Living in Greater Toronto, we have the opportunity to make quick trips to Montreal. This post presents our curated 1 day Montreal itinerary based on our last trip.
Our Previous Experience
We now have visited Montreal three times. First, as a one-day stop on a bus tour with Quebec City as the final destination. A weekend trip with visiting relatives followed. And recently, around the beginning of September, for a business conference.
The first two trips gave us quick and shallow glimpses of the city as we tried to see as many attractions as we can in a limited time. We didn’t feel the authentic vibe of the places we visited. So when we had the chance to go again this year for a conference, we decided to stay an extra day and re-discover Montreal, focusing on just a few areas.
Staying At The Heart Of The City
The hotel where we stayed for the conference was conveniently located in downtown Montreal. It’s at the foot of lush Mount Royal Park, next to the renowned McGill University and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Fine dining, bars, and coffee shops are a few steps away. Shops for local and international brands, high-end and mid-range, are all within walking distance. There’s even a pharmacy around the corner that carries essential grocery and personal items.
Finding Our Way To Old Montreal
If time were not a constraint, we would have visited the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as it was just about 300 meters away from the hotel. However, to fully appreciate the history and details of the items on exhibit, we would need to spend a good part of the day in the museum alone.
We decided to re-explore Old Montreal instead, on foot, with the Notre Dame Basilica (located at the center of Old Montreal) as our primary target. We wondered how far a walk it will be to get there. The hotel concierge gave us very encouraging information – “thirty minutes if we don’t get distracted along the way”. It was a beautiful summer day, and we just had a full breakfast to wear off, so we decided to walk.
Pleasant Surprises Along The Way
We took the path with the least turns, again, as suggested by the concierge. There were ongoing constructions that blocked some of the major intersections, but these did not deter us. The detours allowed us to see snippets of day-to-day urban Montreal life. And more.
As we walked along St. Catherine Street, we passed by the Christ Church Cathedral, a national historic site. Its Neo-Gothic structure provides a sharp contrast to the skyscrapers that surround it. Fun-fact about the cathedral – it was elevated during the construction of the underground city beneath it. It has thus been referred to as the “floating” cathedral.
After walking a little over half a mile, we chanced upon an old building that looks beautifully preserved along Phillips Square that housed the 5-star Hotel Birks. Seeing its ornate front door, we can only imagine how intricately beautiful its interiors are.
In the middle of the square stood a monument dedicated to King Edward V11. We marvelled at the juxtaposition of old and new architecture surrounding the area as we took a short break under the canopy of trees.
We continued along St. Catherine Street until we reached Place des Festivals. Great timing as we caught the ongoing Quartiers Danses Festival. A group of young people strutting their contemporary dance moves entertained us for almost half an hour.
As we headed towards St. Urbain Street, we were in for another pleasant surprise – quirky little scenes inspired by Montréal backyards. They called it “Dans ma cour… ç’a du chien” in French. Such a fun view to rest and people watch.
Notre Dame Basilica – Montreal’s Oldest Catholic Church
Finally, we reached Notre Dame Basilica, Old Montreal’s jewel, after another half-mile walk. We snapped a few photos of the church’s exterior, Place D Armes Square, and the historical buildings flanking the square.
There is a C$8 admission charge to the Basilica that includes a 20-minute guided tour. The fee allows you access to the main sections with a tour guide explaining its history and architecture. We opted for the Grand Tour, a 60-minute guided tour which gave us access to some private areas of the Basilica.
The stunning interiors of the Basilica blew us, and the deep blue ceiling with golden stars transported us to the heavens. The atypical stained-glass depicting Montreal’s religious history instead of biblical scenes were truly artistic brilliance.
The ornate pulpit where priests used to pronounce the sermon is imposing. Statues of Prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah sit at foot of this magnificent structure. We were also able to access the second level where the organ stands. Majestic and well-preserved, the organ has kept its impeccable acoustics, and prestigious organists from all over the world are occasionally invited to perform great music.
Our knowledgeable tour guide dove deeply into the church’s history and architecture, her narration peppered with anecdotes that entertained us throughout the tour. It was well worth the C$15 we paid per head.
After the Basilica tour, we wandered through the cobblestone-paved Rue Saint-Paul, one of the oldest streets in Montreal. We felt like stepping far back in time and experiencing the charm of Old Europe. Several 19th-century warehouses in the area had been renovated and now house artisanal boutiques and galleries. A welcome change from the usual shops you will find in malls.
We further meandered through the back alleys and side streets and came upon old houses and lampposts bordering Rue des Récollets and Rue Sainte-Hélène. With our legs starting to feel the fatigue from all the walking, we were grateful to find a leafy park with benches. We took a break and enjoyed the quiet oasis.
We would have wanted to walk further towards the St Lawrence waterfront and end the day with a sunset view of the city. But, we were ready to reward ourselves with a hearty meal.
From iconic to fusion to exotic, Montreal is bursting with flavours. You can indulge in the legendary dishes that Montreal is famous for like smoked meat, mouth-watering poutines, bagels, and foie-gras from locally tried and tested diners. Or try new, hip cafes offering Instagram-worthy delicious bites. Montreal offers unique dining experiences for all taste buds.
Despite having visited Montreal several times, we never had the chance to try their famous smoked meat. It will be a shame if we miss it again. There are several delis known for smoked meat in Montreal. Schwartz is popular with tourists, but we learned that another less known shop – Lester’s Deli – is more popular with locals, and we went for it.
The deli has a very unassuming facade, and the interiors are quite dated, but we liked the ambiance. Their smoked meat did not disappoint, and we were ready for the 5-6 hour drive back to Toronto
Short, Yet Satisfying Visit
Montréal is the second-largest city in Canada by population and the largest in the province of Québec. It boasts an eclectic array of past and present architecture and provides surprises at every turn.
There is so much to see and explore. If you have only one day, we recommend you choose and focus on an area. We were glad that we did.
We hope this article will help you plan that extra day you may have on your next visit to Montreal.
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