A visit to Montr?al necessarily begins with a visit to Vieux Montr?al, or Old Montr?al, on the banks of the Saint Lawrence. This formerly derelict quarter, dating as far back as the seventeenth century, was redeveloped fairly recently into a lively neighborhood that is popular with both tourists and locals alike. The highlight of this neighborhood is the spectacular Basilique Notre-Dame (110 Notre-Dame West, Place d'Armes; 514-842-2925 or 866-842-2925), the primary house of worship for the city's Roman Catholics since 1829. The altar and its three rose windows are dazzling, and its bell, the Jean Baptiste bell (weighing 10 tons), can be heard for miles around. Around midday (call ahead for details) on certain days of the week you might chance onto an organ practice. If so, you're in for a treat.
Follow rue Notre-Dame down toward the Champ de Mars, where you'll see the stately Old Courthouse (155 rue Notre-Dame) and the Place Vauquelin, which makes for a nice place to plop down on the grass and get your bearings. From Place Vauquelin, you'll spot the Ch?teau Ramezay (280 rue Notre-Dame Est; 514-861-3708, fax 514-861-8317), built in 1705, which originally was the residence of the French governors. It's now a historical museum displaying artifacts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Other sights worth seeing in Vieux Montr?al are the Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours (400 rue Saint-Paul; 514-282-8670, fax 514-282-8672), the Sailors' Church of the nineteenth century whose virgin atop the tower has spread her arms wide to welcome generations of seafaring men; the rue Bonsecours and the rue Saint-Paul, typical and charming streets of the quarter. Heading down to the top of the next quai (the Quai Alexandra), you'll find the Mus?e d'Arch?ologie et d'Histoire de Montr?al (350 Place Royale, Pointe ? Calli?re; 514-872-9150). This museum traces the origins of the city through excavated artifacts, and an audiovisual program inside gives a fascinating overview of the city's history. Museum is closed on Mondays.
Downtown, a trip through McGill University, (McGill College Ave), founded in 1813 by a Glaswegian immigrant named James McGill, is worth the time. Its stone edifices and pleasantly foliaged landscaping make for a nice stroll. Very near campus, there's a fine museum, the McCord Museum of Canadian History (690 rue Sherbrooke Ouest; 514-398-7100), displaying an interesting collection of native artifacts, textiles, and photographs, as well as art collected over generations by the powerful McCord family. West of the campus on rue Sherbrooke, don't miss the Mus?e des Beaux-Arts (1379 and 1380 rue Sherbrooke Ouest; 514-285-2000 or 800/899-MUSE), the oldest museum in Canada. The collections amassed here represent the history of Canadian art and a cultural/anthropological look at the province itself. There's also a European wing housing works by Picasso, Rembrandt, El Greco, and other luminaries.
Farther west, down the boulevard Ren? L?vesque, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (1920 rue Baile; 514-939-7026) offers an overview of the history of architecture -- all its most important movements and figures. The exhibitions are fascinating and educational, and not just for architecture buffs. The center is cleverly built around the 1874 Shaughnessy House, and was founded by Phyllis Lambert, said to have been Tallulah Bankhead's lover. The bookstore features great design titles. Take a stroll in the Melvin Charney Sculpture Garden across the street, which in addition to beautiful lighting at night, affords a fascinating glimpse of steeples and bell towers.
There is a rich abundance of performing arts companies in Montr?al, with perhaps the most attention paid to its annual film festival and numerous dance troupes. The Place des Arts (175 Sainte-Catherine Ouest; 514-842-2112), comparable to New York's Lincoln Center, celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2004 and comprises five separate halls for music, theater, and dance, and also houses Montreal's Mus?e d'Art Contemporain (185 Sainte-Catherine Ouest; 514-847-6226), the city's modern art gallery, featuring many Quebec artists in its permanent collection. During summer months, the Th??tre de Verdure, in hip Pl?teau Mont-Royal's La Fontaine Park, stages a variety of free music, theater, and dance performances in a very gay-friendly park. Not far from there, on picturesque rue Cherrier is L'Agora de la Danse (840 rue Cherrier; 514-525-1500), where for under C$30, you can experience Montr?al's contributions to the international language of modern dance.
The city's main English-language theater is the Centaur Theatre (453 rue Saint-Francois-Xavier; 514-288-3161); the Montr?al Symphony Orchestra (514/842-9951; www.osm.ca), performs at the Place des Arts, as does Les Grands Ballets Canadiens (514-849-8681). Annually, the Montr?al World Film Festival (late August/early September); 514/848-3883) attracts an international community of filmmakers for world premieres of independent films. The Montr?al International Jazz Festival (late June/early July; 514-871-1881) is North America's largest, and therefore attracts a superlative roster of the finest jazz musicians from the world over. It celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2004. The Just for Laughs Festival (514-845-2322 or 888-244-3155) in July will tickle your funny bone at indoor venues throughout downtown, but also with its popular outdoor festival, with entertainment varying from the wacky Circo de Bakuzo to European stilt-walkers, on Saint-Denis Street between Sainte-Catherine and Sherbrooke Streets.