marché Jean-Talon) is a local institution. Montrealers come to shop farm-fresh ingredients, from Quebec-reared pork and seafood from the country’s east cost to colorful vegetables, everything from purple carrots to orange cauliflower and strangely shaped gourds—all of which are artfully stacked in sellers’ stalls.
Montreal Chinatown was established in the late 19th century with the arrival of Chinese immigrants from western Canada who came to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Though just a couple of blocks long, the district offers a wide selection of Asian eateries and shops selling traditional handicrafts and souvenirs.
Covering an area of 480 square miles (1,245 square kilometers), the protected waters of the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park (Parc Marin du Saguenay-Saint-Laurent) are among Eastern Canada’s best wildlife-viewing hot spots. Many impressive cetaceans, from blue whales to belugas, as well as several types of seals and hundreds of different species of sea birds dwell here.
Built in the 1870s and rebuilt after a 1922 fire, Montreal City Hall (Hôtel de Ville de Montréal) has long found itself at the center of Quebec history. In 1967, the building hosted one of the most significant political moments in the province’s recent past, when then–French President Charles de Gaulle gave a rousing speech from the balcony—one that spurred Quebec’s separatist movement.
Situated at the northernmost point of Montreal’s Plateau, Mile End is known for its array of independent shops, cafés, and underground music venues. The vibrant neighborhood, a cultural hub since the 1980s, is teeming with highly-rated restaurants and historical landmarks, from classic bagelries to scenes from the novels of Mordecai Richler.
Named after a 16th-century French explorer, Jacques-Cartier Square (Place Jacques-Cartier) is one of the main squares in Old Montreal (Vieux-Montreal). It was laid out in the early 19th century, and is lined with cafe terraces where visitors can watch as street performers and caricature artists vie for the attentions of passing tourists.
With more than 20,000 species growing across 185 acres (75 hectares), the expansive Montreal Botanical Garden (Jardin Botanique de Montréal) is often ranked among the world’s finest. Explore themed gardens—among them, Japanese, Chinese, First Nations, alpine, and medicinal—as well as hot and humid greenhouses dotted with orchids and tropical flowers.
Designed by architect Buckminster Fuller to serve as the US pavilion for the 1967 World’s Fair, the Montreal Biosphere (la Biosphère) is one of the city’s most instantly recognizable landmarks. Inside, it houses a range of exhibitions focusing on eco-technologies, sustainable development, and climate change. It's a must-see for all visitors to Montreal.
Ville-Marie is the core of Montreal, encompassing most of the downtown area, including Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal), the Quartier des Spectacles cultural quarter, the Gay Village, two islands on the St. Lawrence River, and most of Mount Royal Park (Parc du Mont-Royal). It’s jam-packed with museums, churches, shops, restaurants, and other top attractions.
Situated on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, the Montreal Science Centre (Centre des Sciences de Montréal) is a museum committed to educating the public about science and technology through hands-on learning. Its IMAX theater, daily programs, and interactive exhibits help make the Science Centre a popular attraction for both visiting and local families.
The Americas are home to four ecosystems, and at the Montreal Biodome (Biodôme de Montreal) you’ll be able to walk through them all (well, replicas of them at least). Visitors will be guided by naturalists through the biodome, traveling through the tropical rainforest, Laurentian maple forest, Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sub-Antarctic Islands, and observing over 4,800 animals representing 230 species and about 750 plants. Interestingly, these exhibits are housed in what was once the cycling stadium used in the 1976 Summer Olympics. Essentially, the experience is similar to visiting a zoo but delivers more of an immersive experience that makes you feel like you’re really in the wild.
Please note: The Montreal Biodome (Biodôme de Montreal)is currently closed for renovation. The Biodome reopening is scheduled for spring 2020. The Insectarium will reopen in summer 2020
Montreal’s Underground City (or RÉSO) is a vast indoor complex that extends across a large portion of Downtown Montreal. Subterranean tunnels connect malls, hotels, cinemas, theaters, offices, museums, banks, universities, and metro stations, serving as a warm refuge during the city’s brutal winters.
Montreal has one of the largest Italian communities in Canada, and nowhere is the community’s huge influence on the city more obvious than in leafy, park-filled Little Italy. As in Italy itself, food is an integral part of Little Italy’s appeal, and foodies flock to crowded pizzerias, old-school delis, and the vast Jean-Talon Market.
Housed inside a 1930s building topped with an art deco clock tower, Atwater Market (Marché Atwater) is one of the city’s top foodie hot spots. Food sellers hawk local artisanal produce including Canadian ice wine, maple syrup, Quebec cheeses, charcuterie, fresh-from-the-oven pastries, and all kinds of farm-grown fruit and vegetables.
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