No trip to Montreal, Canada’s second largest city, is complete without spending at least one day in the historic and beautiful Old Montreal. Old Montreal is set between the St Lawrence River and the downtown skyscrapers and can easily be toured by foot. The fascinating history of the area began in 1642 and as you wander through the narrow streets, traces of the different periods and the influence of different cultures and nationalities provide a visual history lesson. As well as the different architectural influences, Old Montreal is full of interesting museums, art galleries, boutiques and many first rate restaurants and cafes.
THE HISTORY OF OLD MONTREAL
Old Montreal is the oldest area in Montreal. Montreal was founded by a group of French settlers in the year 1642 on the banks of the St Lawrence River, situated in Old Montreal. In the 18th Century Old Montreal became a fortified town and a French colony. After the French and Indian war in 1763, Montreal became a British colony. Many of the original French buildings were destroyed in fires in the years 1765, 1768 and 1812.
In the 19th century, Old Montreal became less residential and wealthy British and Scottish merchants built extravagant houses and transformed the area, building many large stately buildings including large banks.
The great depression of 1929 led to many business closures and a general decline of the Old Montreal area. The port in Old Montreal that had previously been a center for commerce and business, became less central as business relocated further East.
Old Montreal was saved from city planners who were contemplating pulling down many of the original buildings as well as widening roads to make the area accessible for motor cars. A Dutch architect Daniel Van Ginkel was instrumental in saving the area from destruction in the mid 1960’s.
Since that time the district has undergone renovations and upgrading and has emerged as a major historical area as well as one of the most popular tourist sites in Canada.
SOME POPULAR TOURIST SITES
The splendid buildings in Old Montreal trace the fascinating history of the area, the architecture has been restored so that the original look of the city is evident. Some of the must-sees in Old Montreal include:
The Old Sulpician Seminary - This is the oldest building in Old Montreal and dates back to the year 1685. The building was home to the Sulpicans who were responsible for the first Parish in Montreal.
Notre-Dame Basilica - This splendid church was built between the years 1824 and 1829. It was redecorated again in the 1870s in a Victorian style. The beautiful woodwork and star-spangled vault are particularly impressive.
Bank of Montreal- This large and impressive bank was built in the 19th century and is still in use today. As well as an impressive exterior, the interior of the bank is equally opulent and houses a small museum.
The New York Life Building – This was Montreal’s very first skyscraper and was built in 1888.
Centre d’histoire de Montreal- A restored fire hall where you can learn all about the history of the city.
The Old Port – Take a stroll along the scenic old port where you can learn about the ports history as well as take part in some of the varied activities and entertainment.
Montreal Science Centre- A wonderful museum for kids and teens where they can take part in interactive games and experiments and visit the IMAX theatre.
PLACES TO EAT
There are plenty of great restaurant and cafes in Old Montreal offering traditional fare as well as many different cuisines from around the world.
Le Club Chasse et Peche – Perhaps the best restaurant in Old Montreal, the restaurant has a low key feel and offers fresh food using the highest quality ingredients.
Toquè – Ever since opening in 1993, this restaurant has become known around the world as being one of the most innovative and creative restaurants.
Maison Christian Faure – Tucked away in a side street is this glorious pastry bakery with the most delectable and delicious pastries.
Olive and Gourmando – If you are looking for a delicious breakfast or light lunch, make your way to this bistro and choose from a large selection of soups, sandwiches and pastries.
Brit and Chips- Paying homage to the British history of Old Montreal is this genuine fish and chips shop where the food is served in traditional newspapers.
PLACES TO STAY
Old Montreal is the perfect base to stay for exploring the city. Located close to the downtown area, Old Montreal is a quiet and romantic spot away from the traffic and noise of the downtown area of Montreal. Many of the hotels in Old Montreal are housed in old, historic renovated buildings adding a charming and historical element to your stay.
Hotel Le St-James- This old European style hotel is one of the leading hotels in the world. Housed in a building that was previously a merchant bank, this hotel is situated in the middle of Old Montreal and in close proximity to many places of historical interest, entertainment and restaurants.
Hotel Gault – This is another hotel housed in a beautifully renovated building. Although the exterior of the building retains its old time charm, the interior of the hotel has been transformed into a modern and stylish minimalist style hotel.
Le Petit Hotel – Housed in two old buildings, this is a trendy hotel with tech savvy amenities such as free Wi-Fi and Wii Fit stations.
Ride on horse driven carts and immerse yourselves in the fascinating history of this beautiful city surrounded by historic and elegant buildings and the wonderful waterfront. Old Montreal is the perfect vacation destination for couples, for solo travellers as well as families with young children. From the historic charms of the city, the first class restaurants and the luxurious hotels, Old Montreal has something to offer every traveller. Students and those travelling on a tight budget can also enjoy plenty of free sightseeing and inexpensive places to eat and sleep.