10 Surprising Ways to Discover Old and New Montreal

Few cities in the world are a more dynamic blend of old and new.

By Susan Nerberg
photographs by Tourism Montreal, Henry Macdonald
Published 8 Nov 2018, 15:16 GMT
View of Montreal and of the "Tower of Songs" mural dedicated to the late artist, Leonard ...
View of Montreal and of the "Tower of Songs" mural dedicated to the late artist, Leonard Cohen. Mural by: El Mac and Gene Pendon, MU.

Here are 10 great experiences that reveal Montreal’s proud history and culture as well as its cutting-edge attractions and contemporary spirit.

Explore the Past

Old Montreal comes to life with the Cité Mémoire, which takes you on a walking tour through Old Montreal and the Old Port as well as the Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth hotel. It’s a fully immersive experience, with amazing art projections that appear on the walls, ground, and trees that surround you and an app that tells the stories of the fascinating historical characters that you encounter along the circuit.

Believe in Ghosts

Be afraid, be very afraid of Montreal’s Ghosts, a professional acting troupe that sets the stage for experiencing the grisliest events, horror stories, and crime legends in Old Montreal’s history. Tours begin after dark, but on the bright side, you’ll get in a lovely evening stroll led by expert and entertaining storytellers.

Take Time Out for Coffee

Back in 1928, at the height of the Roaring Twenties, the Royal Bank of Canada built a shrine to its wealth in Old Montreal. The building’s main hall, which was once the tallest in the British Empire, is now home to Crew Collective & Café, where patrons can bank on delicious coffee from the city’s leading roasters, surrounded by glorious Art Deco style with 50-foot ceilings, vaulted windows, and glittery chandeliers.

Crew Collective & Cafe represents today's contemporary coffee culture in a historic Montreal landmark.
Photograph by Kristin Davidson
Explore the city's Jewish history and food culture in the Mile End and Plateau neighbourhoods.

Nosh and Tour

Long the epicentres for successive waves of Jewish immigrants, the trendy Plateau and Mile-End neighbourhoods are where you’ll find the city’s best bagels, smoked meat, and potato-filled knishes. Get a taste of history with the Beyond the Bagel food tour at the Museum of Jewish Montreal, which takes you through the Plateau and Mile-End neighbourhoods along St. Lawrence Boulevard with stops at Schwartz’s Deli, St-Viateur Bagel, and Wilensky’s Light Lunch, known for its egg cream sodas and bologna sandwiches.

Catch a Cool Outdoor Art Festival

Montreal is known for its quality art institutions, most notably the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art, both in the city’s heart. But since 2012, the city’s MURAL Festival has brought art on a monumental scale to the public, free of charge. Now in its sixth year, the festival has commissioned almost 100 works, adding a fresh perspective to otherwise nondescript building facades throughout the city.

Enjoy the View at the Top

The tallest ferris wheel in Canada, La Grande Roue de Montreal ('big wheel'), towers nearly 70 metres (200 feet) above the Bonsecours Basin in Old Montreal. Its 42 gondolas, heated in winter and air-conditioned in summer, spin from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day of the year. Intrepid riders can spot the old town’s most iconic spaces, including Jacques-Cartier Square and Marche Bonsecours, an arts and crafts market housed in a domed heritage building. For a more adrenaline-fuelled adventure, hop on the 400-metre (1,200-foot) MTL Zipline and swish through the former port area at almost 40 miles per hour.

City waterfront park in Old Montreal with view of La Grande Roue de Montreal (Observation Wheel).
Photograph by Pr2is, Shutterstock

Take a Mountain Trek

Mount Royal seems to have been plonked haphazardly in the middle of the city. Yet here it is, draped by a lush park designed back in 1874 by Frederick Law Olmstead, feeding Montreal’s green legacy. The mountain’s wonders are best experienced on foot or by bike (pick up a bike from Bixi, the city’s bike-share programme) by following the gravel path from the Cartier monument. On the way to the summit, stop at the Chalet du Mont-Royal lookout for a panoramic view of the architectural heritage of the downtown core, a mix of Art Nouveau landmarks, stately homes, and 1970s-style government buildings.

Fun Down by the Boardwalk

On summer weekends, the Village au Pied-du-Courant is an outdoor bar-slash-urban beach, featuring a live DJ, festive food and cocktails, and an unobstructed view of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, one of the most photographed structures in the city. Built in 1929, the bridge has been brought into the 21st century with an interactive light installation that changes colours with the seasons. To see more drama in the night sky, a 10-minute walk west leads to the Biosphere – a geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller for the 1967 World Expo – and the Clock Tower, both updated with dazzling light projections.

Be a Happy Urban Camper

Montreal and Parks Canada offer visitors the awesome opportunity to escape the city by camping right in the middle of it! Guests stay in so-called oTENTik tents – a cross between a tent, yurt, and cabin, decked out with bunk beds. The camps are set up in the Old Port area, which reflects the city’s industrial past. Wake up early and be the first to go for a run around the park and check out Silo No. 5, a former grain elevator that’s rusted to photographic glory. Hop across the Lachine Canal to Marché des Éclusiers to grab a latte. Then watch the world go by from the front porch of your own campsite.

Step up to the Latest in Luxury

What happens when you take a Grande Dame of the hospitality industry and give it a makeover by one of the city’s leading design and architecture firms? You get a hotel that’s fit for a queen... and the rest of the citizenry. The Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, built in the 1960s, has been a landmark attracting the crème de la crème for more than half a century. Now, after a multimillion-dollar renovation courtesy of Sid Lee Architecture, the hotel has become a hot spot for guests, celebs, and locals drawn to its urban market and outdoor terrace.

The dramatic skyline of Montreal at sunset from Kondiaronk Lookout on Mount Royal Park.
Photograph by Mathieu Dupuis

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