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.
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 and exit at Place d’Armes.
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 Notre-Dame Basilica, whose facade is quite outstanding. 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).
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.
Now, exit Europe, and cue modernity. A bit further south, down Saint-Sulpice Street, you’ll end up on Place Royale and the fascinating archaeology and history Museum Pointe-à-Callière, which is set right above the birthplace of Montreal. Despite its topic, the museum is surprisingly modern thanks to its futuristic architecture and interactive displays. When you’re done, walk along the Old-Port promenade, towards the famed and über-cool Science Center.
Back in the cobblestone streets, walk for a while on Saint-Paul Street, the most picturesque and popular street in Old-Montreal. While there isn’t much to do on the street per se (except maybe shop for tacky souvenirs), the beautiful architecture and ambiance are going to be worth your while.
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. But 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.
Montréal Town Hall
The Montreal Town Hall has a little something reminiscing of France, and with good reason: it was modeled 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.
Next up is the most beautiful chapel in the area, and also the most photogenic: Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours. Built in 1771, it’s my favorite one – there’s just something about its unassuming facade that gets to me every time. Try and make your way inside to admire the painted ceilings and, if your calves can take it, climb all the way to the dizzying bell tower to get the most amazing views over Old-Montreal and downtown Montreal.
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 a best time!
- Hôtel Saint-Paul
- Hôtel Place d’Armes
- Le petit hôtel
- Hôtel Nelligan
- Hôtel Gault
- Hôtel Le Saint-Sulpice
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!