Located as it is on the St. Lawrence, Montreal has thrived as a cosmopolitan hub of communication and commerce. Jacques Cartier landed here in 1535 and conquered the territory for his king, François I of France, but it wasn’t until 1642 that Paul de Chomedey established a small mission station here, Ville Marie de Mont-Réal. This original settlement is today Montréal, the second largest francophone city in the world. Despite the city’s size, the parts of Montreal that interest tourists are in relatively compact neighborhoods. Major museums and art venues are in the Centre-Ville(downtown) area, where you’ll find Rue Sherbrooke, probably the city’s most elegant thoroughfare. It is the backbone of the city and the location of many museums and other institutions. Rue Ste-Cathérine is Montreal’s main shopping street, a busy street lined with department stores, shops and restaurants.
Vieux-Montreal is where the city began, and the original foundations and streets are preserved at the Pointe-à-Callière museum. This was the heart of the colonial city, and the old buildings make it the most picturesque area in the city. Here you will find most of the historical sites, as well as the popular waterfront promenade Vieux-Port (Old Port). Fewer tourists are spending time on The Plateau, but it is the heart of francophone Montreal. Strolling along Rue St. Denis often feels like being in Paris, with its smart boutiques, restaurants and outdoor cafes. Some of the city’s most popular restaurants are here, both along Rue St. Denis and elsewhere in this neighborhood that was largely shaped by successive waves of immigrants. At the very edge of it is Mile End, where small street groups clearly have an Italian, Portuguese or Greek atmosphere.
Mont-Royal rises 233 meters above the city and is the green lung near the city center. A walk through this beautiful park allows the visitor to see monuments to Jacques Cartier and King George VI, spend some time in Lac-aux-Castors, and take a look at the cemeteries on the western slope where the different ethnic groups of the city rested in peace together for centuries. From the top, or rather from a platform under the cross, a magnificent panorama unfolds over the whole of the 51-kilometre length of the Île de Montréal and the St. Lawrence. On clear days, the view extends to the Adirondack Mountains in the United States of America.
2 Vieux-Montreal (Old Montreal)
Old Montréal is a remarkable concentration of buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The district has the wonderful feel of a Parisian style neighbourhood, situated as it is between the waterfront and the business centre. The many historical sites, streets and monuments are best explored on foot. Of the many things to do here, highlights include visiting the Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archeology and History, the twin-towered Notre-Dame Basilica , the quays of the revitalized Old Port , and the open-air gathering space of Place Jacques-Cartier .
3 Jardin Botanique (Botanical Garden)
Perched above the city on the site of the 1976 Summer Olympics, Parc Maisonneuve (Metro Pie IX) is the site of Montreal’s beautifully imaginative botanical garden. The diverse plants are grown in 30 themed gardens and 10 exhibition greenhouses, representing a wide range of climates. Outdoor gardens include the beautiful Japanese and Chinese gardens, as well as those devoted to alpine, aquatic, medicinal, shady, useful, and even poisonous plants. The roses are beautiful and of particular interest is a garden dedicated to plants grown or used by First Nations peoples. Growing greenhouses include a tropical rainforest, ferns, orchids, bonsai, bromeliads, and penjings (miniature Chinese trees). There is also an interesting Insectariumand a huge on-site arboretum, as well as ponds that support a variety of birds.
Address: 4101 Sherbrooke Street East, Montreal, Quebec
Official site: https://espacepourlavie.ca/en/botanical-garden
4 Basilica of Notre-Dame
Founded in 1656, Montreal’s oldest church, Notre-Dame Basilica, stands in a much larger incarnation than the original. The twin towers of the Place d’Armes Neo-Gothic façade face . The intricate and dazzling interior was designed by Victor Bourgeau. Highlights include the beautiful carved pulpit by sculptor Louis-Philippe Hébert (1850-1917), the 7000 pipe organ by the Casavant Frères firm, and the stained glass windows depicting scenes from Montreal’s founding. Entry to the basilica includes a 20-minute tour, or you can take a one-hour tour that gives more historical information and access to private areas, including the second balcony and crypt.
Address: 110 Notre-Dame Street West, Montreal, Quebec
Official Site: https://www.basiliquenotredame.ca/
5 St. Joseph’s Oratory (Oratorium van de heilige Jozef)
The Oratoire Saint-Joseph, near the western exit of Mount Royal Park, is dedicated to Canada’s patron saint. It is a mecca for pilgrims, with its huge Renaissance domed basilica dating from 1924. Brother André of the Congrégation de Sainte-Croix had already built a small chapel here in 1904, where he performed miraculous healings for which he was canonized in 1982 was declared. His tomb is located in part of the sanctuary in the original chapel. Votive gifts are displayed in a second chapel. A cloister behind the church leads to Mont-Royal . There is a good view to the northwest from the observatory on Montréal and Lac Saint-Louis.
Address: 3800 Queen Mary, Montreal, Quebec
Official site: https://www.saint-joseph.org/
6 Jean-Drapeau Park
Île Sainte-Hélène (named after Samuel de Champlain’s wife) and the artificial island of Notre-Dame were the site of Expo ’67. They are now known as Parc Jean Drapeau and have many family-friendly attractions. A remnant of the 1967 World’s Fair, the Biosphere is now a museum dedicated to ecological issues. The building is designed in the shape of a sphere and is the largest such structure in the world. Other tourist attractions on the islands include the rides and games of La Ronde Amusement Park , the historic 1820s British armory at the Stewart Museum , Bassin Olympique (where Olympic rowing events were held), and the racecourse Circuit Gilles Villeneuve .
Official site: https://www.parcjeandrapeau.com
7 Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts)
The Musée des Beaux Arts is the oldest museum in Canada and houses vast collections of painting, sculpture and new media. The excellent collections of World Cultures and Mediterranean Archeology number nearly 10,000 objects and there are excellent collections of African, Asian and Islamic art, as well as art from the Americas.
The more than 1,400 paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints include masterpieces by Pieter Bruegel the Younger, Canaletto, El Greco, Gainsborough, Goya, Mantegna, Poussin, Rembrandt, Tiepolo and Veronese, and are particularly strong in artworks of the Dutch Golden Age. The collections continue through the Realists and Impressionists to modern art, with works by Cézanne, Dali, Miró, Monet, Derain, Kandinsky, Matisse, Picasso, Rodin, Otto Dix and other influential artists. Not far from the museum is the sprawling campus of McGill University .
Address: 1380 Sherbrooke Street O, Montreal, Quebec
Official Site: https://www.mbam.qc.ca/en/
On a corner of Place Royale in Vieux-Montréal is the Pointe-à-Callière, now marked by a striking modern building housing an archaeological museum and history. Place Royale was the center of life in Montréal’s early and colonial days, where the market and parade ground were located until later government buildings displaced them. But under Montréal today, remnants of these early streets and foundations still remain, and you can examine them during a visit to the museum. The route through the city’s history begins underground, where you can walk among the original cobbled streets, drainage canals and the ground floors of 17th-century buildings. The story unfolds in layers of history told through artifacts, maps, and exhibits as you climb through the museum.
Address: 350 Place Royale, Montreal, Quebec
Official site: https://www.pacmusee.qc.ca/en/home
9 Arts Square
The Place des Arts is an entire complex dedicated to the visual and performing arts, the largest of its kind in all of Canada. Three major cultural organizations make their home here: the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and the Opéra de Montréal, and the various stages and rehearsal spaces provide venues for all kinds of theatre, music, dance, films and events. These sit around a large esplanade decorated with artwork, fountains and waterfalls, a popular venue for events. Chief among these is the annual summer Festival International de Jazz de Montréal held in late June and early July, attracting visitors from all over the world and bringing in some of the biggest names in jazz.
The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal , a contemporary art museum, is well worth a visit, especially as young French-Canadian artists receive special attention.
Address: 185 St. Catherine Street West, Montreal, Quebec
Official site: https://www.macm.org
10 Atwater in Jean Talon Markets
Similar establishments with many of the same vendors, Atwater Market and Jean Talon Market are Montréal’s busiest public markets and well worth a visit for their atmosphere and local specialties and produce. Set in warehouse-style buildings, the markets feature vendors of fruits and vegetables, flowers, meat, fish, cheese, baked goods, and specialty foods. You’ll find maple syrup and candies, dried wild blueberries, house-made fruit jams and preserves, and the region’s fine cheeses, as well as restaurants and cafes selling sumptuous pastries. The markets are a favorite stop for locals on Saturday mornings for a boule of coffee and a flaky croissant.
Official site: https://www.marchespublics-mtl.com/marches
11 St. Mary Queen of the World
The Catholic Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, east of Place du Canada, was built in 1894 as a smaller version of St. Peter’s in Rome. The massive statues represent the patron saints of Montreal’s 13 parishes in the 19th century and were all sculpted by Olindo Gratton between 1892 and 1898. The main work of art in the interior is Philippe Hébert’s crucifix, on top of the baptismal font. A series of nine paintings, seven of which by Georges Delfosse, tell the tumultuous history of Montréal.
Address: 1085 Cathedral Street, Montreal, Quebec
12 McCord Museum
The McCord Museum has an excellent collection of exhibits on Canada’s social history, especially indigenous peoples. Her collections of costumes, clothing, accessories, quilts, and other handmade textiles comprise more than 20,000 objects and include works by Montreal fashion designers. More than a thousand pieces of furniture, silver, ceramics, glass, and items related to food and household use, as well as toys, sports equipment, and folk art, provide color and domestic detail for early Canadian life. Artifacts and art from the First Nations peoples include clothing and accessories, hunting and fishing equipment, weapons of war, household implements, ceremonial items and art, as well as archaeological finds from early Aboriginal cultures.
Adres: 690 Sherbrooke Streeet W, Montreal, Québec
Official site: www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/
13 Square Saint-Louis in Rue Denis
Close to the Sherbrooke metro station, Square Saint-Louis is one of Montréal’s most beautiful old squares and is located in a turn-of-the-century French-Canadian residential area. There are still a few attractive Victorian houses in the small streets around the shady square. Some now house pleasant restaurants. On the east side of the square, parallel to St. Laurent, Rue St. Denis is one of the hippest shopping, art and dining streets in Montréal. Historic buildings have been converted into boutiques, bistros and cafes. At one end, St. Denis’s student-centered Latin Quarter neighborhood (it’s convenient to Université du Québec à Montréal and the Grande Bibliothèque) begins and heads west into the trendy Plateau with its independent designers and chef-run restaurants.
14 Lachine Canal National Historic Site
Lachine, on the southeastern shore of the island of Montréal (in the Lac St.-Louis), takes its name from the first pioneers who, in the 17th century, turned up the St. Lawrence in search of a route to China (in French, ” la China”). The 14.4-kilometer Lachine Canal, a way to find the Lachine Rapids, was dug in 1825. However, it is many years since it was last used for shipping and today it is part of a park and offers plenty of opportunities for charming trips along the canal banks. A cycle path borders the entire length, through an open green space and you can also take a boat trip across the canal.
Official Site: https://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/qc/canallachine/index.aspx
Montreal’s Chinatown is located on Rue de la Gauchetière, with Chinese gates marking the heart of the district. This colorful neighborhood dates back to the late 1860s, when many of the Chinese workers, who originally came to work in the mines and build the railroad, moved to the cities in search of a better life. Today’s Chinatown is filled with Asian restaurants and shops, no longer exclusively Chinese, but a place where locals and tourists enjoy a good meal.
Where to Stay in Montreal for Sightseeing
The best place to stay in Montreal is in Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal), not only for the sights, but also for the atmosphere that accompanies the old architecture and cobbled streets. This part of town is small enough to explore on foot, so any hotel here is in a good location. Below are some highly rated hotels in or near this area of Montreal:
- Luxury Hotels : Hotel Nelligan is an elegant boutique hotel with impeccable service, inviting decor, and exposed centuries-old brick and stone walls that blend in perfectly with Old Montreal. In the same caliber and with a similar historic feel is the 45-room Auberge du Vieux-Port on the waterfront of the St. Lawrence River. Housed in a 19th-century building with modern decor, Hotel Gault is another fine option in Old Montreal. If you’re interested in staying in modern downtown Montreal rather than Old Montreal, the Ritz-Carlton is one of the best hotels in the city and has hosted many celebrities over the years.
- Mid-Range Hotels : Located on the edge of Old Montreal and the financial district, the Embassy Suites by Hilton is just a short walk from the famous Notre-Dame Basilica. It offers a contemporary feel and a variety of rooms and suites. The popular Le Petit Hotel is located in the heart of Old Montreal, on the city’s first public square. It offers a mix of old world charm and modern comforts. The nearby Auberge Bonaparte is a boutique hotel in a historic building with lovely Louis-Philippe-style rooms.
- Budget Hotels : In Chinatown, but within walking distance of both Old Montreal and downtown, is the Travelodge, with small rooms but a convenient location. North of Chinatown, but also in a good location close to some of the main attractions, is Hotel l’Abri du Voyageur. This hotel offers a variety of budget rooms at different price points. The Chateau de l’Argoat is a boutique hotel with a lot of character and large, comfortable rooms, about a 20-minute walk from Old Montreal.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Montreal
- Sightseeing:The most popular tourist area in Montreal is historic Old Montreal. If this is your first time to the city, a tour of Old Montreal is a wonderful way to explore the cobbled streets and narrow alleys while learning about its history. For a quick overview of a larger part of the city, the Montreal City Guided Sightseeing Tour offers a three-hour coach tour that covers the major sites around Old Montreal, as well as other famous sites such as Saint Joseph’s Oratory, Mount Royal and the Olympic Stadium. If you have time to explore the city and want a more in-depth experience, try the Montreal Hop-on Hop-off Tour.
- Day Trips: One of the most popular day trips from Montreal is the Quebec City and Montmorency Falls Day Trip. This full-day tour takes you through Québec’s historic streets and landmarks and shows you some of the countryside, including the spectacular Montmorency Falls. From May to October, you can also add a St. Lawrence River Cruise or simply wander through Old Quebec.