This was my second visit to Montreal. The last time I visited Montreal was with my family in the dead of winter ten years ago. Montreal is a beautiful place to visit and experience in the winter time. However if you are not a lover of being out and about in -10 celsius then go visit in the summer time. Hence my decision to visit at the end of summer this time. I was also looking forward to experience Montreal in a different season and wanted to see the changing of the leaves. When I arrived the temperature was way above average for this time of year in Montreal, as it has been for most places around the globe this year. So I was a bit disappointed that there was no fall foliage to see when I got there.
Montreal is the largest city in Canada’s Quebec province, and the second largest city in Canada after Toronto. It is on an Island on the Saint Lawrence River, and it has the largest population of French speakers outside of Paris. Don’t worry though – you don’t need to speak french when you are here, as everyone speaks English plus a few other languages because it’s a multi cultural melting pot.
This oldest urban area in north American has plenty to offer, I had a few days there and along with spending time with my girlfriend, I wanted to see and experience as much of this fabulous city as I could.
So what’s the best and most efficient way to do that from my experience? The hop on hop off tours, which has served me well before.
Here are some of the places we got off the Bus Tour to have a more intimate experience.
The Christ Church cathedral, St Joseph’s Oratory
My girlfriend who I was visiting lives in the suburbs of Montreal, about 25 km from the downtown area. Going into the city we decided to drive half the way and then park the car and take the subway the rest of the way. There is a high volume of traffic in Montreal, especially in the summer time, due to the fact that most of their road work is done in the summer time. Taking the subway was pretty easy. We got off and walked about 10 mins to get to this Oratory.
The entrance of the Oratory is impressive, and there is a beautiful statue of St, Joseph with a fabulous manicured lawn and a row of colorful flowers on each side. The oratory sits on a hill and there are several steps to climb to get to the door that leads you to the inside of the Oratory.
This oratory was a brain child of Brother Andre who dreamed of building on Mount Royal, a house of prayer in homage to Saint Joseph. The Oratory has a few levels with different attractions you can visit.
After entering the building we took the escalator to the mezzanine level where there is a gift shop and a terrace with a great panoramic view of the Island of Montreal. It’ is said that people gather here to see the most beautiful sunsets in the city.
After admiring the views of the city from the terrace, we took the elevator to the level where there is the Votive Chapel.
The Votive Chapel
The Votive Chapel is considered to be the heart of the Oratory complex. The chapel has several alters, where you can pray to Saint Joseph for different things like family, health, prosperity, etc. When you pray you can either stand or kneel. You can also light a candle and make an offering. It was an amazing room to be in, there was a sense of serenity that radiated from here.
The Cryt Church
Our next stop in the oratory was at the Crypt Church, inside there is a beautiful arch ceiling, lovely stained glass windows, magnificent woodwork and adorning light fixers. There is a simplistic beauty about this church. You can enjoy a service if there is one going on, or just sit in reverence and say a prayer.
The Stature of Saint Joseph
Stained Glass Windows
The Casavant Organ- built in 1917
There is a lot to see at the Oratory, and there are a few more places you can visit while there: the Tomb of the Saint Brother Andre, the Rock of the Mount Royal mural, the Garden of the way of the Cross, Basilica and the Exhibit on Brother Andre Museum. It was worth spending some time and learning the history of at the Oratory.
Mount Royal Park
Mount Royal is a 764 feet mountain located next to the city, which is named after the mountain. You can go hiking, skating, bicycling and sledding in the winter or just have a picnic here.
We had a quick stop there where we got off the bus to see the stunning views and to take pictures from the top of the park.
When you stroll through Old Montreal you get to feel the energy of the people. Old Montreal is a charming old town with cobblestone streets, which gives an old world feel that charms visitors and reminded me a little of a European city. While here you can learn about the history of Old Montreal and visit the old town hall. Admire the fantastic old architecture from the 19th and 18th century, with a mix of the modern skyscrapers – where old world meets new. There are also really great churches and cathedrals to visit in this city, like the Notre Dame Basilica (which I’ll tell you about next) which is simply magnificent. I highly recommend a stroll through this gorgeous sophisticated city to take in the many things to see and experience.
Basilica of Notre Dame
From the moment you walk in you are captivated by the beauty of this place. This was amazing to see. Inside the church were many beautiful stained windows depicting some of Montreal’s history. The detailed craftmanship of wood carving and statues made this place exceptional. Standing in the middle of the church there was a feeling of reverence and peacefulness, even though there were different activities going on. There were people praying, there were groups of people being informed about the church by their guides, there were people taking photos like myself and yet there was a calm in being there. This church is where the singer Celine Dion was married and you can see why it is also where her husband’s funeral was held. This place is a must see whether you are religious or not. You will have to pay to go in but it is well worth it.
More pics from inside
Food and Festivals
Montreal is a walking city, and has a rich bicycle culture. You can walk or ride around to most of the popular sites. We walked from old Montreal to China town, where there are countless restaurants you can have a meal. We picked one and went in for lunch. It was ok. Being in a China town always has a special ambiance.
Little Italy and the Latin Quarter are both popular for clubs and cafes, and they are on the list of places to visit in Montreal for delicious food. You can also go to La Place Jaques de Cartier and people watch or enjoy some Portuguese or Brazilian food. There are so many different kinds of cuisine to choose from in this city. Do note though – that meals here can be a bit pricy.
One thing everyone was encouraging me to try was Poutine (french fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy, meat can be added) from a bistro here in Montreal. They insisted that Montreal had the best Poutine in Canada, so I was destined to try it. A real Montreal bagel from a wood fire oven was also on the list of things to try here.
Montreal is a very exciting city with more than 100 festivals of all types throughout the year, There is a comedy festival, a firework festival and a Jazz festival amongst many others. I was told that these festivals are awesome. There is always something to enjoy here in this city.
Saint Catherine Street – Shopping
I couldn’t go all the way to Montreal and not tell you a little about the shopping there. Saint Catherine Street is the primary commercial artery of Downtown Montreal. This street is divided in two parts by St-Laurent Boulevard: East and West. There you can find major department stores along with other popular high-end stores. The street runs parallel to the largest interconnected underground shopping city in Montreal. However if you are looking for a groovier place to shop, Plateau Mount-Royal is the place. Here you can find some really fashionable boutiques, cool cafes and look at some colorful murals.
The old Port was also a stop on the tour of suggested sites to visit. Montreal started as a port city, and the old port is a nice to place stroll around the Place Jacques-Cartier (named after the explorer who claimed Canada from france) and spend the afternoon. The are several activities to take part in. From the old port you can take a ferry over to the Islands.
Other popular sites which I would have loved to have visited had I had the time.
- Quebec city and Montmorency Falls will definitely will be on my list of places to visit the next time I am in Montreal Quebec. I was told by several people that I had missed out on a great trip, not going there.
- The Montreal Museum of Fine Art can be found downtown at the Golden Square Mile. It has an impressive collection of the old and new art from Europe and North America. There is also a collection of contemporary art i would love to see.
- The Olympic Velodrome is from 1976 and can be seen from the air as you fly into Montreal.
- This building is now transformed into Montreal Biodome where 5 different ecosystems of plants and animals can be found. They are said to be the most beautiful in America.
La Ronde– amusement park, the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, will also be worth visiting on my next trip
I had so much fun visiting my girlfriend and exploring Montreal a little more this time around. I will definitely be coming back to enjoy all the fun stuff I didn’t have enough time to do this time.
A few more pics from Montreal
Montreal – A city with a certain je ne sais quoi, certainly worth visiting.