Of all the cities in North America, no place has an identity quite like Montreal’s. While most of the continent has a history and culture is mostly consistent whether you are in California, the Canadian Rockies or the mid-Atlantic states, the Canadian province of Quebec has held on to its French culture fiercely ever since they were conquered by the British in the mid 18th century.
Laws have been passed to protect this unique society within a continent that was and still is predominantly English, and it has had the effect of preserving French as the first language of this jurisdiction. However, as Montreal became a vitally important center of commerce and trade in the 20th century, English education within the city was increasingly emphasized, a fact that has led to roughly slightly more than half of the population being fluently bilingual in both languages, with many more knowing enough English to converse on a basic level with English speakers.
While the fact that Montreal is the world’s largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris is certainly an interesting one, visitors regularly travel to this metropolis for the gorgeous European-influenced architecture, a red hot nightlife that will excite your senses, and a chic sense of cool that is undeniable.
What sights should you see and what experiences will give you the true Montreal experience? The following activities will give you a taste of the joie de vivre that courses through the city like electricity through a high tension power line: doing just one of these will fill you with a spirit that will have you looking for apartments the very next day…
Walking the cobblestones of Old Montreal
Start your time in Montreal by heading down to the Old Port, where some of the cities’ oldest building stock exists. Here, many of the roads are kept in their original cobblestoned form, a fact which makes the even older mid 17th century buildings even more magical than they would be otherwise.
Aside from gawking at structures like the massive Notre Dame Cathedral (where famous chanteuse Celine Dion was married to her long time love Rene Angelil), head down to the gargantuan tent where the Cirque de Soleil holds shows throughout the summer, and be amazed by the mind-bending feats of athleticism that its performers pull off on a daily basis.
Finish your time here wandering through the abundant boutiques, art galleries and museums, where the artistic stylings and the history of Old Montreal come alive.
Eat your way to Quebecois culinary bliss
Ever since their French descendants put down stakes on this island in a river more than 400 years ago, the art of creating mouth-watering soulful cuisine has been an act that has been taken seriously in this city. While fine dining is certainly easy to find here (and well worth the money), the characteristic food that defines this city are more of the causal variety.
Of all the meals you will come across in Montreal, poutine definitely fits this bill, as it consists of french fries topped with cheese curds that is coasted in hot gravy. It may be a heart attack on a plate, but at least it will take you a better place prior to you having one.
Another can’t miss specialty here is the smoked meat sandwich. While many delis in Montreal will offer this piece of heaven between two slices of bread, we suggest getting one from Schwartz’s, which is where this sandwich was born.
The beef brisket, which is smoked and seasoned with no less than ten spices before being stuck between two slices of rye bread will have you coming back here for lunch numerous times throughout your visit.
Paint the town rouge until the sun comes up
After all this touring and eating, you’ll likely be set for an epic night of reveling that will likely surpass any nightlife experience that you have had before. Those who are younger will want to start their night on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, which is where the college crowd can be found during the school year, while those that want to mix with the locals and practice their French will find many bars on Rue Saint-Denis where local francophones love to tie more than a few on, especially during the weekend.
If you happen to prefer the same sex, an abundance of gay bars can be found on the easterly end of Rue Saint-Catherine, where one of North America’s most friendly gay villages is situated.