Montreal Introduction Walking Tour, Montreal

Montreal Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Montreal

The second-most populous city in Canada, Montreal is an old, yet at the same time, modern metropolis, flagship of Canada's Québec province. Sitting on an island in the Saint Lawrence River, with Mount Royal at its center, the city owes its name to this triple-peaked hill (Mont Royal in modern French, although in 16th-century French the forms réal and royal were used interchangeably).

The First Nations (Indigenous Canadian peoples) occupied the island as early as 4,000 years ago. In 1611, French explorer Samuel de Champlain established here a fur trading post. A group of colonists from La Flèche (in the Loire valley of France) arrived on the island in 1642. The settlers founded on its southern shore a new town called Ville-Marie ("City of Mary"), named for the Virgin Mary.

The settlement appeared as Ville-Marie in all official documents until 1705, when Montreal appeared for the first time, although people had referred to it as the "Island of Montreal" long before then. Montreal was incorporated as a city in 1832, and from 1844 to 1849 was the capital of the Province of Canada (British colony in North America). For over a century and a half, Montreal was the industrial, financial and commercial center of Canada, surpassed in population and economic strength by Toronto only in the 1970s. This legacy has left a wealth of notable attractions and a blend of architectural moods, from French colonial to bohemian, providing an invaluable insight into the city's past.

Historically, Montreal has been a center of Catholicism in North America with its numerous seminaries and churches, including the Notre-Dame Basilica, St Patrick's Basilica, and the Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde. Nicknamed la ville aux cent clochers (“the city of a hundred steeples”), Mark Twain once noted about it, "This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn't throw a brick without breaking a church window."

A cultural heart of Montreal's classical art and the venue for many summer festivals is Place des Arts, a large square in the eastern portion of downtown.

The city is composed of 19 large boroughs, many of which were once independent cities, subdivided into neighborhoods. The borough with the most neighborhoods is Ville Marie, which includes downtown, Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal), Chinatown, and others. The cobblestoned, French colonial Old Montreal is a historic area containing many attractions such as the Old Port of Montreal, Place Jacques-Cartier, Montreal City Hall (the seat of local government), Place d'Armes and more.

The 21st-century Montréal remains an important hub of commerce, aerospace, transport, finance, pharmaceuticals, technology, design, education, art, culture, tourism, food, fashion, video game development, film, and world affairs.

To appreciate this beautiful city in its entirety, take our self-guided introductory walk and enjoy its atmosphere to the fullest!
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Montreal Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Montreal Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Canada » Montreal (See other walking tours in Montreal)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde
  • Place Ville-Marie
  • St. Patrick's Basilica
  • Place d'Armes
  • Notre-Dame Basilica
  • Place Jacques-Cartier
  • City Hall (Hotel de Ville)
  • Chinatown
  • Saint-Laurent Boulevard
  • Place des Arts
  • Ste-Catherine Street (Rue Ste-Catherine)
Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde

1) Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde (must see)

Montréal has many beautiful churches and this is one of those that you should see when visiting downtown. Despite being nestled among many high-rise structures, its dome is unmistakable, modeled on St. Peter's in Rome. Though somewhat “scaled-down”, the church is a perfect replica of the same, right down to the red copper baldachin over the altar that was fully hand-carved in Rome.

Dating back to in the 1890s, the cathedral appears older than its years, while at the same time feeling relatively modern as compared to Notre-Dame across town or even other cathedrals in other major cities – mostly due to the cleaner, simpler design. While not particularly ornate, the interior is still pretty, marked by soft hues that lend a gentle and slightly feminine touch. On a sunny day, the brilliant colors of the stained glass windows make it easy to observe the details – from the vibrant ceiling to the altar and the beautiful organ pipes at the back. You may also notice the baptismal font is surmounted by an impressive stucco crucifix – one of the most important pieces of religious sculpture in Quebec.

While the floor and walls are covered in Italian marble the main works of art are dedicated to the city's devout Catholics, including depictions of Marguerite Bourgeoys and Grey Nuns founder Marguerite d'Youville. Like St. Peter's, the cathedral also has 13 statues that adorn the facade, but breaking with tradition they do not represent Jesus and the 12 apostles. Instead, they represent the patron saints of parishes that offered them to the diocese and include Saint Hyacinthe, Saint Francis of Assisi, and Saint John the Baptist.

Why You Should Visit:
Peaceful and ornate, this Cathedral will make you feel as if you are in an old basilica in Europe.

Don't forget to check the gift shop that has many unique gift and jewelry items.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 7am-6:15pm; Sat-Sun: 7:30am-6:15pm; free admission
Place Ville-Marie

2) Place Ville-Marie

One of Montréal's most controversial projects, considering its proximity to many Montreal landmarks and the vast changes it would bring to the downtown core, Place Ville-Marie skyscraper was part of Mayor Jean Drapeau's plan to create a new, modern metropolis. Its name was, in fact, chosen by the Mayor himself (to honor the French Catholic colony founded in 1642 at what now is Montreal), while its offices were meant to house headquarters for the Royal Bank of Canada (still in place). The city's financial district thus moved from Old Montréal to downtown, inside the largest and most complex office building the world had ever seen.

The name "Place Ville Marie" is often used to refer to the cruciform building only, whereas it also applies to the four shorter office buildings constructed around it in 1963 and 1964, as well as to the urban plaza which lies on top of the largest section of the shopping promenade, and between the buildings.

Designed by I. M. Pei (one of most recognized architects of the 20th century) and Henry N. Cobb, this international-style construction was completed in 1962. Then tallest in the British Commonwealth, the edifice also held the distinction of being the city's only cruciform building.

The location of Place Ville Marie was originally a vast railway trench. Most of the building was thus constructed over the tracks, requiring the structure to be more resistant to vibrations than normally required. As a result, it is the most earthquake-resistant office tower in Montreal.

Below ground, the complex became a nexus for Montréal's Underground City, the world's busiest, with indoor access to over 1,600 businesses, numerous subway stations, and tunnels extending throughout downtown. A counter-clockwise rotating beacon on the rooftop lights up at night, illuminating the surrounding sky with white horizontal beams that can be seen as far as 50 kilometres (31 mi) away.

The plaza has a large fountain with programmed water jets and a large abstract sculpture at its centre, "Feminine Landscape" by Gerald Gladstone.

If you visit during Christmas, you will find a huge Christmas tree at the central court.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Wed: 9:30am–6pm; Thu, Fri: 9:30am–9pm; Sat: 9:30am–5pm; Sun: 12–5pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
St. Patrick's Basilica

3) St. Patrick's Basilica (must see)

Built in 1847, during the Famine Migration from Ireland, St. Patrick's is to Montréal's Anglophone Catholics what the Notre-Dame Basilica is to their French-speaking brethren. Among the country's purest examples of the Gothic Revival style, it was declared a historic monument and a National Historic site of Canada in 1996. A true feast for the eyes, you will gorge on its magnificent beauty and revel in the intricate ornate details imbued within.

Stained glass windows adorn the basilica throughout its corners and walls, and on a sunny day, the interior blossoms into a dazzling cornucopia of colour. The tall, slender columns are actually pine logs lashed together and decorated to look like marble, lending an air of majesty and solemness. Another major attraction is the large hanging lamp weighing 1,800 pounds, with six angels adorning the perimeter. You've never seen anything quite like it.

Why You Should Visit:
Not as opulent as Notre-Dame, but lovely on its own. It's lighter and brighter, with glorious woodwork and other details.
On a sunny day, the stained glass windows and Gothic architecture are textbook perfect and golden in hue.
Plus, the place is free to visit and you'll probably be the only tourist there, free to sit and contemplate.

Visit after lunch and you might catch the organist practicing for upcoming services.
A side door is usually unlocked most days in case you can't get through the main entrance.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8:30am–5:15pm; Sat: 10:30am–5pm; Sun: 8:30am–5pm
Place d'Armes

4) Place d'Armes

One of the oldest public sites in Montreal, this square has got an epic history dating back to the 1690s when it was first named Place de la Fabrique. As early as 1720, citizens of the Ville-Marie settlement would gather here to watch military maneuvers, following which it became the site of hay and wood markets and, later, of a Victorian garden and tramway hub. The square's real significance, however, comes not so much from the spot itself as from what surrounds it.

Sitting in the heart of historic Montréal, Place d'Armes is bordered on all sides by structures that define the city's diverse heritage. Directly to the right of Notre-Dame Basilica is the U-shaped Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice, Montréal's oldest building, constructed by French Sulpician priests in the 1680s. The building's clock is the oldest of its kind in N America, and the gardens are considered to be among the oldest on the continent.

Erected in 1888, the New York Life building became the city's first skyscraper, a whole eight floors up and furnished with an elevator that was quite a novelty at that time. Across the way, the Royal Trust and the Duluth Building (to the left of the basilica) are two early-20th-century skyscrapers that mark a distinct architectural shift, cemented with the arrival in 1931 of the Art-Deco-style Aldred Building, inspired by New York's Empire State Building (and designed to ensure maximum natural lighting for the streets below). A post-war glass and steel structure, the only example of its kind in the city, now known as the National Bank Tower (NBT), completed the square's architectural timeline in 1968.

Directly in front of the NBT, you'll find two sculptures: a caricature of an haughty Englishman with a pug, and one of a French woman with a poodle. While the dogs eye at each other, just wanting to play, the lady gives an evident look of disdain towards the symbol of English power (that being the old Bank of Montreal), while the gentleman looks down his nose the Notre-Dame Basilica, symbolizing historical French influence in the region.

The pedestrian-friendly square also features a monument depicting the founders of Montréal, including French officer, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, and is fitted with sprawling benches that provide relief from the surrounding concrete.

Why You Should Visit:
Beautiful place to stop, have a coffee or snack and marvel at the historical, French-inspired architecture and monuments including a memorial to the founders of Montreal. Beautiful views of Notre-Dame to boot!
Notre-Dame Basilica

5) Notre-Dame Basilica (must see)

A stunning example of Gothic Revival architecture, the Notre-Dame Basilica is renowned for its lavish, colorful and dramatic interior. Filled with hundreds of intricate wooden carvings and several religious statues, it was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1989. The $10 admission fee doesn't turn away tourists who line up to be admitted, using the very informative brochure as a self-guide (additionally, a 20-minute English/French tour is free with entry).

You get a feel for the basilica's grandness right as you approach its bell towers rising high and its three statues looking out over the metropolis: the Virgin Mary (representing Montréal), St. John the Baptist (representing Québec), and St. Joseph (representing Canada). Inside, the vaults are colored deep blue and decorated with golden stars, while the rest of the sanctuary is decorated in blues, azures, reds, purples, silver, and gold. Unusual for a church, too, the stained glass windows along the walls do not depict biblical scenes, but rather the religious and social life of the early Ville-Marie settlement, showing the city's strong ties to the Catholic religion. Another spectacular highlight is the Casavant Frères pipe organ, dated 1891, which comprises four keyboards and 7000 individual pipes.

Notre-Dame Basilica has witnessed several grand weddings (including Céline Dion's) and funerals of eminent personalities. If you're interested in classical and religious music, the building plays host to concerts throughout the year.

The 'AURA' light show (presented usually at 7 and 9pm) is exceptional but sometimes full so plan your visit: you can book your ticket online or come early before the show timing. Try sitting somewhere in the middle – between 50-70% from the front, and more towards the middle to get the best music & light experience.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8am–4:30pm; Sat: 8am–4pm; Sun: 12:30pm–4pm
Place Jacques-Cartier

6) Place Jacques-Cartier

Place Jacques-Cartier (Jacques Cartier square) marks the entrance to the Old Port of Montreal. Situated at the heart of Old Montréal, bordered on the north and south by the waterfront and City Hall (the famous Hôtel de Ville), the square is a vibrant, beautiful area, filled with outdoor terraces, bistros and seasonal fruit stalls, paved in cobblestones and populated by artisans and musicians. Numerous painters, photographers and jewelers, selling their wares, are clustered on narrow old alleyways like Rue Saint-Paul, branching off the square.

Near the Place, on rue de la Commune, an original piece of the wall of the old fortified city can still be seen in the basement restaurant of the Auberge du Vieux-Port. In 1809, Montreal's oldest public monument, Nelson's Column, was raised at the upper end of the square. The statue was removed in 1997 to preserve it from the weather, and was subsequently replaced with a copy. In 1847, the square was renamed in honour of Jacques Cartier, the explorer who claimed Canada for France in 1535.

During the spring and particularly summer season, when all the flowers are in bloom and it becomes a car-free zone, Jardin Nelson offers a garden restaurant on Place Jacques-Cartier. Other ivied courtyard restaurants similarly offer classical Parisian-style "terraces" for taking a drink or dining in the open air. There's nothing better than having a glass of sangria at a table outside, watching the chic Montréalers and all the tourists go by.

And on the other side of the Place, the famous restaurant Saint-Amable (the oldest one in town) welcomes Montreal celebrities and locals in a crooner jazz atmosphere. There is a usual array of touristy shops selling local trinkets too.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
City Hall (Hotel de Ville)

7) City Hall (Hotel de Ville)

As is the case with some cities, city halls tend to be icons and featured on postcards and in tour books. Such is definitely the case with Montréal's Hôtel de Ville of the late 19th century, which overlooks the port and takes its place alongside other important administrative buildings. One of the best examples of the Second Empire style in Canada, its front and its sides are beautifully decorated with attractive turrets, balconies, and mansard roofs, and that's what you see if walking along Rue Notre-Dame or if walking up Place Jacques-Cartier.

Inside, the Hall of Honour is an open space full of marble/gold embellishments that houses Art Deco lamps from Paris and a bronze-and-glass chandelier, also from France, weighing a metric ton. In the council room, the five stained-glass windows, installed in the 1920s, depict the fundamental aspects of the city: religion, agriculture, the port, commerce, and finance.

Behind Hôtel de Ville is a pocket of green known as the Champ-de-Mars, which served as a military parade ground and city parking lot before it was converted into a park in the 1980s. During the conversion, workers unearthed remains from the city's old fortifications, and parts of the restored city walls were incorporated into the site.

As opposed to many gov't buildings with restricted public entry, the Montréal City Hall permits visitors to take a quick free tour. There are a handful of these to choose from, with the separate FR/EN schedules clearly visible when walking in.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8:30am–5pm

8) Chinatown

Dating back to the 1860s, Montreal's Chinatown with its actual perimeter defined by guardian lions is far smaller than many of those found in other parts of N America. If you only plan to stroll in order to enjoy the hustle and bustle, the architecture and the waft of the exotic (including traditional festivals and holidays), it is easily covered within about an hour. Otherwise, it's a place where to believe what you see, you must eat it.

If limited in time or budget, check the PÂTISSERIE HARMONIE for some savory buns or Vietnamese 'bánh mì' sandwich. Alternatively, for ultimate satisfaction in this realm one must try local noodles, dumplings, dim sum, and/or the Peking duck. The Vietnamese pho, Japanese ramen/sushi, and Korean bibimbap/kimchi are also all there for you to discover.

Here is a list of current favorites: NOUILLES DE LAN ZHOU for hand-pulled noodles; KIM FUNG for dim sum; MAI XIANG YUAN or BIEN MAISON for steamed dumplings; PHO BAC for Vietnamese; CHEZ BONG for Korean; ORANGE ROUGE for high-end fusion; SUMO RAMEN for ramen; LE MAL NÉCESSAIRE for cocktail bar; BEIJING or MON NAN for Peking duck; and LA CAPITAL TACOS for flavorful Mexican/Latin cuisine served in Chinese dinnerware. On another note, the Dragon's Beard candy from BONBONS À LA BARBE DE DRAGON and the crispy duck/pork/chicken from LAM KEE are good take-outs.
Saint-Laurent Boulevard

9) Saint-Laurent Boulevard

A commercial artery and cultural heritage site, Saint-Laurent runs north-south through the near-centre of city and is nicknamed The Main (French: La Main) which is the abbreviation for "Main Street". Dividing the city between East and West, as well as traditionally dividing it by language, ethnicity, and class, the boulevard was named as the country's Main National Historic Site in 2002.

The Main runs through many of Montreal's ethnic communities, a first stop for immigrant communities for over a century – initially Jewish, Chinese and Italian, and later Portuguese, Greek, Arab, Haitian and others. Oozing with charm and history, it's a great place to view urban street art, drop in a coffee shop, pick up a few things at a specialty boutique, grab a bite at a deli or bistro, find a hidden bar or pub, or just kick back with a cold drink on one of the patio seating areas and watch the world go by.

Numerous art galleries and other cultural organisations make their home on the Main, including La Centrale gallerie Powerhouse, Théâtre Espace Go, the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, the Festival International Nuits d'Afrique, the Montreal Fringe Festival, Image & Nation Festival, the Society for Arts and Technology, and the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal. Many well-known music venues can also be found on the Main, including Casa del Popolo, Sala Rosa, Club Soda, Barfly, Jupiter Room, Club Lambi, The Academy Club and Divan Orange.

Gastronomic highlights include Schwartz's deli and the nearby Main Deli Steak House, both serving Montreal-style smoked meat, as well as the Montreal Pool Room, serving Montreal hot dogs since 1912.
Place des Arts

10) Place des Arts

Place des Arts was an initiative of Mayor Jean Drapeau, a noted lover of opera, as part of a project to expand the downtown core eastward from the concentration of business and financial activity. The first part of the complex was inaugurated in 1963, at the height of the city's construction and architectural boom. The other theaters were added progressively, along with Musée d'Art Contemporain that can be found next door.

Taking up an entire block of the downtown core, the multi-venue arts center is now a home of four of the city's largest production companies – the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Opéra de Montréal, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, and the Jean-Duceppe theater company. The site has undergone major reconstruction in order to include a 6th concert hall dedicated to performances by the Montréal Symphony, and to remodel the Grand Foyer, which greets visitors to the complex.

In the summer the Esplanade and adjacent street comprise one of the important outdoor sites of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, as well as of other cultural happenings and festival events such as the Montréal World Film Festival. The Esplanade's stairs are a choice spot for a meeting point or to simply sit and people-watch; in addition, there are jumping jet fountains and shallow pools nearby, surrounded by visitors cooling off, their feet dangling in the basin.

Why You Should Visit:
The place to be in Montreal from June to August! Great fun for young and old and there is something for everyone. The area is relaxed, yet full of restaurants and also good shopping; easily accessible as there's a metro stop nearby.
Ste-Catherine Street (Rue Ste-Catherine)

11) Ste-Catherine Street (Rue Ste-Catherine) (must see)

Rue Ste-Catherine represents the main busy-bee area for shopping, commerce, pedestrian sights, sounds and smells of downtown Montréal. A kind of kaleidoscope for your sensory perception – visual, auditory, and olfactory, it's a wonderful place for a social anthropologist or the everyday citizen-visitor to come experience the vibe of the city in centre-ville.

This street runs a long way (15 km/9 mi) from east to west across the city. You can explore the west end where a plethora of fashion boutiques and restaurants/cafes can be found, or check out the pink balls (put up in summer of 2016) over in the east-end Gay Village. Retailers on the west end are a mix of chains and independents – but, really, more of the former.

The vibe is completely different in summertime, when Montréal comes most alive and part of Ste-Catherine becomes a wide pedestrian walkway. Starting around the 1st weekend of June, people can be found at all hours of the day soaking in the sun, enjoying street festivals and the fleeting warm weather. Winters can be harsh, as wind can whip through the street like a wind tunnel. Whenever you decide to visit, be courteous and explore the possibilities for dining and entertainment.

Walking Tours in Montreal, Canada

Create Your Own Walk in Montreal

Create Your Own Walk in Montreal

Creating your own self-guided walk in Montreal is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Old Montreal Walking Tour

Old Montreal Walking Tour

Old Montreal (French: Vieux-Montréal) is a historic neighborhood southeast of downtown. Founded by French settlers in 1642 as Fort Ville-Marie, Old Montreal is home to many structures dating back to the era of New France. The 17th-century settlement lends its name to the borough in which the neighborhood lies, Ville-Marie.

Most of the city's earliest still-standing buildings,...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles
The RMS Titanic Walking Tour

The RMS Titanic Walking Tour

Largely owing to James Cameron's blockbuster movie, "Titanic", people from all over the world are aware of the luxury cruiser's sinking on its maiden voyage in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912. However, not everyone knows that Montreal has a significant number of Titanic-related sites. Take this walking tour to discover them!

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Souvenir Shopping Tour

Souvenir Shopping Tour

It would be a pity to leave Montreal without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. On this walk, you will find some of the most interesting shops and markets in Montreal. Take this self guided tour to hunt for a truly unique and authentic made-in-Canadian product that will mesmerize your trip for the years to come.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.3 Km or 0.8 Miles
Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Home to four centuries of architecture, Montréal is a place all its own, shaped by French and English influences, where modern buildings coexist with some of the oldest and most fascinating structures. Along with areas from Expo 67 and the 1976 Olympics, Old Montréal's historic buildings stand out as some of the most enduring sights, continuing to thrive in the city and to define its...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
Beautiful Religious Buildings Walking Tour

Beautiful Religious Buildings Walking Tour

This walk is designed to give you a religion- and architecture-infused introduction to Vieux-Montréal, the city's oldest part, full of hot spots and hidden gems. Most churches, chapels and cathedrals here stand as testament to the religious fervor that inspired the French settlers who landed in the mid-17-th century to build a “Christian commonwealth”. Notably, however, this is all...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.2 Km or 2.6 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

Montreal Souvenirs: 15 Trip Mementos to Bring Home

Montreal Souvenirs: 15 Trip Mementos to Bring Home

The outpost of Frenchness in North America (and the world's 2nd largest francophone city after Paris), Montreal is the meeting point of the New and Old World styles, the collision of the French, English and Aboriginal cultures. The historical and ethnic uniqueness of the city is seen throughout...