Old Montreal, or Vieux-Montréal, is the charming and historical district where the city was born. In May of the year 1642 French settlers founded Ville-Marie (the city’s original name) on a piece of land near the St. Lawrence River, now part of Old Montreal. Layers of the centuries of history can be seen in Old Montreal, from its seventeenth-century beginnings to its modern-day restoration.
In the eighteenth century, Ville Marie was a fortified town under French control until 1760 when the British took over. The early nineteenth-century saw the area turn into the bourgeois center of the city, as Montreal became an important commercial and political center for Canada. During the nineteenth century, Montreal was undergoing changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution. In the early twentieth century, Old Montreal was the heart of the city, with all of the head offices of banks on St.James Street. The old part of town soon came into decline, and it wasn’t until the 1960s when the importance of the buildings and history of Old Montreal were realized. Restoration of the area began, which continues today. Old Montreal is now perhaps the most visited attraction in Montreal.
Old Montreal tourism is not limited to outside visitors. Even locals enjoy spending hours chatting over a coffee in the quaint cafes and restaurants. Locals take pride in the unique and magnificent buildings that have been in Montreal for centuries. Old homes have been turned into Old Montreal hotels and restaurants, and factories have been converted into hip apartment buildings. The Vieux-Port of Old Montreal has changed from abandoned area to gorgeous parkland facing the St. Lawrence River. Here the concentration of seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century buildings is the highest in all of the country. It is no wonder that locals feel such pride for this historic attraction in Montreal.
There are guided Old Montreal tours available, or you can just take one on your own—just be sure to take one! The best time to take a tour is during the day when everything is still open. Some museums are closed on Mondays, though, so you may want to take this into consideration. The official Old Montreal Walking Tour lasts about 90 minutes with a professional guide. These Montreal tours depart in front of the Notre Dame Basilica boutique; tickets for the tours are sold there as well, beginning 15 minutes before the tour begins.
Montreal tourism also has tours available via calèche (horse-drawn carriage). These Montreal tours are available for 30 minutes (about $45 CAN) or 60 minutes (about $75 CAN) and depart from three locations: the Place d’Armes, Notre-Dame Street and De la Commune Street (near Place Jacques-Cartier).