What to See and Do in Montréal: The City's Best Attractions
By Sherel Purcell
Montréal Local Expert
Where to start? With all of the things to do and see in a Montreal, it can be a tricky decision. 10best has carefully selected a range of attractions to provide a well-rounded Montreal experience for all members of your party.
Start at Mont Royal for a good overview of the city then head to the art and history museums downtown and then further east to check out the science and nature offerings. It's probably best to save La Ronde for a late afternoon or early evening jaunt. Of course you could always take in a concert at Place des Arts one evening too. Mornings might be best for exploring the city markets, especially the Jean talon Market in the city's north end, timing the end of your visit so you can enjoy lunch before leaving.
Of course in a city the size of Montreal there are many more equally good museums, markets and things to do that are not on the list. Follow your interests and rest assured there are enough attractions to cater to all tastes and interests. Just remember to leave enough time to take in the best of what Montreal has to offer and most importantly, have fun - just as Montrealers do!
Montreal's Botanical Gardens comprise 30 distinct ones including Chinese, Japanese, First Nations, traditional French, a rose garden plus 10 exhibiting greenhouses and an arboretum. Environments as diverse as the northwestern Mexican desert and the local Laurentian woodlands are faithfully recreated here too. As a scientific institution, Montreal's Botanical Gardens with 22,000 species focuses on plant physiology, genetics, ecology and biotechnology. The scientists offer advice based on their leading edge research on using plants and trees in urban environments. Studies are also done here on using aquatic plants for waste water filtration and treatment systems. The Gardens serve as Montreal's environmental watchdog with its public awareness campaigns aimed at more tree planting and managing and promoting green spaces. The staff also give information on specific topics such as how to grow a bonsai or African violet, garden pests, planting and pruning trees and shrubs and toxic plants. (514-872-1400)
Biodôme de Montréal
The Montreal Biodome or the "house of life", contains four distinct eco-systems, 4,800 animals and 750 plant species. The four eco-systems include the Tropical Forest with its lush vegetation and steamy climate that's perfect for a winter visit while the North and South pole systems provide a welcome relief and a chance to see penguins and auks in action. Closer to home the Laurentian Forest system showcases beavers, otters and lynx. The neighboring St. Lawrence Marine eco-system with over half a million gallons (2.5 million liters) of salt water contains underwater plant life and is home to a huge bird population. Along with the permanent and temporary exhibitions visitors of all ages are welcome to check out the veterinary clinic, animal kitchen and the various laboratories where scientists are always available to answer questions. Be sure to allow at least an hour for your visit. (514-868-3000)
Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal
Housed in the cultural complex, Montreal's Place des Arts on Sainte-Catherine St West downtown, the museum is home to both permanent and traveling contemporary art exhibitions, with a strong focus on Quebec art post 1940's. The permanent collection contains more than 7,000 pieces, including the largest collection of art by Quebec artist, Paul-Émile Borduas. The museum seeks to connect visitors to Quebec, Canadian and international contemporary art by showcasing performance art, new dance, experimental theatre, contemporary music, video and film along with painting and sculpture and an extensive contemporary art library. The Montreal Museums card is honored here and the chic cafe is well worth a visit too. (514-847-6226)
Place des Arts
Montreal's Place des Arts, a major downtown concert venue sits on 300,000 square feet at the Places des Arts metro station. The largest multi use concert hall in Canada, the Salle Wilfred Pelletier, is versatile enough to hold rock, opera, dance and symphony concerts thanks to state of the art sound and movement technologies. Seating almost 3,000 patrons, the Salle Wilfred Pelletier is the permanent home of the Grand Ballet of Montreal, Opera Montreal and the Montreal Symphony. Nearby, Théâtre Maisonneuve, with seating for almost 1,500 patrons, looks like a contemporary version of a classic Italian theater. It's a popular venue for comedy productions and smaller companies where soloists appreciate the intimate setting of the hall which also hosts larger scale film presentations. Contemporary productions of the Grand Ballet can be seen here along with the McGill Chamber Orchestra, the Metropolitan Orchestra and Pro Musica. (514-842-2112)
Thrills, spills and bragging rights are what it's all about on a visit to La Ronde. Part of the Six Flags family of amusement parks, the facility, opened as part of Montreal Expo '67, features 40 rides and attractions, including the Goliath, one of North America's highest and fastest roller coasters. Check the thrill rating for each ride online before you arrive. At night, the 15-storey tower of Vol Ultime is illuminated by hundreds of multi-coloured LED lights adding to the magic and excitement. It's easy to blow the travel budget in amusement parks so involve the whole family in the planning their own predetermined budget for park souvenirs and fast-food snacks. La Ronde is open until the end of October. (514-397-2000)
Visible by night thanks to its well-lit cross, Mont Royal designed by Ormstead of Central Park fame is filled with hiking trails, and opportunities for various outdoor activities. It is also a natural haven for local flora and fauna and rare tree species. On top of Mont Royal sits Saint Joseph's Oratory,one of the world's most visited pilgrimage centres. The basilica's dome, second only in height to Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, reaches 97 meters. Its founder, Saint Brother André, the humble door keeper who inspired its construction in 1904 dedicated the edifice to Saint Joseph. The shrine includes the original chapel, a votive chapel, a crypt church, and the Basilica which can accommodate over 2,200 people. The votive chapel contains personal items left behind by thankful pilgrims in memory of a claimed healing. Its pipe organs and carillon composed of 56 bells celebrate the world's great composers. (514-872-6559)
Le Musée du Château Dufresne
Built between 1915 and 1918, the Château Dufresne is a beaux arts-style private mansion which was owned by the Dufresne brothers, two important members of the Montréal French Bourgeoisie. Today, it houses the museum, dedicated to Montréal's East End history. The studio features cardboard mock-ups of finished artworks as well as an ancient stove and explanations of stained glass production techniques. The studio highlights the inspiration of Italian - Canadian artist Nincheri whose murals, painted in the 1920s are found in Catholic churches across North America. Stained-glass windows, marble floors and Italian Renaissance ceilings and beautiful furnishings are on display year-round. (514-259--9201)
The highlight of Little Italy (Petite Italie) in the north end of Montreal is undoubtedly the Jean Talon Market. Since 1934 the Jean Talon market has been supplying Montreal with fresh Quebec products and specialty items from around the world. The Jean talon market is open everyday, year round with fine herbs available throughout the year. Not only will visitors find a wide variety of produce, (including pesticide free items) flowers, fish, meat and specialty ice cream for sale, the area is also a great destination for lunch. Delicious barbecued lamb, pork and chicken sandwiches as well as bison on a stick are all available for a few dollars. (514-277-1379)
Planétarium de Montréal
The Montreal Planetarium brings astronomy to Montrealers and visitors alike who appreciate the clear, light-pollution-free skies and the chance to handle samples of meteorites. The regular show is comprised of three events: the main exhibition, The Sky This Month and the feature show. The exhibit focuses on new events and discoveries from the past 40 years, especially in Quebec skies. The Sky this Month is a 15 minute presentation where an astronomer points out all the major visible constellations. Highlights include the "Extinctions" show that focuses on how astronomical phenomena may be responsible for the disappearance of some species, raising pertinent questions such as: Could we disappear? Will life continue to survive on Earth? Multimedia shows, "Our Galaxy: The Milky Way" and "The Quest for Galactium" explore the Milky Way as an adventurous mission and allows participants to explore the sun, planets, star clusters, star nurseries and gas clouds. (514-872-4530)
Insectarium de Montréal
Visitors to the Montreal Insectarium can see, touch and even taste some of the world's most intriquing insects. Insect tastings, "Butterflies Go Free",the "Monarch Odyssey" and the Hallowe'en creepy spiders exhibit are four of the Montreal Insectarium's most popular annual events. Opened in 1990, the museum proudly displays both live and dead bugs. The live insect displays are divided by world ecosystems in the Diversity Room and include such specialties as the giant desert hairy scorpion and the Hercules beetle. The focus of this collection is how insects adapt to survive to their environments. More than 75 vivariums showcase everything from the common bumblebees, honeybees and anthills to the diving beetles and the Indonesian walking stick insects, that are part of a permanent collection of stick insects from around the world. The mounted insect collections contain over 144,000 species, a valuable resource for identifying anthropods. (514-872-1400)
About Sherel Purcell
Sherel Purcell is a travel writer who specializes in golf, Montreal and Quebec, golf, contemporary art, cycling and food and wine. Her articles appear on USA Today's 10Best, About.com, Aol, Matador, Vacay, Travel+Escape and other large sites as well as print magazines including Dreamscapes (Globe and Mail) and Frommer's Budget Travel. Her travel photos have appeared in the video, "A New York Minute" on the Smithsonian website and she has recently sold 20 of her travel photographs to Brand USA. She has received an editorial award from Parenting Publications of America and a nomination from "See America".
Read more about Sherel Purcell here.