A visit to the city of Montreal won’t be complete without a stroll down Old Montreal, the city’s oldest neighborhood and historical heart. Established in 1642 and declared as a heritage site by Quebec’s Ministry of Culture and Communications, Old Montreal is the spot from which Montreal grew and spread out.
Old Montreal is bordered to the north by Ruelles des Fortifications, to the south by the Saint Lawrence River, by Rue Saint Andre to the east, and by McGill Street to the west. As cliché as it may sound, a step into these boundaries of Old Montreal is like a step back in time. Much of this district has been completely and lovingly preserved. The roads within this district are paved with cobblestones. Many buildings date back to the 17th century.
This isn’t to say that old buildings are all you will see when you visit Old Montreal. Modern edifices and facilities bring a touch of polish to the district’s old-world charm. Aside from the historic architecture, Old Montreal is famous for its café culture, an art hub, and a shopping haven.
Old Montreal attractions
Old Montreal is one of Montreal’s busiest tourist destinations. While the neighborhood does have so many attractions to suit most types of visitors, here is our list of attractions you shouldn’t miss on a jaunt to Old Montreal:
Bonsecours Market is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Old Montreal. Noted for its silver dome and its neoclassical style of architecture, Bonsecours Market once served as Montreal’s main public market. Today it is home to boutiques and shops selling local goods and fashion, restaurants, and functions venues.
Centre d’histoire de Montreal
To learn the history of a city, you have to know the stories of its people. That’s the adage the Centre d’histoire de Montreal stands by. The Centre is a museum that displays more than 4,000 artifacts from day-to-day life in Montreal dating back to its ancient times.
Château Ramezay is the oldest private museum in Quebec. Once the home of Montreal governor Claude de Ramezay, the museum displays around 30,000 objects of historical and artistic significance – including furniture, portraits and paintings, old maps, coins, and manuscripts. The Château also has a private garden.
Montreal City Hall
The center of Montreal’s city government is noted for its elegant Second Empire architecture, one of the best-known examples of this architectural style in Canada.
Pointe-à-Callière Museum is one of the newer edifices in Old Montreal. One of the most visited museums in Quebec, Pointe-à-Callière stands above various archaeological digs significant to the history and heritage of Montreal’s First Nations people as well as French and British influences to the area. Most of the artifacts found in these digs are displayed as they were originally found.
Notre Dame Basilica
Old Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica is considered to be one of the most dramatically designed churches in the world. A wonder of Gothic Revival architecture, Notre Dame is famous for its colorful interiors, particularly its deep blue ceiling and its unusual stained glass windows. It also has one of the world’s most impressive pipe organs, which dates back to 1891.
Just outside Notre Dame Basilica is Place d’Armes, a square whose historical purpose is to serve as a space for the military in Montreal to assemble. Today, it is one of the neighborhood’s most fashionable spots, home to many of Montreal’s modern and Art Deco skyscrapers. You’ll also find standing over the square a monument of Paul de Chomeday, founder of Montreal.
Place Jacques-Cartier is Montreal’s favorite hangout and meeting place. This square is usually packed with Montrealers and tourists alike enjoying the food at one of the Parisian-style cafes dotting the square. It’s also common to find street performers and craftspeople plying their handmade wares here.
What to see and do in Old Montreal this autumn and winter
Aside from seeing the sights, what else can you do in Old Montreal, especially this autumn and winter season? Autumn in Old Montreal is lovely, with fiery fall foliage lending a splash of color against the stone facades of the buildings there. When Halloween season rolls in, though, you can join a ghost walk and learn more about Montreal’s past through stories told from beyond.
Winter in Montreal can be severe, so few people spend time outdoors at Old Montreal. Nonetheless, the trees are decorated with lights come Christmas time, lending a cheerfulness to the bleakness of winter. If you love electronic music and partying under any weather condition, you can party under the winter moon at the upcoming Igloofest 2017, happening this January 12 to February 4.
A visit to Montreal won’t be complete without a visit to Old Montreal. Make sure you include it in your itinerary next time you’re on a trip in that part of Canada.