With one foot in North America and the other in France, Montreal is a beguiling city where almost anything goes. Riotous festivals happen year-round, despite the icy winters. The circus (aka Cirque de Soleil) plays a starring role in the city's cultural identity. And cuisine runs the gamut from lobster bisque to poutine.
Old Montreal is packed with eye candy from the past and present. You can walk the ancient crypts beneath the city's former Customs House, admire the graceful architecture of the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) or simply plunk down at an open-air bistro on Place Jacques-Cartier and watch the lively street scene unfold.
The Plateau district is dotted with sidewalk cafes, colorful shops and leafy parks, while the vast green oasis of Parc du Mont Royal provides sweeping views over downtown. For foodies, Montreal offers endless temptations, including authentic French bistros, the old-world trattorias of Little Italy, the ethnic eateries of Chinatown and sprawling farmers markets like the fruit- and pastry-filled Marché Jean Talon.
Montreal takes its name from Mount Royal, which is the hill at the heart of the city. The park on the hill is the city's largest green space and it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York City's Central Park. The park's Kondiaronk Belvedere offers a postcard view of downtown Montreal, with its skyscrapers, bright lights, and lattice of roads. Take eye-catching pictures of this view and more on the Montreal photography tour.
Some like it cool
How you spend your time in Montreal may be determined by the weather. The city gets colder than Moscow in winter and weather forecasts include wind chill, which might convince you to view the winter wonderland from a cozy bar with a roaring fire. If you want to brave the cold, put on your warmest clothes and join the Montrealians as they indulge in wintery pleasures. During La Fête des Neiges (the snow festival), the Parc Jean-Drapeau is transformed into a vast snow and ice playground, and you can ski through the Mount Royal Park or ice skate at the Bonsecours Basin in the Old Port. Arctic temperatures are also a good reason to go shopping in Montreal's underground city, which contains over 2,000 shops.
Some like it hot
With Montreal's busy festival calendar, there's always a unique time to visit the city. When the weather heats up in June and July, so does the music at Montreal's legendary jazz festival. The city becomes a living, breathing jazz machine, with outdoor concerts, world-class musicians, and over two million enthusiastic listeners. July is also the time to secure a fountain-side spot for the Just for Laughs comedy festival.
See Montreal by bike and you'll gain a sense of its distinctive districts. Downtown, skyscrapers including the Stock Exchange Tower stretch high into the clouds, and the main shopping street Rue Sainte Catherine runs east to west through its center. Cross the cobbled streets of old Montreal and you'll find outdoor cafés, bohemian boutiques, and buildings which date back to the 17th century. Eat the best bagels in the city in Mile End, a neighborhood as popular for its live music and art galleries as its bakeries. Montreal is recognized for its microbreweries, and has the longest licences in the country, so there's plenty of time to sample some real ale. Night owls can take their luckiest Canadian loonies to the Casino de Montréal to play the slot machines and table games.
The multinational fabric of Montreal's communities means that there's a huge array of cuisines to try, but you can't leave without tasting Quebec's famed concoction of chips, gravy, and cheese (or 'poutine', as it's known locally). It might not be a recipe you'll take home, but memories of this and all that you've seen in the city will be worth holding on to. Hide