If you’re looking for a city with European elegance and a festive atmosphere, then consider visiting Montreal in Eastern Canada. Located in the province of Quebec, Montreal is a major cosmopolitan city with over 3.5 million people most of whom speak both English and French. By North American standards it’s an old city, dating back to 1535 when Jacques Cartier claimed it and the entire St. Lawrence Valley for France. With its splendid 17th and 18th century architecture, sidewalk cafes, cobblestone streets, and its French food and wine, parts of Montreal look and feel like Paris, France. Canadians, Americans, and Mexicans are very fortunate that they can experience all of the charm, sophistication, great food and wine, historical buildings, and fun nightlife that a city which is similar to Paris has to offer, but at half the cost and without having to leave North America!
Though Montreal has numerous places to see and visit, there are two areas that you must visit: its historical district known as Old Montreal (or “Vieux Montreal” in French) and the Botanical Garden (or “Jardin Botanique” in French). Both of these areas are so unique that you will never forget them, so if possible bring someone with you to share the experience.
Begin your visit of Old Montreal by taking the metro (subway) to the Place-d’Armes station and then walk up the hill to Notre-Dame Basilica (100 Notre-Dame Street West). This Gothic Revival-style church was built in 1829 and is famous for its stained glass windows, paintings, and sculpted wood statuary. Then go and explore the rest of Old Montreal on foot. Much of this incredible historical district is between Notre Dame Street and the St. Lawrence River. Walk towards the river and Bonsecours Market, famous for its huge silver domed roof. On the way visit the lobby of the Royal Bank building (360 Saint-Jacques Street), built in 1926 and marvel at its vaulted ceilings, marble flooring, crystal chandeliers, and polished brass elevators. Such grandeur makes you think that you are inside a palace in Italy. As you walk throughout the entire Historical District you will experience first-hand the splendor that is part of this city’s heritage. For many years Montreal was an extremely wealthy city and money was no object, which is reflected in the richness of the architecture of many of this area’s public and private buildings.
Make sure to explore Saint-Amable Street with its boutiques, artists, and craftspeople. This pedestrian-only street is known as “Artists Row.” Then continue your journey to Bonsecours Market (350 Saint-Paul Street East), built in 1847. It houses chic craft boutiques and various exhibitions. Nearby is Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel (400 Saint-Paul Street East), originally built in 1771. Visit the chapel tower for a panoramic view of the entire area, especially of the nearby Old Port (known as “Vieux Port” in French).
Explore the Old Port area and its beautiful park-like setting by taking a walk beside the river. You can also go biking along the riverbank or even go sailing along the river or around the port.
From the Old Port, go back into the historical district and walk over to Place Jacques-Cartier, a huge square with numerous sidewalk cafes. Have a coffee or a glass of wine. Remember this city is French, so enjoy its fine wines and incredible food—you won’t be disappointed. Musicians and street performers will keep you entertained, and you can even go on a horse-drawn carriage tour. There is so much to see and do in Old Montreal that you can easily spend the entire day (and evening) there.
The next area to visit (by subway) is Montreal’s fabulous Botanical Garden. This site is so huge and interesting that you should plan to spend at least one entire day there. Beside the Botanical Garden is the Insectarium and Biodome Complex, both of which are also worth the visit.
All three of these sites are near the Olympic Stadium, making it easy to visit them. They house some of the world’s most interesting and educational collections of plants and animals. You will see everything from exotic orchids to a host of live animals, including crocodiles.
Start off with the Botanical Garden, which is one of the largest in the world. Go to the Reception Centre to buy your ticket and obtain a map of what to see. This site is huge, covering 75 hectares (about the size of 168 football fields). It contains 22,000 species of plants, a huge arboretum, 10 greenhouses, and about 30 different gardens, each with its own theme. From the Reception Centre, enter the Exhibition Greenhouses. You will experience first-hand what it is like to walk through a Tropical Rainforest with its beautiful orchids and ferns; a Subtropical Forest with its palm, banana, and bamboo trees; and a Desert with its cacti.
Then, venture into the open gardens, in particular the Rose Garden, winner of a prestigious international award for being the world’s finest rose garden with over 1,000 different varieties of roses; the Chinese Garden with its pagoda, ponds, and magnolia trees; the Japanese Garden with its pavilion, miniature trees, irises, and water lilies; the First Nations Garden with its interpretation pavilion, smokehouse, and black spruce forest; and the Leslie Hancock Garden with its collection of rhododendrons and azaleas. Don’t forget to visit the Arboretum: it covers 40 hectares with 6,500 species of plants and trees and it even has a Tree House.
The next site to visit is the Insectarium. This building is located on the grounds of the Botanical Garden, and it is the largest of its kind in North America, housing about 160,000 live and mounted insect specimens. The six biogeographic regions of the planet are represented here, showing how insects have been able to adapt to every climatic zone throughout the planet. Two of the most fascinating exhibits are its bumblebee hive, where you can actually view a real beehive busy making honey, and its huge ant colony, where you can watch thousands of ants hard at work, tirelessly transporting food and building the colony.
Lastly, visit the Biodome, a huge building that contains 4 different ecosystems. It has re-created tropical rainforests with native animals such as crocodiles, bats, piranhas, and parrots; temperate woodlands with wildlife such as lynx, wood turtles, and beavers; and even Antarctic snow-capped areas with a colony of penquins. There are 230 species of animals and 750 species of plants. Don’t forget to go to the enormous underground viewing pool, where you can see hundreds of fish up close. It’s an experience you will never forget.
All three sites are open year round. However, it is best to visit them during late Spring, summer, and early Fall, as all of the plants and flowers will be in full bloom. The nearest subway stop for the Botanical Garden (Jardin Botanique) and Insectarium is Pie-IX. For the Biodome, the nearest subway stop is Viau.
About the author:
Eric Alexander Hamilton lives in Vancouver, Canada. He loves travelling and has lived in several cities such as Paris, London, and Zurich. His passions in life are photography and writing, particularly about travel, self-help and spiritual topics. To him, writing and photography are a natural match, as witnessed in his web site, www.lifedestiny.com. With each passing day, he is trying to follow the advice of the famous American writer, Jack London:, who said: “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.” It’s advice we should all follow.