Located on the St. Lawrence river, Montreal is a cosmopolitan hub famous for its rich colonial history and the second largest French-speaking city in the world. Its best attractions offer ample opportunities for entertainment and exploration. It’s the largest city in the Canadian province of Quebec and the second largest one in Canada. With its perfect mix of European charm and North American modernity, Montreal is a fully bilingual city and a must-see destination for anyone visiting Canada.
Montreal seduces visitors with its intriguing mix of French and English heritages and multicultural buzz. There are plenty of exciting things to do and places to visit. It’s a great tourist destination!
In these post-Covid times, this Canadian city is an appealing location for Americans. It’s well connected to the United States and, at the same time, it’s a foreign country and gives tourists that feeling of travelling somewhere that many of us missed so much last year.
Despite Canada’s impressive public transport system, renting a car is highly recommended for travelling within the country, especially if you’ll be visiting different cities. It’s more comfortable, it allows you to customize your trip as you wish, explore the area in depth and last but not least it makes it easier to keep social distance while travelling. You’ll find the major rental car brands here. On average, the minimum age to rent a car is generally 21 but some provinces ask drivers to be 24 or 25 so please check beforehand. Many airports have rental car depots for pick-up and drop-off but you should evaluate if it is convenient budget-wise.
If you’ll be renting a vehicle, please take your time first to review the Canadian driving laws as some of them may differ from your country and fines can be hefty. Apart from staying safe on the road, American drivers should consider purchasing a rental car damage insurance policy. There are many options available in the market from their own insurance policy to independent providers and all of them offer different degrees of coverage. Make sure to look into them before reaching the agent’s counter as some of them can really increase the cost of your rental per day. Here’s a well-rounded alternative that you may want to consider.
Are you excited to discover Montreal? We’ve compiled its most interesting attractions so that you can see for yourself why it’s an attractively perfect destination.
Climb Up Mont-Royal
Mount Royal is the forested centerpiece of the city and an extinct volcano. It’s a small hill located to the west of Downtown between the Appalachian and the Laurentians Mountains. It’s one of the largest green spaces in Montreal and it offers locals and visitors plenty of spaces to explore including waterfalls, paths that are great for trekking and green lawns.
Mount Royal or Mont Royal is also the site of Mount Royal Park, designed by New York Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted. It’s a very popular area that’s perfect for cycling, jogging, picnicking and horseback riding. In winter the area attracts skiers and snowshoers. It’s also one of the best areas where to appreciate splendid panoramic views of Montreal.
While you’re visiting Mount Royal you can appreciate Chalet du Mont-Royal _ a grand old stone villa that hosts big-band concerts in summer_, the Observatoire de l’Est _ a great place for birdwatching.
Visit St Joseph’s Oratory
St Joseph’s Oratory, with its large green dome standing tall in the horizon, is located adjacent to Mont Royal. It’s the largest church in Canada and one of the unmissable highlights of the city.
Designed in an Italian Renaissance style with a copper dome rising 318 feet high, it started in 1904 as a small chapel developed by Brother André Bessette, a miracle worker said to have the ability to heal ailing pilgrims who climbed its 283 steps. The inside of the basilica are also stunning. It’s exquisitely decorated with intricately carved murals and thousands of votive candles leading to the crypt where the heart of Brother André is kept.
Thousands of pilgrims and tourists visit St Joseph’s every year to visit this historic and religious site. This once small chapel is now a basilica containing a crypt, a church, a museum, a 56-bell carillon, the second largest church domes in the world after St Peter’s Church in Rome and it’s surrounded by a beautiful garden. It’s the largest shrine ever built in honor of Jesus’ earthly father and commands superb views of the northern slope of Mont Royal.
A must-see in Montreal, an authentic way to reach the Oratory’s basilica is to climb 99 of the 283 steps on your knees. Once there, explore the basilica and its large garden with its beautiful sculptures, take pictures of its picturesque landscape and listen to musicians performing concerts.
Stroll Around Vieux-Montreal
Vieux-Montreal is one of the most charming areas in the city, characterized by a remarkable concentration of buildings dating from the XVII, XVIII and XIX centuries.There is a distinctive Parisian feel in this quarter, situated as it is between the waterfront and the business hub. There are many interesting attractions to visit and you can easily spend a whole day walking around them.
It’s the most popular tourist spot in Montreal and it’s definitely enjoyable: its cobblestone streets are lined with boutiques, galleries and restaurants. There are also some prominent public squares such as Place Jacques-Cartier or Place d’Armes.Looking onto the Saint Lawrence River, there’s never a shortage of things to do by day or by night in this part of town.
Admire Notre-Dame Basilica
As you walk around the Old Port neighborhood it would be hard to miss the two large towers of the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal peeking out above the skyline. The exterior of this religious building is impressive and the interiors are equally outstanding. The Notre-Dame Basilica was completed in 1829 in a Gothic Revival style; it has beautiful stained-glass windows and religious paintings that will leave you in awe.It’s adorned with intricate statues and tranquil chapels and it can accommodate over 3000 worshippers. Shades of vibrant reds, bright purples and shiny silver give the interior of the church a jewel-toned hue. But by far the most impressive features are the deep blue vaults of the ceiling which are decorated with shimmering gold stars. Those who’ve been to Paris will be immediately reminded of the Sainte Chapelle.
It’s definitely one of the must-see attractions in Montreal.
Wander Around the Botanical Garden of Montreal
Encompassing 190 acres of gardens and greenhouses, Montreal’s Botanical Garden is a huge and beautiful green area and another highlight in any visit to this Canadian city. The diverse plants are grown in 30 themed gardens and 10 exhibition greenhouses. Outdoor gardens include the delightful Chinese and Japanese gardens as well as those devoted to medical, useful, alpine, medicinal, aquatic, shade and even toxic plants. The rose displays are breathtaking and will definitely catch your attention. Head to the greenhouses and inside them you’ll be able to appreciate miniature Chinese trees, bromeliads, bonsai, orchids, ferns, a huge arboretum and even a tropical rainforest!
Needless to say, strolling through its various paths is absolutely delightful and a great way to connect with nature as you listen to a variety of birds and look at your reflection on the various ponds.
Montreal’s Botanical Garden is the third-largest of its kind in the world after London’s Kew Garden and Berline’s Botanischer Garten.The landscaped Japanese Garden with its traditional pavilions, tearoom and art gallery and the Chinese Ming-dynasty garden are amongst the most popular areas for visitors.
Overcome Your Fear of Bugs At the Insectarium
Whether creepy crawlies are your thing or not, the Montreal Insectarium cannot be missed. This unique space has bugs galore and houses an intriguing collection of more than 250000 insect specimens. Most of them are mounted but there’s also living species of tarantulas, bees and scorpions at the Vivarium. Curious visitors can see an anthill, a honeybee hive and bumblebee hive from a safe distance. It’s the largest insectarium in North America and one of the largest in the world.
Adventurous spirits are invited to taste some of the critters and children can play in the insect-themed playgrounds.
Visit Parc Jean Drapeau and the Biosphere
Ile Sainte-Helene and the artificial Notre-Dame Island are now known as Parc Jean Drapeau and have many attractions for families visiting Montreal such as the Biosphere, La Ronde Amusement Park, the 1820 British arsenal at the Stewart Museum and the race course Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
There are plenty of things to see and do here, whether you’re interested in sightseeing, touring or shopping. One of the most remarkable features of this large green area is the 25-km network of biking and hiking trails lined with sculptures and artwork by local artists.
The Biosphere is one of the worth visiting attractions at Parc Jean Drapeau. Housed in Buckminster Fuller’s striking geodesic dome, this nature center has its own geothermal energy system and fun interactive displays involving hand-pumps and water sprouts. The exhibits are focused on urban ecosystems and emerging ecotechnologies and there’s even a house built using sustainable design principles. It’s a museum devoted to raising environmental awareness and water ecosystems and provides children an interesting learning experience.
Enjoy the Biodome
Not to be confused with the Biosphere, Montreal Biodome houses four distinct ecosystems: a tropical rainforest, a polar environment, a Laurentian forest and the St. Lawrence marine ecosystem. Under one roof visitors can see 2500 animals from 200 different species and about 800 plant species. Together with the Botanical Garden, the Insectarium and the Planetarium, it’s part of the biggest natural science museum complex under the umbrella of Space for Life.
The Biodome is a captivating exhibit and a fascinating way of seeing the world without even worrying about what to put in your suitcase. Get ready to explore Antarctic islands, amble through a rainforest, wander along the raw Atlantic ocean front or take in the aquatic life in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Needless to say, dress in layers for the temperature swings!
The space was renovated in 2019 and it’s now bathed in natural light and features raised walkways. At the tropical section you can spot monkeys and alligators while at the Gulf of St Lawrence there’s an underwater observatory where you can watch cod feeding along lobsters for instance. If you love nature and are curious about the world around you, the Biosphere is a must-see must-go attraction for you!
Enjoy Art in Montreal
The Musée des Beaux Arts and the Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal are superb examples of the art scene in Montreal.
The Musée des Beaux Arts is the oldest museum in Canada and it’s home to a vast collection of sculpture, painting and new media. It has an outstanding collection of World Cultures and Mediterranean Archaeology totalling nearly 10 thousand objects and an excellent assortment of African, Asian and Islamic art as well as pieces from North and South America. As you walk through the different exhibition halls you can appreciate masterpieces by Pieter Bruegel the Younger, El Greco, Goya, Rembrandt, Cézanne, Miro, Monet, Kandinsky, Matisse, Picasso, Poussin, Rodin and other influential artists. There are also fine examples of music, film, fashion, and design and unmissable temporary exhibits.
The Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal is known for showcasing some of the best contemporary art from around the globe. Paintings, digital and sound works, installations, sculptures, ephemeral pieces and artistic performances are some of the things you can view here. Located in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles, it’s one of the most important cultural hubs in the city. The more than 7 thousand exhibits are displayed along eight galleries.
Travel Back in Time at Pointe-a-Calliere Museum
Sitting on the exact birthplace of Montreal, the Pointe-a-Calliére Museum is a highlight of the city’s history. With the aid of new technologies and multimedia visitors can discover how local First Nations cultures lived, how the British and French influences shaped Montreal’s evolution and how Montreal became the city it is today. It’s the most visited museum of the city and definitely a must-see for tourists.
The main reason to visit this museum is to hop in the elevator and head underground. There, an archaeological dig revealed the foundations of the city’s original settlement. Children will be thrilled at the Pirates or Privateers exhibit and the hands-on displays covering the navigational gear, tools and weapons used by the recruits of Captain Iberville. The impressive excavations are all connected by an underground circuit; a trip back in time through pavilions covering thousands of years of history.
History buffs will have a blast at this museum. There are plenty of interesting exhibits and awe-inspiring multimedia showings.
Discover the Underground City
With so many things to see, do and enjoy in Montreal you may be surprised to learn that there’s much more to enjoy underground. Montreal is home to the “underground city” or RESO: a network of nearly 32 kilometres of underground paths and tunnels that connect shopping centers, subway stations and buildings. You can enter the network from the street, nine major hotels or eight different subway stations. Once there you can have access to 2000 stores, 17 museums, an ice hockey arena, a movie theatre, night clubs and an array of restaurants and businesses.It’s a great way to escape the cold or rain outside and discover another side of the city!