|Montreal is a beautiful city, filled with hundreds of world-class restaurants, colorful markets and a dizzying array of attractions. Here are our suggestions for the best things to do in Montreal.
1. Biodôme de Montréal
Originally designed as a velodrome (cycling stadium) by Frenchman Roger Taillibert, the same architect who designed the city’s Olympic stadium, this gigantic domelike structure was converted to an environmental museum after the 1976 Olympic summer games.The Biodôme showcases replicas of four ecosystems: the Laurentian Forest (a representation of the North American wilderness), the Tropical Forest, the Saint Lawrence Marine ecosystem and Polar World. Since Montréal (greater metro area population: 3.6 million) is one of the largest French-speaking cities in the world, you will find most tours available in both French and English. www.biodome.qc.ca
|The Just for Laughs festival is held each July, and this year celebrates 25 years of laughs.
2. Underground City
The residents of Montréal, the second largest city in Canada and the largest metropolitan area in the province of Québec, can escape traffic congestion or harsh winter weather by ducking underground and taking advantage of all la ville souterraine has to offer — shopping malls, banks, hotels, subway and bus stations, even an event arena.
With some 20 miles (32 km) of tunnels linking the various buildings, this city under the pavement is an impressive urban planning achievement that’s both convenient and efficient.
Montréal comes alive when the temperature rises, as the city hosts more than 100 festivals each year, many of them in the spring and summer. One of the most popular events is the Just for Laughs Festival, which has attracted such comedians as Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby.
The largest festival of its kind in the world, the Just for Laughs Festival is held each July, and features seasoned comedians as well as new faces. This year the festival celebrates 25 years of laughs; more than 2 million people are expected to attend. The annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal features nonstop music, with more than 350 free concerts. www.justforlaughs.ca; www.Montrealjazzfest.com
4. The Montréal Insectarium
If creepy-crawlies are your thing, then you’ll enjoy a trip to the Montréal Insectarium. This unique space has bugs galore; the more adventurous can even taste some of the critters. Through September 3, nature photographer Jean-Claude Teyssier presents Insects Exposed. The photos are raw nature at its best. The Insectarium has released hundreds of monarch butterflies raised in captivity each year since 1994, to study and track their migration.
Monarch Odyssey takes place over three weekends in late August and early September. During the Odyssey, viewers can learn about monarch butterflies and watch them being tagged so they can be tracked from Quebec to Mexico; the monarch butterfly has a longer migration than that of any other insect. www2.ville.Montreal.qc.ca/insectarium
5. Marché Atwater
This elegant two-story Art Deco building with an impressive clock tower houses a vibrant farmers market that’s been here since 1933. More than 50 vendors offer everything from mouth-watering pastries to fresh meats and cheeses, wine and, of course, maple syrup.
In the summer, outdoor stands filled with fragrant flowers and fresh produce dazzle the eyes as well as the appetite. Inside, Boulangerie Première Moisson bakery makes more than 40 different kinds of bread. The intermingling of freshly brewed coffee and delectable pastries entice passersby to stop in and partake of the homemade goodies. www.marchespublics-mtl.com
Notre-Dame de Montréal Basilica, which dates to 1672, is a top attraction.
6. Mount Royal
At 764 feet (233 m), Mount Royal (French: Mont Royal) looks more like a hill. Yet it has always been referred to as “the mountain” by the proud residents of Montréal. Mount Royal, located north of downtown, in the center of the 31-mile-long (50 km) island of Montréal, has three peaks; Colline de la Croix is the tallest. French explorer Jacques Cartier was the first European to scale the mountain, in 1535, and he gave the mountain its name.
A broad path and a winding road climb to the summit of the peak. Once atop the mountain, visitors can enjoy spectacular cityscape views. Just north of Mount Royal lies Mount Royal cemetery, a national historic site. The 165-acre (668,000 m²) burial ground dates to 1852; visitors can take guided tours of the gravesites of famous figures buried here, including brewing tycoon John Molson (1763-1836). www.lemontroyal.com
7. Notre-Dame de Montréal Basilica
Built in the neo-gothic style, this grand structure is chock full of beautiful details, with extensive stained glass windows, beautiful works of art and wood carvings. The basilica also houses le Gros Bourdon, one of the largest bells in the world, which weighs more than 12 tons (11,240 kg). The building’s foundation dates to 1672; numerous renovations expanded the church throughout the centuries. When it was built, the church was the largest in North America, with 216-foot (66m) towers and a 253-foot-long nave (77 m).
A fire in 1978 destroyed the chapel, and renovations were once again necessary. Today the basilica is a top Montréal attraction. www.patrimoine-religieux.qc.ca/bndmtl/bndmtle
8. Old Montréal
The city’s oldest neighborhood, the once-walled district of Vieux Montréal, is a five-minute walk from downtown. It is here, along the banks of the St. Lawrence River, where Ville Marie, the settlement that would become Montréal, was founded in 1642.
Check out Montréal’s Museum of Archaeology and History, Pointe-à-Callière, rising above the birthplace of Montréal; archaeological artifacts, including the city’s original foundation and an underground aqueduct, can be viewed here in an underground exhibit. Much of the charm of Vieux Montréal remains intact, carefully preserved in the beautiful old architecture. Cobblestone streets throughout Old Montréal link restaurants, cafes, boutiques and residences.
Old Montréal’s riverfront is made up of maritime facilities surrounded by a vast recreational space boasting a variety of museums and attractions; Place Jacques Cartier, the main street alongside the Old Port, is a playground for street artists in the summer. Nearly 4,000 people live in Vieux Montréal, one of the oldest urban areas of North America. www.vieux.Montreal.qc.ca
Montréal’s Olympic Stadium Tower is the tallest inclined structure in the world.
9. Olympic Stadium
The Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, includes the tallest inclined structure in the world, a tower that stands 583 feet (175 meters) tall that’s built at a 45-degree angle.
For a spectacular panorama of the city, visitors can ride in a funicular up to the observation deck at the top of the building. Getting the stadium built proved to be an arduous task when, in May 1975, construction halted as the workers went on strike until October of the same year. The project was in jeopardy, with everything greatly behind schedule.
Adding to the problems were financial difficulties. Several temporary structures had to be erected, as the Olympic Stadium was only half completed when the summer games began. Guided tours of the facility are available in both French and English. www.rio.gouv.qc.ca
Montréal is largely situated on Montréal Island in the St. Lawrence River, near the confluence of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers. If you are looking for a relaxing way to take in the sights of the city, look no further than the riverboat cruises aboard Le Bateau-Mouche. The boat holds about 180 passengers; a ride can be enjoyed from the open-air top deck or the enclosed lower deck.
Once aboard, you will be treated to views of riverside sights such as the Old Port of Montréal, La Ronde amusement park (the second-largest such park in Canada) and Biodôme de Montréal. www.bateaumouche.ca
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