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At its founding in 1642, Montréal was a mission named Ville-Marie. Today, with 3.4 million inhabitants, it’s one of the planet’s biggest inland ports, a cosmopolitan urban centre that’s the second-largest French-speaking city in the world. Its juxtaposition of French and British influences gives rise to an exuberant creativity, reflected in the festive fizz of endless cultural goings-on!
Montréal, Québec’s largest city, is located on an island (500 km2) in the St. Lawrence, 250 km southwest of Québec City. Montréal is just 60 km from the United States border and 200 km from Ottawa.
Place Jacques-Cartier, next to City Hall, and Place d’Armes, which faces the Notre-Dame Basilica—a place of worship renowned for its breathtaking interiors—are absolute must-see spots in Old Montréal. The nearby museum of Pointe-à-Callière is the best way to get acquainted with the city’s history. The quays of the Old Port, in turn, whose star attraction is the Montréal Science Centre, offer a host of activities, including the highly popular river excursions.
The city as seen through its parks
A must for visitors is the Olympic Park which, in addition to its monumental stadium, also boasts the Tower, Biodôme and planetarium. The nearby Botanical Garden, second-largest in the world, provides a lush green setting for the Insectarium. Mid-river, Parc Jean-Drapeau, home to the popular amusement park La Ronde and the Casino, attracts visitors looking for good times. It’s also the site of the yearly Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Summer and winter alike, Montréalers like nothing more than a good festival! Topping the list of visitor attractions are the Festival international de jazz, Just for Laughs, the FrancoFolies, the International des feux Loto-Québec (fireworks competition), Osheaga and Piknic Electronik.
The original design of Parc du Mont-Royal is credited to Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York’s famous Central Park.
Quartier des spectacles (Entertainment District)
This vibrant quadrilateral whose nexus is Place des Festivals is where the biggest international festivals come home to roost. Boasting some 30 performance halls, including Place des Arts, the area also features a flurry of cultural hot spots. Particularly noteworthy are the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, the Society for Arts and Technology, the Monument-National, Métropolis and Club Soda.
Quartier latin (Latin Quarter)
Clustered around the Université du Québec, this small student quarter buzzes with life. Its axis is the ever-popular Rue Saint-Denis, a main artery teeming with bars, cafés, bistros, bookstores and boutiques of every ilk. Add to this the area’s many cinemas and performance venues, the Grande Bibliothèque and the Cinémathèque québécoise, and you have one of the busiest cultural hubs in the city, a mecca for locals and visitors alike.
City beneath the city
Popularly known as “the Underground City,” this subterranean maze of corridors and shopping malls links some 2,000 businesses, hotels, cinemas, museums and stations over a more than 30-km span. Close to 500,000 people use the vast pedestrian network each day, sheltered from the inclemencies of weather. The network accesses most of the major downtown shopping malls as well as eight metro stations.
Besides the Olympic Stadium, Montréal features standout works of architecture like Habitat 67, Westmount Square (Mies Van der Rohe, 1964), the Tour de la Bourse (Nervi and Moretti, 1964) and the Biosphère (Buckminster Fuller, 1967). The metro system also boasts a number of visually striking stations.
Unparalleled family destinations, Montréal’s nature parks offer a wealth of outdoor pursuits, all year long. Among the most popular are Cap-Saint-Jacques and Bois-de-l’Île-Bizard to the west and Pointe-aux-Prairies to the east. Also worth the detour is Île-de-la-Visitation, right across from the old quarter of Sault-au-Récollet: a setting dominated by the steeples of one of the oldest and most beautiful churches in the city.
Along the locks
Lachine, located in the Pôle des rapides, caches a number of lesser-known gems: its old canal (1825), site of the Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site of Canada; its museum, part of which is housed in a 17th-century building; and a sculpture park. On warm summer nights, passers-by and pleasure-boaters enjoy the lively atmosphere of the restaurants and cafés flanking the locks of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, a village nestled between the lakes of Deux Montagnes and Saint-Louis.
The island of Montréal boasts an impressive bike path network that extends for over 560 km. Without a doubt, the two sections best loved by cyclists are the run from Lachine Canal to the Old Port, and the St. Lawrence waterfront path with its spectacular views of the Lachine rapids. The ever-popular self-serve Bixi bike system is a practical and affordable option for visitors.
Montréal was the departure point for two explorers: Louis Jolliet, a Québec City native who in 1673 discovered the Mississippi River; and the Cavelier de La Salle, who in 1682 claimed Louisiana for the King of France.