Notre-Dame's twin towers have served as an Old Montreal landmark since the Neo-Gothic basilica was finished in 1829. Today they continue to be the focal point, where tourists disembark from buses and calèche drivers line up for passengers. The interior glows with gilded statuary and gold-leafed fleurs de lys, and is home to one of the largest pipe organs in the world. The Montreal Symphony Orchestra performs its Christmas production of Messiah here at the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal or the Notre-Dame Basilica.
The namesake of the city and one of its most recognizable landmarks, Mount Royal is the city of Montreal's highest point. The volcanic hill is a part of the Monteregian Hills, nestled between the Appalachian Mountains and the Laurentians, its highest summit measuring at 233 meters (764 feet). At its highest point sits the Mount Royal Cross, originally installed in 1643 by the city's founder, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, in honor of Mother Mary who he believes saved the colony from a potentially devastating flood. The existing, illuminated cross was added in 1924. Beaver Lake and the Mount Royal Park are other popular features of the hill, just west of Downtown. The park, in particular, is renowned as one of the city's largest, originally designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, and the venue of the weekly Tam-Tam Jams. For unmatched views of the city, Mount Royal's Camilien-Houde and Kondiaronk Chalet lookouts offer sweeping vistas over Downtown and East Montreal.
Straddling a two-kilometer (1.24 mile) stretch along the St. Lawrence River, the Old Port of Montreal has operated as an active hub since 1611 when it was used as a fur trading post by French settlers. It has since transformed into a bustling area which beckons tourists and locals alike. Besides being home to a bevy of attractions like the IMAX Theatre, the Montreal Science Centre and the Montreal Clock Tower, it is also a recreational wonderland, especially during winter months. Marked by ice sculptures, skating and a lively nativity scene, as well as vibrant festivals like the Festival Montréal en lumière, the Old Port of Montreal hosts a decidedly thriving cultural scene. With numerous dining options, bargain shops, trendy boutiques, tours and riverfront activities dotting its pretty vicinity, the Old Port is an all inclusive attraction in itself.
Saint Joseph's Oratory in Montreal is the nation's largest church, its regal dome second in height only to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. A small chapel dedicated to Saint Joseph was built at the site in 1904 by Brother André, renowned for his miraculous ability to heal the injured and ailing. He was later beatified in 1982 and canonized in 2010. Completed in 1960, the renaissance church that replaced the original shrine encompasses a basilica, a votive chapel lined with discarded crutches, and the heart of Brother André amongst several other treasures. Outside, the Stations of the Cross grace the sculpture garden where scenes from the film Jésus of Montréal were shot. The oratory itself is a striking beauty that dominates the skyline for miles around, its elegant dome rising high above the bucolic scene. One of the world's most revered Catholic shrines and an important place of pilgrimage, Saint Joseph's Oratory inspires wonder in the hearts of the devout and the simply curious.
Musée des Beaux-arts de Montréal has put together one of the best collections of fine art in North America. The museum moved to its present location just before the World War. The Jean-Noel Desmarais building holds most of the temporary exhibits while the permanent collection lies in the Benaiah Gibb building across the street. The museum also stages special programs such as lectures, noontime and evening concerts, and films.
Every season at the Jardin Botanique de Montréal (Montréal Botanical Gardens), you'll be captivated by the colors and fragrances of flowers and plants as you move from garden to garden, many inspired by different parts of the world. Explore the Sonoran desert, wander into the Chinese or French Garden, and finally relax in the tranquility of the Japanese Garden. The Montreal Botanical Garden contains about 12,000 plant species and cultivators, ten exhibition greenhouses, about 30 thematic gardens and a large arboretum.
Once the residence of Governor Claude de Ramezay, Château Ramezay Museum chronicles the rich history of Montreal. The history of this building dates back to the 18th Century when it was built and has been listed as an must-see historic sites by UNESCO. Now, it houses an impressive collection of antiques, photographs, paintings and costumes. This site is known for its frequent exhibitions from upcoming and veteran artists and has two permanent exhibitions.
Located behind the City Hall, this huge public space is a good place to relax, get a great view of downtown, and check out the remains of the old fortifications that surrounded the new city. Though the fortifications themselves were demolished in the 1820s as the city outgrew them, you can still see the pieces in the shape of two lines of stone. It's a fine vantage point from which to view the City Hall.
Apart from being one of the most historically significant places in the city, this square is also one of the city's most popular and lively. Watched over by Nelson's Column and lined with flowers and gardens, this is where artists, lovers, the hip and the semi-hip meet. It is also the port of entry for most visitors to Old Montreal. The best time to visit this square is in the summer, as it is then a car-free zone. Call or see the website to know more.
Thanks to the Our Lady of the Harbour statue atop its dome, made famous by poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen, this chapel is known as The Sailor's Church. Inside are original Édouard Meloche (1886) frescoes on wooden slats, and you can look out over the Old Port from an observation tower. The chapel underwent extensive renovations as well as archaeological excavation. The new interpretation center includes artifacts pre-dating the arrival of the New France colonists in 1642.
Maple Delights is a charming spot and a must visit if in Old Montreal. This sweet bistro and museum is a wonderful way to discover this national pride. At the bistro you can relish delish baked goodies, gelatos, candies, waffles, milkshakes, coffees and sorbets, all with the goodness of maple syrup and sugar in them. Check out their small museum that gives an insight of how the sap is collected. You can also taste the products made from maple that highlight its unique quality.
A part of the Old Port of Montreal, the John Young Monument is a monument dedicated to John Young, a pioneer who played a crucial role in developing the port.