As Canada’s second-largest city, Montreal is a thriving place with plenty of things to see and do. The city offers a uniquely European flavour, laid-back attitude and an interesting blend of English and French cultures. It’s a place close to my heart, and there are plenty of things here that will make you fall in love with Montreal as well.
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The early history of Montreal
Montreal is one of those places where you can pinpoint the exact spot of its origins. Back in 1642, a handful of French settlers arrived on modern-day Place d’Youville. What makes this spot even more significant is that for 2,500 years, it served as the gathering spot for the native peoples.
The settlement, originally called Ville-Marie, was intended to evangelize the natives by the French missionaries. Despite their best intentions, this didn’t work out that well, so the settlers turned to fur trading. It was much more profitable.
A little over a century later, in 1760, the British took over, and it marked the city’s ongoing mixture of English and French influences and regimes.
Visit the Pointe-à-Callière Museum
As the official spot that marks the birthplace of Montreal, the Pointe-à-Callière Museum is a great source of information for any history buff. In addition to numerous special exhibitions, you can discover Montreal’s past. Quite literally.
The remnants of the original settlement are still visible today. You can walk on the glass floor above it to get a firsthand look into the past. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can also take a stroll through the city’s first collector sewer. Upon its completion in 1838, the cut stone tunnel was quite the achievement of the day in the New World. Today, it’s quite a spectacular experience.
Check out Old Montreal
Many things can make you fall in love with Montreal, but Old Montreal is surely going to steal your heart. While not as old as Quebec City, this place is still a great throwback to its European founders.
I always gravitate to this place when I visit. You can wander the narrow, cobblestone streets, admire the fantastic architecture and have a fill of the numerous restaurants, bars and shops. Day or night, there is always something to discover.
Old Port of Montreal (Vieux-Port de Montréal)
Along the shores of St Lawrence River lies the Old Port. There are over 2 km of river access and attractions like the Montréal Science Centre, the Montreal Clock Tower and an illuminated Ferris wheel. It is a popular destination for cycling, roller-blading and strolling as well as numerous water activities.
During the summer months, it’s also a great destination for events and celebrations. Try your hand at zip-lining or just enjoy the great vibe this place has to offer.
People watch at Place Jacques-Cartier
Reminiscent of the European town squares, Place Jacques-Cartier is a gathering place for locals and tourists alike. Lined with restaurants, patios and shops, you can easily people watch or catch a performance by the many performing street artists and entertainers.
Stop by the City Hall
At the top of Place Jacques-Cartier, you can feast your eyes on Montreal’s City Hall. Completed in 1878, it was destroyed by fire in 1922. The building, reconstructed in subsequent years, is as pretty as they come. You can admire its Second Empire architecture inside and out. Admission is free and is worth the stop.
Shop at Marche Bonsecours
Before the current City Hall opened, this was the home of Montreal’s lawmakers. It is a beautiful homage to the Classical Revival style of those days. Today, it is a lovely market filled with designer boutiques, quirky shops and full-on charm.
Once the training grounds for the military, this square dates back to the 17th century. Here you can history come alive all around you. Here you’ll find the headquarters of Canada’s first bank (Bank of Montreal). The building dates back to 1847 and is still in operation today.
On the other side of the square is the nation’s first skyscraper built by the New York Life company. It created quite the stir after its inauguration in 1888, as it sported an elevator that went up to the eighth floor—quite the feat at the time.
Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica
Another quite distinctive feature of Place d’Ames is the Note-Dame church. Modelled after its Parisian namesake, the church is built on the site of the original chapel. It also houses the body of a saint, Marguerite Bourgeoys.
Adjacent to the church is the Saint-Sulpice seminary, said to be the oldest building in Montreal.
Climb the Mount Royal
Mount Royal is a hilltop that gave Montreal its name. It offers fantastic views of the city, and it’s quite the place to climb for the local workout aficionados. You can bike, run or walk the path to the top depending on your level of comfort. It is also a popular destination for outdoor winter activities.
In addition to the park, there is an artificial lake, a strategic viewpoint, and many cemeteries. The slopes of Mount Royal are also home to the picturesque campus of McGill University and its teaching hospitals, along with many other educational institutions.
You’ll also find the Saint Joseph’s Oratory on the foothills, modelled after the Sacre-Coeur church in Paris.
Explore Montreal’s Olympic past
Canada hosted its first Olympic Games in Montreal in 1976. Although Canada has hosted two other Winter Olympic Games since then, it only hosted the summer Olympic Games.
Today you can visit some of the venues used for the events, including the Olympic Stadium, the Olympic Village, the Velodrome and Botanical Gardens, to name a few.
If you enjoy reading this post, you might enjoy my Olympic Games obsession!
Fall in love with Montreal’s culinary scene
Food is a great reason to fall in love with Montreal. The city offers a wide range of options from fine dining, international cuisine and local specialties to anything in between. We have always enjoyed the culinary scene here, and we haven’t been disappointed so far.
I don’t think you’ll find a shortage of food options here. However, when in Montreal, you need to try these.
Although it might sound weird to you, the combination of fries, cheese curds and hot gravy is like a party in your mouth. It is as Canadian as can be, and Montreal makes an art out of it. The squeaky cheese curds make this dish so good. You can add many toppings to modify the dish, but I like my poutine simple and with vegetarian gravy.
You can get poutine anywhere in Canada, but the best cheese curds come from Quebec. No matter where you’ve tasted poutine, you need to have it in Montreal. Thank me later.
Montreal is synonymous with bagels. There is so much pleasure in a simple piece of dough that it is hard to explain. The Montreal-style bagels are always baked in wood-fired ovens. In contrast to their New York-style cousins, these bagels are smaller and thinner with a larger hole. They are also sweeter as they contain malt and are boiled in honey-sweetened water before hitting the oven.
Bagels came to Montreal with an influx of Jewish immigrants and took place by storm. There are plenty of bagel shops in the Jewish neighbourhood of Montreal as well as thought-out the city.
If you’re a meat-eater, you can’t come here without sampling the smoked meat. Also, a legacy from those Jewish immigrants, it’s a cross between corned beef and pastrami. Pile it between two slices of rye bread, smother it in zesty mustard, and you got yourself a classic.
It depends on who you ask, there are two must-go-to places for the smoked meat sandwich. Many places will tell you to go to Schwartz’s, but others like Alex will swear by Reuben’s Deli and Steakhouse. Have one or have both—your choice.
Culture & Arts
Like any large city with a long and interesting past, Montreal is all about celebrating the arts and culture. There is something to do for everyone from museums, galleries, permanent and temporary exhibitions, events, concerts, and celebrations.
From the old to the contemporary, the choices here are as eclectic as the city itself. Finding something to do here is easy. Finding time to do it all is a bit more challenging. It simply means you have to visit more often.
World Trade Centre Montreal (WTC)
If you think this does not seem like an interesting spot to explore, you’re wrong. Today, it’s part shopping centre, part hotel and part offices. The complex takes up the whole city block and seems even bigger on the inside. A glass canopy connects the 11 historical buildings and creates a beautiful atrium.
There are shops, restaurants and cafes, and an Instagram-worthy fountain by the French architect and sculptor Dieudonné-Barthélemy Guibal. The WTC, inaugurated in 1992, is a fantastic model for integrating old architecture with new purposes as well as historic preservation.
Fall in love with Montreal for the nightlife
Growing up, Montreal was always about the nightlife. As much as I like this city during the day, it transforms into an even more spectacular place after dark. Montrealers party like it’s their job. There are nightclubs, bars, patios, breweries, live music and everything in between. During the summer months, the streets are lit up with lights and full of life. It’s no wonder we used to come here so often.
After dark, there are all kinds of people mingling together. As this is a university town, there are plenty of students, professionals and tourists rubbing elbows with the fashionable set and everyone out for a good time. There are plenty of places to choose from.
With shops and restaurants aplenty, this trendy upscale street is a great day and night destination. Walk the streets or sit on one of the patios and enjoy the vibrant energy that is Montreal. Rue Saint-Denis is a great spot for a night out with plenty of offerings.
Saint Catherine Street (Rue Ste. Catherine)
This is one of Montreal’s main arteries and it changes like a chameleon as you go through it. With every visit, I discover a different side of this street. Rue Saint Catherine is ever-changing, from large shopping complexes flanking in on both sides to smaller shops, restaurants, and commercial buildings.
Split into east and west by St-Laurent Boulevard, and the street takes on different elements of the neighbourhood it passes. If you have time, go on a discovery walk. It might surprise you.
I must say, I’ve spent a lot of time here and loved every moment of it. Crescent Street, filled with bars, nightclubs and pubs, is never a dull moment. You can dance your night away at one of the clubs, mingle on the many patios along the streets, or people watch to your heart’s content. This is your party destination.
Will you fall in love with Montreal?
Montreal will always hold a special place in my heart. The more I come here, the more I discover, and the more I want to come back. It surprises me when I hear that someone didn’t like Montreal. I feel that they didn’t see it the right way, but at the same time, I appreciate that not everyone experiences place the same way. I’ve been to places that didn’t appeal to me, that were praised by others. It’s about finding something to like, no matter how small, and I hope you will find plenty of things to fall in love with Montreal as I have.