The Canadian city of Montreal is like no other. It’s a unique melting pot of European style architecture, dramatic temperature extremes (spanning -30c to + 30c), a feisty and vibrant political scene, an even more vibrant nightlife scene and a cherished French language and cuisine. Not to mention some inherently Canadian traits like the city’s passionate devotion to its ice hockey team, the Habs!
You can easily find an abundance of general tourist information about Montreal on the internet. So instead of an A to Z lowdown, here are some random gems of local knowledge I’ve picked up from the fun filled three years I’ve spent in this charming city:
- If you’re visiting in the summer try and arrange your trip to coincide with one of the city’s epic, world-class festivals. Personally I’d put the Montreal Jazz Festival top of the list, where last year we were fortunate enough to see Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, and several other top acts. The Comedy Festival is also highly recommended and usually attracts several high profile Brits. The July 2015 line-up includes Jimmy Carr, Sarah Millican and Russell Howard amongst others. The Grand Prix, beer festival and Oshega weekend are also exciting times to plan a visit.
- Montreal is great for foodies. Our favourite restaurant is Restaurant de l’institut. It’s often overlooked by tourists as you need to book by email or phone in advance, but if you can organise yourself, it’s well worth it to be served excellent, creative menus by chefs in training (and it has the royal seal of approval after William & Kate visited it!). Or if you want to splash out even more, Europea restaurant has some of the theatrics of a Heston Blumenthal dinner without quite such an eye watering price tag. For more cheap and cheerful options, Frites Alor and Trois Brasseurs are personal favourites.
- In the winter there are few things more exhilarating than heading to one of the city’s parks (e.g. Parc la Fontaine) to ice skate on the frozen lakes (although the lack of rails means it’s not recommended for beginners) or driving to one of the ski slopes that are within an hour of the city. In the summer you can find your adrenaline rush white water rafting down the Lachine rapids or on a segway tour around the Grand Prix track.
- There is a thriving craft beer scene which is worth exploring (just remember to tip, usually $1 per drink). Favourite brewpubs include L’amere a Boire and Benelux. Or if beer’s not your thing, be sure to check out Quebec’s ice cider which makes an excellent digestif.
- Aboard the stationary Bota Bota boat, spa lovers can enjoy an open-air jacuzzi boasting a stunning panoramic view of the city. It has lots of the original boat features including cute cubby holes filled with padded cushions that you can curl up in and watch the St Lawrence river drift by.
With a flight time from England of just seven hours, this captivating and cultured city deserves to be added to your travel wishlist!
Thank you to Suzie Wood for writing this wonderful blog on Montreal and for her beautiful pictures captured throughout her time there.