Montreal – Canada
At its founding in 1642, Montréal was a mission named Ville-Marie. Today, with 3.4 million inhabitants, it’s one of the planet’s biggest inland ports, a cosmopolitan urban centre that’s the second-largest French-speaking city in the world. Its juxtaposition of French and British influences gives rise to an exuberant creativity, reflected in the festive fizz of endless cultural goings-on! A captivating blend of old and new, with stone-walled taverns, candlelit drinking dens, wild festivals and a cutting-edge arts scene (Montreal Vacation).
The city of Montréal encompasses the whole island of Montréal and some smaller surrounding islands. There are many riverside parks all around the island and along the Lachine Canal. Mont Royal dominates Montréal’s landscape, and determined its settlement pattern for many years.
Montreal was named a UNESCO City of Design. Historically the commercial capital of Canada, it was surpassed in population and economic strength by Toronto in the 1970s. It remains an important centre of commerce, aerospace, finance, pharmaceuticals, technology, design, culture, tourism, gaming, film and world affairs. In August 2015 the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Ranking placed Montreal 14th out of 140 cities.
A definite must see attraction in Montreal – Old Montréal. It is a remarkable concentration of buildings dating from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The district has the delightful feel of a Parisian-style quarter, situated as it is between the waterfront and the business hub. Its many historic sites, streets, and landmarks are best explored on foot. Those not to miss include the twin towers of Notre-Dame Basilica, the quays of the revitalized Old Port, and the open-air gathering space of Place Jacques-Cartier.
As the site of the original city of Montreal, Vieux-Montréal (accessible from the Orange Line’s Place-d’Armes métro station) is the hub of the city’s culture. Not much has changed in this neighborhood despite the city’s rapid urbanization. Horse-drawn carriages traverse cobblestone streets and meander past such notable sites as the Basilique Notre-Dame, the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), the Vieux-Port (Old Port) and the Marché Bonsecours (Bonsecours Market). Here you’ll mingle with Montrealers at sidewalk cafes while overlooking the river, or enjoy the summertime street performers at Place Jacques-Cartier. This is also a popular shopping area (despite the kitschy souvenir shops), and numerous bars and clubs bring Vieux-Montréal to life come sundown.
“We had the fortunate opportunity to be Montreal right before Christmas and the whole city is lit in the most spectacular holiday lights – but it was most appreciated though in Old Montreal where the unique and architecturally stunning historical buildings seem to especially glow so brightly! The energy and buzz in the air is infectious and the fun atmosphere is spilling out from each establishment! Don’t go to Montreal without checking out Old Montreal! Such a fun place to be, to walk around on the cobble stone streets and check out the unique shops, galleries and restaurants! Don’t miss it…” – cited by a long time traveler.
The surreal Montréal’s famous landmark, Notre-Dame Basilica, is a visually pleasing if slightly gaudy symphony of carved wood, paintings, gilded sculptures and stained-glass windows. Founded in 1656, Montréal’s oldest church, Notre-Dame Basilica, stands in a far grander incarnation than the original. The twin towers of the neo-Gothic façade face Place d’Armes. An intricate and resplendent interior is the work of Victor Bourgeau. Throughout the year, an evening light and sound show retells the story of Montréal’s founding.
The basilica made headlines in 1994 when singer Céline Dion was married under its soaring midnight-blue ceiling. A popular place for regular Montréalers to tie the knot is the much smaller Chapelle du Sacré Coeur behind the main altar. Rebuilt in a hotchpotch of historic and contemporary styles after a 1978 fire, its most eye-catching element is the floor-to-ceiling bronze altarpiece.
The Notre-Dame Basilica towers high over the cobblestone streets of Vieux-Montréal (accessible from the Orange Line’s Place d’Armes métro station) and is open to visitors Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 or 4:30 p.m., depending on the day. On Sundays, the church is open to the public from 12:30 to 4 p.m.. Entry to the basilica costs $5 CAD (around $4.50 USD) for adults and $4 CAD (just under $4 USD) for children ages 7 to 17; kids ages 6 and under can enter for free. Several guided tours are also available at additional costs.
At Parc Maisonneuve (Pie IX Metro), it incorporates the wonderfully imaginative Botanical Garden. Here at Jardin Botanique, visitors are drawn in particular to the Japanese and Chinese Gardens, exceptional glasshouses, and displays of orchids and bonsai.
Thanks to 10 large greenhouses — each tailored to a specific theme — the 185-acre Botanical Gardens is home to more than 26,000 species of flora and offers scenic year-round respite from the metropolis’ downtown core. Spend some time strolling through the tranquil bonsai trees in the Japanese Zen garden or learn about the principles of yin and yang in the Chinese Garden, which showcases designs from the 14th to 17th century Ming Dynasty. Outdoor gardens include a colorful rose garden and a stunning alpine garden.
There is an interesting Insectarium and huge arboretum on the grounds, as well as ponds supporting a variety of birds. If you’re visiting with kids, don’t miss the ever-popular poisonous plant garden. The botanical gardens open every day at 9 a.m. and stay open until 5 or 7 p.m., depending on the time of year. Entry costs also vary by season.
Moving on for a beautiful awe scenery, this 761-foot hill from which Montreal got its name is the largest of the city’s parks. Rising 233 meters above the city and is the green lung near the city center, magnificent lookouts offer breathtaking views of the city and region. Towering over central Montreal (and accessible from the Green Line’s Peel métro station or the Orange Line’s Mont-Royal métro station), Parc du Mont-Royal is frequented by joggers, picnickers, dog walkers and bicyclists throughout the year.
A stroll through this lovely park enables the visitor to see monuments to Jacques Cartier and King George VI, to spend some time by Lac-aux-Castors, and to have a look at the cemeteries on the western slope where the city’s different ethnic groups have rested in peace together for centuries. From the summit, or rather from a platform below the cross, there unfolds a magnificent panorama of the whole of the 51-kilometer 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.
During the warmer months, you’ll find swimmers in the park’s Lac des Castors (Beaver Lake), while the Chalet du Mont-Royal offers breathtaking park and city views any time of year. Also be sure to stop by the Croix du Mont-Royal (Mont-Royal Cross), or the park’s two cemeteries (one English and one French). You can visit the Parc du Mont-Royal for free at any time of day.
Attention all art lovers, the Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts) has amassed several millennia worth of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, furniture, prints, drawings and photographs. Montreal’s most prestigious museum has been building its collection of fine arts for well over a century. Feast your eyes on an impressive assortment of Canadian and international works, including pieces by such renowned artists as Rembrandt, El Greco, Renoir, Cézanne and Picasso. There are also a fair amount of Inuit and aboriginal artifacts and lots of fancy decorative knickknacks, including Japanese incense boxes and Victorian chests.
Nestled a few blocks south of Mont-Royal in Downtown Montreal (accessible from the Green Line’s Peel and Guy-Concordia métro stations), the Musée des Beaux-Arts is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Wednesdays, the museum stays open until 9 p.m. Admission to the main galleries is $12 CAD (around $11 USD) for adults over the age of 30 and free for anyone younger than 30. There is an additional fee to access temporary exhibitions: Adults ages 31 and over will be charged $20 CAD (just over $18 USD), while visitors ages 13 to 30 will have to pay $12 CAD; these prices also cover access to the rest of the museum.
Next, the Jean Talon Market – the pride of Little Italy, this huge covered market is Montréal’s most diverse and busiest public markets. Located in a warehouse-style building, many chefs buy ingredients for their menus here or in the specialty-food shops nearby. Three long covered aisles are packed with merchants selling fruit, vegetables, flowers, meat,cheese and baked goods. There are also restaurants and cafés on site.
Snackers can nibble on sandwiches, crepes, tacos, pastries, ice cream, fresh juices and excellent coffee. Be sure to stop by Le Marché des Saveurs du Québec , one of the few large stores in town devoted entirely to Québec specialties such as wine and cider, fresh cheeses, smoked meats, preserves and a huge number of tasteful gifts.
Located a block or so off Boulevard Saint Laurent (accessible from the Blue Line’s Station De Castelnau métro station).
Let’s move on to a small town near the Sherbrooke Metro Station, Square Saint-Louis rates as one of Montréal’s prettiest old squares and is set in a turn-of-the-century French-Canadian residential quarter. In the little streets around the tree-shaded square, there are still a few attractive Victorian houses. Some now house pleasant restaurants.
“This is a picture of a perfect Victorian park, a block square, with fountain, benches and a quaint cafe with outdoor tables. It invites you to take a deep breath and look at the trees and flowers, the relaxing people, and the surrounding colorful row houses. We encountered artists with easels during the day, and one evening, a tenor sang Italian songs with a voice that would have melted audiences from the Met to La Scala.” – remarked by a happy traveler.
Montréal’s Olympic Park that hosted 1976 Summer Olympics is a seashell-shaped Olympic Stadium at its heart, the park is a major recreation destination. Other sites within the park housed in the former Olympic bicycle-racing stadium, the Montreal Biodome is home to four distinct ecosystems: a polar environment; a tropical rainforest, a Laurentian forest and the St. Lawrence marine setting. While strolling around the large dome, you will feel the changes in temperature and be kept company by some of the critters that inhabit these environments, including monkeys and capybaras (bats, fish, puffins and penguins are kept behind glass. A visit to the Biodome is a must-do for any nature lover, and younger visitors will appreciate the Naturalia game room.
Located next to the Montreal Botanical Gardens in Parc Maisonneuve (accessible via the Green Line’s Station Viau métro station), the Montreal Biodome is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (and until 6 p.m. in the summer). Admission is $18.75 CAD (around $17 USD) for adults and $9.50 CAD (just under $9 USD) for children ages 5 to 17; there are also discounts available for students and seniors.
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