Bonjour! Hi! Welcome to Montreal, widely touted as one of the top ten most culturally diverse and vibrant cities in Canada. Designated a UNESCO City of Design, Montreal is a haven for creatives, architects, artists, and visitors who come to enjoy the European ambiance without leaving North America. The city draws approximately 11 million tourists per year; go ahead and book your flight to Montreal now. If you’re a first time visitor, bookmark this top five guide to the most iconic sites in Montreal.
Top Five Guide For First Time Visitors To Montreal
History and architecture
1. Old Montreal’s (Vieux Montreal) cobblestone streets lined with cafes, galleries, and architecture dating back to the 17th century; add a population of Francophones and you’ll soon understand why Montreal is often referred to as the Paris of Canada. Montreal even has its own Basilica of Notre-Dame; a Gothic Revival masterpiece located in the Place d’Armes.
Though not the oldest church in Montreal, Notre-Dame is certainly one of the most important. Originally a small stone parish church, in 1982, Pope John Paul II raised Notre-Dame to the position of minor basilica. Today the church has 8000 faithful and is the home of numerous international concerts and events.
The art, history, and religious importance of the church are recognized in a fantastic art installation called Aura. This is an immersive sound and light experience which, in my opinion, should not be missed. While making your plans to visit Montreal, check the Aura website for more information.
2. Mount Royal is a small mountain located in the middle of Montreal; an icon of the city, it is the place to go for 360-degree views; you’ll want to take some selfies there for sure. Designed by the same architect that designed New York’s Central Park, Mount Royal is an oasis of nature amid the bustle of Canada’s second largest city.
Montreal takes its name from Mount Royal; indeed the mountain, which is actually a cluster of three small hills formed thousands of years ago, has always been important to the development and culture of the city. The cross on the mountain is a memorial (dating back to the 1600s) recognizing that the settlement of Ville Marie was saved by the Blessed Virgin from the flooding of the Saint Lawrence River. Today’s cross was erected in 1924.
Religion has always been important to the history and culture of Montreal.
3. St. Joseph’s Oratory is the largest church in Canada and the dome is second only to St. Peter’s in Rome. St Joseph is the saint who oversees everyday life: all of our worries about life, death, family, and work —St. Joseph is the guy to go to for help. St. Joseph’s Oratory attracts two million visitors per year and is one of the most popular Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world.
Also significant is the Grand Beckerath organ, one of the ten most prestigious in the world. Try to schedule a visit when you can hear the organ played. There is also a Sunday concert series at 3:30 every Sunday of the year.
A good market is a great way to get to know a place and its people.
4. Jean-Talon Market – this open-air market is one of the largest and most popular in Montreal. Vendors sell an array of local and imported, fresh and packaged goods, every day, from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm except Sunday when they close at 5:00 pm.
The oldest market in Montreal is the Lachine Market, located adjacent to the Lachine Canal bicycle path. In the spring you’ll find the fragrance of fresh flowers mingling with the aroma of waffles and maple syrup; in the fall you’ll find pumpkins and gourds and in December, the market smells of Christmas trees.
For more market information check the website.
Food is always a good idea
5. One can not visit a city as diverse as Montreal and not try some of the local food; you’ll discover influences from Asia, the Caribbean, Great Britain, and of course, French food! Montreal is second only to NYC in the number of eateries – this means competition is fierce and quality is high. In 2016, Town and Country magazine chose Quebec as the best new foodie destination in North America. That said, two foods you must try in Montreal are not all that fancy: bagels and poutine.
Check out Fairmount Bagel the oldest bakery and widely believed to be the best in the city. At Fairmount, they hand-form the bagels, dip them in honey water, then bake them in a wood-fired oven. Yum!
Poutine – there are many variations on Poutine, a traditional dish of fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. It tastes delicious on a chilly day or after a late night out on the town. I do hope you’re not counting calories.
For more food ideas check out My Montreal Dining
If you go:
Montreal is cold in the winter, though it would be less crowded. Summer’s are warm and can be humid. Ideally, spring or fall would be the best weather experience however with so many great cafes, galleries, parks, and architectural gems to discover, any time of year seems like a great time to visit Montreal. Go now, and you’re to have an experience you’ll remember.