The epicenter of the city’s sea trade back in the 17th-century, Montreal’s Old Port lost its role as a trading post in the 1970s, falling temporarily into ruin until a major renovation transformed it into one of the city’s most important entertainment centers in the 1990s. Today, the vibrant waterfront district is home to an IMAX cinema, the acclaimed Montréal Science Centre and a landmark Clock Tower, as well a large outdoor skating rink in winter and an urban beach in summer. The scenic Old Port makes an atmospheric spot for walking, cycling and Segway tours, but other popular pastimes for visitors include river cruises, renting a paddleboat (pedalo) to paddle around the calm waters of Bonsecours Basin Park or soaring overhead in a seaplane for a unique bird’s eye view of the historic waterfront.
Locals bestow Place-Royale as the spiritual and historical heart of Vieux Quebec, for this spot is not only the birthplace of French Civilization in North America but also one of the continent’s oldest settlements. And that history resonates, as the site has the largest surviving ensemble of 17th and 18th century buildings in North America.
One of the highlights here is the Centre d’Interpretation de Place-Royal, an interpretive center with illuminating exhibits on the individual people, houses, and challenges of setting up a town the shores of the St. Lawrence River. Walk past the center to see a trompe-l’oeil mural of people from the early city. Dominating the plaza is the oldest church in Quebec, Notre-Dame-des-Victoires. It’s worth taking a peek inside at the paintings, altar, and the large boat suspended from the ceiling. When not soaking up the history, duck in and out of the boutiques and restaurants that are sprinkled throughout the Place-Royal.
Vieux Québec is the crown jewel of French Canada and if you're coming for the first time, look out - there's simply no other place like it in North America. Narrow cobbled streets are lined with 17th- and 18th-century houses and almost every step will bring you to another historical plaque, a leafy park with a battery of 18th-century canons, a grand 17th-century plaza, and other historical sites. In fact, wandering around Vieux Québec is like exploring an old European city.
Vieux Quebec is compact and easily walkable. On a daytime stroll, you can browse the shops along Rue Ste-Jean, wander among the grassy knolls in the Plains of Abraham, climb to the top of the Citadel, walk the Fortifications, then follow the river boardwalk (the Promenade des Gouverneurs) down to the Victorian waterfront. From there you get the classic view of Quebec City’s most famous building, the Chateau Frontenac.
Site of the 1976 Olympic Games, Olympic Park is now a family-friendly destination packed with sites and activities. The four attractions are the Olympic Stadium (State Olympique), the Montreal Biodome (Biodôme de Montréal), the Botanical Garden (Jardin Botanique), and the Montreal Insectarium (Insectarium de Montreal). Plus, they are all within walking distance of each other.
Olympic Stadium is mainly used for baseball, festivals, fairs, and shows. It’s one of the most visited stadiums in the world. A platform at the top affords panoramic views of Montreal and its surroundings. At the Montreal Biodome, you can an amble through a rainforest, the Arctic Circle, rolling woodlands, or along the raw Atlantic oceanfront - all without ever leaving the building.
Inside the Botanical Gardens you can wander around 10 large, fragrant conservatory greenhouses, each with a theme, from orchids and begonias to ferns and rainforest flora.
The oldest Christian parish north of Mexico, the Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame-De-Québec has suffered everything from fires to battle damage to reconstruction and restoration. The opulent cathedral you see today is richly decorated with impressive works of art including stained glass windows.
Most of the Neo-classic facade of the Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame-De-Québec is from the reconstruction completed in 1771, though parts of the basilica date from the original construction, including the bell tower and portions of the wall. The neo-baroque interior is appropriately grandiose with neo-baroque, filled with ecclesiastical treasures, paintings, and a chancel lamp (a gift of Louis XIV), illuminated by the flickering light of votive candles. Below is a crypt, where some 900 people are buried including governors of New France, archbishops and cardinals.
When Quebecois want to soak up the sun or enjoy a family picnic, they head to the Plains of Abraham, contained within Battlefields Park. Within the park’s sprawling 267 acres/108 hectares are grassy knolls, fountains, monuments, trees, and lush sunken gardens all for residents and visitors to enjoy.
Like other sites in Vieux Quebec, the Plains of Abraham is a looking glass into the city’s history. But though it was the site of many clashes for supremacy between the French and British Empires, the park you see today is what Central Park and Hyde Park are to New York and London. Spend an afternoon wandering its walking trails, checking out its historical monuments, and marveling at its landscaping. Throughout the year, the Plains of Abraham is the site of many outdoor concerts and events.
At the base of the Château Frontenac, Quebec City’s Terrasse Dufferin promenade looks out across the St Lawrence River from its clifftop perch atop Cap Diamant. Named after Lord Dufferin, who was Canada’s governor between 1872 and 1878, come in summertime when green and white-topped gazebos fill the 425-meter-long boardwalk and street performers entertain. Time your visit for the early evening, and you’ll also get to see the sun set over the Laurentian Mountains to the north. In winter, Dufferin Terrasse is especially popular for its Les Glissades de la Terrasse toboggan run, which wooshes people up to 60 mph down an 82-meter slide.
Just underneath Terrasse Dufferin, by the statue of Samuel de Champlain, you can visit the archaeological site of Champlain’s second fort which dates back to 1620.
A lasting structure and symbol of Expo 67, the Biosphere is a unique architectural treasure of Montreal and the masterpiece of architect Buckminster Fuller.
Since 1995, it has been home to exhibitions, permanent and temporary, that are geared toward educating people about major environmental issues. Its interactive exhibits help those of all ages better understand the profound effects of climate change and provides information on how to make a lighter footprint on this Earth.
Such exhibits as "+1 Degree Celsius: What Difference Does it Make?" uses an interactive digital Earth globe and short films to demonstrate the science behind climate change.
Another exhibit, "Finding Balance", looks at how our consumer habits shape the environment while a temporary exhibit, "Water Wonders!", takes a fun spin on all things H2O with games and experiments for guests to tackle.
The mountain is the site of Mount Royal Park, the work of New York Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted. It's a sprawling, leafy playground that's perfect for cycling, jogging, horseback riding, picnicking; in winter, miles of paths and trails draw cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
On clear days, you can enjoy panoramic views from the Kondiaronk lookout near Chalet du Mont Royal, a grand old white villa that hosts big-band concerts in summer; or from the Observatoire de l'Est, a favorite rendezvous spot for lovebirds. En route you'll spot the landmark Cross of Montréal, which is illuminated at night.
Other features of the park include Lac des Castors (Beaver Lake), a sculpture garden, a lush forest, with numerous sets of stairs, and two cemeteries.
To truly experience Montreal’s melting pot of cultures head to Chinatown. Dating back to the 1860s when Chinese immigrants went to Canada to work on the railroad and in the mines, the neighborhood has preserved its Asian culture for over 100 years. Walking the streets, it’s not uncommon to hear French, English, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Mandarin and other Asian dialects spoken on the same block. Moreover, Chinatown is where you’ll find a range of unique experiences you won’t find anywhere else in the city.
Conveniently, Montreal’s Chinatown is located in the city center, so you’ll be able to continue exploring. Enter on Saint Laurent Boulevard to walk through a traditional Chinese gate to get you in the right mindset. No trip to Chinatown would be complete without sampling the cuisine, especially as the food here tends not only to be delicious, but budget-friendly.
Located just south of artsy, boho-chic Plateau Mont-Royal, the Latin Quarter has been a center of student life since the 18th century. Now home to one of the largest universities in the country, its name doesn’t exactly come as a surprise; the neighborhood is filled with students, bookstores and inexpensive cafés with exceptional people watching opportunities. It is known for its many theatres, artistic atmosphere, lively restaurants, microbreweries and whisky bars, as well as independently-owned boutiques.
The best thing about the Latin Quarter is undeniably its eclectic crowd and its joie de vivre: both the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy, the local and the ethnic, the artistic and the intellectual mingle on the streets, be it during a summer festival or while queuing to get hot chocolate. Definitely a multi-layer neighborhood if there ever was one! One of the main attraction of the area, outside its buzzing nightlife, is the Grande bibliothèque du Québec.
The Citadel of Quebec, a massive star-shaped fort, towers above the St Lawrence River on Cape Diamond (Cap Diamant), the rock bluff along the water. Though the Citadel never actually was in a battle, it continues to house about 200 members of the Royal 22e Régiment, the only fully French speaking battalion in the Canadian Forces. Thus, the Citadel is North America's largest fortified group of buildings still occupied by troops.
Upon visiting The Citadel of Quebec, you will get the the low-down on the spectacular architecture as well as see exhibits on military life from colonial times to today. The changing of the guard takes place daily at 10am in summer. The beating of the retreat, with soldiers banging on their drums at shift's end, happens every Friday at 7pm from July 6 until early September.
Quebec City resonates with history, and nowhere is it most evident than in the beautifully-preserved Fortifications of Quebec. These restored 17th-century walls, built atop of plunging cliff, tower over the St. Lawrence River. As the only remaining walled city in North America, Quebec City is now recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a must-see on a visit to the city.
The Fortifications of Quebec encircle Upper Town, from the Citadel of Quebec through Parc L’Esplanade and Artillery Park National Historic Site, then down toward Quebec City Old Port (Vieux-Port). You can walk the 2.9-mi/4.6-km circuit on top of them, where you can take in sweeping view of the city and St. Lawrence River. The fortifications' Interpretive Centre has a small but interesting exhibit on the history of the walls as well as an old gunpowder building from 1815.
At the foot of Cap Diamant in the historic Lower Town (Basse-Ville) of Quebec City, the Petit-Champlain quartier is one of the oldest spots in the city and said to be home to the oldest commercial street in North America; Rue du Petit-Champlain.
In the beginning of Quebec’s history, Petit-Champlain was little more than portside village made up of just a few homes and fur trading posts. Today, after a huge urban restoration project, the quartier is bursting with sidewalk cafes, galleries, restaurants, and boutiques hidden down narrow cobblestone streets. The area is also well-known as an artists’ enclave, and nearly fifty of its stores are run by a local artists’ co-op. On the side of 102 Rue du Petit-Champlain, look out for a huge trompe-l'œil. Designed by Murale Création, the famous mural shows different stages of Quebec’s history, from the bombardments to the landslides to the people who set down their roots here by the shores of St Lawrence.
One of the most charming areas of Quebec City, the Old Port (Vieux-Port) was once a bustling commercial hub for European ships bringing supplies and settlers to the new colony. Today, it’s still bustling, but now the port reverberates with visitors wandering the quays, enjoying picturesque views of the Old City, the St. Lawrence River, and the Laurentian Mountains.
The Quebec City Old Port is also where you’ll find the impressive Musee de la Civilization, spacious and rich with multimedia exhibits on Canadian culture. Also here is the Marché du Vieux-Port (Old-Port Market), where the local farmers and producers come to sell their fresh products. Perhaps the most enchanting of all the city’s many small squares – and a must-see – is the Place Royale, home to the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires church, the oldest church in Quebec, and the Centre d’Interpretation de Place-Royal, which has exhibitions detailing the city’s 400-plus-year history.
While technically a borough of Montreal, le Plateau Mont-Royal cannot be defined by geographical zones. Le Plateau is a lifestyle, a mindset, a way of seeing beauty in everything and appreciating the smallest of things. It’s having al fresco lunch in centennial parks, it’s hopping from one indie coffee shop to another, it’s shopping at the plethora of local designer boutiques, it’s getting a table at the newest French bistro or Japanese izakaya. It’s the place to be. This once working class-only neighborhood evolved into grooviest and most sought-after scene in Montréal.
Filled with hipsters on the eastern side and young, hip families on the western side, le Plateau is basically Montreal in a nutshell. It is where the iconic, colorful staircases of Montreal are found, in the charming and narrow tree-lined streets perpendicular to Mont-Royal Avenue, the main thoroughfare.
Known as the artistic and hipster hub of Montreal, the Mile End is a neighborhood situated in the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough of Montreal. This is where most fashionable eateries, speakeasy bars, vintage shops, and underground music venues are located, along with plentiful Hassidic Jewish and Portuguese communities – which just goes to show just how diverse Mile End really is. In fact, the neighborhood’s ethnic composition has changed a great deal ever since its beginnings in the late 19th century when the transcontinental railway station was built, and retains a strong international yet very local flair, as most ethnic groups have been living alongside each other for decades.
What would a visit to Montreal be without spending some time in gourmet Little Italy? Montreal is nothing if not about food and history, and few other places than Little Italy can boast having these two – in spades. With some cafés having been opened for 100 years (a rarity on this side of the pond) and the presence of the world-class Jean-Talon Market (North America’s largest open-air market and one of the top tourist attractions in the city), Montreal’s Little Italy is not to be missed.
Although only a handful of Italians families have been calling Montreal home since the 17th century, it wasn’t until the early 1900s that the population of Italian descent really started to form a community. Unbeknownst to them, this camaraderie would not only end up being beneficial to Montreal’s industrialization, but also act as the perfect family reunification pretext for 15,000 of devastated families struck by Italy’s infamous implication in World War II.
Often regarded as one of the fanciest and most expensive areas in Montreal, Outremont has only recently started to be on the tourist map. Understandably so – with its elegant avenues and stately manors, it’s no wonder more and more visitors are drawn to it. The name Outremont actually comes from a pun with the French wording for ‘over the mountain,’ seeing as most Montrealers resided south of the Mount Royal at the time. The three main thoroughfares are Bernard Avenue, Van Horne Avenue, and Laurier Avenue, which are filled with upscale shops, trendy cafés and chic French bistros that even locals consider a treat. The district also includes Mount-Royal cemetery (resting place of many major Canadian figures), which is popular with runners thanks to its giant leafy trees and soothing atmosphere.