What are the five best things to see and do in Montreal?

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.

  • On March 31, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best restaurants for a business lunch in Montreal?

    Restaurant Graziella serves classic, elegant Milanese cuisine in an atmosphere that is equally so. The cream, coffee and mocha palette of the decor creates a soothing space for Type A personalities to (breathe and) enjoy the popular $25 prix fixe power lunches (a starter plus a main) – or a longer lingering dinner when negotiating a deal.

    Chichi regulars appreciate the grown-up setting and understand that both discreet service and a refined menu come at a price. Plus you don’t want to appear like a penny-pincher in front of people that are most-likely judging your choice in venue.

    Graziella's menu changes with the seasons, but you really can't go wrong with the ricotta and Grana Padano gnocchi, duck confit ravioli, or the osso buco served with risotto milanese. The comprehensive wine list is conveniently listed in order by price, with interesting options by the glass.

    Finally, nonstop business folk will want to know that the restaurant also offers four private rooms that accommodate 10 to 80 people. They have a projection screen that’s yours for the asking and a complimentary Wi-Fi connection.
  • On March 31, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best luxury hotels in Montreal?

    Photo courtesy of Hôtel Le Saint-James
    I do love the Ritz-Carlton, but I'll be re-visiting there next month, so stay tuned for a recent update.

    Otherwise, Hôtel Le Saint-James is equally opulent. Not far from the Quartier International, this corner landmark cuts a regal silhouette from every angle. Owner Lucien Remillard poured his heart and soul into the three-year overhaul, which debuted in 2002, including a humblebrag self-portrait above the library’s fireplace.

    The décor in the 45 suites and 15 rooms spares no expense in art, Italian marble and antiques, including brass elevator doors from the original Waldorf Astoria in NYC. With the regular VIP traffic, there is more than one Specialty Suite; the splurge being the Penthouse frequented by rock star royalty and diplomats who dig the grand piano, terrasse, over-the-top jade marble bathroom and full kitchen, with separate entrance for staff – or paparazzi-shy celebs.

    On the first floor, XO Le Restaurant is another indulgence for dinner or just drinks. And Le Spa, housed in a former basement bank vault, is so swank you can almost smell the money.
  • On March 31, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best luxury hotels in Montreal?

    Photo courtesy of Hôtel Le Saint-James


    I do love the Ritz-Carlton, but I'll be re-visiting there next month, so stay tuned for a recent update.

    Otherwise, Hôtel Le Saint-James is equally opulent. Not far from the Quartier International, this corner landmark cuts a regal silhouette from every angle. Owner Lucien Remillard poured his heart and soul into the three-year overhaul, which debuted in 2002, including a humblebrag self-portrait above the library’s fireplace.

    The décor in the 45 suites and 15 rooms spares no expense in art, Italian marble and antiques, including brass elevator doors from the original Waldorf Astoria in NYC. With the regular VIP traffic, there is more than one Specialty Suite; the splurge being the Penthouse frequented by rock star royalty and diplomats who dig the grand piano, terrasse, over-the-top jade marble bathroom and full kitchen, with separate entrance for staff – or paparazzi-shy celebs.

    On the first floor, XO Le Restaurant is another indulgence for dinner or just drinks. And Le Spa, housed in a former basement bank vault, is so swank you can almost smell the money.
  • On March 31, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best luxury hotels in Montreal?

    Photo courtesy of Hôtel Le Saint-James
    I do love the Ritz-Carlton, but I'll be re-visiting there next month, so stay tuned for a recent update.

    Otherwise, Hôtel Le Saint-James is equally opulent. Not far from the Quartier International, this corner landmark cuts a regal silhouette from every angle. Owner Lucien Remillard poured his heart and soul into the three-year overhaul, which debuted in 2002, including a humblebrag self-portrait above the library’s fireplace.

    The décor in the 45 suites and 15 rooms spares no expense in art, Italian marble and antiques, including brass elevator doors from the original Waldorf Astoria in NYC. With the regular VIP traffic, there is more than one Specialty Suite; the splurge being the Penthouse frequented by rock star royalty and diplomats who dig the grand piano, terrasse, over-the-top jade marble bathroom and full kitchen, with separate entrance for staff – or paparazzi-shy celebs.

    On the first floor, XO Le Restaurant is another indulgence for dinner or just drinks. And Le Spa, housed in a former basement bank vault, is so swank you can almost smell the money.
  • On March 31, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best luxury hotels in Montreal?

    Photo courtesy of Hôtel Le Saint-James I do love the Ritz-Carlton, but I'll be re-visiting there next month, so stay tuned for a recent update.

    Otherwise, Hôtel Le Saint-James is equally opulent. Not far from the Quartier International, this corner landmark cuts a regal silhouette from every angle. Owner Lucien Remillard poured his heart and soul into the three-year overhaul, which debuted in 2002, including a humblebrag self-portrait above the library’s fireplace.

    The décor in the 45 suites and 15 rooms spares no expense in art, Italian marble and antiques, including brass elevator doors from the original Waldorf Astoria in NYC. With the regular VIP traffic, there is more than one Specialty Suite; the splurge being the Penthouse frequented by rock star royalty and diplomats who dig the grand piano, terrasse, over-the-top jade marble bathroom and full kitchen, with separate entrance for staff – or paparazzi-shy celebs.

    On the first floor, XO Le Restaurant is another indulgence for dinner or just drinks. And Le Spa, housed in a former basement bank vault, is so swank you can almost smell the money.
  • On March 31, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best luxury hotels in Montreal?

    Photo courtesy of Hôtel Le Saint-James I do love the Ritz-Carlton, but I'll be re-visiting there next month, so stay tuned for a recent update.

    Otherwise, Hôtel Le Saint-James is equally opulent. Not far from the Quartier International, this corner landmark cuts a regal silhouette from every angle. Owner Lucien Remillard poured his heart and soul into the three-year overhaul, which debuted in 2002, including a humblebrag self-portrait above the library’s fireplace.

    The décor in the 45 suites and 15 rooms spares no expense in art, Italian marble and antiques, including brass elevator doors from the original Waldorf Astoria in NYC. With the regular VIP traffic, there is more than one Specialty Suite; the splurge being the Penthouse frequented by rock star royalty and diplomats who dig the grand piano, terrasse, over-the-top jade marble bathroom and full kitchen, with separate entrance for staff – or paparazzi-shy celebs.

    On the first floor, XO Le Restaurant is another indulgence for dinner or just drinks. And Le Spa, housed in a former basement bank vault, is so swank you can almost smell the money.
  • On March 31, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best restaurants in Montreal?

    Oysters at Le Filet. Photo by Patricia Gajo I have a personal rotating restaurant list that I frequent over and over again, that is, when I’m not busy testing out other restaurants for work. There are a solid five that I always go back to – each one depending on my mood.

    When my fiancé and I need a little tête-à-tête, we head to Le Club Chasse & Pêche in Old Montreal. It has low ceilings, a handsome décor, contemporary French cuisine and a savvy sommelier. After dinner and dessert, if we feel like taking a stroll, picturesque, rue Saint-Paul is just a cobblestoned block away.

    When it’s time to catch up with friends, we all like gathering at Le Filet, which is run – no coincidence – by the same minds behind Chasse & Pêche. The seafood-focused menu is offered in tapas-size plates, perfect for sharing. Four words to remember: cavatelli with foie gras. In summer, the patio is the best spot in the city for late-night gossiping under the stars.

    When there’s an anniversary or life achievement to fete, I now turn to Maison Boulud. There’s something regal about its address in the historic Hotel Ritz Carlton – and, oh yes, the fact that celebrity chef Daniel Boulud is at the helm – that give weight to any milestone occasion.

    When I don’t feel like cooking during the week, I like the laidback attitude, attentive service and dependably satisfying but reasonably priced menu at Le Comptoir.

    When I get a pasta craving, I head to Little Italy’s Hostaria. The owner’s sons, Massimo and Fabrizio, didn’t fall far from the tree. They run La Bottega just across the street, which serves quite likely the best pizza in the city.
  • On March 31, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best food gifts to buy in Montreal?

    Anything and everything with maple syrup. Pure and simple.

    If you haven’t already been to one of Quebec’s celebrated sugar shacks (les cabanes à sucre), you’re missing out on one of French Canada’s prized gastronomic experiences, which is virtually saturated in this sweet natural goo.

    My fiancé’s family is québécois pure laine – literally “pure wool Quebecker” – and do they ever covet their golden syrup, adding it not only to crêpes (“pancakes,” albeit much thinner) but also to various savoury dishes, such as tourtière (“meat pie”). I suppose it adds a little bit of extra weight on those love handles to keep you warm during the long winters.

    You can purchase maple syrup almost everywhere they sell souvenirs or food; they even sell it at the airport for last minute gifts. If you’re in Old Montreal, there’s a central spot called Maple Delights on main drag rue Saint-Paul where they package their sirop d’érable in various charming glass containers, including iconic maple-leaf shaped bottles. And only the real stuff passes the test here. (Sorry, Aunt Jemima). You can choose from extra light, light, medium, amber and dark, which covers all taste preferences from slightly sugary to full-on caramel. You can also get maple candies, cookies, and butters, as well as candles and sweet-scented body products.

    More budget conscious shoppers can do as the locals and stock up at a local grocery store where maple syrup is sold in cans – much better for travelling, although they can weigh down your check-in baggage like a ship’s anchor. My mother-in-law used to buy it like this in bulk, and use the cans to refill smaller, more manageable serving vessels.
  • On March 31, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best restaurants in Montreal?

    Oysters at Le Filet. Photo by Patricia Gajo I have a personal rotating restaurant list that I frequent over and over again, that is, when I’m not busy testing out other restaurants for work. There are a solid five that I always go back to – each one depending on my mood.

    When my fiancé and I need a little tête-à-tête, we head to Le Club Chasse & Pêche in Old Montreal. It has low ceilings, a handsome décor, contemporary French cuisine and a savvy sommelier. After dinner and dessert, if we feel like taking a stroll, picturesque, rue Saint-Paul is just a cobblestoned block away.

    When it’s time to catch up with friends, we all like gathering at Le Filet, which is run – no coincidence – by the same minds behind Chasse & Pêche. The seafood-focused menu is offered in tapas-size plates, perfect for sharing. Four words to remember: cavatelli with foie gras. In summer, the patio is the best spot in the city for late-night gossiping under the stars.

    When there’s an anniversary or life achievement to fete, I now turn to Maison Boulud. There’s something regal about its address in the historic Hotel Ritz Carlton – and, oh yes, the fact that celebrity chef Daniel Boulud is at the helm – that give weight to any milestone occasion.

    When I don’t feel like cooking during the week, I like the laidback attitude, attentive service and dependably satisfying but reasonably priced menu at Le Comptoir.

    When I get a pasta craving, I head to Little Italy’s Hostaria. The owner’s sons, Massimo and Fabrizio, didn’t fall far from the tree. They run La Bottega just across the street, which is quite likely the best pizza in the city.
  • On March 31, 2013
    Patricia Gajo answered the question: Patricia Gajo

    What are the best restaurants in Montreal?

    Oysters at Le Filet. Photo by Patricia Gajo I have a personal rotating restaurant list that I frequent over and over again, that is, when I’m not busy testing out other restaurants for work. There are a solid five that I always go back to – each one depending on my mood.

    When my fiancé and I need a little tête-à-tête, we head to Le Club Chasse & Pêche in Old Montreal. It has low ceilings, a handsome décor, contemporary French cuisine and a savvy sommelier. After dinner and dessert, if we feel like taking a stroll, picturesque, rue Saint-Paul is just a cobblestoned block away.

    When it’s time to catch up with friends, we all like gathering at Le Filet, which is run – no coincidence – by the same minds behind Chasse & Pêche. The seafood-focused menu is offered in tapas-size plates, perfect for sharing. Four words to remember: cavatelli with foie gras. In summer, the patio is the best spot in the city for late-night gossiping under the stars.

    When there’s an anniversary or life achievement to fete, I now turn to Maison Boulud. There’s something regal about its address in the historic Hotel Ritz Carlton – and, oh yes, the fact that celebrity chef Daniel Boulud is at the helm – that give weight to any milestone occasion.

    When I don’t feel like cooking during the week, I like the laidback attitude, attentive service and dependably satisfying but reasonably priced menu at Le Comptoir.

    When I get a pasta craving, I head to Little Italy’s Hostaria. The owner’s sons, Massimo and Fabrizio, didn’t fall far from the tree. They run La Bottega just across the street, which is quite likely the best pizza in the city.
  • On March 31, 2013
    Jennifer Nachshen answered the question: Jennifer Nachshen

    What is the best time to visit Montreal?

    A better question might be "when isn't the best time to visit Montreal?" We have four very distinct seasons, summer, fall, winter and slush. The only time I might recommend staying away is the at the end of March and beginning of April when the snow melts away revealing all the dirt and grime that has been accumulating over the winter. But that's also Cabane-a-Sucre season, when the sap is collected from the trees and the sugar shacks crank out sweet maple syrup and treat visitors to sugar-laden feasts. Be sure to book well ahead of time if you want to go to chef Martin Picard's famous Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack. They start taking reservations in the fall.

    We are, of course, famous for our winters. Come to ski in the nearby Laurentian mountains or Eastern Townships, go cross-country skiing on Mont Royal, or lace up your skates at one of the city's many outdoor rinks. Enjoy some of the amazing winter festivals and events, including the Highlights Festival and the Snow Village. To prevent hibernation, Montreal's restaurant scene offers some terrific three-course meal deals. Just make sure to bring a warm coat and some mitts. It can get really cold here in the winter.

    Montreal comes alive in the summer. After months of hibernation, Montrealers are ready to party. And we do, with festivals like Just for Laughs, the Jazz Festival, International Fireworks competition and Osheaga. Beyond that, you'll find Montrealers revelling in the sunshine with a picnic basket in the park, hiking the mountain, or biking along the Lachine canal. Some refer to summer as terasse season. We spend so much of our winters indoors that we don't want to waste even a second of our summer, so we'll dine and drink on the city's numerous al fresco options.

    Though I adore summer in the city, my favourite season might just be fall. The air is crisp and scented with falling leaves. Make sure to head out apple picking and enjoy the comfort food appearing on most menus. And now is the perfect time to walk around the city with a light jacket and plenty of stops for warm beverages along the way.
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