Vieux Montreal is where it all began. With its collection of century’s old buildings that line cobblestone streets, Vieux Montreal or “Old Montreal” is decidedly French. Stroll down the streets of Vieux Montreal on a nostalgic journey past small museums, quaint boutiques, sidewalk cafes, souvenir shops and street performers serenading passersby’s or juggling fire.
On the outside, Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal looks like your standard issue cathedral, but its insides will take your breath away. More like a theater than a church, the Basilica’s floor slopes downward toward the altar, while the ceiling is dotted with over 5,000 hand-painted gold stars that are just a karat shy of being pure gold. Its beautiful stained-glass windows will also put a smile on your face.
At Montreal’s Musee des Beaux Arts, you can admire a collection of 36,000 pieces by both Canadian and international artists. The museum has representations of paintings, photographs, sculptures and decorative art objects from antiquity to the present day. There is also Inuit art, world culture and contemporary art to be enjoyed here.
If creepy-crawlies are your thing, then you will certainly enjoy a trip to the Montreal Insectarium. The unique space features an abundance of bugs, and the more adventurous visitors can even taste some of the critters here! There are also interesting photo exhibitions of raw nature at its best.
Montreal’s botanical gardens offer scenic year-round respite from the downtown core of the metropolis. With ten huge greenhouses, each tailored to a specific theme, Jardin Botanique de Montreal is home to over 26,000 species of interesting and beautiful flora.
A city and an island, Montreal boasts a diversity of neighborhoods with plenty of opportunities for living and playing. A hip and trendy neighborhood, Plateau-Mont-Royal is one of the coolest neighborhoods in North America, with a great nightlife. The obvious creative streak of the area and a candy-store selection of restaurants make a visit to this borough all the more worthwhile.
In a place chock full of parks and festivals for every season and every reason, Montreal swells with events, happenings, celebrations and attractions. A bustling live wire of a city, the museums, historic sites and green spaces of Montreal offer so many entertainment opportunities, that you’ll be planning your next visit even before you leave.
1. Vieux Montreal
The oldest neighborhood in the city of Montreal, Vieux Montreal is also one of the oldest urban areas in North America. Home to almost 4,000 inhabitants, this historic neighborhood features a vibrant waterside community with attractions such as restaurants and shops.
Situated a five-minute walk from downtown Montreal, it is here, along the banks of St. Lawrence River that Ville Marie, the settlement that would become Montreal was founded.
The history of Vieux Montreal dates back to 1642 when settlers from France landed at the edge of the St. Lawrence River and began building a model catholic community. The town soon become a key trading and military post and was once surrounded by fortifying walls.
Much of the charm of Vieux Montreal remains intact, having been carefully preserved in beautiful old architecture. The area has managed to preserve much of its original state, with its oldest buildings dating from the 1600s. For a true taste of historic Montreal, spend a day exploring the 18th century buildings of Vieux Montreal.
Vibrant and historic, Vieux Montreal is a unique place with a prevalent French culture that will leave you feeling as if you have just stepped across the Atlantic Ocean. Like Quebec City, Vieux Montreal has a European character. Its café culture, cobblestone streets and historic 17th and 18t century architecture all add to the quaint charm that makes this old city unique among the rest in North America.
Throughout Vieux Montreal, cobblestone streets link boutiques, cafes, restaurants and residences. Vieux Montreal covers approximately one square km. Once there, the best way to get around is on foot through the narrow cobblestones. You can easily walk Vieux Montreal in a day, although several of its attractions may require more of your attention and time.
Art galleries, gourmet shops, boutiques, jewelry shops and house-ware stores abound in Vieux Montreal. You can browse tourist shops set in beautiful historic buildings and crammed with trinkets. During the summer months, artists and vendors set their wares up on the streets as well as in Place Jacques-Cartier. Be sure to look around to get something you like at a fair price.
There is no shortage of restaurants and cafes to eat at in Vieux Montreal. Visitors can enjoy delicious crepes and sandwiches, superb soups, homemade pastries, microbrew beer, ice cream and gourmet food on outside terraces or within rich intimate interiors set amid the walls of 19th century buildings, while listening to great jazz music.
Also visit Point-a-Calliere, a wonderful museum that explores Montreal’s history through archaeological studies and artifacts. Centre d’histoire de Montreal focuses on the city’s history from its setting inside a historic fire hall. At Chateau Ramezay Museum, you can explore the history of Montreal and Quebec through artifacts and paintings, as well as enjoy a lovely café and gardens.
One of the fun public spaces in Vieux Montreal is Place Jacques-Cartier, a public square in true European tradition, in which people gather to sit on patios, mingle and browse the wares of local craftspeople and artists. Another highlight is the riverfront of Vieux Montreal, which features maritime facilities in the surroundings of a vast recreational space boasting a diversity of museums and attractions.
2. Vieux Port
Vieux Port or “Old Port” is situated on the St. Lawrence River, a location that makes for a lovely waterside stroll, and offers plenty of green spaces to take a break from a busy day of sightseeing. The quays at Vieux Port offer plenty of activities and mingling opportunities for both visitors and locals.
During the summer months, the site is transformed into a riverfront destination for all sorts of fun activities including walking, cycling, pedal boats and rollerblading. Visitors can also go on boat tours that are offered along the pier, with trips to the surrounding islands. You can also stop by the Montreal Science Center and check out its IMAX Theater.
There’s always a festival happening somewhere somehow in Montreal, and Vieux Port is no exception. During the Montreal High Lights Festival that takes place during winter, a large outdoor skating rink is made available to the public at Vieux Port. The open-air skating rink is fun to ice skate in during winter.
The Montreal High Lights Festival is held annually at the peak of winter. The festival heats the city up with fireworks, fine food and festivity. Also known as Nuit Blanche, the Montreal All-Nighter is a part of this exciting urban festival. The Festival events are hosted at a variety of city venues and locations, including restaurants, theatres, shopping malls and other outdoor venues.
In the many restaurants that participate, visitors can take advantage of the menus put on by guest chefs. Every year, the Festival highlights the cuisine of one city, one region and one country and features foods from these places on menus, as well as at dining events around the city.
As part of the Nuit Blanche tradition in which cities around the world stage all night cultural events, the Montreal Nighter occurs on the second and last weekend of the Festival. The festival typically takes place over two weeks at the end of February and early March.
If you can’t get enough of the Montreal High Lights Festival fireworks, be sure to attend L’International des Feux Loto-Québec, which is the Montreal Fireworks Festival. Established in 1985, this is the largest pyrotechnics competition of its kind in the world.
While visitors can buy a ticket to see the fireworks up close and personal at La Ronde, you can still get a great view from many vantage points in Montreal without having to part with a penny. Ask the locals, all of whom seem to have their own favorite secret viewing spot and try to find a high-rise balcony or rooftop.
No matter where you end up in Montreal, you are guaranteed a spectacular view of one of the most impressive pyrotechnic competitions in the world. However, if you splurge a little, you can view the fireworks synchronized to music up close at La Ronde. This makes for a nice treat that is much more impressive than viewing them free of charge from a distance.
3. Montreal Insectarium
The Montreal Insectarium was founded in 1990 with the aim of collecting and mounting specimens of several thousand insects for public viewing. Situated within the grounds of Jardin Botanique de Montreal, the Insectarium is the largest bug museum in North America and one of the largest insectariums in the world.
The Montreal Insectarium displays a diverse range of insects from around the world in year-round exhibits, including a collection of over 150,000 insect specimens. Visitors to the Insectarium can see live scarabs, beetles, giant stick insects, butterflies, ladybugs, scorpions and tarantulas. There are also centipedes and other arthropods, including approximately 100 lives species on site.
Since 1994, the Montreal Insectarium has released hundreds of monarch butterflies raised in captivity to track and study their migration. This event titled the “Monarch Odyssey” occurs over 3 weekends during late august to early September.
During this Odyssey, visitors can learn about the monarch butterflies, and watch as they are tagged such that they can be tracked from Québec to Mexico. It is noteworthy that the monarch butterfly has the longest migration of all insects.
The Montreal Insectarium building itself features unique architecture. If you get the chance to view the building from above, you will see that it resembles a giant insect. Visitors can enjoy this impressive effect from the observatory located at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
If looking at bugs before lunch doesn’t ruin your appetite, there’s a picnic area that sells snacks and light meals close to the Japanese Pavilion. You can also bring your own picnic lunch and eat there or at the Jardin Botanique de Montreal gardens snack bar.
4. Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal
One of the landmark churches in Montreal and one of North America’s most beautiful churches, Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal is a grand structure chock full of beautiful details, artworks and wood carvings, not to mention extensive stained glass windows. The basilica is also home to Le Gros Bourdon, one of the world’s largest bells, which weighs over 12 tons.
Situated in Vieux Montreal, the basilica was completed in 1829. Nonetheless, the foundation of the building dates from 1672, with numerous renovations expanding the church over the centuries. When it was built, the basilica was the largest church in North America.
Situated on a site on which a church has existed since Montreal was founded in the 17th century, the first thing you will notice about the basilica is its architectural splendor. One of the most stunning examples of the catholic heritage of old Montreal, the basilica is built in the Neo-Gothic style and features some of the most impressive architecture you will find in all of Montreal.
The artistic treasures of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal are a pleasure to behold both inside and outside. The basilica features interiors of gold and blue, with magnificent detailing on the pillars; a vaulted ceiling with thousands of 24-karat gold stars; detailed stained-glass windows that tell Montreal’s history; life-size wood carvings and a pipe organ with over 7000 pipes.
In the evenings the basilica’s lights light up the night in a stunning display called Et La Lumierre Fut or “Then There Was Light”, which is the title of the basilica’s light show. This is a unique light and sound show that recounts the history of Vieux Montreal and the church. Various musical performances and concerts are also regularly held at the basilica.
Visitors to Vieux Montreal can also tour the Notre-Dame de Sacre-Coeur, a small chapel situated just behind the Basilica. The chapel is sunny and bright, which offers a great contrast to the Basilica, its dark interiors and its altar that glows in gold and blue.
5. Jardin Botanique de Montreal
Situated in Parc Maisonneuve, north of Plateau Mont-Royal, Jardin Botanique de Montreal – Montreal’s botanic garden – is one of the largest of its kind in the world. The botanic garden was founded in 1931 as a way of educating the public in general and students in particular about horticulture, as well as for the conservation of plant species.
Representing the most beautiful grounds on the entire island of Montreal, the botanic garden is a green haven which features an astounding array of specimens. It boasts 22,000 species of plants, 7000 tree specimens and flowers planted in 30 different gardens. There are also nearly 200 different bird species; and even a family of foxes.
The 30 thematic gardens evolve weekly, with the month of May seeing the arboretum bloom with magnolias, followed by apple trees, cherry trees and thereafter 200 varieties of lilacs that imbue the air with their scent.
Flowers enjoy a head start with April’s spring tulips, followed by hyacinths and thereafter the peaking of the alpine garden in mid-May. In late June, you will find the first roses, orchids and water lilies on display year-round in the greenhouses.
One of the most spectacular botanical gardens in the world and arguably the most beautiful location in Montreal, the ten indoor greenhouses of Jardin Botanique are open year-round. Spring, summer and fall also feature a variety of outdoor theme gardens including the Japanese garden, Chinese garden, a lily garden, a shade garden, a rose garden, an arboretum and a First Nations garden.
The grounds are truly a sight for sore eyes with all its greenery taking over half the space. From the comely appeal of the rose gardens to the contemplative minimalism of the Japanese garden, and the striking architecture of the Chinese garden, there’s a garden for every taste, with flowers and trees from around the world. There are also koi fish and fearless ducks.
Birdwatchers can visit the grounds year-round, especially in the spring and winter in the arboretum. Over 192 bird species have been identified in the gardens so far, although this number continues to rise. And the best part is that you don’t need an eagle’s eye or hours of tireless observation to spot the birds, which can be easily seen lounging on branches.
Spend your time strolling through the Japanese Zen gardens and its bonsai trees or learn about the principles of yin and yang inside the Chinese Garden that showcases designs from the Ming Dynasty of the 14th to 17 century. Walk through the outdoor gardens that feature a stunning alpine garden and a colorful rose garden.
The Chinese garden is built along the lines of a traditional Chinese garden with many winding paths, an artificial mountain, and a Chinese style building that houses a collection of bonsai and penjing, which is the ancient Chinese art for growing trees and plants. The technique involves keeping the trees small through skilled pruning and forming them to create the complex illusion of age and an aesthetic shape.
So much more than just a summer tourist destination, the botanic garden is a refuge for those seeking a break from the bustle of city living. It is also a year-round attraction that hosts some of the most popular annual events in Montreal.
During late winter and spring, you can enjoy the Butterflies Go Free event, in which more than one thousand butterflies are set free in a greenhouse. During the fall, comes the big attraction, the Gardens of Light event which takes place in the Chinese garden.
Plan ahead to ensure that you are in Montreal in time for the Gardens of Lights event. Watch as Montreal lights up beautifully with lanterns. Inspired by Imperial China’s ancient tradition of the Lantern Festival, the event coincides with China’s favorite fest, the Moon Festival. This is a harvest season celebration featuring cakes filled with lotus seed paste known as moon cakes and plenty of lanterns.
During the festival, visitors can admire the hundreds of intricately designed lanterns, some in the shape of people, animals, and cars. The annual festival is held in September through November. You can also enjoy various other summer events such as the First Nations performances, Japanese tea ceremonies and Asian folk dancing.
Every winter, the botanic garden in conjunction with the Montreal Insectarium join forces to release up to 20,000 butterflies and moths into the confines of the climate-controlled greenhouses of the botanic gardens. This symbolic herald of Montreal’s eventual shift into spring takes place in February through April.
Expect to see at least 50 of the 75 different species that fly free at any given moment inside the greenhouses. Up to 2,000 butterflies and moths can be seen fluttering about every day. Butterflies are most active in the mornings when it’s sunny outside, so plan your visit accordingly.
After a busy day of admiring the fabulous greenery at Jardin Botanique de Montreal, take a break in one of its beautiful green spaces. There’s a picnic area that sells snacks and light meals close to the Japanese Pavilion. You can also bring your own picnic lunch and eat there or at the botanic gardens snack bar.
6. Musee des Beaux-Arts
The most prestigious museum in Montreal, Musee des Beaux Arts has been building its fine arts collection for more than a century. The museum is Canada’s oldest art institution, Montreal’s largest museum and one of the most prominent museums in Canada. The museum takes up multiple buildings on Sherbrooke Street West.
Founded in 1860, the institution began as a traveling art exhibit without a home. Today, the museum has a permanent collection that features 41,000 objects and artifacts from around the globe, covering a broad spectrum of visual arts from print and sculpture to textiles and industrial design, all from the periods of antiquity to the contemporary.
Visitors can feast their eyes on an impressive variety of Canadian and international artworks, including pieces by renowned artists such as Rembrandt, Renoir, El Greco, Picasso and Cezanne. Other interesting items in the museum’s vast collection include 18th century English porcelain, World War I artifacts, and a number of beautiful furniture pieces.
Spend a few hours here getting lost in the time warps and cultural aesthetics of this museum. Enjoy decorative works from the Renaissance to the present day, including industrial design; contemporary arts; ancient cultures featuring Coptic textiles, Tang Dynasty earth ware and more; and an extensive collection Mediterranean archaeology featuring objects from Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.
The main building of Musee des Beaux Arts also features an impressive display of items that once belonged to Napoleon such as art, furniture and the emperor’s ink-splattered pen case, not forgetting the famous hat he wore during the 1812 Russian campaign. Visitors can also take a peek at his boots, his shirt and a lock of his hair. Here you can also see a bust of Socrates.
Once you’ve had your fill of admiring the extensive collection of ancient cultures, Amerindian art, Inuit art, Canadian and European art, as well as decorative arts, take a break at the Petit Café on the museum grounds where you can enjoy tea and coffees. For a more substantial meal, head over to the museum Bistro which serves both lunch and dinner.
7. Le Plateau-Mont-Royal
Plateau Mont-Royal is widely considered as the hippest and trendiest neighborhood in Montreal. The Plateau feels more like a little village inside Montreal and is regarded by many Montreal locals as the center of cultural and intellectual activity in the city.
The neighborhood is also famous for showcasing the unique architectural features of the city of Montreal. You can witness the unique architecture of Montreal on just about every corner of the Plateau, with most buildings featuring the signature exterior iron staircases and old-style masonry.
The Plateau features many brick houses and popular streets in Montreal, in addition to multi-colored buildings, bakeries, cozy pubs, bars, cafes, galleries, gourmet shops, bookstores and clothing stores.
Creativity and Plateau Mont-Royal go hand-in-hand. In fact, the neighborhood hosts the largest number of creative people in the entire nation of Canada. Due to the high population density, many residents of the Plateau travel via bicycle or public transportation.
A great neighborhood to get a true feel of life in Montreal, the population of the Plateau is mostly French-speaking, and features a mix of artists, students and young families.
It’s impossible to talk about the Plateau without mentioning is incredible nightlife. With so many clubs, bars, clubs and cafés at a walking distance from each other, the Plateau is the spot at which most clubbers go for a good time.
Head over to the very popular Prince Arthur, a pedestrian-only street with many restaurants with terraces and bars that encourage patrons to bring their own wine. Because Prince Arthur Street is pedestrian-only, you will find many street performers and sidewalk artists situated outside various restaurants on this street.
Lafontaine Parc, one of the best parks in Montreal is also located in The Plateau. Widely regarded as Montreal’s Main Street, Boulevard Saint-Laurent features chic clubs and trendy bars. Visit Saint Louis Square, a charming open space surrounded by beautiful Victorian homes.
Carre St. Louis is a beautiful park full of mature trees, with a pavilion at its center. This quiet urban garden has plenty of park benches and places to rest.
8. Les Laurentides
Bordering Montreal about an hour’s drive to the north, Les Laurentides is a vacation paradise full of lakes and mountains that draws visitors in droves who seek fresh air and wide-open spaces. The area was first inhabited by the Montagnais First Nations tribe, until the French settled there during the first half of the 19th century.
The Les Laurentides region is renowned for its vast forests, beautiful mountain scenery and festive villages with plenty of skiing opportunities. This vast natural territory offers outdoor aficionados an unrivaled selection of parks to enjoy their favorite adventure activities. The region derives its name from this chain of Laurentian Mountains that runs down its northern side.
Les Laurentides region is home to a part of the Laurentian Mountain range, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, which contains rocks deposited 540 million years ago before the Cambrian Period. The range is characterized by rounded mountaintops and soft rolling hills generously sprinkled with over 9,000 freshwater lakes and a host of small towns.
Escape from the city to Les Laurentides for a day in nature where you can uncover the natural paradise and beautiful backdrops of the Laurentian Mountains. Prepare to be dazzled and seduced by the region’s nature and unique attractions. Attractions in the Laurentians include lakes, forests of pine and maple, and above all the mountains themselves.
Admire the spectacular views of the Laurentian Mountains as you make your way through the narrow country lanes crisscrossing the scenic alpine landscape. Discover lakeside villages, take a cruise on Lac des Sables, one of the most picturesque lakes in the Laurentians, and stop for photo ops of the stunning foliage. Marvel at the breathtaking views of the forests.
Take the Chemin du Terroir trail which will take you over 226 kilometers of country byways and back roads with discoveries to be made at every turn. Also tour Le P’tit Train du Nord linear park, a 232km cycling path that was built above an old railway line and the longest park of its kind in Canada.
Head over to the river with its falls, eddies and rapids that you can enjoy wading through within an enchanting natural environment. Soak up the panoramic views of the wild and beautiful nature at Les Laurentides. During fall, the forests of Les Laurentides blaze into color, so watch out for that.
The valleys and plains offer trekking opportunities over the mountains and hills, where you can discover a kaleidoscope of fascinating landscapes that burst with color and beauty.
No matter the season, festivals and other fun events are always happening somewhere in Les Laurentides. Foodies can also flock the vineyards and orchards in the region for delicious treats. Wander the art galleries and have a bite to eat before touring one of the region’s charming quaint villages and small towns.
Stop by Saint-Saveur for a photo stop, as well as visit its interesting old buildings, cafés and shops. The charming village is the site of a vibrant cultural scene and outstanding cuisine. You will be charmed by its cute main street which is lined with cafés, shops and boutiques. Allow one hour to browse the shops for souvenirs, admire the historic buildings and enjoy a cup of coffee.
A nature lover’s paradise full of lush forests, Les Laurentides region is popular with Montrealers who wish to escape the hustle of the city for a weekend. Although the Laurentians are lovely throughout the year, locals will tell you to come visit in October which is the best time to see and admire the splendid foliage, or during the winter to enjoy the full Canadian winter experience.
9. Mont Tremblant
Mont Tremblant is a small city located in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains; about one and a half hours drive north of Montreal. The year-round European-style village offers opportunities for skiing, hiking, mountain biking and a host of other activities you can enjoy during winter and summer.
Mont Tremblant is regarded as the best ski resort in Eastern North America by many industry lists because it combines good, varied ski runs, with plenty of ski lifts, and a pedestrian only village at the mountain’s base. Famous as a ski destination, Mont Tremblant boasts 2 excellent ski mountains: Mont Tremblant, the Laurentians’ highest peak, along with Mont Blanc.
Mont Tremblant is the umbrella term for the mountain, the resort, the old village, as well as the immense national park. The Mont Tremblant village is situated at the foot of Tremblant Mountain and has a European style and feel to it. This pedestrian alpine village comprises an attractive community of condos, hotels, restaurants and shops.
The charm of the Mont Tremblant Village lies in its colorful buildings built in a hybrid style of traditional Québécois and European alpine. The old Mont Tremblant village will satisfy your urge to connect in a more local way, with more traditional restaurants and shops.
Mont Tremblant offers first-class skiing opportunities in a picturesque town designed for winter fun. For après-ski, you can indulge at several lively bars that feature music and dancing.
Although famous as a ski destination, summertime at Mont Tremblant draws almost as many visitors as winter. The resort and village remain open and active year round, with the summer months offering a playground for visitors who wish to get active, relax in spas and enjoy fine dining in the village.
There is no shortage of spas to soothe your weary muscles and pamper you after days of touring Montreal. You can enjoy both hot and cold plunge pools, as well as wet and dry saunas in a gorgeous lakeside setting. Massage and body treatments are also available.
At Mont Tremblant, take the mountain gondola to enjoy panoramic views of the mountain and surrounding landscape. You can also go cycling or horseback riding. Wander in the downtown area past sports shops, coffee-and-pastry cafes and other spots worth browsing. You can enjoy restaurant fare such as French cuisine – of course, as well as Italian pizza.
10. Musee Grevin
Since 1882, Grevin has been creating renowned wax figures, and Montreal’s Musee Grevin is the famed Parisian wax museum’s first location outside of its native France. The museum offers stunningly realistic wax figures of high-profile celebrities, famous scientists, world leaders, sporting gods, rock stars and more. Go here to mingle with celebrities and marvel at the incredibly life-like figures of Musee Grevin.
Situated in Eaton Center on Sainte-Catherine Street, Musee Grevin is integral to the dynamic cultural scene of downtown Montreal. Inaugurated in 2013, the museum gives tourists and locals alike the chance to meet their favorite stars and even take selfies with them.
A cultural hub and showcase of the best in entertainment, Musee Grevin is a well designed and extraordinary destination with original décor, ambiance, sensory and interactive experience, not to mention the 120 wax figures of both local and international stars of the past and present.
The site of unlikely encounters, the waxwork museum hosts life-size sculptures of celebrities and international figures from history, the arts, cinema, sciences, sports and politics on display in an amazing scenery. The figures are arranged in scenes from the history of Canada to modern life and include Michael Jackson, Albert Einstein, Tiger Woods and John Lennon with Yoko Ono.
Visitors can also enjoy the immersive scenography found here. Some of the scenes found here include The Ballroom in which you can mingle with Michael Jackson, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro during a glamorous ballroom reception. Watch as they all dance to music performances by Louis Armstrong, Celine Dion and Ray Charles among others.
At Hotel Grevin, visitors can spend a couple of moments with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their room. Move from one ambiance to the next as you stroll through peculiar rooms and classy suites.
Visitors can also experience the know-how of skilled Grevin artisans by exploring their workshops and even creating a virtual wax figure of yourself! Also visit the Grevin shop which offers a number of collections related to the Museum’s stars. You can also take a museum break at the Café Grevin for some delicious waffles, pancakes, macaroons and other sweet and savory wonders.