Montreal, Quebec offers those who visit a chance to simultaneously experience two cultures at once. One part North America and one part Europe, Montreal encompasses the best of both worlds and allows travelers in the Americas to sample a small slice of France without the long, trans-Atlantic flight.
What’s the result of this so-called culture clash? A worldly city rich in history, language, and tradition that has no shortage of attractions and sights to entertain travelers with every interest. Since the city offers such a wide array of activities, I hope to help travelers start planning their Montreal getaway by sharing my list of the city’s six can’t-miss attractions. Because of its unique cultural amalgamation, Montreal, Quebec is truly a one-of-kind destination – and visitors will want to make the most of every moment.
1. Oratory of St. Joseph
Have you ever wanted to see a human heart in person? If so, St. Joseph’s Oratory is the sight for you. This church houses the heart of its founder, Brother Andre – and there’s some salty history behind its display. Rumor has it that the heart was stolen and, after the thieves unsuccessfully attempted to ransom it back to the church, it made its way onto the black market. Years later, the heart supposedly turned up from the ashes and returned to St. Joseph’s, but its journey back home left an infamously seedy lawyer dead under incredibly suspicious, likely murderous, circumstances. Hence, visitors today will notice that the heart is heartily guarded and protected. Organs and underworld intrigue not for you? Don’t worry; there’s far more at the oratory to explore. The votive chapel is simply other-worldly, while visitors can enjoy a stellar view of the surrounding neighborhood from the second floor patio. Perhaps best of all, the oratory is completely free to visit!
2. Montreal Botanical Garden
While the top feature of Montreal’s Botanical Garden is its splendid outdoor Japanese Garden and the accompanying popular lantern festival every autumn, the garden can and should be enjoyed all year long. In the summer, perusing the outdoor spaces can make for a lovely retreat from the hectic downtown, while visitors in the winter will appreciate the warmth of the expansive greenhouses. My favorite part? The bonsai tree collection in the Garden of Weedlessness. Learn more on the Garden’s official website.
3. Sailor’s Memorial Clock
Built from 1919-1921, this attractive clock commemorates the Canadian soldiers who died in Europe fighting in World War I. Today, travelers and locals alike can enjoy a picturesque stroll along the waterfront path that leads to the clock tower. During summer months, visitors can climb nearly two hundred stairs to enjoy an up-close-and-personal view of downtown or relax on the neighboring artificial beach. Those traveling to Montreal, Quebec in winter can still meander along the pathway or get some exercise at the nearby ice skating rink.
Mont-Royal is my favorite spot in Montreal – and with a view like this, I’m sure you understand why. Brave souls can bike, jog, or hike to the top, but there is a spacious parking lot at the top for those of us short on time or deterred by cold weather. Read more about my Mont-Royal adventures here.
5. Marche Jean-Talon
Marche Jean-Talon, Montreal’s largest market, is reminiscent of the colorful markets that fill European cities at all times of the year. Even if you’re staying at a hotel without a kitchen and have no need for fresh fruits, a visit to March Jean-Talon is a breath of fresh air from the massive big-box chain grocers that litter North America. Looking for a special gift to bring back to friends or family? Many vendors sell goods that work perfectly as non-tacky souvenirs, including handmade gloves, locally-produced soaps, and, of course, fresh maple syrup. Be sure to stop by the ATM first, since most vendors do not accept credit or debit cards.
6. Notre-Dame Basilica
The Notre-Dame Basilica is, without a doubt, the iconic attraction of Montreal, Quebec. Don’t let its popularity deter you from visiting, however; even this hardened off-the-beaten-path traveler believes that Notre-Dame is a sight not to be missed. Centrally located in the city’s Old Town, the iconic basilica dominates the photogenic Place des Armes and boasts spectacular architecture that will impress those of any religious persuasion. Be sure to check out the elaborately detailed Stations of the Cross located throughout the church.
For more information and recommendations, please check out my Montreal Travel Guide here.