Beyond the Sea: Port Mini-Breaks
Families | Couples | Seniors
Why You Need to Spend Three Days Here: Montreal offers travelers an irresistible package of Old World magic, sophisticated culture, haute cuisine and natural beauty -- and you don't need to miss out on any of it, even if getting around isn't as easy as it used to be. Whether you're clip-clopping through the Old Town in a horse-drawn carriage or enjoying the St. Lawrence River from the comfort of a dinner cruise, you'll find plenty of comfortable and convenient ways to travel through this welcoming city -- without sacrificing any of the charm.
If you use a wheelchair, we recommend contacting Montreal's Paratransit service before your trip. Paratransit offers door-to-door transportation to disabled passengers on a reservation basis. An agent will help you figure out if you're eligible for the program and assist in planning your trip. Montreal also offers wheelchair-accessible public buses, called Nova LFS, available on certain routes. These buses have a ramp by the rear door and can fit one wheelchair at a time. Taxis are plentiful and can be hailed in the street; calling ahead of time is the most efficient way to go if you know you'll need one at a certain time and place.
Tip: Most museums and attractions have discounted admission prices for seniors, so don't hesitate to ask.
Amazing Freebies Worth Pursuing: Admission to the permanent collections at the Museum of Fine Arts; window shopping in Old Montreal's antique stores; admission to McGill University's Redpath Museum; people-watching at Place Jacques-Cartier; admission to the Bank of Montreal Museum; enjoying a patch of greenery in the heart of downtown at Place du Canada; admission to the Museum of Contemporary Art on Wednesday nights; admission to most of Montreal's churches.
Home Away From Home:
The elegant Fairmont Queen Elizabeth is located in the heart of Montreal's vibrant downtown area, convenient not only to aboveground attractions like the Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde but also to the huge Underground City, a network of boutiques and restaurants connected to the subway system. If you wished, you'd never have to leave the hotel -- there are shops adjacent to its grand, bustling lobby; it has two excellent restaurants; and there's sophisticated entertainment in the piano lounge each night. The property is also noteworthy as the place where John Lennon staged his famous "bed-in" and wrote the song "Give Peace a Chance."
For ultra-solicitous service and luxurious rooms furnished with antiques, look no further than the Ritz-Carlton, which boasts a fabulous location in the glamorous Museum Quarter near the Museum of Fine Arts.
For a convenient location and a more moderate price tag, try the Courtyard Montreal Downtown. This recently renovated hotel has a cozy atmosphere, with only nine rooms per floor. Ask about senior discounts.
Start your day at Place d'Armes in historic Old Montreal. Place d'Armes was once the city's main square, a site of major festivals and events. It was turned into a garden and then a tramway terminal in the 19th century, and today holds a monument to Montreal's founder, Paul de Chomeday, Sieur de Maisonneuve.
But the main attraction here is the Basilique Notre-Dame, Montreal's most magnificent church. This soaring neo-Gothic basilica boasts a lavish interior carved out of wood, painted in deep earth tones and embossed with gold leaf. Let your gaze drift upward to the star-covered ceiling and to the 5,772 pipes of the huge organ in the rear. The intimate Sacre-Coeur Chapel is a bold departure from the 3,800-seat nave, having been reconstructed with largely modern architecture after a fire in 1978. There is also a small museum containing art and religious artifacts.
After your visit, head back outside to Place d'Armes and choose a "caleche," or horse-drawn carriage, to take you on an old-fashioned tour through Old Montreal. Most drivers will provide a running commentary as you pass the major sights of interest -- and it's a great way to figure out which ones are worth going back to for another look.
Your carriage ride will bring you back to Place d'Armes, from which it's only a quick walk (about four blocks) along Rue St-Sulpice and Rue St-Paul to Modavie for a leisurely Mediterranean-style lunch overlooking the waterfront and the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal.
From Modavie it's another three blocks or so on foot to the hub of activity in Old Montreal, Place Jacques-Cartier. On this large pedestrian square you can pause to watch lively street performers entertaining the crowds, and browse the brilliantly colored blooms in the flower market. There are two interesting attractions within easy walking distance; history buffs will enjoy the Musee du Chateau Ramezay, a former governor's residence that now houses an eclectic collection of artifacts from the past, including a bright red vintage car from 1903. There is a small but lovely garden behind the building, located at the north end of Place Jacques-Cartier.
Another nearby attraction is the Chapelle Notre-Dames-des-Bonsecours, a small chapel built in 1771 along the waterfront. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, sailors once came here to thank the Holy Mother for her protection, leaving behind small model ships as tokens of their gratitude. Many ships can be seen hanging from the chapel's ceiling. In the same building is a museum to the life of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, who was responsible for the founding of the original chapel.
Whether you chose to visit the Chateau Ramezay or Bonsecours Chapel, it's only a few blocks' walk to the waterfront, where you can enjoy a pleasant stroll or meet up with the Balade du Vieux-Port, a wheeled train that leads 45-minute guided tours of Montreal's vibrant Old Port area. Along the way you'll see Montreal's Science Centre and cruise port, and learn some of the history of the area.
We know you can't get enough of cruising, so finish the day with a leisurely dinner cruise on the St. Lawrence River. AML Cruises departs from the King Edward pier (just a few blocks away from the drop-off point of the Balade du Vieux-Port) and offers two dinner choices: the Festivities and Flavours cruise, offering four-course meals with your choice of salmon fillet, seafood casserole, lobster or filet mignon; or the Tropical Dinner cruise, whose six-course menus are full of Caribbean flavors. Enjoy your meal in view of the sun setting behind Montreal's skyline.
Your second day of sightseeing brings you to the neighborhood known as the Golden Square Mile, where much of Montreal's upper crust lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The generous contributions of some of these wealthy families, mostly of Scottish descent, helped establish the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1860. The largest in Quebec, the museum occupies six floors in two separate buildings facing each other across Rue Sherbrooke Ouest. The bulk of the collections can be found in the south side in the Jean-Noel Desmarais Pavilion, while the Canadian, Inuit and pre-Colombian art is displayed in the Benaiah Gibb building.
The permanent collections' wealth of 19th-century European works reflects the early influence of Montreal's English-speaking elite. European art is represented from the Middle Ages to the present, including works by El Greco, Rembrandt, Renoir, Monet, Picasso and Dali. The work of Canadian artists is perhaps less familiar but no less interesting; check out panoramic landscapes of Canada's untamed frontiers, centuries-old traditional furniture and innovative 20th-century sculptures. Also worth a look are the museum's ancient treasures from every continent, including exquisite Islamic ceramics and African masks.
You can enjoy a convenient and surprisingly good lunch in the Museum's Cafe des Beaux-Arts.
After leaving the museum, spend the rest of the afternoon exploring some of the Golden Square Mile's other attractions, located within a few blocks of the Museum of Fine Arts. These include the small Museum of Decorative Arts, featuring furniture and decorative objects (part of the Museum of Fine Arts' permanent collection), and the Presbyterian Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul with its lovely stained glass windows. Or use the favorable exchange rate to your advantage at the upscale department store Holt Renfrew, housed in a unique Art Deco building, or at the boutiques and antique shops of Rue Crescent. If you're up for a longer walk, McGill University -- with its Redpath Museum of Natural History -- is about seven blocks east along rue Sherbrooke.
Starting to get hungry? Then head back to your hotel to get dressed up for a big evening out. Take a cab across the St. Lawrence River to the famous Casino de Montreal, where you'll find one of the city's most prestigious restaurants. Tucked away on the fifth floor of the Casino, Nuances offers positively decadent French cuisine, faultless service, a warm ambience and fabulous views of Montreal's skyline. For an unforgettable splurge, try the gastronomic tasting menu, which includes dishes like roasted rack of lamb au jus with cep oil and risotto epigramme. (Note: If Nuances is too much of a splurge, try a more laid-back buffet meal at La Bonne Carte, also located in the casino.) Afterward, enjoy a show in Le Cabaret or try your luck at one of the casino's thousands of gaming tables and slot machines.
Start your last morning by making your way to Dorchester Square, just a block away from the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. (Coming from the Ritz-Carlton or the Courtyard? Take Paratransit or a cab to the Dorchester Square, or ride the metro to Bonaventure.) Here you'll catch a Gray Line double-decker bus for some hop-on, hop-off sightseeing. (Note: For handicap-accessible service, you'll need to call at least 48 hours ahead to make arrangements.) Ride the bus to the Mont-Royal stop to get a glimpse of the mountain-top park in the heart of the city and to get a great view over Montreal's rooftops.
Then get back on the bus and head to the city's largest church, St. Joseph's Oratory. This immense hilltop shrine is an important site of pilgrimage for Catholics around the world, many of whom climb all of the church's several hundred steps on their knees. (Luckily, you don't have to climb any of them -- a free shuttle bus whisks you up the hill from the front gate to the main entrance, and there are escalators and elevators inside.) The first thing you see when you enter is a dimly hall lit by hundreds of flickering votive candles. You'll head first toward the tomb of Brother Andre, who founded the Oratory; his heart is on display upstairs in a museum dedicated to his life. You can also tour the Upper and Lower Basilicas.
For lunch, take the Gray Line bus to Chinatown, a small, colorful neighborhood first settled by Chinese who came to work on the trans-continental railroad in the late 19th century. Enjoy a meal at what many call Montreal's best Chinese restaurant, Chez Chine (located inside the Holiday Inn Select Montreal CentreVille). The dim sum is tasty and a good value for your money.
Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Chinatown's narrow streets, which are lined with markets peddling traditional Chinese foods, herbs, medicines and crafts. The all-pedestrian rue De La Gauchetiere is bookended by graceful replicas of Chinese imperial gates. (Note: This area is quite small and walkable, but a good place to rest if you need to is at Sun Yat-Sen, at the corner of rue Clark and rue De La Gauchetiere.)
For dinner, hop back on the Gray Line bus, and go back to Dorchester Square. Nearby, you'll find another of Montreal's many noteworthy ethnic restaurants. The Ferreira Cafe serves up Portuguese favorites, such as caldo verde (a green soup with potatoes, onions and cabbage) and roasted, salted cod. Pair your dinner with a Portuguese wine or a selection from the largest port collection in Canada.
--by Sarah Schlichter, Associate Editor for Cruise Critic's sister site, IndependentTraveler.com.
Image is copyright Canadian Tourism Commission/Pierre St-Jacques.
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