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14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Old Montréal

Written by Michael Law
Nov 17, 2020

One of North America's most remarkable concentrations of 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century buildings, Old Montréal is the delightful Parisian-style quarter between the harbor and the banking district.

Lovingly restored in recent decades, the area is very popular with tourists and locals alike. Simpling wandering the curving cobblestone streets with 19th-century buildings as your historical backdrop is the most popular thing to do here. The whole area is a maze of narrow streets and alleyways, with interesting shops and restaurants tucked in hidden areas.

Old Montréal is best explored on foot, starting from the Champ de Mars Metro Station. City Hall and Place Jacques-Cartier are just south of the station, with Rue St. Paul and Rue Notre-Dame leading to more historic sites, high-end restaurants, and luxury shops.

Plan to spend at least a day in this area, and begin with our list of the top attractions in Old Montréal.

See also: Where to Stay in Old Montréal

1. Old Port

Bonsecours Skating Rink

Extending along the river, close to Marché Bonsecours, is the site of the old port. It was restored at great cost and now enjoys a role as an entertainment and leisure center. Special attractions include an IMAX cinema, a Clock Tower reminiscent of Big Ben, a giant Ferris wheel, and the Montréal Science Centre.

This area is a pleasant place to wander about and as you stroll, be sure to check out the 10 different works of public art. If you've packed a lunch or want to grab a bite to go at the local cafes, picnic tables are available.

If you are traveling with small children, an excellent playground is located on Clock Tower Quay near Hanger 16.

In winter, skaters take to an open-air rink. From the old port, a magnificent view is obtained of the impressive Montréal skyline. Boat tours, including the short but fun 1.5-hour Montreal Historic Discoverers Cruise run from the quays.

2. Notre-Dame Basilica

Notre-Dame Basilica

One of the most impressive sights in Old Montréal is the spectacular interior of the Notre-Dame Basilica. Located on Place d'Armes, this is Montréal's oldest Catholic parish church, founded in 1656. Its twin towers (69 meters) are impressive, but the amazing interior of the 1829 building is the true highlight. Resplendent woodcarving is the work of Victor Bourgeau, and stained glass illustrates the history of Montréal.

The Sacré Coeur altar (1982), in the chapel of the same name, consists of 32 bronze panels by Charles Daudelin. The great organ is a Casavant, and recitals held in the church throughout the year are very popular.

A Walking Tour of Old Montreal, which covers all of the major highlights in the area, includes free admission to the basilica. These tours, offered from spring until fall, are a great way to see the sights and learn the history. Options include 1.5 or three-hour tours.

Address: 110 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, Montréal, Quebec

Official site: http://www.basiliquenotredame.ca/en/

3. Place Jacques-Cartier

Place Jacques-Cartier

Runing from the Old Port to Rue Notre-Dame in Old Montréal are the gardens of Place Jacques-Cartier. Under its Nelson's Column, there is a popular market of arts, crafts, and souvenirs surrounded by inviting street cafés and fine 19th-century townhouses and mansions.

Many of Montréal's historic tourist attractions are nearby, including City Hall, the Old Palace of Justice, and the elegant 1705 mansion Chateau Ramezay Museum.

4. Rue Saint-Paul

Rue Saint-Paul

Rue Saint-Paul is Montréal's oldest street, originally completed in March 1672 as the road between the fort and the Hôtel Dieu, the old hospital. Nowadays it is lined with all kinds of shops.

In recent years, the city has made substantial improvements to this street and several others. Sections of Rue Saint-Paul are pedestrian-only areas and during the day, this area is packed with tourists.

The street gets its name as much from Paul de Chomedey, the city's devout founder, as from St. Paul the Apostle.

5. Rue Bonsecours

Bonsecours Market

The delightful Rue Bonsecours, off Rue Notre-Dame, is one of Vieux-Montréal's oldest streets. It exhibits a whole range of the French architectural styles featured in the 17th- to the 19th-century townscape of New France. Marché Bonsecours served as the town hall before becoming Montréal's vegetable market from 1878 to 1963.

Today, the building houses a number of interesting shops and boutiques and is a popular spot with tourists. Montréal's oldest church, the Chapel of Our Lady de Bonsecours, is at the end of the street. Nearby, Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site was the home of the first Canadian Prime Minister from 1841 to 1871.

6. Pointe-à-Callière, Musée d'archéologie et d'histoire

Pointe-à-Callière, Musée d'archéologie et d'histoire | chispita_666 / photo modified

At the southeast corner of Place Royale in Montréal lies the Pointe-à-Callière, the "cradle of Montréal city." Place Royale was the heart of French colonial life, its market, and its parade ground, until transformed in the 19th century with various government buildings.

The Musée d'archéologie et d'histoire documents the city's beginnings by taking visitors underground to the see remains of the first foundations. Two plaques and an obelisk, the work of Québécois artists, unveiled in 1894, commemorate the 1642 founding of the French settlement.

Address: 350 Place Royale, Montréal, Quebec

Official site: http://www.pacmusee.qc.ca/en/home

7. Place d'Armes

Place d'Armes

The busy square of Place d'Armes is very much in the city center. The twin towers of Notre-Dame Basilica front the public space, as does a historic Bank of Montreal and its small museum. The Old Seminary of Saint Sulpice, adjoining the Basilica, dates from 1685.

It is the oldest stone dwelling in a city where originally most buildings were constructed more cheaply and simply in timber. Just west of Place d'Armes, the Palais des Congrès is Montréal's futuristic conference center. It was built in 1983 over the Ville-Marie expressway and is best known for its colorful glass walls.

8. La Grande Roue de Montreal

La Grande Roue de Montreal

Rivaling Ferris wheels in other world-class cities, La Grande Roue de Montreal (Montreal Observation Wheel) towers over the old city. From a climate controlled gondola, you and seven of your friends will be able to see the St. Lawrence River, Mount Royal Park, and the Olympic Stadium. Be sure to look towards Old Montreal, and the warren of streets you've been wandering in Old Montreal will suddenly make sense.

La Grande Roue de Montreal is located in the Old Port area, just down the hill from Old Montreal.

Official site: https://www.lagranderouedemontreal.com/en/home

9. Montreal Science Centre

Montreal Science Centre | Photo Copyright: Vieux Port de Montréal, Old Port of Montreal

Located right on the waterfront, Montreal's Science Centre is a perfect family destination. Inside, you'll find seven permanent exhibitions covering topics ranging from organic waste right through to windmills.

One of the most interactive exhibitions is called Fabrik. Here, children eight years and older can use various implements to create innovative items. For those seven years and under, the Clic! exhibition allows children to build things using all kinds of odd-shaped items that snap together.

Address: 2 rue de la Commune Ouest, Montréal, Quebec

Official site: https://www.montrealsciencecentre.com/

10. Clock Tower

Clock Tower at night

Those looking for views but watching their wallets should visit the historic Clock Tower. Dating from 1919, this iconic structure is 45 meters high and performs double duty as a lighthouse.

Step inside and climb the 192 steps to the top, and you'll be rewarded with great views of the St. Lawrence River, Old Montreal, and the Jacques Cartier Bridge off in the distance. Admission is free.

11. MTL Zipline

MTL Zipline | Photo Copyright: Tyrolienne MTL, MTL Zipline

If strolling the old streets and lingering by the river are too sedate for you, and you need an adrenaline hit, riding a zipline might be just the thing to do. Two ziplines are strung out over the Old Port area, and riders can literally fly from a giant tower to the landing place near the river.

MTL Zipline is open to all ages; the only limit is weight. You must be between 22 to 113 kilograms (50 to 250 pounds).

Official site: https://en.mtlzipline.com/

12. City Hall

City Hall

Montréal's City Hall was designed by Perrault with an eye to the French Empire style of Napoleon III. Built between 1872 and 1878, it had to be restored following a fire in 1922.

Its hall of honor is resplendent with marble and bronze, and has a bust of Jacques Viger, Montréal's first mayor in 1833. It was from the balcony of City Hall that, during his visit to Canada in the summer of 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle uttered his clarion call "vive le Québec libre!" - long live free Québec. The statement drew an enthusiastic response from the crowds on Place Cartier below, but upset Canada's Federal Government.

Address: 275 Rue Notre-Dame Est, Montréal, Quebec

13. Shopping

Old Montréal is one of the best places to visit for shopping, particularly if you're looking for unique items. This area offers a full range of shopping possibilities, with everything from souvenirs to art and designer clothes. Montréal has long been one of Canada's most important cities when it comes to the fashion industry, with many top designers calling the city home.

And while high-end boutiques can be found throughout the city, in Old Montréal, small boutiques are tucked away in beautiful historic buildings, making the shopping experience seem that much more glamorous. Art galleries, many of which feature the works of Canadian artists, are one of the highlights of this district.

Souvenir and one-of-a-kind shops are also scattered throughout the area, and artists and street vendors line narrow pedestrian alleys and squares.

14. Place d'Youville

Soeurs Grises

Place d'Youville is another popular public space in Montréal and a departure point for exploring historical sites. On the park, the Montréal Centre d'Histoire is housed in the old red brick fire station (1903), and recounts Montréal's four centuries of history.

Hopital général des Soeurs Grises is a short distance down Rue Saint-Pierre from Place d'Youville. Montréal's second hospital dating from 1694, it is where Marguerite d'Youville founded the Congrégation des Soeurs Grises in 1753, the charitable order of the Grey Sisters.

Where to Stay in Old Montréal for Sightseeing

We recommend these wonderful hotels close to the top sites in Old Montréal:

  • Hotel William Gray: For sophisticated luxury, historic architecture, and contemporary rooms, this is the place. The hotel also features a rooftop terrace, concierge, and a library.
  • Hotel Bonaparte: For mid-range pricing, stylish decor, helpful staff, and delicious free breakfast, head to Hotel Bonaparte.
  • Hotel Nelligan: This hotel offers affordable rates, and is conveniently located near the Basilique Notre-Dame. The building shows exposed brick and stone walls. Your stay comes with free breakfast and parking.
  • Hotel Y Montreal: This budget hotel is 1.3 miles from Old Montréal, but offers good value, with shared and private rooms, a communal kitchen, and laundry.
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