Montreal is undeniably a city that has its own unique charm, from its mountainous surroundings, to its crowning waterfront location. The historic and modern blend seamlessly in the city. It is rich with culture and history, and it would be a waste to not go beyond the ‘McGill bubble’ and explore this incredible city. Here are two self-guided walking tours to explore Montreal.
Old Montreal (Vieux Montreal)
This tour explores Old Montreal. It begins at Canada’s furst bank, The Bank of Montreal, which was established in 1817. Across from the bank is Place d’Armes. The monument, dedicated to the city’s founders, is in the heart of the city and offers a striking historical panorama. The tour leads to two different churches: the Notre-Dame Basilica with its Gothic Revival architecture, and the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, which translates to “Our Lady of Good Help.” In addition to walking past the churches from the 17th and 18th centuries, the tour will take one on a historical and political journey. Located on Rue Notre-Dame are the Old Courthouse and City Hall. For centuries, this is where different, and often conflicting, visions of the city have been championed, and where trials have been heard and decisions made. Three courthouses from different periods appear along the street and can be seen on the walk.
Additionally, the tour leads to the Pointe-à-Callière, Montreal’s Museum of Archaeology and History. The museum has collections of artifacts from First Nations that illustrate how various cultures coexisted and interacted around present-day Montreal. In addition, it showcases how the French and British regimes influenced the history of the territory over the years. The museum has been included in National Historic Sites of Canada since 1998, and the entrance fee is $12 for students.
The final destination is Old Port, which became the gateway to Canada in the early 17th century when French fur traders used it as a trading post. There are many events held throughout the year at Old Port, and it has become a tourist destination with a variety of cafés, restaurants, and shops. By following this route, one can learn more about Montreal’s rich history and explore one of Canada’s most historic towns. This tour can be completed in a couple hours; however, to fully enjoy the experience a whole day is recommended.
The Plateau (Le Plateau-Mont-Royal)
Many McGill students live in Plateau Mont-Royal, but rarely have time to explore their own neighbourhood. This self-guided tour explores the Plateau, beginning at the Mont-Royal metro station. The first part of the tour is Rue Saint-Denis. This street is one of the most animated and culturally diverse streets in Montreal. Lined with over 300 storekeepers and restaurants, it is a major north-south thoroughfare. While the map highlights some stores, many more retailers can be spotted on the strip, as well as cafés, shops, and various other service. There are two theaters on Saint-Denis in addition to a variety of bars and bakeries.
The street is currently lined with “La Grande Terrasse Rouge”—a long, continuous red terrasse that runs along the street between Rue Roy and Avenue Mont-Royal. The terrace has been built by the city to help compensate the owners of the street’s 109 businesses for the upcoming road work that is expected to last more than a year.
Branching off of Saint-Denis is Rue Duluth, which leads to Parc la Fontaine. This 40-hectare grassy gem is located in the center of the Plateau. The park includes two ponds with a fountain and waterfalls, an open-air theater, a cultural centre, sports fields, and tennis courts. It is a great spot to rest on the tour and a good place to enjoy the natural escape in the middle of the bustling city.
The final leg of the tour is on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. This commercial artery and cultural heritage site, nicknamed “The Main,” is packed with clubs, bars, boutiques, shops, and restaurants. As the map highlights, Schwartz’s, the famous smoked meat deli, is located along the street.
The tour ends at Saint-Louis Square, which has a water fountain in the centre and is surrounded by park benches and Victorian style residence buildings. This guided walk is perfect for those who want to explore the Plateau and experience the urban and natural duality. Furthermore, the Plateau is rich in French and European culture which is not often found in downtown Montreal. The tour can be completed in a couple hours; however, meandering through stores along Saint-Denis and exploring the Parc la Fontaine are highlights of the tour and require more time.