MONTRÉAL TRIP DAY 2: Centaur Theatre, Notre-Dame Basilica and Place d'Armes
For a taste of France, hoof it down to Old Montréal for a horse-drawn carriage ride and stop at Olive et Gourmando, a do-it-all breakfast and lunch place. Landing a table on a weekend is no small feat, but it's worth the wait for the Valhrona chocolate brioche, one of the best snacks in town.
You might also consider an afternoon performance at the Centaur Theatre, Montréal's largest English-language theatre company. Located in the historic Old Stock Exchange Building, the Centaur features Canadian and international drama with English translations of the famed Québécois playwright, Michel Tremblay, as well as plays by Edward Albee, David Mamet and many others.
Just around the corner from the Centaur Theatre on Notre-Dame St. is Montréal's famous Notre-Dame Basilica, which opened in 1829. Lush with wooden accents, cooling blue lighting and stained glass windows, the basilica is as alive today as ever; the organ's 7,000 pipes play at masses and weddings for Québec's famous, while Tuesday through Saturday evenings visitors can witness an impressive light show projected directly onto the basilica's walls.
Before you enter, take a moment outside the church to look around the square, the Place d'Armes, to see the city's historic French-British dichotomy cast in stone. The basilica once stood for the Catholic, sectarian, French community, while across the square, past the statue of Maisonneuve in the center, the Bank of Montréal represented the Protestant English-speakers, once the city's dominant economic force.
Rue Notre-Dame continues on to Place Jacques Cartier and slopes toward the St. Lawrence, which is filled day and night with visitors and locals, acrobats and camera-toting tourists looking for that perfect backdrop. In the spring, Cirque du Soleil often launches its new shows in a yellow and blue tent by the Montréal Science Centre. While waiting for an IMAX show, stop for crépes at Le Jardin Nelson, an open-air café with one of the most loved patios in the city. Just east on Rue Saint-Paul is the silver-domed Marché Bonsecours, a long, elaborate former public market that now houses boutiques.
Browse the upscale works by Québec artists and craftspeople, from umbrellas to clothing to handmade paper, before venturing across the street to Le Bremner for cocktails and refined French fare with international influences. Need a nightcap? Head to the terrace above Verses Restaurant (remember to come back another time for the signature leg of lamb, braised for seven hours). On a warm night, the patio will be packed with Montréalers who come after work to soak up the ambience and the mojitos.
* Top image: Notre-Dame Basilica: © Tourisme Montréal, Stéphan Poulin; Photo: Roderick Chen