Like most cities, Montreal can be ugly and noisy, with its constant construction, heavy traffic, plain gray skyscrapers, chain restaurants, and cloudy days. But it can also be surprisingly beautiful... and nowhere is that more apparent than around Saint-Louis Square, in the neighborhood of the Plateau.
Every Sunday, a curious gathering takes place on the slopes of Mont Royal, near the statue of Sir George-Étienne Cartier. Men and women bring their tam-tams, grab a seat, and spend the entire afternoon pounding out impromptu rhythms, smoking and dancing. You might be thinking, "This sounds like it'd be popular with hippies." And you would be right.
Visible across from the Old Port of Montreal, Île Sainte-Hélène is home to the Jean-Drapeau Park, and many of Montreal's favorite summertime activities. With nature trails, weekend festivals, an amusement park and a pool, not to mention the Biosphère, there's plenty to on the island. We spent the day there, and made sure to swing by the Stewart Museum, located in an old British fort and dedicated to the history of Montreal.
An artificial island created for the 1967 World Expo, the Île Notre-Dame is found in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River. The Notre-Dame and its sister island, the Île Sainte-Hélène, together make up the Parc Jean-Drapeau, which is among Montreal's most popular summertime hangout areas.
Founded in 1821 on a royal charter from King George IV, McGill is today considered to be Canada's leading university. Its original, downtown campus located at the foot of Mont Royal is a thing of beauty, and among its Victorian-era buildings, you'll find the Redpath Museum of Natural History.
A small island found just off the foot of Montreal, Île Bizard is named after one of New France's original settlers, Jacques Bizard. The island has been largely spared from over-development, and a healthy percentage of it is today protected in the Bois-de-l'Île-Bizard Nature Park. We spent a beautiful summer day there, exploring the park's diverse ecosystems, which include swampland, plains and forest.
Found in an old maintenance yard near Canada's first railway line, the Exporail Museum introduces visitors to some of the country's earliest trains. With dozens of refurbished models, many of which you can enter and explore, exhibitions and movies about the railway culture, and even a miniature train which you can ride, this is a much more impressive museum than we had been expecting.
The opening of the Lachine Canal in 1825 signaled Montreal's ascendance as a major center of industry and commerce. The canal was made obsolete by the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1970, but today has found new life as a park, with an excellent urban trail running along side its length.
After visiting the Kondiaronk Belvedere and taking in the view of downtown Montreal, you can continue your exploration of the mountain by heading west toward the Lac aux Castors. On the way, you'll pass a sculpture park and the Maison Smith, which was built in 1858 and today is home to a small exhibition about the park.
Comprising an area of almost 200 acres next to the Olympic Park, Montreal's Botanical Garden opened in 1931, and is considered to be among the most important in the world. The garden is separated into over twenty thematic zones along with ten greenhouses, dozens of kilometers of trails, and over 22,000 plant species. In other words, you better get started.