As Canada celebrates it’s 150th anniversary of confederation, I arrive in Montreal to discover the city is celebrating 375 years of history. It’s 40c/104f degrees warmer than when I was last here on a new years road trip and I’ve been attracted here by the International Jazz Festival which takes place annually and is the largest of it’s kind in the world. I heard this was a great time to visit and as a French language student, I decided it was all the incentive I needed to come and work on my new skills.
The city’s architecture flaunts it’s European heritage. This for me is one of the most intersting cities in Canada… it conveys a mix of old and new world charm, alongside a relaxed Canadian sensibility. A cultural melting pot of Anglo-Franco tradition, speakers of French or English are made to feel equally at home here conversing in their preferred language and I’m amazed at how readily people switch between them, sounding completely natural in both.
If Toronto is Canada’s economic capital, Montreal is arguably the cutural capital. Established just over 150 years before Toronto and within 20 years of New York City, it is a charming mix of people and influences from Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. A foodies haven, there is an eclectic mix of cuisines and culinary delights to suit any preference.
It seems fitting that the Centre for Canadian Architecture is located here. As I travel the city I find myself regularly turning my head to admire an old church, library or municipal building. The streets are equally full of interesting European-style buildings with spiraling exterior staircases adorning their facades, and little patios providing space for soaking up good weather during the warmer months. Montreal makes most rival Canadian cities look positively bland by comparison. If you’re an architecture buff, you’ll want to check out Habitat 67 created by Moshe Safdie and maybe Buckminister Fullers Geodesic dome – the Biosphere.
My primary mode of transport while I’m here is a bike. I brought my own but you could also use the cities public bike service – Bixie or the local transit which includes a subway system (though admittedly I had trouble using an international credit card or Canadian debit card with the bike rental service). Uber is here, but I’m told by locals that they prefer Téo Taxi, which is similar, but pays their drivers a better wage and uses only electric vehicles, reducing pollution in the city.
If you’re cycling around town, there are a good number of streets with separated bike lanes and locals ride all year round. The canal that runs along the south/eastern edge of Montreal Island has a great bike path that will take you past the Atwater market, a great place to shop for local produce, cheese, chocolates and food.
If you a history fan or like the feel of old Europe, you’ll likely enjoy exploring the old part of Montreal with it’s cobbled stone streets, horse & buggy carts and numerous pubs and food venues. The city is a food lovers paradise. No matter how particular your tastes you’re likely to find a great restaurant that caters to it here, especially on the northern end of town around Le-Plateau-Mont-Royal. Check out Larry’s for good coffee, breakfast or a drink through the day. Lawrence next door (a more formal sit-down place) is also good I heard.
Dieu-du-Ciel (meaning Good God) is a cool little brew-pub in this neighbourhood and while you’re at it, you may as well grab some of the bagels that Montreal is famous for at Fairmount Bagel Bakery, an iconic little walk-in shop. Just be sure to save them in the provided plastic bag if you’re not going to eat them the same day.
If you’re here in winter, and like ice skating, there is a great rink that opens up down on the old port and is a beautiful place to go for a skate in old Montreal.
In summer however, much of the action seems to revolve around the parks. Parc Mont-Royal is the biggest park in the city, with trails for running, biking and a nice look out over the city from the top. Towards the northern end of the park across Av du-Parc you’ll find Parc Jeanne-Mance which has beach volleyball courts and there’s plenty of green space to enjoy in this area. Sunday afternoons you’ll find a gathering of people playing drums and dancing around the monument to Sir George-Étienne Cartier. This meet up has been dubbed the Tam Tams and has been happening for decades.
The Jazz Festival (early July) is probably one of the busiest times to come, but if you don’t mind crowds there’s plenty of free music, or you can find a more intimate setting to watch Jazz up close if you’re willing to pay a few dollars or do some more research.
Whatever time of year you go, I highly recomend you check out this gem of a city on the eastern side of Canada. It’s a relatively short drive from up-state New York, Vermont or Maine and easy to get to by plane from most major cities in North America. A bientot!
As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and Russia because they were all so different! St. Bart's was pretty amazing too (wink)!