When I started writing this post, I almost put “Montreal, a little slice of France,” as the title, but then I stopped myself for a few reasons. 1) I have never been to France before so I can’t really say that. 2) I might seriously make some Canadians upset by saying this (or French people). 3) Montreal really is a unique city unlike any other. However, there is definitely a strong French influence in the food and culture. French is the city’s official language and is the language spoken at home by the majority of people living there. If you’re into food, architecture, and/or history, this is a city for you!
Some of my favorite sites in Montreal include Old Port, Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, Biodome, Jardin Botanique, just to name a few. Old Port, or Vieux Port de Montreal, has a lot going on. During warmer months, there are pedal boats and jet skis for rent, Voiles en Voiles where you can climb about a life-size replica of a pirate ship, you can cruise on a schooner, take the Decalade challenge at the Conveyor Quay Tower or if that’s not thrilling enough you can sky jump. There are numerous special events in Old Port throughout the year as well. Last but not least, there is the Montreal Science Centre full of fun exhibits and an IMAX theatre.
The Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal is like visiting a museum as well as a massive, ornate church. There are many tours offered including a 60 minute guided tour that will take you in very private areas of the Basilica as the galleries and the baptistery. You can also sit in the balcony of the organ to listen to classical organ music and meet organist Pierre Grandmaison. The original chapel was much smaller and was operated by the Jesuits. In 1657, the Sulpician Fathers took over operation and started construction of a larger church. Construction of this Baroque style church was completed in 1683. However, by 1800, this church was also deemed too small and construction of a larger Gothic Revival style church began and was completed in 1829. In 1889, the architects Perreault and Mansard were commissioned to build a chapel that would accommodate ceremonies for smaller ceremonies. Named the Chapel of Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart) it was built in Gothic Revival style and consecrated on December 8, 1891, only to be seriously damaged by a fire in 1978. The new chapel was opened in 1982.
The Biodome, Botanical Garden, Insectarium and the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium are all part of Space for Life, which has the purpose to raise individual and collective awareness about the need to get involved in protecting the Canadian heritage. This mission is carried out through educational, conservation, research and outreach efforts. The Biodome recreates ecosystems of the Americas including a Tropical Rainforest, the Laurentian Maple Forest, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Labrador Coast, and the Sub-Antarctic Islands. When the Biodome opened in 1992, its ecosystem concept was a world first. With over 4,500 animals from 250 different species and 500 plant species, the Biodome is bound to have something for everyone. The Insectarium has both permanent and traveling exhibitions and includes one of the most comprehensive collections of insects in North America. The Botanical Garden is full of themed gardens such as the Japanese Garden and Chinese Garden as well as 10 greenhouses open to the public. The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium has one of the largest collections of meteorites in Quebec, the permanent exhibit called EXO: Our Search for Life in the Universe, as well as rotating shows in the immersive theater. There are several options for tickets for these four places. You can combine two or more places to get a better deal on pricing and tailor your tickets depending on your interests and income.
Montreal has some stunning architecture, with some buildings going back to the 16th century. In 2006 Montreal was named a UNESCO City of Design, only one of three design capitals of the world (the others being Berlin and Buenos Aires). There are 50 National Historic Sites of Canada in Montreal, more than any other city according to Wikipedia. Many of these historic sites are churches and battle sites but there are others as well. I enjoyed just walking around the city and admiring the beautiful buildings around me.
Finally, to the food of Montreal! Some foods in Montreal are unique to the city itself or to Canada in general and are definitely worth trying. One example is Montreal smoked meat and one of the best places to get it is Schwartz’s Deli. Believe me, it’s worth the wait. Another famous example is poutine. These are french fries smothered in gravy, cheese, and curds but you can get all kind of different toppings on them. One place to try them is Poutini’s House of Poutine but you’ll find them at restaurants scattered throughout the city. There are so many different phenomenal restaurants in Montreal, you should have no problem finding good food. The only problem may be in deciding which place to go to since there are so many to choose from! Some of the current top restaurants include Bouillon Bilk and Le Robin Square. While the restaurants in Montreal tend to be a bit expensive, they’re an experience you won’t forget and that is priceless. Come to think of it, your whole vacation in Montreal will be a priceless experience that you won’t forget.