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Old Montreal (Vieux Montreal)

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Old Montreal is a part of downtown Montreal that has been preserved in much of its original state, with the oldest buildings dating back to the 1600's. This historic neighborhood is a safe and vibrant community and tourist attraction, with hotels, restaurants, shops, residences and commercial spaces.

Like Quebec City, Old Montreal is European in character. Cobblestone streets, a café culture and historic 17th and 18th century architecture all contribute to the quaint charm that is unique amongst cities in North America.

Where is Old Montreal?

Old Montreal
caribb/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
Old Montreal sits between the St Lawrence River and downtown Montreal. It covers about one square km (or 0.4 square mile). Its boundaries are roughly Rue Saint-Antoine, the St. Lawrence River, Rue Berri and Rue McGill. The best way to get around once there is most definitely on foot.

See PDF map of Old Montreal.

Getting to Old Montreal

History of Old Montreal

Photo courtesy Vieux Montreal
The city of Montreal has a history dating back to 1642 when settlers from France landed at the edge of the St. Lawrence River and began to build a model Catholic community. The town became a major trading and military post - at one time surrounded by fortifying walls - and housed Canada's parliament for a few years in the 1800s. This waterside community is today's Old Montreal.

What To Do in Old Montreal

Photograph by Chris Cheadle / Getty Images

Visitors can appreciate Old Montreal by merely wandering the streets and stumbling upon its delightful nooks and crannies. Nevertheless, visitors should also make a point of seeing some of its more famous attractions (stop by the tourist bureau at 174 Notre-Dame St. East - corner of Place Jacques-Cartier - and pick up a free map).

The Old Montreal website has a well laid out and thorough self-guided walking tour of Old Montreal, complete with photos and maps.

Old Montreal Museums & Historical Highlights

Photograph by David Sanger / David Sanger

Old Montreal Public Spaces

Photography by Yves Marcoux / Getty Images
  • Place Jacques-Cartier is a public square in true European tradition where people gather to sit on patios, browse the wares of local artists and craftspeople and otherwise mingle.
  • Montreal's Old Port sits on the St. Lawrence River, stretching along Rue de la Commune. This area makes for a nice waterside stroll and offers green space where kids can burn off some energy. In winter and during the Montreal High Lights Festival, a large outdoor skating rink is free to the public.

Shopping in Old Montreal

Photo courtesy Vieux Montreal
Galleries, boutiques and art, jewellery, houseware, and gourmet shops are abundant in Old Montreal. There are some tourist shops crammed with trinkets, but even those, at least, are set in beautiful, historic buildings. In the summer, vendors and artists set up their wares on the streets and in Place Jacques-Cartier. Many of these vendors sell the same pictures - one you'll see is of a typical Montreal spiral staircase. Try looking around a while and buying at the end of your visit to ensure you find a fair price and get something you really like.

Places to Eat in Old Montreal

Photograph by Alan Marsh / Getty Images
There's no shortage of cafés and restaurants in Old Montreal but beware the tourist traps. Here are some of the better places I've found to eat in Old Montreal:
  • Le Jardin Nelson is famous for its crepes and boasts a lush, multilevel outside terrace set amidst the partial walls of a 19th century building. Live jazz.
  • Olive + gourmando - Cozy and busy. Homemade pastries and superb soups and sandwiches.
  • Les 3 Brasseurs - not especially French but good mircrobrew beer and bar food.
  • Club Chasse et Pêche - Rich, intimate interior. Pricey but delicious and creative.
  • Chez l’Épicier - Well known restaurant and chef. Gourmet food shop. Try lunch if on a budget.
  • Canadian Maple Delights - Bistro and shoppe. Maple pastries, ice cream and more.

Hotels in Old Montreal

You won't find large, chain hotels in Old Montreal. Most accommodation is boutique hotels. Visitors may find better bargains at a downtown Montreal hotel, which will be just a walk or short cab ride away. Some of the more popular Old Montreal hotels are:
  • Auberge du Vieux-Port is a riverfront hotel in a heritage building. If you don't stay there, at least go for a drink on the rooftop terrace.
  • Hotel Place d'Armes offers modern, stylish rooms and an award-winning restaurant.
  • Hotel St. Paul is a luxury boutique hotel noted for its restaurant.

When to Visit Old Montreal

Montreal winters are long and cold, so from after Christmas until the May long weekend, Old Montreal is quiet. In fact, some restaurants and businesses shut down for winter. This low period results in lots of travel bargains. Warmer months, especially July when many popular festivals occur, are definitely the preferred - and more expensive - times to travel.

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