5 Reasons to Visit Montreal

Published 30 March 2016

Alexa Gordon

Why Montreal? It’s a question I have been asked ever since I quit my job, packed my life into one (okay, three) suitcases and jumped on a plane across the pond. Montreal to me is gritty and eclectic, a swirl of old world charm blended with innovative creativity. You can see flashes of European style throughout the city, through its architecture, fashion, and its very popular café culture. Wandering through the streets, whether it is an icy -25°C day or a humid 30°C, the sights, sounds and smells of Montreal always manage to lift my spirits. Don’t believe me? Here are five reasons you should visit Quebec’s largest city.

International Fireworks Competition at Riverwalk next to Bonsecours Basin Park, overlooking Clock Tower Quay with Jacques-Cartier Bridge in background

1. There’s always something going on (especially in July)

If you enjoy celebrating anything from music, food and comedy to film and cars, you will love Montreal. With more than 90 festivals held each year, even the fussiest person will find something to enjoy. My favorite is the Jazz Festival in July, where you will be serenaded by world-class talents, and best of all, some concerts are free. My other favorite is the International Fireworks Competition which lights up the sky every Saturday night in July. There are many places to see the spectacle from but one of the best viewpoints is the Old Port.

Garden of Innovations Section - Montreal Botanical Gardens

2. Eating is an acceptable pastime

Three months after moving to Montreal I noticed the top button of my jeans stubbornly refusing to do up. This is the price you pay, if like me, you thoroughly enjoy the luxury of taste testing some of the world’s best cuisines. If you are not worried about carbs or gluten, bagels are your friend in Montreal. Cheap, delicious and in abundance, they potentially rival New York’s famed snack. After sampling a lot of the city’s bagel offerings, the best ones I found were from St-Viateur Bagel. The bagels there are hand rolled, boiled in honey and cooked in a wood fired oven. If you are in Old Montreal and looking for a well-priced, delicious meal out in a cozy atmosphere, go to Rodízio Brasil and order the salmon along with the salad bar. You can thank me later.

Looking along Rue Saint Paul Est, Old Port

3. It offers the true four seasons

An average of 200cm of snow a year falls in Montreal. That’s about one Shaquille O'Neal in height of the white stuff. When it is -25°C outside I recommend spending the day inside, sipping hot chocolate, preferably on Rue Saint-Dennis in Montreal’s very own cat café - Le Café des Chats. If you feel like putting the cuddly creatures down and heading outside, the Old Port has a fabulous outdoor skating rink complete with a light display and music at nighttime. Once the snow beings to melt and the first flowers begin to bloom, Montreal is transformed. There are plenty of fantastic parks to enjoy the balmy weather such as Lafontaine, where you can easily fall asleep in the sunshine while listening to a nearby street musician strumming a guitar.

Historic Bonsecours Market, Old Montreal

4. The city is a shopper’s haven

When it comes to shopping, I like cheap and easy. If I don’t have to hand over a month’s worth of rent while making small talk to a snobby sales assistant I’m happy. With that in mind, I found shopping heaven via ‘ventes de trottoir’ also known as sidewalk sales, that spring up in several locations as soon as the snow melts off the footpaths. Some of the better sales are hosted along Mont-Royal Avenue, with amazing bargains and one-off pieces available by both new and established designers. Those looking for edgier, one-of-a kind pieces should head to Rue St-Dennis where independent boutiques offer tantalising finds, without breaking the bank.

Shops in Place Jacques Cartier, Montreal, Québec

5. You can test out your French

As you can probably tell from all of the ‘Rue’ address I’ve been recommending, Montreal is a predominantly French speaking city. As such, it offers the unique opportunity to delve into the nuances of the language while providing a safety net for those of us who have yet to master it. You will find most people are bilingual or at least comfortable conversing in both languages and very forgiving of those learning. The first time I ordered a coffee in French it went something like this, “Um, ah…un petit café, please, I mean s’il vous plait, thank you, merci, please. A small coffee.” To me, nothing beats strolling through the city and hearing snippets of L’anglais and le Français melding together. Learning a new language is an amazing gift and Montreal is the perfect place to practice. 

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