Photo: Paulo Barcellos Jr.
Downtown Montreal and the Golden Square Mile
Also known as “Centre-Ville,” this is the heart of Montreal. Here, you’ll find everything from restaurants, shopping malls, cafes, bars, strip clubs, theatres, museums, universities and a few churches.
Montreal’s downtown is bounded by rue Guy (west), rue Saint Hubert (east), rue Sherbrooke (north) and rue Notre-Dame (south).
Take the metro and get off at McGill station. Stroll along the main road, rue Saint Catherine, which is also one the city’s biggest shopping strips. Check out the many stores and shopping malls including the Eaton Centre and Place Montreal Trust.
For dining and nightlife, head west on Saint Catherine and turn onto rue Crescent. This street is filled with restaurants, bars, and clubs of all styles. Explore more bustling and nightlife-filled streets by heading east to Rue Saint Laurent and to rue Saint Denis.
Continue North on Crescent until you reach rue Sherbrooke and the beginning of Mont-Royal. This area is called the Golden Square Mile, which used to be one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Canada. In the 1800s, this neighborhood was home to many anglophone business leaders. Many of the baronial style mansions are gone, but some have turned into impressive university buildings for the nearby McGill University and consulate homes.
La Ville Souterraine / The Underground City
Montreal’s Underground City makes downtown Montreal unique. The “underground city” refers to a set of interconnected buildings and walkways below ground level. Most of the shopping malls, metro stations, hotels and train stations in downtown Montreal can all be accessed via this vast underground network. The Underground City covers 33 km (20.5) of the downtown area and allows Montrealers to escape the cold in winter. Its corridors link up 10 metro stations, 2 bus terminals, 1200 offices, about 2000 stores, around 1600 housing units and more.
Le Quartier des Spectacles
Le Quartier des Spectacles, or “the entertainment neighborhood” is a new and vibrant area dedicated to entertainment. Here, you’ll find Place des Arts, the biggest performing arts centre in Montreal. All the major broadway shows, ballets and operas are performed here. Right besides Place des Arts is a vibrant area dedicated to Montreal’s many renowned summer festivals such as the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Just for Laughs comedy festival,, winter festivals like Montréal en Lumière and more. In summer, there are “invisible” water fountains that spurt from the pavements and light up as you walk by them and interactive musical swings. There is almost always an event or activity in this area. Visit le Quartier des Spectacles’ website for the schedule. To get to The Quartier des Spectacles, get off at Place des Arts metro station.
Le Quartier Latin / Latin Quarter
Just a bit past the Quartier des Spectacles is the Latin Quarter. This area runs from one of the two French-language universities in Montreal, the Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM), to the south end of rue Saint Denis. The colourful area is always filled with students and artsy-type young adults who crowd the cheap restaurants and bars or study in the cafes near Berri-UQAM metro. Montreal’s biggest library, La Grande Bibliothèque, and some smaller theatres like the St. Denis Theatre can also be found in this area. To get there, get off at the Berri-UQAM metro station.
Vieux-Montréal et Le Vieux-Port de Montréal / Old Montreal and the Old Port of Montreal
Old Montreal is the oldest area in Montreal and the most vibrant part of the city. Walk along the narrow cobblestone roads alongside buildings that used to serve as banks and colonial mansions in the 17th century, and see some archaeological remains of some of the first buildings in Montreal — you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a European city. You’ll also immediately notice many attractions that stand out such as the beautiful Notre-Dame Basilica, The Montreal Science Centre, the charming Montreal City Hall and the Place Jacques Cartier, a big square which is always bustling with street performers, caricature artists and craftsmen selling handmade jewelry. Old Montreal is one of the best nightlife spots in the city with a number of both cozy and classy hotels, restaurants, jazz bars, dance clubs, pubs and rooftop bars where you can enjoy a drink and a picturesque view of the city at the same time.
Alongside the St. Lawrence river, you’ll find the historic Old Port of Montreal, where there are events and activities year-round. In winter, you can skate on an outdoor skating rink, or catch events like Igloofest and the Montreal Ice Canoe Challenge. In summer, you can jog along the boardwalk, soak up rays at the man-made beach, rent bikes or go on a day or party cruise. The old port is also notorious for their Canada Day activities and summer events like the Montreal International Reggae Festival.
Chinatown sits between downtown Montreal and old Montreal. Chinatown spans for 18 blocks and is bordered by boulevard René-Lévesque (north) and avenue Viger (south), rue de Bleury (west) and avenue Hôtel de Ville (east). Take a stroll on the main street in Chinatown, De La Gauchetière between rue Saint Urbain et rue Clark and grab a snack at one the pastry shops or stop for lunch at one the many restaurants. In the summer, vendors set up tables on the street (which is partly closed off to pedestrians) forming a mini gift market where you can pick up Asian-style clothes, jewelry, or kitchenware. Have a rest in Sun Yat-Sen square where meditation and tai-chi enthusiasts often gather to practice their art.
You’ll know you’re in The Village because you’ll see rainbow flags everywhere. Also known as The Gay Village, this is the one of the largest and proudest gay neighborhoods in North America. It runs on and around rue Ste-Catherine east between rue St-Hubert and rue Papineau and is filled with some of the city’s most lively restaurants, bars, and clubs. While there are prominent gay and lesbian communities who frolick the area, it is a vibrant and upbeat village where almost every Montrealer enjoys going. Every summer, the Montreal Pride Festival is held, and the whole village turns into one big party.
Parc du Mont Royal
Mont Royal, or as many Montrealers like to call it, “the mountain” is a large hill that’s accessible at the western border of downtown Montreal. Hike up one of the pedestrian trails or cross-country ski along the woods in the winter. Mont Royal is also home to many of Montreal’s landmarks. The Mont Royal cross, which lights up at night, sits on the mountain’s highest point. You can hike up to one of the belvederes, which offer lookout platforms and the most scenic views of Montreal. From downtown, walking up the mountain only takes one or two hours. Parc du Mont Royal is one of the largest green spaces in the city and houses Beaver Lake, a man-made “lake” in the middle of it.
Parc Jean Drapeau: Île St-Hélène & Île Notre-Dame
Also known as “the islands” Île St-Hélène & Île Notre-Dame are small islands just across the old port. These two islands make up Parc Jean Drapeau, which is home to some famous attractions: The La Ronde (Six-Flags) Amusement Park, the Jean Doré Beach, the Montreal Casino, the Biosphere, which is an environmental museum, and Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, the race track where the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix Race is held every year. The Fête des Neiges winter festival is also held here. To get there from Montreal, hop on the metro and get off at Île St-Hélène station, or take the Jacques Cartier or Victoria bridges.
Plateau Mont-Royal / Mile End
“The Plateau” is a less touristy area north-east of downtown Montreal. A stroll through this area would give you an idea of life away from the busy city. Stroll down Avenue du Mont Royal and its side streets and enjoy a myriad of artisan boutiques, cultural eateries, laid back bars and clubs.
A quick stroll through the Mile End area would give you an idea of how cultured Montreal actually is. Greektown, Little Portugal, and Little Italy can be found within short distances of one another. To get there, take the metro and get off at Mont-Royal station.
The Olympic Park
You can’t visit Montreal without visiting the Olympic Park. Situated in the east end of Montreal, about a 20 minute drive from downtown, the Olympic park features the Olympic Stadium that was built for the 1976 Olympics. Take a ride up the Montreal Tower, the world’s tallest inclined tower. The park also includes several family-friendly attractions: The Botanical Gardens, The Insectarium, The Biodome, The Planetarium, and more. The Olympic Park website has a full list of all the attractions. To get there, take the metro and get off at Pie-IX station.