24 Hours in Old Montreal

National Geographic Traveler contributing editor Christopher Elliott recently spent a day in Montreal with his family. Here’s what he discovered.

You can hit the highlights of Montreal in a few days, but to really know the city would take a lifetime.

So when our family arrived in Montreal, our goals were modest: We wanted to show our kids just one section– Old Montreal– in a day.

We started with the Notre Dame Basilica, an imposing Gothic Revival-style cathedral that dates back to 1829. It’s well worth walking through the church to marvel at its stained-glass windows and pipe organ. What you’ll find impressive, at least it was to me, is that the cathedral hasn’t been turned into a museum. Instead, it has regular services, hosts concerts, and offers daily tours.

Next, we wandered down to the old port, an area that was remodeled back in 1992. From the canal, you can get the best views of Old Montreal, including the Greek Revival-style Bonsecours Market, the former city hall that now serves as a shopping area, and the historical Place Jacques-Cartier.

The historical plaza is also a great place to meet real Montrealers. Our kids immediately connected with a young girl at a playground who didn’t speak a word of English. My kids don’t speak French. Somehow, they were able to communicate just fine by pointing and laughing.

Ah, if only it was that easy for the adults.

We then climbed the hill to see Montreal City Hall where French President Charles de Gaulle famously declared “Vive le Québec libre!” during a 1967 state visit. When we passed by the Court of Appeals, I managed to convince my kids that Canadian children had to come here when they disagreed with what one parent was telling them to do (i.e., “Eat your broccoli!”). They believed me … for about half a minute.

The true highlight on our tour was the food. Although the wine shop across from Notre Dame doesn’t have a large selection of Québec wines, the local apple ciders are truly excellent (for the adults in your party). There’s a little place on Rue St-Paul called Chez Suzette that serves outstanding crepes. And although it isn’t in Old Montreal, strictly speaking, the food at Beijing in Chinatown, only a few short blocks away, is first rate. Try the Kung Pao chicken.

You know you’ve had a great visit when you wish it wouldn’t end, which is exactly how we felt about Montreal. We wanted to stay, but more importantly, so did our kids. We had only scratched the surface of Old Montreal, not to mention the rest of this fascinating city.

Elliott writes the Insider column for National Geographic Traveler. He’s traveling across the country with his family and blogging about the experience at Away Is Home.


  1. Jordan
    Montreal, QC
    September 15, 2011, 2:05 pm

    It sounds like you got to many of the good sites on your visit (Places Jacques-Cartier is my favorite and I love the top of Mount Royal too!). I feel that as a photographer, one of the best things in Montreal to see isn’t even the architecture or landscapes, but the EVENTS.

    Montreal has events practically year-round for things from fashion to music to comedy to visual art. I’ve lived here for six months only, but so far I’ve noticed that there are always amazing things happening in the city. I think it’s a great place for “street photography” and people interested in the arts. Next time you’re in town, I encourage you to check out the events of the week!

    – Jordan

  2. Isabel
    Quebec, Canada
    September 15, 2011, 1:34 pm

    Hope you can be in Canada in the summertime and see the whole of Quebec, the beautiful Jardins de Mitis, the islands & particularly the Percé in the Gaspi region. It is a magical splendor.

  3. David Tompkins
    Spearfish, SD 57783
    September 14, 2011, 4:56 pm

    My Great-Grandparents on my mothers side of the family, immigrated from Bayleu, France, to Montreal. Not sure when. Anyway in the 1880’s, they came to St Onge, SD, where they are buried. My maternal great-grandmother, was in the 1880 SD census, making me a SD pioneer. I remember my grandmother speaking frence to some of her old SD neighbors. What I need to do is trace the family tree back to France. Not sure is any Carrieres, are living in Montreal.