Montréal's secret blend of French-inspired joie de vivre and cosmopolitan dynamism comes together to foster a flourishing arts scene, an indie rock explosion, world-renowned boutique hotels, swank eateries and a cool Parisian vibe that pervades every terrasse (patio) in the Quartier Latin.
Quebec's largest city keeps one foot in the past and one in the present, with 19th century churches nestled in the shadows of soaring modern skyscrapers. During the day, the city has a typically North American bustle - while French-speaking Montreal takes pains to retain its linguistic heritage.
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What To Do
Canadians sure do love their outdoors and in this regard, Montrealers are no different. The city has fantastic parks and gardens. The huge Parc du Mont Royal offers outdoor action aplenty: walking, picnicking (it is a pursuit!), jogging, horseback riding, cycling and frisbeeing.
What To See
The old town of Montreal is a wonderful feast for the senses. The streets are filled with musicians, restaurants, groovy shops and squares. Grab an outside table, shut your eyes and take in the smells, sounds and general atmosphere of bonhomie.
There's something for everyone to buy in Montreal. It's an excellent centre for traditional Canadian gifts and goods: Inuit and Amerindian crafts, country furniture, outdoor and winter clothing and maple syrup are some of the most popular items.
Montreal nightlife is the stuff of legends; it's a vibrant, exciting and ever-evolving scene on the cutting-edge of international trends. Although clubs close at 3am, there's always an after party - just ask around.
In January/February, the Fête des Neiges (Snow Festival) celebrates the pleasures of snow for two weeks in the Parc Jean-Drapeau. In June, the province's cyclists assemble for the Tour de l'Île. On every weekend during June and July there are firework displays on the banks of the Saint Lawrence during the International Fireworks Festival. July welcome Montreal's International Jazz Festival, a major event hosting more than 400 concerts throughout the city. Also in July, the Juste pour Rire (Just for Laughs) Festival brings together some 500 artists from all over the world, while the entire city dances at the Nuits d'Afrique celebrations. There are over 200 shows during Les FrancoFolies, a festival of French song held in July and August. The Festival des Films du Monde (World Film Festival) takes place during three weeks in August-September, with many films and debates. In September, a wide range of people - from young people to those in wheelchairs - run the Montreal Marathon.
Food and Drink
Some people say it's the French background, others the sin-and-repent mentality of a predominantly Catholic city; whatever the reason, Montrealers love to eat out. The reputation for culinary excellence has Gallic roots, but a more recent cosmopolitanism makes for a United Nations of cuisine.
When to Go
Montreal has a notoriously arctic winter (December-March) that makes it great as a base for winter sports, but with the sort of spiteful temperatures that would probably frighten a polar bear. Thankfully, Montreal gets around the problem with its 'Underground City', a unique climate-controlled labyrinth of 2000 shops and 18mi of corridors. This makes the city an alluring year-round tourist drawcard - a winter wonderland during the cold season and warm, long, lazy nights in the summer. Late May to early September is peak tourist time and sees a seamless procession of festivals, including the legendary Jazz Festival and the Grand Prix, take over the town.
Citizens of dozens of countries - including the USA, most Western European and Commonwealth countries, as well as Mexico, Japan, South Korea and Israel - don't need visas to enter Canada for stays of up to 180 days. US permanent residents are also exempt.
Nationals of around 150 other countries, including South Africa and China, need to apply to the Canadian visa office in their home country for a temporary resident visa (TRV). The website maintained by Citizenship & Immigration Canada (www.cic.gc.ca) has full details, including office addresses and the latest requirements. A separate visa is required if you plan to study or work in Canada.