Montreal magic

Inspire your creative side in the motherland of entertainment, culture, food and festivals.

Cobblestone streets lined with inviting boutiques, cosy restaurants, busy nightclubs, rock and jazz clubs, sprawling natural spaces and a raft of arts venues and festivals, give Montreal a creative exuberance that is infectious.

The second-largest city in Canada with around four million inhabitants and the second-largest French-speaking city in the world, Montreal has great appeal to those seeking something different. The city was the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil and Celine Dion, and home to the late poet and musician Leonard Cohen.

Montreal is more ‘European’ than most of Canada and is sometimes called ‘Paris on the St Lawrence’, so it’s no surprise to find some nice squares, parks and unusual architecture. You can check these out as you walk around the relatively compact centre.

Place D'Armes

This area was developed from 1693 and later became the heart of the Old City. It is now hugely popular with visitors. The square contains the oldest standing building in Montréal (dating back to 1694) and the huge Notre-Dame Basilica.

There is a monument in memory of Paul de Chomedey, a French military officer, who was the founder of Montreal. Nearby is a departure point for horse-drawn tours of Old Montreal.

Champ De Mars

This huge, open space is one of the few spots where you can still see physical evidence of the fortified French citadel from 1690, which was later demolished by the British.

Close by, you’ll find the City Hall and some of the oldest buildings in the city. All this area of Old Montreal, with its boutique shops and restaurants, is best explored on foot and much of it is pedestrianised. At times it is like you’re walking through a French movie with English subtitles.

Place Des Arts

This ultra-modern, performing arts complex is home to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Opera de Montreal and the Grande Ballets Canadiens.

There are six halls, a museum of contemporary art, shops and a large, popular esplanade with fountains and water features.

All the facilities are connected by an underground mall to the city’s famous Underground City.

Underground City

This has become an important tourist attraction. Many Canadian cities have some kind of tunnel system downtown to help people avoid the winter weather, but this is the largest underground complex in the world. It stretches for 32 kilometres.

Amazingly, it links 10 metro stations, two bus terminals, 200 restaurants, seven major hotels, four universities, three exhibition halls and a host of offices, stores and housing units. It is a great place to wander.

Mont Royal Park

Jump on board bus 11 at the Mont Royal Metro station to visit this large park, or walk one of the tracks that lead to the summit. A highlight is Beaver Lake with its restaurant-bistro and rental counter for rowboats in summer and skates in winter. The Mont Royal summit has a lookout offering great views over the city.

Tam-Tams is an outdoor drum jam held on Sunday afternoons from about May to October that is well worth seeing. Nearby are colourful residences, decked with outdoor iron staircases, surrounded by splashes of street art.

Ice hocky and other sports

Ice hockey was developed in Montreal and the first indoor hockey game was played in 1875. It has since become a national passion and a visitor must-see. Visit the Bell Centre, a sports and entertainment complex best known as the home of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team, for a spectacle of athleticism and showmanship.

You are unlikely to participate in an ice hockey game but at many locations in the city it is easy to skate, ski or sled in winter and swim, cycle and play golf in summer.

Food

Montreal is famous for its food and visitors will find it fresh and affordable at the Jean Talon Market. Taste exquisite cheeses, meats, breads and much more then find a place to sample Poutine, a local dish consisting of potato chips and cheese curds topped with brown gravy.

This is a city where residents love their food. Notre Dame Street is Montreal’s most interesting food and drink strip for both classic comfort food and creative tasting menus.

Festivals

The city is abuzz several times a year with its major festivals. The Montreal Highlights Festival in February features ice skating, fireworks, live music and the Montreal AllNighter, where the city stays up all night.

The Montreal Jazz Festival, in June/July, offers about 500 concerts while the Just for Laughs Festival, held every July, features some of the world’s greatest comedians.

Montreal hosted the huge, successful Expo 67 and there are still a few reminders of that. The obvious one is yesteryear’s USA Pavilion, which is now the Montreal Biosphere, a spherical environment museum with family-oriented, hands-on exhibits.

Photos by Phensri Rutledge & Getty Images.