The Montreal Guide
Landing in Montreal feels a lot like finding yourself at the edge of the earth—in the best way possible. Surrounded by wilderness, the island city’s remoteness gives anyone who spends time here a real sense of adventure and joie de vivre, which spills over into the food and bar scene. The sheer volume of restaurants (poutine!), cafés, bars, and, interestingly, bagel shops is staggering given the petite size of the city. (Montreal has its own signature style of bagel—smaller, denser, and sweeter than its NYC counterpart, thanks to honey-spiked boiling water prebake.) Quebec’s European influence feels most profound in Montreal: The quaint cobblestone streets, Gothic Revival basilica, Gallic-style food, and official language speak to the mark left by the French.
Mount Royal ParkMount Royal | 514.843.8240
Canada’s trend of having incredible green parks smack in the center of her cities continues with Montreal. Mount Royal Park spans part of the city and creeps up the mountain that frames part of the cityscape. Montreal dwellers treat the park as an extended backyard: It is packed daily with hikers, joggers, and aimless wanderers. Through the winter months, you can actually cross-country ski the grounds or take advantage of the ice rink (with kids in tow).
Basilique Notre-Dame110 Rue Notre-Dame W., Mount Royal | 514.842.2925
Located in the heart of Old Montreal and dating from the early 1800s, Basilique Notre-Dame is a Gothic Revival masterpiece. The church is worth a visit—irrespective of faith or lack thereof—purely to marvel at the incredible craftsmanship that fills every corner. Pinewood sculptures depict the Stations of the Cross, there are exquisite black walnut wood carvings framing the aisles, the altarpiece artwork (thirty-two bronze panels) depicts humankind marching toward Christ, and the organ has an incredible 1,648 pipes. The most striking features, though, are the stained-glass windows and the vaulted, star-painted ceiling with three octagonal skylights. The ceiling—a mix of lapis lazuli blue and shimmering gold—combined with the multicolored flecks of light cast through the cavernous space from the stained glass, creates an incredible interplay of light and color.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts1380 Rue Sherbrooke W., Downtown | 514.285.2000
Founded in 1860, the Montreal Museum of Fine Art has since acquired more than 41,000 artworks spanning the mediums of painting, sculpture, photography, and the decorative arts. The museum itself is enormous, and the art is divided for display purposes between four pavilions—international art, world culture, Canadian Art, and design. Upcoming exhibits include a comparison-based show of Picasso works and non-Western artists, and a collection of paintings depicting court life under Napoleon. Aside from the collections, the museum offers some interesting educational and health initiatives, like art therapy programs, workshops for toddlers, and painting classes for seniors.
Canadian Centre for Architecture1920 Rue Baile, Old Montreal | 514.939.7026
Opened to bring public awareness to the crucial role architecture plays in shaping the identity of a city and, by default, improving the lives of residents, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, with its incredible gardens, is a calming oasis. The imposing nineteenth-century building houses a significant archive, exhibit halls, and fascinating restoration labs, where you can see the painstaking steps involved in restoring portions of older buildings and their decorative effects. A must-visit (especially with littles) is the sculpture garden, a totally novel space filled with architectural reproductions of sections of the Architecture Centre itself, with plants and vegetation winding their way around the deconstructed fixtures.
Montreal Botanical Garden4101 Rue Sherbrooke E., Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie | 514.872.1400
A taste of the tropics in the middle of the city: Visiting the Montreal Botanical Garden—bursting with color—in the middle of the city's glacial winter feels like an unexpected surprise. The sheer scale here is staggering, with ten greenhouses and twenty-two themed gardens, both containing over 22,000 varieties of plants and flowers. Making your way through the grounds feels like taking a journey across the continents, with Japanese- and Chinese-style gardens, tropical plants, and cacti all in abundance. The most interesting spaces are in the aquatic garden, which displays the incredible range of natural life below water, and for the more medical-minded, the toxic and medicinal plants garden, which offers a fascinating look at the natural world's impact on healing. With a special youth garden and an on-site restaurant, it makes an ideal weekend family activity no matter the season.