The 2023 guide to exploring Old Montreal
There are so many things to do in Old Montreal and so many sights to see that it can be hard for neophytes to know which way to go. With its cobblestone streets filled with history and its European sophistication, the area is definitely a crowd-pleaser!
To help you enjoy your time there as much as possible, I put together a 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.
Old Montreal itinerary
Stroll along the cobblestones of charming St-Paul Street. It’s one Montreal’s second oldest, with the earliest cobblestones dating back to 1672; for many years served as the city’s main thoroughfare.
Much to my dismay, there seems to be an overabundance of tourist shops on either sides of the street along Place Jacques Cartier; but venture out a little further and as a result you’ll find high-end dining, classy cafés and quiet leafy squares all to yourself.
Not to mention the beautiful Notre-Dame-du-Bonsecours Chapel on the eastern end. Just be mindful of the horse carriages. You’ll inevitably walk past one along the way!
Let’s start by making something very clear: I absolutely forbid you to visit Montreal by car. Not only is it terribly unpractical (for example, 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 walk!
- Walk up Rue Saint-Urbain for a splendid view of the Basilique Notre-Dame and Place d’Armes
- Walk along Rue Saint-Paul between Rue Saint-Urbain and Rue Saint-Pierre for some of the best shops in the area
- Explore Rue des Récollets and Rue Sainte-Hélène, which are bordered by some of the oldest houses and lampposts in Montreal
- Reach the St Lawrence waterfront by walking down Avenue McGill and its stately Art Nouveau buildings
- Walk along the river and admire the cruise terminal, the view on the city and the green areas!
Place Jacques Cartier
Inevitably, your stroll will take you to 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 (however, 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.
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 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.
Built in the Gothic Revival style, the church is sumptuously trimmed and is rather extravagant. Starting above all with the atypical stained glass which depicts scenes related to Montreal’s religious history instead of traditional biblical scenes, and, of course, with the deep blue ceiling adorned with thousands of golden stars.
Likewise, musicophiles will also want to take a look at the 1891, 7000-pipe organ, one of the most impressive of its kind.
Entry costs just $5 in the daytime. “And Then There Was Light“, an underrated sound and light show detailing the history of the church, takes place in the evening Tuesday through Saturday.
The Old Port of Montreal
This part of Montreal isn’t well-known by tourists, and even by locals; as a result, most visitors forget that Montreal is actually an island. The Old Port area is filled with history, a lovely waterfront, and obviously stunning and privileged views of the St. Lawrence River. Moreoever, it’s a great place for a romantic stroll, admire famous Habitat 67 architectural complex and maybe (probably) grab an ice cream.
Old Montreal museums
While the leading art museums are located in the downtown core of Montreal, on the other hand and quite fittingly 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 historic Château Ramezay, the choice is yours.
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 (for instance, it now houses upscale cafés and boutiques instead of potatoes and pork chops), it’s still a major piece of French-Canadian architecture which consequently shouldn’t be neglected.
Is modern art up your sleeve? Montreal is home to a state-of-the-art gallery – Fondation Phi, namely – that regularly hosts and creates contemporary, thought-provoking exhibits with a strong focus on virtual reality.
Old Montreal guided tour
Montreal is a very walkable city and, as such, there is no shortage of walking tours in these parts. Just take your pick, in accordance with your own interests: history, heritage, architecture, even ghosts!
- History walking tour of Old Montreal
- Ghost walking tour
- Private walking tour
- Haunted Montreal pub crawl
The best spas in Montreal
If your legs can no longer endure the hilly streets, then perhaps you should consider a brief (or lengthy, depending on your schedule) stop at one of the city’s best and most-loved spas.
Spa Scandinave features outstanding Nordic in a contemporary setting, but Bota Bota is a little more whimsical as it is located on a permanently docked boat lulled by the rhythm of the St. Lawrence River.
Where to eat & sleep
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