If there is one thing Montreal is well-known for (besides the crazy food scene, of course), it’s the mix of European and North American cultures. And the best place to experience this for yourself, well, it’s in Old-Montreal.
I could go on and on about what makes this district beautiful but the only way to truly understand what makes it so special is to roam its streets, admire its views, take in its old-world atmosphere. Take my word for it!
To help you enjoy your time there as much as possible, I put together an Old-Montreal walking itinerary that I think will be helpful for first-timers in the city; it includes must-see stops as well as picturesque streets you don’t want to miss.
But let’s start by making something very clear: I absolutely forbid you to visit Old-Montreal by car Not only is it terribly unpractical (try and find parking in these streets, see if you still think I lied), but it also ruins the whole Old-World experience (21st-century transportation doesn’t exactly scream 17th-century charm). Instead, do like the locals: take the métro.
Things to Do in Old Montreal
Place d’Armes is one of the most beautiful and historical public squares in Montreal. It’s the best spot to enjoy the view of the outstanding and rather striking facade of Notre-Dame Basilica.
The square is also flanked by several of Montreal’s most notable buildings, including the old Bank of Montreal on the northern side and the Aldred Building on the western side; this was the first skyscraper in the city which oddly resembles New York’s Empire State Building, seeing as they were completed at the same time.
Old Montreal Food Tour
Gone are the days where Old Montreal was an absolute no-go for local foodies, who were not enthused by the touristy and overpriced offering; the district has gone through a culinary rebirth over the past decade and is now home to mouth-watering restaurants and markets. The Old Montreal Food Tour takes visitors around the historic cobblestone streets of North America’s most European neighbourhood, with highlights like fancy poutine, gluten-free sweets, craft beers, and many other yummy things, in addition to several of the landmarks listed in this article.
Once inside, you can see the many unique traits of the church, starting with the unusual stained glass, which depicts scenes of the religious history of Montreal, instead of traditional biblical scenes. The organ is one of the most impressive of its kind and perfectly complements the magnificent ceiling.
Oh, and most importantly, that’s where Celine Dion got married in 1994 (with her questionable headpiece).
Stroll along the cobblestones of charming St-Paul Street, one of Montreal’s most enviable stretches. While there is one tourist shop too many for my personal taste, there are a few cool places to stop along the way, too, notably Le petit dep, Bar Philemon and the historical square of Place Royale, to name a few.
Place Jacques Cartier
You will eventually end up on the beautiful Place Jacques Cartier, named after one of the discoverers of Canada, where you’ll find several overpriced restaurants as well as buskers and ice cream vendors.
Despite the tacky feel (touristy things are touristy for a reason, right?), it’s definitely worth a visit – Place Jacques Cartier will definitely make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The architectural ensemble of New France buildings is well worth a visit.
Montréal Town Hall
The Montreal Town Hall has a little something reminiscing of France, and with good reason: it was modelled after the Tours Town Hall, near Paris. The building is absolutely splendid and will soon integrate a large green space that will connect to nearby métro station.
A few steps further, you will find the prestigious 18th-century Château Ramezay, where you can learn even more about the history of Montreal and Quebec.
Down Saint-Claude Street is the gigantic 150-year-old Bonsecours Market, the oldest and largest public market in Montreal. Even though its mission changed a bit throughout the years (it now houses upscale cafés and boutiques instead of potatoes and pork chops), it’s still a major piece of French-Canadian architecture and one that shouldn’t be neglected.
Things to do in Old Montreal: The Museums
While the leading art museums are located in the downtown core of Montreal, fittingly enough the historical ones are almost exclusively scattered across the old town. From the precise spot where the first building was built in Montreal inside Pointe à Callière to the multisensorial exhibits over at the Science Centre and the stunning setting of Centre d’histoire de Montréal, the choice is yours.
That itinerary should take you at least half a day, if not a whole one (depends if you decide to visit the museums, and not just stare at them from the outside).
Every season’s a good season to visit Old Montreal; from the lively buskers and street food in the summer to the fairytale-like whiteouts in the winter, there’s just no choosing the best time!
For even more things to do in Montreal as well as restaurant suggestions, local photography tips, pre-set itineraries, and exclusive discounts, get the Montreal city guide for just $9. It contains everything I know and love about Montreal!