Montréal is not only a historic Canadian city, but it is one of the most electrifying, cultured cities in the world.
After 25 years, Montréal was whispering for me to come back and visit. I couldn’t resist the call, so I boarded a plane and headed east to one of the most electrifying, cultured cities in the world. Founded
in 1642, Montréal is a historic Canadian city bordered by two rivers – St. Lawrence to its south and Rivière des Prairies to its north. A fun fact, Montréal is completely surrounded by water and therefore is an island – this is a great geographical feature for tourists, who will witness beautiful water views from different areas throughout the city.
Montréal is a destination, where there is always something going on from its renowned festivals and seasonally-themed events to experiencing all the best sights, cuisine and nightlife that the city has to offer.
Here are a few of my favourite things to do, places to see and experiences to be had in this vibrant, gorgeous city!
Spend a day exploring the beauty and charm of Old Montréal. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to 17th century Europe – the cobblestone streets and shops are bustling; there are festive plazas to sit and people-watch; or pick from one of the many restaurants, cafes and bars to relax in while you enjoy this elegant neighbourhood.
Old Port located along the St. Lawrence River, this historic port is home to the Montréal Science Centre and the classic Clock Tower and its picturesque beach. The iconic Montréal Observation Wheel offers panoramic views – 60 meters high when you’re at the top – of the river, city and more. The best part – the cabins are air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. At night, the Observation Wheel lights up and is a magical sight to behold!
Notre Dame Basilica is the “first church of the Gothic Revival style in Canada” and its stunning exterior is reminiscent of the infamous Notre-Dame in Paris. Walking into the basilica is a breathtaking experience, from the altarpiece and celebration altar to the pulpit and great Casavant organs, the interior is truly magnificent featuring brilliant hues of blue, rich shades of gold, and intricate decorative designs. The vivid stained glass windows add to the majestic feel of the interior.
Since 2017, Notre Dame presents ‘AURA’ five evenings a week – a “unique luminous experience” that allows individuals to appreciate and rediscover the “architectural wonders of the Basilica.” Close to 1 million people visit Notre-Dame annually and it’s worth the visit – add this to your to-do list for Montréal. After spending some time at Notre-Dame, take a short walk to Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel. This luxury hotel with friendly staff is the perfect place to stop in for a coffee or cocktail at its Sinclair Restaurant and Bar. During the warmer months, you’ll want to sit on the Sinclair Terrace for alfresco dining among the hotel’s gardens.
A trip to Montréal would be incomplete without visiting its “small mountain at the heart of the city.” Mount Royal, with an elevation of 233 metres (764 feet), is home to a beautiful park and attractions; summit and lookout points offering differing city viewpoints; and is a destination for nature enthusiasts with diverse paths and trails – walking, biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
During the winter months, you can continue to walk/hike Mount Royal, in addition to indulging in winter activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and snow tubing. Mount Royal Cross – this cross, 30 metres in height, has become a Montréal iconic landmark since it was erected in 1924.
Mount Royal Chalet and Kondiaronk Belvedere – a popular attraction for Montrealers and tourists alike, the Kondiaronk Belvedere lookout offers unparalled, panoramic views of downtown Montréal, the St. Lawrence River and Monteregian Hills in the distance. Once you’re done admiring the views, check out Mount Royal Chalet. Built in the Great Depression, the grandiose chalet features vaulted ceilings with chandeliers and wooden/metal beams, large-scale paintings illustrating Montréal history on its walls and a grand fireplace all adding to the chalet’s rustic decor. The chalet is home to a gift shop, restaurant and information kiosk for tourists.
Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal – a Roman Catholic basilica and national shrine visited by thousands each year, and at the foot of the Oratory, 99 wooden steps are reserved for pilgrims wishing to climb on their knees and pray. Its Votive Chapel is home to “10,000 votive lamps and candles,” while its Basilica features an “impressive dome topped with a cross and is the highest point in Montréal at 293 metres in height.”
Known as the nightlife capital of Canada, Montréal offers an eclectic mix of everything from rooftop bars, microbreweries and jazz and supper clubs to live music venues, clubs and afterhours. A few of my favourites include:
A Montréal hot spot since 2009, Muzique is known for its fabulous parties; opulent, sultry decor and style; and for showcasing live music with artists performing and DJ’s spinning. On top of that, Muzique is a regular hangout for celebrity guests from Drake, Jamie Foxx, Lil Jon and Vin Diesel to Guns n Roses, Tiesto and the late Avicii and legendary late Prince.
What can people expect when they visit Muzique? “A sold out party, great music and a story to tell the next day,” says Jason Tull, public relations for Muzique. Tull goes on to say that Muzique offers themed rooms – the main room focuses on House and Top 40 music, while the second room plays Hip Hop and R&B and lastly, there is an awesome “rooftop patio bar. Whatever you’re looking for, we have it!”
The night we visited Muzique, we had the opportunity to see DJ, MC and record producer Walshy Fire of Major Lazer spin for the crowd and it was definitely a night to remember! At Muzique, it’s all about building relationships and taking care of Montrealers, out-of-towners and celebrity guests alike – it’s important for their team to cultivate a seamless evening and create an unforgettable experience!
Catch a Canadiens or Impact game at this lively “tavern” or drop by this pub during Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day or other festive events. It’s an awesome place to chat with locals and the owner Erick and his staff are welcoming, friendly and knowledgeable about all things Montréal. Check out their menu, the delicious charcuterie features local meats, foie gras and cheeses – so good!
This outdoor space located along the Lachine Canal is a fun destination to stop at after a day of biking, running or walking. Discover the variety of the McAuslan craft beers, including St-Ambroise, while you bond with friends over fresh food with picturesque views of the canal and beyond. Closed in the winter, you can visit the L’Annexe St-Ambroise to sample some of their delicious craft beers.
Throughout the year during the day or evening, you can take craft beer or food tours in Montréal – a great way to not only explore the city but to learn more about its history and experience its unique cuisine, cocktails and beers. Montréal is known for its world-famous smoked meat sandwiches, think Schwartz’s Deli, and its out-of-this-world poutine, which originated in Quebec. Check out La Banquise, a famous 24-hour poutine restaurant that serves over 30 different kinds of poutine.
The Holiday Season
Montréal hosts a number of renowned festivals throughout the year, such as its International Jazz Festival and Les FrancoFolies in the summer and Igloofest and Montreal En Lumiere in the winter. During the holiday season, Montréal offers a number of seasonal events and activities in November and December to indulge in. Some noteworthy things to check out are the Montreal Bach Festival, The Nutcracker Market, Souk@Sat, Natrel Skating Park, Noël sur l’Avenue and Christmas in the Park.
Images: Muzique, iStock, Renu Singh-Joseph
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Renu is a Vancouver-based journalist with 13 years experience, who has conducted high-profile interviews with individuals from all walks of life, including politicians, celebrities and athletes. She was DARPAN's former editor-in-chief and enjoys writing for the publication. This foodie loves to travel around the world and share insightful, interesting features with readers.