My favourite thing about Montreal is the cities’ distinct charm. Montreal’s charm lurks in the corners of eclectic bars and at the bottom of a Mile End coffee cup. It creeps up on me in the back of cabs and sits on every apartment’s staircase in the Plateau. The cities’ popular tourist destinations are not always reflexive of the delicate charm that Montreal holds. With that being said, some tourist destinations are worth your precious time. A few Montreal landmarks express exciting and thrilling stories about the history of Montreal. These landmarks tell stories that a chic cafe cannot. Sometimes the most difficult part of being a tourist is deciding where and what you want to spend your time visiting. So we’ve put together a list of the top 10 tourist destinations in Montreal. Check out a few that interest you and don’t forget to get lost in the fuzzier corners of this charming city.
Biological things to see in Montreal
The Botanical Gardens of Montreal are a beautiful and exquisite destination. Montreal’s Botanical Gardens are considered to be one of the most important in the world, due to the extent of their collections and facilities. The garden’s were started in 1935 when Brother Marie-Victorin pleaded to Mayor Camilien Houde for the creation of the Botanical Gardens. The mayor was a former student of Brother Marie Vicotrin and became the focus of a public plea. Brother Marie-Victorin’s plea went like this:
“We will soon be celebrating Montréal’s three hundredth anniversary. You need to give a gift, a royal gift, to the City, our city. But Montréal is Ville-Marie, a woman… And you certainly can’t give her a storm sewer or a police station… It’s obvious what you must do! Give her a corsage for her lapel. Fill her arms to overflowing with all the roses and lilies of the field!”
Thus, the Mayor allowed for the creation of The Botanical Gardens. Brother Marie-Victorin kept his focus on teaching and ensured that the garden stayed tied to values of educational and science. Today, the gardens are an extravagant attraction year round! The Botanical Gardens encompass everything that a visitor is looking for on a visit to Montreal. The Botanical Gardens tell interesting stories about Montreal’s past and also simultaneously provide a breathtaking and calming refuge from the city.
Mark Twain said that when visiting Montreal it was “The first time I was ever in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window.” Mark Twain was not exaggerating, every Montreal community has multiple churches ranging in beliefs and faith. Every religious house and community has their own unique story to tell, although, some are more wildly discussed then others. Notably, the Notre Dame Basilica located in Old Montreal. The basilica has beautiful and dramatic architecture that has become world famous. The stained glass windows that line the sides of Notre Dame do not display biblical scenes. Rather, the stained glass windows depict the religious history of Montreal. We also recommend Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel in Old Montreal. The chapel is one of the oldest churches in Montreal. It is the site where St. Marguerite Bourgeoys (one of the patron saints of Montreal) built her congregation. This chapel also became a pilgrimage site for 19th century sailors journeying through the Old Port of Montreal. Lastly, we can’t forget St. Josephs Oratory. This stunning basilica situated upon Mont Royal holds rich history about Montreal’s religious past, and a beautiful view. Visiting one of the many churches of Montreal is a great way to understand the larger history that the city originates from. The churches are a large part of the cities engrained culture. No matter what your religious beliefs might be, they are an excellent addition to your travel itinerary!
Panoramic things to See in Montreal
Parc Mont Royal is a natural oasis located directly in the middle of the bustling city. Climbing the mountain is an exciting and healthy way to get a bird’s eye view of the city. There are a few different lookout stations on the mountain that boast the greatest views of the cityscape. Mont Royal park is a fantastic destination at any time of the year. In the wintertime folks can skate on Beaver Pond or even snowshoe up the mountain if they’re feeling adventurous. During the summer months the Tam Tam’s festival is held weekly on Mont Royal. If you’re lucky enough to be in Montreal on a Sunday we highly suggest you check it out! Upon the main lookout onlookers can find brass plaques describing Jacque Cartier’s ascent to the top. Cartier was the very first european man to scale the hill (or mountain depending who you are talking too!) The real glory of Mont Royal is its ability to make you feel like you have left the city far behind. Exploring the mountain is a great stress-free and fun activity for the healthy tourist!
The Mile End is a great destination for tourists because it encompasses many of the attributes that make Montreal a unique city. The Mile End district is historic, artistic, and trendy, all at the same time. The small european neighbourhood is home to many locally owned shops, cafes and restaurants. When exploring the Mile End you are sure to come across eclectic music venues, excellent coffee, and the two famous Bagel giants. Both Fairmont and St. Viateur are in competition for Montreal’s Top Bagel. Be sure to taste both bagels, so you can weigh in on the “Bagel War.” If you’re not interested in Bagel’s but a still a foodie like us, you’ll enjoy our “Mile End Food tour.” Our tour showcases the best Mile End food spots and their significance to the Mile End District. We’re so excited about the Mile End here at Local Montreal that we even wrote an article about it! Here we break down the best activities, shops and restaurants to visit in the Mile End. Give it a read and let us know if we left anything out!
The old city is a tasty visual treat for anyone visiting Montreal. When I walk through Old Montreal, I just can’t shake that feeling that this district was airlifted from Europe overnight. City officials have worked very hard to ensure that the area has maintained its exquisite victorian architecture and design. The cobblestone streets and old time charm have attracted tourists from around the world. Most of which are eager to see Canada’s very own european village. Great places to check out are the Centre Phi and the DHC. If you are interested in the historical foundations and monuments within the Old town we offer free tours almost every day. Also notable is the walking street “Rue St. Paul.” St. Paul is lined with tourist shops and specialty stores. The street is a bit kitschy but really what did you expect? Most of Old Montreal is geared towards tourists so it’s best to go with an open mind and an open wallet. Just do yourself a favour and don’t take one of those horse and carriage rides… Your money is better spent on a heavenly sandwich at Olive et Gourmando!
Le Boulevard de St. Laurent is a major artery of Montreal. The street bisects multiple neighbourhoods and destinations. A fun and fulfilling way to spend a day in Montreal is walking along St.Laurent. I’d suggest starting at the very bottom in Old Montreal and slowly working your way up to Little Italy. Take your time and appreciate how every few blocks Montreal changes dramatically. You’ll pass through the Old Montreal, China Town, Quartier des spectacles, Le Plateau du Mont Royal, The Mile End and Little Italy. Every neighbourhood has something different to add to the experience. When walking up St.Lo (short hand for St.Laurent) the possibilities are endless and the excitement consistent. This DIY walking tour is a simple and exciting way to experience the many faces of Montreal.
Energizing things to see in Montreal
If there is one thing that Montreal does well, it’s the good ol’ hockey game. The Bell Centre is home to “The Montreal Canadiens.” Montreal Canadien games almost always sell out and I’m not surprised. No matter which season or which line up I see the experience is the same… fantastic. Watching the Habs play is always thrilling and entertaining! Half the fun is watching the Montreal fans go buck wild. They are arguably some of the wildest fans in the NHL (I dare you to prove me wrong.) Tickets are best bought well in advance. However, if you’re down to the wire scalpers are always available. Be careful, Montreal scalpers tend to sell their tickets at an amazingly high mark up. Going to see the Montreal Canadiens play is never a bad idea, just don’t forget to cheer for the red team!
Quartier des spectacles is a small area in downtown Montreal completely devoted to the arts. QDS is surrounded by various art and performance houses. Some notable mentions are; The Museum of Contemporary Art,The Society of Art and Technology and The Montreal Symphony house. The actual expanse has a total area of one square kilometre. The open space in the centre of the square has become a lively centre for Montreal’s cultural events and festivals. During the summer months QDS hosts; The Just for Laughs Festival, Francofolies and The International Jazz Festival. In the winter you can look forward to “Montreal en Lumiere!” QDS is not limited to just these events and festivals. The square always has various art exhibitions and concerts year round. The square is also surrounded by many accomplished restaurants. We recommend the Biiru a new Japanese eatery adjacent to QDS. The ever changing nature of the public exhibitions can make visits to QDS a happy an entertaining surprise. You never know what you’re gonna find… So go with an open mind!
The Montreal waterfront has many excellent activities for tourists to consider. First, there is the Old Port located within the old city of Montreal. The Old Port is home to Igloofest, the Science and Technology Center, a large open-air ice rink, and an IMAX cinema. The old port also has many buildings and monuments that date back to a time when the port was a buzzing economic centre of North America. Whilst exploring the waterfront you may come across the Lachine Canal. The canal dates back to 1825 and was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 1996. Check out the lock system and feel free to ask any Parks Canada employee “How do the locks work?” You can recognize a parkie by their forest green uniform. For lunch there is always the nearby Atwater Market for some local food and fare. Or if you’re visiting during the summer you can try an innovative new snack bar named MuvBox. Not enough waterfront activities? Check out Silo #5! Silo #5 is an abandoned grain elevator in the Old port. It is being used for the “Silophone” project where visitors make use of the Silo’s incredible acoustics. You can participate in the Silophone project by calling into the Silo or by visiting the sonic observatory. Confused yet? Read more about it here!
Saint Helen’s Island is located southwest of Montreal. The island exists in it’s present form due to the work done prior to expo 67, the worlds fair. In the early 1960s the island was expanded using earth and rocks dug up during excavations for the metro system. Expo 67 didn’t only have a geological impact on Montreal it also had an amazing social and cultural impact! The entire world came to visit Montreal for the exposition. Consequently, the event dramatically changed the lives of many Montrealers. Now the remaining sites can be visited on Saint Helen’s Island. Such as the Biosphere and many other pavilions which were built exclusively for expo 67. The island is home to also home to Parc Jean Drapeau. Jean Drapeau holds many events and festivals such as Osheaga and Piknik Electronique (Piknik’s Summer Calendar will be up May,19,14.) If that’s not enough Saint Helen’s Island also has the F1 Formula race track! Saint Helen’s Island is a destination where you can easily fill an entire day with fun and exciting activities. Enjoy!
Check out more from Madeleine Lahaie @ www.MadeleineLahaie.com