10 Surprising Ways to Discover Old and New Montreal

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

View of the Old Port of Montreal - La Grande Rue
Photograph Courtesy of Tourism Montreal / Loïc Romer

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.

<p>Live images throughout Old Montreal are seen on buildings, trees, and other facades during the Cité Mémoire outdoor projections.</p>

Live images throughout Old Montreal are seen on buildings, trees, and other facades during the Cité Mémoire outdoor projections.

Courtesy Tourism Montreal / Jean-Francois Lemire

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 a 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.

Nosh and Tour

Long the epicenters for successive waves of Jewish immigrants, the trendy Plateau and Mile-End neighborhoods 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 neighborhoods 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 core. But since 2013, the city’s MURAL Festival has brought art on a monumental scale to the public free of charge. In its seventh year as of the June 2019 edition, the festival has commissioned almost 100 works, adding a fresh perspective to otherwise nondescript building facades throughout the city.

Explore Montreal with local experts from <a href="https://spadeandpalacio.com/tours/official-montreal-mural-tour/" target="_blank">Spade and Palacio</a>. Small-group tours let you experience the city’s history, food and drink, and Montreal’s original street art and murals.
Explore Montreal with local experts from Spade and Palacio. Small-group tours let you experience the city’s history, food and drink, and Montreal’s original street art and murals.
Photograph Courtesy Tourism Montreal

Enjoy the View at the Top

The tallest Ferris wheel in Canada, La Grande Roue de Montreal (“big wheel”), towers nearly 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-fueled adventure, hop on the 1,200-foot MTL Zipline and swish through the former port area at almost 40 miles an hour.

Take a Mountain Trek

Mount Royal seems to have been plunked 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 program) 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.

Mount Royal Park is open year-round and rewards those who make their way to the top with wonderful views of the city.
Mount Royal Park is open year-round and rewards those who make their way to the top with wonderful views of the city.
Photograph Courtesy Tourism Montreal / Fitz & Follwell Co.

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 colors with the seasons. To see more drama in the night sky, a 20-minute Bixi ride takes you out to Saint Helen’s Island where the Biosphere – a geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller for the 1967 World Expo – is lit from inside in hues that change every few minutes. And half-hour stroll west from the Village au Pied-du-Courant takes you to the Old Port and the Clock Tower, updated with dazzling light projections.

The Jacques-Cartier Bridge illuminates Montreal’s skyline with a fireworks display on Saturday and Wednesday evenings during the summer.
The Jacques-Cartier Bridge illuminates Montreal’s skyline with a fireworks display on Saturday and Wednesday evenings during the summer.
Photograph Courtesy of Tourism Montreal / Eva Blue

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.

Check in to the Lap of 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. Built in the 1960s, the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth remains a landmark attracting le crème de la crème thanks to a multimillion-dollar renovation courtesy of Sid Lee Architecture that, in 2017, made the hotel a hot spot for guests, celebs, and locals drawn to its urban market and outdoor terrace. June 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Montreal Bed-In at the hotel, when the two urged the world to give peace a chance. To commemorate the event, the Phi Centre, a space dedicated to contemporary art in Old Montreal, runs exhibits showing their work.

Also conceived by Sid Lee, here together with Montreal architecture firm Lemay, the new Four Seasons Hotel Montreal is worth the detour from the Old Town. Located on the Golden Square Mile, the city’s first Four Seasons adds more polish to this glitzy stretch of the city — regardless of the season. Sit down for dinner at MARCUS, where celebrated chef Marcus Samuelsson dishes up his take on Ethiopian, Swedish and international flavors.

Read This Next

An icy world is in meltdown, amid penguin population shifts
This sacred valley could become the next national monument
This 50-year project is tracking the Cascades' melting glaciers