Do you know the city Montreal –
Is the second largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris and is its official language.
Where the sun sets in North.
Is an island on the convergence of two rivers.
Has Mount Royal park designed by the same architect as Central Park in New York?
Named after Mount Royal hill in the city.
Bonjour, Welcome to Montreal.
The first thing that catches your eyes are the French signboards. With some guessing and translation, we begin our quest. The best place to start is the Mont Royal park.
Mount Royal Park
The 200-hectare park is the best place to relax and get beautiful aerial views of the city. The lookout points – Kondiaronk Chalet and Camilien-Houde give you panoramic views of the city from different directions. The skyscrapers, St. Lawrence River and multiple bridges over it, iconic Olympic stadium and the vibrant spirit of this French city. Behind the Kondiaronk lookout, one can’t miss the magnificent grey stone building with large red overhanging eaves – The Mount Royal chalet. With a huge courtyard and steps leading to the chalet, it’s a great place to sit and enjoy the cool breeze and the views. We even experienced a group doing yoga, with good postures healing the body and live piano music soothing the mind.
Walking our way back from the lookout point, past Smith house, eyes sight stone structures in the sculpture garden. Further ahead is man-made Beaver lake. Perfect place to just relax and read a book, or enjoy a barbecue with friends, boat ride on the lake, or just walk around and indulge in the freshness. While you relax, the kids can have extra fun at the playground near the lake. But in winters this lake freezes and is popular among skaters. Wanna swizzle???
There are a few paid parking lots available around the park. We parked near the Smith House which houses the Information center also. There are maps available both in English and French. Depending on the time, you can further explore the park.
Are you still scratching your heads wondering “How can the sun sets in North and not East???“. Montreal uses an unconventional orientation, considering the mountain Mount Royal as North and river St. Lawrence as South. Thus all the directions are with respect to the new compass orientation.
(Maps courtesy – Johomaps.com )
Montreal, a city of spires has a history that is around 375 years old, with beautiful architecture and charm to the city. And to experience it head over to Old Montreal. From cobblestone roads to slender spires, from statues to beautiful buildings you are in for a feast to the eyes.
Notre Dame Basilica
Notre dame refers to Mother Mary. This basilica is a replica of Notre-Dame Paris.
Entering the arched interiors illuminated by dim blue light, you will be awed by the beauty of Montreal’s oldest church. The blue color represents Mother Mary. Walking down the aisle, towards the altar is the spiral wooden staircase to the left and stained-glass windows on both sides. The glass windows depict different stories from the history of a basilica. The ornate carvings on the wooden staircase are magnificent.
There are guided tours of the basilica both in French and English that divulge all about the history and architecture of the basilica. It is interesting to know that the altar and crucifix from old church are still present.
A look at top of entrance, you might sight huge pipes. These are a part of a musical instrument called “The Organ” which is made up of about 7000 big and small pipes and is played with 4 keyboards. We were lucky to have witnessed the playing of that organ and amazed by the beautiful rhythms.
Walking at the back of the church is a chapel, where you are not allowed to photograph. I guess the divinity that you feel while sitting there cannot be captured by lenses. At the front is a huge bronze sculpture made up from different panels built in England. There is a contrast to the colors and light from the basilica. Glowing in the natural light the golden color stands out. Perfect place to connect to the supreme power.
Admission fees to the basilica is $6 for adults and valid for a whole day while kids 7 and above $4.
The square outside the basilica is a perfect place to view the beautiful facade of the basilica and the statues in the square. You might experience a live musical treat.
Jacques Cartier plaza
Montreal seems to have art, music, architecture all in abundance. You would experience this spirit everywhere you go. A perfect example is the Jacques Cartier plaza within walking distance of the Notre-Dame. This lively square is the perfect place to relax and unwind yourself. Restaurants are lined along both sides of the plaza with balconies adorned with colorful flowers. Live music, artists displaying their art, yummy food, lovely flowers, classical architecture all add up to elevate your spirits.
Walking down the road downhill is the waterfront and Jacques Cartier Pier. Another way to explore Montreal is on water. Various cruises are available from the pier.
The plaza offers so much to eat. Maple Taffy, maple syrup over snow is just like a chewy candy.
Double cone ice creams were our kids favorite. The more the merrier.
Evenings add more charm to the place with music and events all over. The various buildings in Old Montreal act as a canvas to project the videos of the history of the city.
Visit to Montreal is incomplete without eating the Poutine. It is a typical version of French fries with cheese curds and gravy. We had it from a food truck at the pier. There are different versions of Poutine available with various toppings.
- Parking is a big issue in Old Montreal. We had spent an hour circling the Old Montreal in evening to find a parking spot but in vain. There is metered street parking available generally for 2 hours. Parking lots are also available but are expensive. Evenings during weekends can be even harder.
- Parking meters don’t have instructions written in English so can be challenging. We figured out that holding the credit card for a while rather than taking it out instantly was the trick.
- Long queues expected outside basilica during holidays and popular events.
- Exploring Old Montreal is best on foot. So wear comfy shoes.
- Rue Saint Paul (Saint Paul street) is the oldest street of city and enjoyable to walk with cafes and shops lined on both sides.
Common French terms used:
- Rue – meaning Street. Most street names will be “Rue street name”
- Parc – meaning park.
- Bonjour – meaning Hello.
- Merci – means Thanks
- Au revoir – means Bye.
Au revoir Montreal, till we visit again…