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Top three places to visit in Montreal

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 (AP)

Montreal , the largest city in Canada's Quebec province, strikes the perfect balance between small town charm and big city sophistication. This 400-year-old former colonial town is now a center of higher learning, art, live music and ecotourism.  The bilingual residents are renowned for their friendliness and the city has a distinctively progressive feel. Dining is top-notch, and don't forget to try local specialties like poutine --French fries covered with gravy and and fresh cheese curds. To make sure you get the most out of your visit, here are the top three must-see sites in Montreal:

Biodome

This large glass dome, known as the "house of life," contains four life-size dioramas of the ecosystems of the Americas, from the tropical rain forest to the North and South poles. A former cycling stadium, this massive museum is now home to 750 plant species and 4800 animals, including penguins, macaws and lynx. In addition, Biodome scientists study at-risk species by breeding them in captivity. In the Naturalia discovery room, kids can play educational games and experience hands-on contact with the animals. At the permanent fossil exhibition, you can see a beluga whale skeleton over 10,000 years old. Experts are always on hand to answer questions. The museum hours change depending on the season, so plan ahead. Visit the Biodome website for more information.

Habitat 67

Architect Moshe Safdie designed this groundbreaking structure as his master's thesis at Montreal's McGill University, but it was then built for the 1967 World's Fair in Montreal. Comprised of 354 identical concrete cubes, Habitat 67 makes up almost 150 unique residences arranged in various geometric combinations. Initially meant to revolutionize low-cost urban housing, the building has become an architectural wonder and one of the most famous and significant structures in Canada. While the development was first funded by the Canadian government, private residents now make up its populace. Visitors can still walk around this stunning space, with planes and intricacies that give the illusion you are walking through a cubist painting. This modern wonder of interconnected homes, walkways and gardens spans almost 12 stories high.  Habitat 67 sits on a man-made peninsula directly across from the Old Port of Montreal. For more information and photographs, check out www.habitat67.com.

Notre-Dame and the Old Port

The Notre-Dame Basilica is an icon of Gothic Revival architecture. First built in the 17th century, the church continues to stun visitors with its gold trim and black walnut woodwork. Make sure to note of the intricately carved pillars, whose rich, dark color is offset by delicate gold details.  Just a few steps away, you will find Montreal's Old Port.  The French store signs lend to the area's distinctively European feel. Quaint buildings line cobblestone streets, and the main street overlooks a sparkling harbor. Pause and linger at the Place Jacques-Cartier or enjoy a hot chocolate in the tree-filled square. Even with all the historic charm, this port is still a bustling part of the city and a center of shopping, dining and live music. To get better acquainted with the old port, visit Old Montreal's official website.

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