5 Best Photo Opportunities in Montreal

Photo Opportunities Montreal

You don't have to fly to Europe to surround yourself with Old World elegance. Strolling the streets of Montreal, the second largest city in Canada, is transporting-350 year-old buildings hug the banks of the St. Lawrence, while 18th and 19th-century townhouses fill the boulevards up hill. But it's not all about the past-Montreal is also a modern city, with cutting edge boutiques to match and a buzzing restaurant scene.

The blend of old and new is just one way the city artfully juggles multiple personalities. A French-language hub second only to Paris, it's also hometown to McGill University, the English-language "Harvard of Canada." A bastion of religious sites that attract countless pilgrims, it boasts a gay district equally popular with travelers as well. As a result, Montreal is that rare city full of photo opportunities and one that can be anything a visitor wants - except dull.

1. The Romantic Photo: Vieux Port Montreal

Settled for 350 years, Vieux Port (Old Port) is easily the most romantic district of Montreal. Bring your sweetie for a stroll along Rue de la Commune beside the St. Lawrence and you'll swoon at the loveliness in all directions, from the grand stonework on one side to the glittering river on the other.
When you're ready to pause for the perfect picture – or proposal – head to the lower corner of Place Jacques Cartier, the main plaza, where you'll find horse-drawn carriages awaiting you. If the shutterbug stands on the promenade side of Rue de la Commune, facing away from the river and toward the carriages, the graceful 17th-century facades on the far side of the street will provide a charming backdrop for your romantic photo in Montreal.

2. The Quirky Photo: Boulevard St. Laurent, AKA Graffiti Central

Montreal has a serious love-hate relationship with graffiti, known here as bombing. The practice has been officially outlawed, but with quirky exceptions: the city sponsored legal graffiti walls for a brief period a few years ago, and private businesses may fund bombing on their own property even now. There are even supply shops and an annual festival devoted to graffiti.

The bold colors and images of graffiti make great prints. To capture some of the handiwork of the next Shepard Fairey or Banksy, your best bet is to follow Boulevard St. Laurent. Begin at Boulevard de Maisonneuve West and head up to Avenue Duluth East. The local police graffiti removal team is sure to blast away the work eventually, so your photos can preserve evidence of an original artwork before it disappears forever.

3. The Family Fun Photo: The Illuminated Crowd Statue

In a not-quite-lifelike cluster, a mob of cream-colored figures known locally as "the butter people" face glowing light thrown by an event or object we cannot see. The expressions and bodies of the 66 characters in Raymond Masson's "Illuminated Crowd" convey a host of emotional responses--thrill, relief, fear, boredom, and anger-seemingly determined by each figure's proximity to the light.

Beloved by the public, the statue seems to bring out the playful side of its viewers. It's a perfect spot for families with children of all ages to enjoy serious art while having a little fun. Discuss what you think might really be going on in the scene. That will provide a springboard for great photos: you could join the "butter people" and role-play how you'd act; have family members mimic the characters who grab their attention most; or pose with your posse facing the statue and stage your own tableau in reaction to it.

3000-1981 McGill College Avenue, in front of Banque Nationale de Paris

4. The Scenic Photo: Tour de Montreal (Montreal Tower)

The Tour de Montreal is the tallest inclined tower in the world. It rises above a plaza designed for the 1976 Olympics. A funicular ride brings you 525 feet to the top, where observation decks offer stunning views for miles in all directions. Alas, those views are through glass windows, which don't make for the best photo opportunities in Montreal. But that's ok: the best pictures come when you return to earth. The tower itself is the real gem.

Tilting into the sky like a modernist Tower of Pisa, the building is iconic not only for its beauty but for the impressive architectural feat involved: it leans at a 45 degree angle (compared to Pisa's mere 5 degree tilt) above its neighbors, the Olympic Stadium and Biodome. Leading away from the tower is a wide open concrete plaza which allows you great latitude for picture-taking. The trick is to keep your distance from the tower's base; the best pictures are shot from well past the Biodome, so that you can capture the sleek curves of the stadium in the foreground, crowned by the tower's striking outline above, as it punctuates the sky at a seemingly impossible angle.

3200 Viau St. (9AM to 5PM ET, daily all year; hours extend until 7PM ET mid-June to early September. $16 for adults).

5. The Classic Photo: The Steps of St. Joseph Oratory

It took more than 50 years to build St. Joseph's Oratory, one of Montreal's most visited sites, but the work paid off: the basilica's 406-foot copper crown is the second largest cathedral dome in the world. When you factor in St. Joseph's position on Mount Royal, the dome is the city's highest point.

The path from Queen Mary Street to the church doors is all uphill, a series of 283 steps. Though it's a gentle incline at first, the final leg involves 99 steeply pitched steps, so that you've really earned the reward of great city views by the time you reach the top. (Religious pilgrims get an even greater workout: they ascend a middle staircase reserved for those climbing on their knees.)

If you shoot from the base of the path near Queen Mary Street, you get the full effect of the dome. But it's also fun to position your subject a third of the way up the final steep section, with the photographer shooting from a little ways below, so that the steps continue upward out of the frame as if without end, a true stairway to heaven.

3800 Chemin Queen Mary Street. Open daily from 6AM to 9:30PM ET. (Those who want an easier climb may take a shuttle bus from Queen Mary Street to the basilica, beginning at 7:45am each day.)

David Valdes Greenwood is the author of three books, including A Little Fruitcake: A Childhood in Holidays, a Today Show Top-10 Holiday Books pick, and The Rhinestone Sisterhood. Read his blog on Red Room.

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