Bellies full of Martha’s delicious soft serve, we started on our 2 hour, 45 minute drive to Montreal. Crossing the border into Canada, we knew an exciting adventure awaited us.
Montreal is a bustling city with so much to do and see. The three-day public transportation pass offered inexpensive access to unlimited rides on Montreal’s easily accessible metro and buses. With only four lines—orange, blue, green and yellow—the metro is incredibly simple to navigate. Bonus: On the way to your train, you’ll pass through the largest underground complex in the world, comprised of 20 miles of tunnels spread over more than four-and-a-half square miles and filled with shopping malls, restaurants, hotels and offices.
We spent our first day in Old Montreal (Vieux-Montreal), Montreal’s original city and the hub of the city’s culture. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you watch horse-drawn carriages traverse cobblestone streets while you stroll along Montreal’s historic port, the Old Port (Vieux-Port), which stretches more than a mile along the St-Lawrence River. You’ll want to take a break at one of the many sidewalk cafés overlooking the river and feel like a true tourist as you become mesmerized by the outrageous street performers at the Place Jacques-Cartier square, filled with quaint shops and eateries.
On day two, we visited the former site of the 1976 Olympics, which now houses the Botanical Gardens and Insectarium, Biodome, Planetarium and Montreal Tower. You can customize combination tickets for any or all of these Space for Life (Espace pour la Vie Montréal) attractions.
Montreal Botanical Gardens (Jardin Botanique de Montreal) is the 185-acre home to more than 26,000 species of flora with 10 large greenhouses, each tailored to a specific theme. Stroll through the tranquil bonsai trees in the Japanese Zen garden or learn about the principles of yin and yang in the Chinese Garden, which showcases designs from the 14th to 17th century Ming Dynasty. Outdoor areas include a rose garden, an alpine garden and even a poisonous plant garden.
It’s a short walk to the Montreal Biodome (Biodôme de Montréal). Located in the former Olympic bicycle-racing stadium, the Montreal Biodome houses four distinct ecosystems: a polar environment; a tropical rainforest, a Laurentian forest and the St. Lawrence marine setting. While strolling around the large dome, you’ll feel the changes in temperature and will see some of the critters that inhabit these environments, such as monkeys, alligators, fish, puffins and penguins.
Get a fantastic view of the city from the nearby 540-foot-plus Montreal Tower—the tallest inclined tower in the world, which stands at a 45-degree angle.
We started our last full day in Jean-Talon Market in the heart of Little Italy, one of the oldest public markets in Montreal. Opened in 1933, this open-air market is filled with fresh produce, baked goods, Quebecois cheeses, home-grown spices and handmade chocolates.
Our next stop was the area surrounding Parc du Mont-Royal to try a famous Montreal bagel at St. Viateur Bagel, a sweeter version than the New York kind, but yummy nonetheless. We then took a bus up the 761-foot hill into Parc du Mont-Royal, from which Montreal was named. The largest of the city’s parks, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted who also designed Central Park, Mont-Royal towers over the city, and is frequented by joggers, drum circles and picnickers. The Chalet du Mont-Royal offers breathtaking park and city views. It began raining when we were about five minutes from the top, but were rewarded with a rainbow over the city when we reached the lookout point.
The city is filled with varied, scrumptious restaurants of all cuisines, including French. Every meal we had was delicious. We walked off most of it, but Montreal is very bike-friendly with hundreds of well-paved bike paths in and around town. There are also a number of sea cruises that enable you to enjoy the uniqueness of the Saint Lawrence River.
We had a fantastic time in Montreal and though we saw so much of the city, there was still so much more to discover. Hopefully, we will return someday soon, but it was time for our drive north to Quebec City.