When visitors step into the streets of Old Montreal, they feel like they’ve been transported to the shores of a European city, but when they venture beyond the waterfront, they discover a thriving and modern metropolis that is unlike any other in North America. Even though it’s a mostly French-speaking city, visiting Montreal means entering a place where cultures have mixed for hundreds of years, represented in the city’s flag with symbols of France, England, Scotland, and Ireland. The flag has since been updated to include the indigenous people who lived here long before Europeans arrived. More recently, immigrants from around the world have come to enrich the city in lively and exciting ways.
Even during a short stay, it’s easy for visitors to immerse themselves in Montreal’s cultural mélange and to feel the centuries of history that are layered upon this unique city.
Visiting Montreal for the Views
There are many vantage points from which to admire the city, but probably the most iconic views are from Mount Royal, the mountain that overlooks the city and from which it derives its name. Grab a taxi to the summit or burn off some calories by hiking to the top through the surrounding park that just happens to have been designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who’s probably more famous for planning New York’s Central Park.
Every city needs an observation deck atop one of its tallest skyscrapers and Montreal’s is in Place Ville Marie, a towering, cross-shaped building that mirrors the shape of the iconic cross atop Mount Royal. The 360° Observatory offers panoramic views of the city and its major landmarks. Interactive displays help you interpret what you’re looking at.
The Old Port is home to the Montreal Observation Wheel, which at 200 feet is the tallest Ferris wheel in Canada. Needless to say, it offers breathtaking vistas of the city below.
Culture of Art and Music
Montreal is home to several outstanding museums and cultural events like the Montreal International Jazz Festival and the Just for Laughs comedy festival. There’s always something going on, so check the city’s event calendar to see what’s happening when you visit.
If art is your thing, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Musée D’art Contemporain de Montréal both feature impressive permanent collections and a rotating calendar of touring exhibits. History lovers will want to check out the McCord Museum which interprets Canadian history through a Montreal lens, while the Pointe-à-Callière museum is an archaeology museum that tells Montreal’s story from the ground up, literally.
When Mark Twain first visited Montreal, he said “you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window.” The city’s historic churches continue to draw tourists today, including the awe-inspiring Notre-Dame Basilica, which also hosts Aura, an amazing sound-and-light show. Other churches to admire are Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral; Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel (one of the oldest in the city); and St. Joseph’s Oratory, which is Canada’s largest church and is topped by one of the largest domes in the world.
Montreal for Foodies
Montreal boosters claim the city is second only to New York in having the most restaurants per capita in North America. True or not, you’ll find no shortage of restaurants while you wander the city’s streets.
For fine dining options, Old Montreal has many. Try Caffé Un Po Di Piu, a hot new restaurant just opened by the owners behind the always popular Olive+Gourmando. Other worthy stops include….
By Mark Stachiew
Photo: ©Tourisme Montréal, Mathieu Dupuis