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The second largest French-speaking city in the world, Montreal is famed as a cosmopolitan hub of culture and international trade, with a rich colonial history. Montreal’s best attractions provide ample opportunities for exploration and entertainment. Here’s our list of the city’s most popular attractions that you won’t want to miss.
Located in Old Montreal, the Notre-Dame Basilica is a historic site that can’t be missed. With its Gothic Revival architectural style, this cathedral is an ornate and impressive example of religious art and craftsmanship. The current basilica was inaugurated in 1829 and sits near the site of the original parish church, which was built between 1672 and 1683.
Place Jacques-Cartier is a lively public square in Old Montreal, which is surrounded by historic architecture, gardens and restaurants. In the summer, the square is a car-free zone and it offers an impressive view of Montreal’s City Hall and Nelson’s Column, which is the city’s oldest public monument.
Encompassing 190 acres (0.8 square kilometers) of gardens and greenhouses, Montreal’s Botanical Garden was founded in 1931 and offers a variety of themed green spaces, including the First Nations Garden, the Alpine Garden, and the Japanese Garden. There are 10 greenhouses in total, and more than 22,000 species of flora can be discovered around the peaceful grounds.
Originally the site of cycling and judo events during the 1976 Summer Olympics, Montreal’s Biodome houses four distinct ecosystems: a polar environment, a tropical rainforest, a Laurentian forest, and the St. Lawrence marine system. Here you can see 2,500 animals representing 200 different species and some 800 plant species, all under one roof. Along with the Botanical Garden, the Montreal Insectarium and the Planetarium, the Biodome is part of the biggest natural science museum complex in Canada, under the umbrella of Space for Life.
While not solely underground, this extensive network of interconnected shopping malls, hotels, museums, metro stations and more is linked by an intricate network of tunnels – comprising around 20 miles (32 kilometers) in total. The Underground City is a bit confusing to navigate, but it’s a shopaholic’s dream and certainly makes Montreal’s often brutal winters more manageable when exploring.
The Oratoire Saint-Joseph situated near the western exit from Mount Royal Park, is dedicated to Canada’s patron saint. The biggest church in Canada, St Joesph’s is an important site for Catholic pilgrims, and boasts a huge Renaissance-style domed basilica dating back to 1924.
It’s no stretch to say that few cities do festivals as well as Montreal. Especially during the summer months, there’s usually a major festival of some sort happening around the city. Among the most popular is the lively Montreal International Jazz Festival, the largest jazz festival in the world, which takes place in late June and early July. The festival closes a major part of the downtown area in order to accommodate up to 2.5 million visitors who attend more than 650 concerts (over 400 of which are free) at both indoor and outdoor venues.
Located in Montreal’s Little Italy, Marché Jean-Talon is one of the oldest public markets in the city. It is also one of largest in North America, with more than 300 vendors during the peak season. Open year-round, you can browse selections of maple products, fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, fish, meat, spices, oils, cheese and a range of artisanal bakery goods. Many of these items are local or regional Quebec specialities.
No visit to Montreal would be complete without enjoying some of the city’s most famous eats. Smoked meat is one of Montreal’s classics, and Schwartz’s on Saint Laurent is its most celebrated provider. Opened in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, Schwartz’s is considered a cultural institution in Montreal. Queues can stretch for blocks as people wait for the signature dish: a smoked meat sandwich on rye bread with mustard.