First-time visitors never fail to be surprised by Montreal; French-speaking with grand old buildings and a European vibe, it sits apart from other North American cities.
In fact, it really is like no other. Montreal combines Old Warm charm and metropolitan energy, small-town warmth and friendliness with vibrant, cosmopolitan cool and bohemian vibes with lively, upbeat sparks. Unlike the modern sprawls sometimes associated with other Canadian urban centres, Montreal is anything but samey. In fact, its intoxicating diversity – when it comes to ethnicity, culture, language and cuisine – is what makes this city tick.
For gourmands, the city has plenty to offer; it claims to have the largest number of eateries per capita in North America. Food and drink are celebrated with gusto with a number of enticing culinary events throughout the year. In addition, the city’s public markets are something to truly savour – tuck into delicious regional specialities like crepes and fried squid and ubiquitous maple food products as you browse countless stalls selling tantalising treats.
When it comes to sightseeing, there’s plenty to gawp at. Thanks to a relatively small downtown area and squeaky clean public transport system, tourists can explore the city safe in knowledge that they won’t get lost, or indeed hassled.
Enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride (calèche) along the St Laurence River in Old Montreal and amble down to the buzzing harbourfront replete with cyclists, roller-bladers, pedal boats and passers-by. Stroll to The Plateau where wrought-iron staircases, designer fashion boutiques, a thriving arts scene and snazzy nightspots pepper its funky streets. Pop over to Mile End, once the home to the city’s Jewish and Italian communities, and now a cool district with quirky restaurants, cafes, shops and bars to explore. Spend some time in Downtown offering a fabulous mix of soaring skyscrapers and heritage buildings intermingled with quaint boutiques. Soak up the peaceful vibes in The Village, one of the largest gay districts in North America, where you can dine al fresco in the summer when the main drag, Sainte-Catherine Street, becomes pedestrianised. Sip a cappuccino in Little Italy, home to one of the city’s best markets, the Jean-Talon Market, or escape from the urban hustle to Pôle des Rapides, a 21km-long (12 miles) recreational park just minutes from downtown where you can enjoy a lazy cruise along the locks of the Lachine Canal.
Meanwhile, Montreal is the gateway to some incredible natural surroundings – steal away to the Laurentians for a day or weekend trip to sample its golf courses, spa hotels and tiny mountain villages. Or head south east to the Montérégie, home to orchards, vineyards and maple groves. Meanwhile, the Eastern Townships draw legions of cyclists, thanks to 500km (310 miles) of winding biking trails through unspoilt countryside and towns characterised by Victorian architecture.
Back in the city itself, plan your visit to coincide with one of the city’s cultural or sporting events – from fireworks or food, to jazz music or chamber music, international tennis or the Grand Prix, there’s sure to be something on to pique your interest.