Montreal is a fascinating city with plenty to see and do, whether you have a month or just a few days at your disposal. Among the city’s many attractions are its historic districts with fine examples of French colonial architecture, grand old churches, colourful markets, award-winning museums and attractive parks.
Old Montreal (Vieux Montréal)
The oldest part of the city, the charming district of Old Montreal includes a number of 17th and 18th Century buildings, along with cobblestone roads, horse-drawn calèches and popular sidewalk cafés. Among its many historic sites are the impressive Notre-Dame Basilica, the old Town Hall, the Old Port, Bonsecours Market and Place Jacques-Cartier, which in summertime is a popular site for street performers.
Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica was built on the site of another, smaller church in 1829. It features a grand neo-Gothic façade with twin towers and a resplendent interior, including a soaring, deep blue ceiling decorated with gold stars and stained glass windows that depict Montreal’s religious history. The church is also famous for its giant bell, the Gros Bourdon, and its pipe organ, built by Casavant Frères and dating to 1891.
Montreal Botanical Garden
Opened in 1931, the 75-hectare Montreal Botanical Garden is the third-largest botanical garden in the world, and one of the most impressive. It features over 20 themed gardens with thousands of species of flowering plants, as well as glasshouses and an extensive collection of orchids. Especially popular are the traditional Japanese garden, which includes an exhibit of bonsais, a tea room and an art gallery, the Chinese Garden, which in autumn is decorated with hundreds of silk lanterns and a First Nations Garden, with indigenous plants such as maples, silver birches, Labrador and tea.
St. Mary Queen of the World Cathedral
Built in 1894, the Mary Queen of the World Cathedral was designed as a smaller version of St. Peter’s in Rome. It includes statues of the patron saints of the Archbishopric of Montreal and a famous series of paintings by Georges Delfosse, illustrating Montreal’s history.
Parc du Mont Royal
For the best view of Montreal, head to Parc Mont-Royal, an expansive, wooded park built on the hill of Mont Royal. The park was planned by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York’s Central Park. It includes lovely walking and skiing trails, a sculpture garden and monuments to Jacques Cartier and King George VI.
The thoroughfare of Rue Sherbrooke is the location of some of Montreal’s best museums and art galleries. These include the Musée des Beaux Arts, which is Canada’s oldest museum and houses a massive collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings, and the McCord Museum of Canadian History, which is an excellent place to learn about native peoples such as the Inuit and Pacific Coast First Nations. Nearby is the campus of McGill University, which is one of Canada’s most prestigious universities.
Musée d'Archéologie et d'Histoire Pointe-à-Callière
The award-winning Pointe-à-Callière Museum includes a fascinating collection of artefacts and exhibits that tell the history of Montreal; from the times when the area was settled by First Nations peoples to its occupation by the French and the British.
Housed within a velodrome that was originally constructed for the Montreal Olympics, the Montreal Biodôme includes thousands of plant and animal species, organised into reconstructions of four ecosystems. During a visit, you can walk through replicas of a tropical South American rainforest, a North American wilderness, a marine habitat modelled on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence (complete with an underwater observatory) and a polar area with Arctic and Antarctic habitats.
Located in a warehouse, the Jean-Talon Market is one of the city’s busiest and most colourful public markets. Vendors sell everything from fresh produce to flowers and baked goods, and the market includes popular cafés and restaurants.
St. Joseph’s Oratory
St. Joseph’s Oratory is the largest church in Canada. It features a Renaissance-style domed basilica with a copper dome that’s second in size only to the one on Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. The church is located close to the west exit of Parc du Mont Royal.
La Ronde Amusement Park
Located on attractive Île Ste-Hélène, La Ronde Amusement Park includes a good selection of adrenalin-inducing rides, from the world’s highest wooden rollercoaster to a rollercoaster featuring a total of five full loops. The park is also host to live shows and includes a mini rail track, offering good views of the city and the St. Lawrence River. In mid-summer, the park is the site of the Loto-Québec International Fireworks Competitions.