Montreal – City on the St. Lawrence

Montreal derives its musical-sounding name from a nearby mountain, Mont Royal, which also happens to be one of its main tourist attractions. But there’s much more to this city on the St. Lawrence River than natural wonders, as abundant as those are.

Montreal holds interest for those many tourists who enjoy visiting religious structures around the world.

St. Joseph’s Oratory atop Mont Royal has the second largest dome in the world, following only St. Peter’s in Rome. This unusual work of devotion by Brother Andre was constructed at his urging and holds his very heart, preserved in a glass case inside.

Montreal also is home to a church named Notre-Dame, but unlike many of that name around the world, it is a respectable rival for its more famous cousin in Paris. Filled with amazing wood and marble carvings, and offering a stellar view from the balcony inside, tourists will want to put it high on their list.

But this French-origin city offers more worldly pursuits as well.

The Casino de Montreal offers a fine alternative to Atlantic City in New Jersey. The building sparkles inside and out, a true competitor to and combination of Monte Carlo and Las Vegas. With over 3,000 slots, 120 gaming tables and filled with running brooks, ponds and fountains – inside the casino – gamblers and gawkers alike will not be disappointed.

If there’s any money left afterward, Underground City in downtown offers shopping galore. With hundreds of stores and restaurants along this network of tunnels, there will be something to interest anyone. Far from a dark, claustrophobic web, though, the skylights and spacious atria bring the light of Montreal down below street level. The many miles of the complex connect with dozens of major hotels, shops and restaurants above ground, as well as with Montreal’s Metro subway system.

Visitors can take one of those trains to Old Montreal (Vieux Montréal) to visit the section of the city that has been active continuously since at least 1611.

Founded in 1642, the city has retained many houses over 300 years old, along with the Old Custom House and other popular tourist attractions. At the Old Port you can take a boat ride and imagine what it must have been like for French trappers and Scottish merchants to trade in that far eastern Canadian province. Take a ride down the Lachine Canal to get the full effect.

Montreal offers the Museum of Archaeology and History that will give visitors a literal in-depth look at the artifacts of the city’s past. Housed partly underground, tourists can see many of the objects unearthed and displayed in the exact locations they were found.

For more modern objects of interest, spend some time at the Museum of Fine Arts (Musée de Beaux Arts). Small by some standards, it holds a diverse and beautiful colllection of 18th and 19th century European paintings and decorative arts. It also offers an array of symbolic and utilitarian items from the native populations across Canada.

For a leisurely stroll among the fine flora of Quebec, one could do no better than the Jardin de Botanique, the city’s botanical gardens. Full of an amazing scope and variety of plants, it is one of the most peaceful sites in the area.

But to see something buzzing with activity, wend your way over to the Insectarium and see the transparent beehives and anthills. Offering numerous displays of mounted butterflies, along with hundreds of live spiders and other insects you never knew existed, it’s a delight for kid and adult alike. The Ornamental Black and White Tarantula and the Tailess Whip Scorpion await you.

Then learn all about the human animal and its products by visiting iSci, Le Centre des Sciences de Montréal. Full of fascinating interactive displays, you could spend a day exploring all it has to offer. Fully exposed muscled skeletons show how the body works in action, while computers in the Information Studio show you the latest tools for learning.

Take a peak at raw nature in the Biodome. A series of ecosystems from around the world, it covers the extremes. From the Polar World of the Arctic and the Antarctic, to the Tropical Forest of South America, you’ll see a glimpse of what life is like without the technology displayed in iSci.

Then visit the Canadian Center for Architecture and see some of the finest creations humans have made out of those raw materials. The library holds 165,000 volumes containing sketches and more. Ongoing exhibits provide in-depth coverage of great builders of the past and present. The two buildings of the museum itself offer visitors a look at two. One is an 1874 mansion, the other a modern U-shaped structure embracing it.

Montreal has a wider range of unusual and interesting sights to see and things to do than almost any other major city. Not usually on the top ten list of cities for tourists, it should be.

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