Montréal, like some precious work of art, is framed by Mont Royal and the St. Lawrence River.
Map of Montréal's downtown and points of interest
Map of the Greater Montréal Area and points of interest
The Indian village of Hochelaga originally stood at the foot
of the mountain
baptized "Mont Royal" by Jacques Cartier. Here, 230 m (755 ft) below the
summit, Paul Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve, founded Ville-Marie in 1642. Three
and a half centuries later, what was initially a simple missionary village has
burgeoned into the world's largest inland port, the home of Canada's first
banks and trading companies, the world's second-largest French-speaking city,
and a metropolis of international repute. Given its prime location - only
60 km (37 mi) from the U.S. border - Montréal is an
increasingly important hub of North American trade.
Montréal has drawn on the combined strengths of its French and British roots to attract newcomers from around the world. This multicultural mix has fostered a fertile and vibrant cultural life. A broad range of movies, plays and shows draw large audiences, while bars, cafés and discotheques rock until the early hours of the morning. Shopping in Montréal - a fashion capital - is another pleasure not to be missed.
Nature has always been part of Québec's cities, and Montrealers are particularly fortunate to have at their doorsteps Parc du Mont-Royal, a creation of Frederic Olmsted, the American landscape artist who also designed Central Park in New York. Its two lookouts offer glorious views over the city. The park is easily reached and explored via an extensive network of bicycle paths; like all green spaces in the city, it is truly designed to belong to everyone, as a public place of recreation and entertainment.
In winter, as some strap on their skates or cross-country skis and head for the mountain, others seek their exercise below street level, in the "underground city," a subterranean network of over 30 km (18.5 mi) of office and apartment towers, major stores, hotels, restaurants, railway stations, parking garages, movie theatres, concert halls and much more, all connected by Montréal's clean, fast and convenient metro trains.
But the "new" Old Port, entirely made over, is by far the most popular site with visitors. Its park and wharves buzz with activities and people all day long. You can take a tour boat, a ferry or even an amphibious bus for a ride on the St. Lawrence or around the Port, or challenge the Rapides de Lachine in a special jet-boat.
Just across from the Port, in the middle of the St. Lawrence, lies the Parc des Îles, the site of the Expo 67 world's fair. It's the perfect place for family outdoor activities - a picnic or swimming, skating or cross-country skiing, depending on the season. You'll be close to two other sources of thrills as well: La Ronde amusement park has everything from a kid-size roller coaster to the positively hair-raising adult version, while Lady Luck awaits you at the new Montréal Casino on Île Notre-Dame.
Montréal is home to some thirty museums, many of them essential stops on any visitor's itinerary. For instance, there are Canada's oldest art museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, the McCord Museum of Canadian History, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and the Musée d'art contemporain, for modern art. The latter is part of the Place des Arts complex, whose stages have been welcoming all the great names in theatre, music and dance for over 30 years, including the Montréal Symphony Orchestra and the Grands Ballets Canadiens.
Among the many other points of interest, don't miss the Dow Planetarium, where the mysteries of the universe are explained to young and old alike, and Saint-Joseph's Oratory, a famous pilgrimage site, whose imposing dome on the flank of Mont Royal can be seen for miles around.