Old Montreal (French: Vieux-Montréal) is Montreal’s oldest district. This cobblestoned area of Montreal features an old world charm with quaint shops, cafes and cobblestone streets. Exploring Old Montreal allows you to discover a part of the city that is frozen in time but sill overflowing with things to see and do. Museums, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and sidewalk cafes are only some of the things that you will discover in this historic city center that was once surrounded by walls. Like Quebec City, Old Montreal is European in character. Cobblestone streets, a cafe culture and historic 17th and 18th century architecture all contribute to its charm. It’s no wonder why Old Montreal draws visitors but also locals, many of whom live and work in the district.
Old Montreal is located between the St Lawrence River and Montreal’s downtown skyscrapers. It is small enough that it can easily be toured by foot. In fact, walking is usually the best way to get around even though the sidewalks are narrow and the streets are cobblestone. As you stroll through the narrow, winding streets of Old Montreal, you’re never far from the spot where the city was founded, back in 1642. Many of the buildings and monuments of Old Montreal date for the most part from the 19th and early 20th century. Along with the different architectural influences, Old Montreal is full of interesting museums, art galleries, boutiques and many first rate restaurants and cafes.
Many historic buildings are located at walking distance from each other making it the perfect area for a leisurely stroll. You can also discover many art galleries and shops on just about every corner. If you are into people-watching, make sure to visit Place Jacques Cartier and Place d’Armes. These two public squares make up the heart of the old city. The squares are lined with restaurants and cafes where you can sip wine and watch the passersby, or catch the show of a street performer or two.
There are plenty of events, festivals, shows, celebrations, and more that also take place in Old Montreal. Some of the winter activities that take place in the area include ice skating on the Bonsecours bassin, or partying it up at Igloofest. In the summertime, tourists and locals alike flock to the quays of the old port to partake in various summer activities that range from guided tours to riverboat bikes, quadcycling and rollerblading. Many of Montreal’s top festivals and events take place in Old Montreal, particularly around the Old Port and the Bonsecours bassin. A few of the popular festivals and events that can be experienced from Old Montreal include:
- Igloofest: an annual outdoor music festival which takes place at the Old Port
- Montreal International Fireworks Competition: The most prestigious and largest fireworks festival in the world. There are many good areas in Old Montreal to observe the fireworks
With a broad selection of attractions and landmarks, Old Montreal is recognized as one of the most popular districts by locals and visitors alike. There is something unique around every corner and down every narrow alleyway. Old Montreal features old buildings, cobblestone streets, and event horse-drawn carriages. Highlights of Old Montreal include Bonsecours market, City Hall (French: Hotel de Ville), Notre-Dame Bascilica, Pointe-à-Callière museum, Place d’Armes and Place Jacques-Cartier. Some of the must-sees in Old Montreal include:
- The Old Sulpician Seminary – This is the oldest building in Old Montreal and dates back to the year 1685. The building was home to the Sulpicians who were responsible for the first Parish in Montreal.
- Notre-Dame Basilica – This splendid church was built between the years 1824 and 1829. It was redecorated again in the 1870s in a Victorian style. The beautiful woodwork and star-spangled vault are particularly impressive.
- Bank of Montreal – This large and impressive bank was built in the 19th century and is still in use today. As well as an impressive exterior, the interior of the bank is equally opulent and houses a small museum.
- The New York Life Building – This was Montreal’s very first skyscraper and was built in 1888.
- Centre d’histoire de Montreal- A restored fire hall where you can learn all about the history of the city.
- The Old Port– Take a stroll along the scenic old port where you can learn about the ports history as well as take part in some of the varied activities and entertainment.
- Montreal Science Centre – A wonderful museum for kids and teens where they can take part in interactive games and experiments and visit the IMAX theatre.
- Pointe-à-Callière Museum – a Museum of Archaeology and History built above the remains of Montreal’s first settlement. It was founded in 1992 as part of celebrations to mark Montreal’s 350th birthday
Another important landmark in Old Montreal is the Old Port (French: The Vieux-Port). The Old Port stretches for 2.5km (1.5mi) along the river with four quays:
- the Vieux-Port Promenade and Esplanade which are both popular for strolling
- the Quai de l’Horloge, with its monument to sailors
- Quai Jacques-Cartier, from which a ferry runs to the Parc des Îles, the park created on the site of the 1967 World’s Fair. Île Sainte-Hélène is home to Québec’s largest amusement park and the Biosphere showcasing the St Lawrence ecosystem, and neighboring Île Notre-Dame is an artificial island created for the fair in the middle of the river.