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Exploring what is perhaps Canada’s most romanticized city is like discovering a lost European civilization with all the perks of a luxuriously modern metropolis. Home to one of the world’s top universities, fabulous architecture and breathtakingly beautiful parks, the francophone city of Montreal is filled to the brim with impressive activities and sights. Without further ado, here’s our list of the five best things to see and do in Montreal:
1. Discover Old (Vieux) Montreal. The city evolved from the tiny settlement of Ville-Marie, founded by de Maisonneuve in 1642. After a bit of expansion over the centuries, what is now known as the only fortified neighborhood in North America is glowing with European personality. Explore the 100-acre quadrangle of Vieux Montreal (as the locals know it), which corresponds approximately to the area enclosed within the original fortifications, and admire the largest concentration of 19th-century buildings in North America.
2. Dig up some history at Pointe-à-Callière. Uncover what this francophone city has to offer at Pointe-à-Callière, the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, which was essentially built over the city’s original foundations. In fact, from one of the balconies in the main museum building, the Eperon, you can even see the real ruins housed in the building’s basement. Check out the architectural models that lay beneath a transparent floor — they illustrate five different periods in the history of Place Royale.
3. Climb to the Oratory. Trek up the seemingly endless staircase up the west slope of Mount Royal to one of the most beautiful churches in town. With the chapel built in 1904 and the larger crypt church completed in 1917, St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mont Royale is a famous shrine that attracts more than 2 million pilgrims each year. Still needing more room, a basilica with a seating capacity of 2,200 was erected in 1924. The copper dome that towers over the city and 56-bell French carillon are undoubtedly amazing.
4. Relive your college days. Stroll through the campus of the top Canadian university seated at the foot of Mount Royal. McGill University — where the classes are officially taught in English but students can submit work in French or English — is tucked away on a park-like campus in the heart of downtown Montreal. Ogle at the beautiful buildings, all built with the local gray limestone, as you make your way through this striking campus sprinkled with gothic and Richardsonian Romanesque architecture.
5. Admire the Basilica. One of the most dramatic examples of gothic revival architecture sits across from Place D’Armes Square in Old Montreal. Notre-Dame Basilica is beautiful inside and out. As you make your way into what was once the largest church in North America, look closely at the stained glass windows. Unlike those in most churches, these do not depict biblical scenes but rather scenes from religious history in Montreal.