Montreal is sexy, interesting, cultured, blunt, beautiful and just a little bit arrogant. In short, it’s everything a French lover should be, and is definitely the result of colonial Canada’s liaison dangereux with the French.
While other parts of Canada embody the Anglo-Canadian personality (a blend of Britain’s poised politeness and America’s earnest enthusiasm), Montreal personifies the more risqué and worldly attitude of their French-Canadian brothers and sisters.
For everything Canadians have in common (the whole country is fluent in ice hockey), there is a deliciously dangerous difference running between the French and English cultures. Decidedly European in its architecture, Montreal also embraces every sub-culture and immigrant tradition that ever set foot in the ‘Great White North’.
Watching over Montreal is the hill from which it gets its name, Mont Royal. While not in Whistler’s league it is still used for tubing and tobogganing in the winter.
While most of Canada has strict public drinking laws, Montreal thumbs its nose at such Anglo Puritanism, with street parties a common occurrence. So it’s small wonder people say that for the best of Canada’s nature you should visit the west coast, and for the best of its culture you must visit the east, where Montreal sits like saucy French knickers beneath Canada’s demure reputation.
Montreal’s Top 10
10. Bell Centre Montreal’s sporting hub and the Montreal Canadiens’ home venue during the NHL ice hockey season (October to April; Stanley Cup playoffs and finals April-June).
5. TOHU Lovers of Cirque du Soleil (and who doesn’t love sexy French-Canadians in lycra?) will adore this custom-built headquarters. Short bus or metro ride from Downtown
9. Biodôme de Montreal A scientific innovation where four ecosystems are recreated under one roof.
4. Jardin Botanique The perfect spot to lie on a picnic blanket with your lover in summer and watch the jealous world go by.
8. Chalet du Mont Royal A grand and beautiful chalet offering a walk through Montreal’s history.
3. Place d’Armes A square flanked by some of Montreal’s most impressive buildings, named for the bloody battle that took place between settler’s and native First Nations People.
7. Basilique Notre-Dame (Notre-Dame Basilica) Is a stunning gothic cathedral hosting historical artwork.
2. Plage des Ĭles An artificial sandy beach that can accommodate up to 5000 sun-deprived Montrealeans in good weather.
6. Musée d’Archéologie et d’Histoire Pointe-à-Callière (Museum of Archaeology and History) Built on the spot where European explorers first set up camp.
1. Laurier Avenue and Bernard St One word – chic. Known for its French cachet, you will want to stop at every quaint boutique.
- Canadian Railway Museum – Perfect for the whole family.
- Museum of Archeology and History – Travel through 600 years of history at the birthplace of the city.
- Chateau Ramezay Museum – Once served as the headquarters of American Revolutionaries.
- McCord Museum of Canadian History – Displays the history of all of Canada. Do not miss the textile exhibit.
- Musee Redpath – McGill University hosts this museum of natural history.
Montreal Art & Culture
- Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – International and Canadian works of art. In two buildings since 1991, with an underground gallery that connects them.
- Place des Arts – Houses both classic and modern performances.
- L'Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal – Enjoy the symphony in this beautiful building with wonderful acoustics.
- McGill University – Stay at the oldest university in Canada during the summer.
- Chinatown – Wander the streets, shop the shops and have a great meal at one of the restaurants.
- Jean-Talon Market – A farmer's market in which you can also get cooked food. Come hungry and early.
- Underground City – Winter gets rough in Montreal; enjoy the underground city during freezing weather.
- L'Affichiste Vintage Poster Gallery – The only shop in town dedicated to vintage posters. You'll find art deco, art nouveau and other vintage styles.
- Les Cours Mont-Royal – A decidedly upscale shopping centre that caters to the discriminating shopper.
- Petit Musee – Looks like a museum, but you can purchase the antiques; heaven for an antiques lover.
Gay & Lesbian Montreal
- The Sky Pub and Club – Mostly men but also women, this is one great party.
- Le Drugstore – The city's only real lesbian bar. Dance, drink and play pool until
- a.m. 3. Taverne Normandie – Karaoke gay bar that is mostly men but friendly to women.
- Caberet Mado – Named for the performer, this is a standing-room-only drag show.
- Boutique Mad-Ame – a shop targeting lesbians, transgenders and feminists.
- Botanical Garden – Huge garden that has separate section,s such as the Rose Garden and the Japanese Garden.
- L'ile Notre-Dame Beach – Enjoy a stunning view while relaxing.
- Parc Maritime de Saint-Laurent – Access to the St Lawrence River and a chance to learn about the river culture.
- Angrignon Park – This park is useful year round; bike the trails in summer and ski them cross-country style in winter.
- Bird & Flower Sanctuary – Huge park for bird and flower lovers.
- Montreal Canadiens – The professional hockey team of Montreal is one of the largest franchises in the NHL.
- Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – A professional race track that hosts NASCAR, Grand Prix and Indy car races.
- Canada Masters – The professional tennis players’ tournament rotates between Montreal and Toronto.
- Olympic Stadium – Originally built for the 1976 Olympics and still used to this day.
- Quebec Caribou – A professional rugby team that calls the city home.
The filling in the sandwich held together by its hilly namesake and the St Lawrence River, downtown Montreal is the spiciest, most complex array of flavours one could ever hope to fit between two slices of bread. The skyline of downtown Montreal, dominated by architecturally impressive skyscrapers (none of which is allowed to be higher than Mont Royal itself) is one of the most beautiful in the world. But it’s not just a pretty face, there’s a lot going on underneath. Literally.
Montreal boasts an ‘underground city’, which is home to over 1500 shops. Because when the temperature gets down to -40°C, you can be damn sure people don’t want to do their shopping above ground! Then there’s the Olympic Stadium, a concrete atrocity that is the most popular inside joke in Montreal. ‘The Big O’ is notable, however, as the site of the Biodome, a wildlife and ecosystem museum, and Montreal Botanical Gardens.
Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal)
Steeped in nostalgia and history, this district lies south-east of downtown and is home to some of Montreal’s most prized buildings, including the Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal City Hall and Chateau Ramezay. A stroll down its cobbled streets will evoke the charm and history of Europe – without the snooty attitude.
Anything Paris can do, Montreal can do – and with more guts. Montreal’s Latin Quarter is a dining and entertainment hub with a vibrant buzz, especially in the summertime. A popular haunt for students, the vibe is one of music, laughter and sex.
Home to one of the largest gay communities in North America, The Village is party central from dusk till dawn. It also plays host to the annual Divers/Cité Gay and Lesbian pride festivalin late July, which draws over a million rainbow-clad (and a few rubber-clad) visitors from all over the world.
Manger A Montreal(Montreal Eats)
Eating in Montreal could be the sole purpose of your visit. Try the famous (and heart attack-inducing) Poutine, a decadent, calorie-laden concoction of French fries slathered in gravy and melted cheese curds. Perfect for soaking up a belly full of cocktails. It’s the perfect introduction to Montreal’s famous a French-meets-everything-else fusion style.
Les Deux Singes de Montarvie A Gallic gem in the Mile End neighbourhood, hearty, authentic fare is served without pretension, true to Montreal’s style.
La Paryse If you have a hankering for a burger, don’t go past La Paryse. Comfort food done with the finesse of France and the portions of North America.
Café Santropol A Montreal institution with sandwiches as tall as a toddler. Careful which one you bite.
La Maison Kam Fung Also known in some parts of the world as Yum Cha, Dim Sum is served by waiters circling with small plates of Chinese delicacies, including several types of dumpling. The best Chinese in town.
Au Pied de Cochon So well-known and respected by the locals, it doesn’t even have a sign. A must-try, if you can find it.
St Viateur Bagel If you don’t think a bagel is worth getting excited about, you haven’t tried one from here. Internationally renowned and always delicious.
The Beaver Club Founded in 1785 by fur traders, a condition of exclusive membership used to be having traversed the hostile North West Territories. Now the only condition is having enough cash to pay the substantial bill, but it’s worth it for the old-world Canadian fare.
Vignoble l’Orpailleur A restaurant built around Quebec’s best-known wine producer, you know the food will be paired brilliantly here.
Milos Trendy Greek eatery that attracts celebs and socialites alike. Reservations are essential.
Boris Bistro When a place attracts such a varied crowd, it’s got to be a good thing. Push through the suits, students, tourists and artists and get yourself an uncomplicated but oh-so-delicious bistro meal.
Montreal is the festival capital of Canada, and while the biting winters bring temperatures so cold they make you want to set your boots on fire, the warm summers bring out the best in a city that plays host to live music, food fairs, fetes and beautiful people.
June sees Les FrancoFolies de Montreal, a celebration of French music from around the world, held in Downtown Montreal. Every style from hip-hop to chanson is featured, so chances are you’ll either want to get your groove on or throw up.
Also in late-June/early-July is the International Jazz Festival, the largest in the world. 3000 artists from 30 countries perform 650 gigs (including 450 free ones) to 2.5 million visitors. Cool, man!
Every July, the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival attracts some of the best comedians from all over the world. The festival has launched the careers of many of the biggest comedy stars.
On Saturday and Wednesday nights from late-June to late-July, Montreal offers a real bang for the buck with an international fireworks competition, International des Feux Loto-Québec. Watch the dreams of some competitors soar and others go up in smoke at a variety of paying and free viewing points.
You can even warm yourself in the depths of winter with February’s High Lights Festival. Fine food and entertainment abound, both indoors and, if you’re brave, out.
When To Go
While Montreal takes on a fairytale quality in the winter and is sure to be blanketed in snow, the extreme low temperatures and short daylight hours are hardly conducive to sightseeing. Plus, you may miss the opportunity to enjoy all the festivals, public drinking and general rowdiness summer brings. June, July and August are perfection in Montreal, but any visit between late-April and late-September will be pleasant weather-wise.
- Spring daytime average: 18°C/64°F
- Summer daytime average: 26°C/79°F
- Autumn daytime average: 19°C/66°F
- Winter daytime average: -6°C/21°F
Montreal has an extensive underground Metro system, reliable buses, an underground pedestrian network (no need to brave those freezing temperatures) and ubiquitous taxis.
What To Miss
Like any city, Montreal has its dodgy areas, but if you exercise caution and travel in groups, most parts are fairly safe. The East End of the city is notoriously sketchy, and a good rule of thumb is to avoid anything south of Rue Ontario and Rue Amherst.
Parking – hard to come by, confusing, expensive (in Canadian terms). Best hold off on hiring a car until leaving the city.
St Catherine Street, Downtown – if being around strip clubs offends you.
The most cosmopolitan and European city in North America has had to relinquish national supremacy to Toronto over the past few decades. Second fiddle status however, a once doleful consequence of a shaky provincial political scene, with periodical threats by Quebec to separate from the rest of Canada, seems to suit Montreal rather well. In retrospect, despite the hypothetical exodus and brain drain to Ontario, the fortunes of the 1976 Summer Olympic Games host have never been better.
Montreal is a lively city, with a metropolitan population in excess of 3.6 million people. The fact is a surprise to many newcomers who marvel at the breezy, casual tone of the city core. The bilingual, Euro-centric, ethnic city has a wonderfully inclusive atmosphere. Clean and green Montreal ranks as one of the most popular destinations on the continent.
Old Montreal, or the Old Port section of Montreal, is a prime area for visitors. Replete with history, the city port on the St. Lawrence River was once the most important gateway to North America and is still the inland port of record in the world. Traces of a bygone Commonwealth commercial era line the cobblestone streets, from imperial banks to heritage icons that now house lofts and boutique hotels.
The Old Port waterfront area has a surfeit of green space, fountains, recreation and world class Science Centre museum, with regular exhibits and IMAX cinema. Proximate attractions of note around the Old Port area include the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Notre-Dame de Bonsecours Chapel and Notre-Dame Basilica.
A haven for fashion forward travellers, downtown Montreal is passable on foot. The Underground City is a sanctuary in the cold winter months, with over 12 square km of retail space, 7 Metro stations and easy access to major points in the urban core.
The city of Montreal was built around a mountain, albeit a small one. Mount Royal is a place where people relax, run, cycle and take in superb views of the city. Landmarks in and around the mountain include the historic Mount Royal Cemetery, McGill University campus and St. Joseph’s Oratory.
A concrete atrocity, the Olympic Stadium is the most popular inside joke in Montreal. “The Big O” is notable however, as the site of the Biodome, a wildlife and ecosystem museum, and Montreal Botanical Gardens.
Montreal has a reputation as a party, restaurant and festival city. Neophytes with lofty expectations who remain in the downtown sector however, despite the rowdy nightlife, are in for disappointment.
The chic, avant-garde scene and culinary tag revolves around the Plateau, Mile End and Outremont areas, with some notable restaurants and clubs in Old Montreal as well.
Saint-Laurent street was once the traditional division between Anglophone and Francophone Montreal. The span, along with Saint-Denis street, is now the stylish hub of the city, replete with supper clubs, bars and superior ethnic eats.
Festivals in Montreal occur with dizzy frequency. Downtown streets ignite in summer with the International Jazz Festival, the premier jazz event in the world, and the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival.
Other major annual festivals include the Francofolies, a celebration of French song from around the world, Fireworks Festival, Fringe Festival, World Film Festival and High Lights Festival, a winter event that floods the city with radiant outdoor installations, with a popular Wine and Dine Experience that partners chefs from around the world with some of the best restaurants in the city.
The superb Opéra de Montréal, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and Montreal Symphony Orchestra all perform downtown at Place des Arts.
The Museum of Fine Arts and Contemporary Art Museum both have excellent permanent and temporary exhibits.
Montreal is a fine destination for sports fans. The annual Grand Prix race, held
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