An urban gem within the province of Quebec, Montreal embodies old-world class and new-world excitement in perfect balance. It's good to arrive with French-English translation and metric conversion apps already installed on your smartphone, as well as a map of the Montreal Metro, the city's user-friendly subway system. Architectural beauties, joyful bustle, mouth-watering cuisine, an Olympic Stadium, and several outdoor pools and parks will soon win you over in Montreal. This city of 18th-century cobblestone streets, 21st-century urban style and numerous festivals and attractions translates its charms readily into a language of traveler enjoyment.
Montreal gave the world Cirque du Soleil; when you visit the city, you'll soon feel the spirit that nurtured such an innovative circus troupe living on in the many festivals.
If possible, time your visit to coincide with the 10-day, midsummer Montreal International Jazz Festival—the world's biggest of its kind, during which large portions of the downtown area are closed to traffic to accommodate free outdoor performances. You can also purchase tickets to see some of the finest names in jazz at nearby indoor venues like Salle Wilfred-Pelletier at Place des Arts.
Another biggest-of-its-kind is the Montreal International Fireworks Competition that runs for more than a month during the summer. While you can pay for an ideal viewing spot at La Ronde, a Six Flags-owned amusement park on an island in the St. Lawrence River, you'll also have a spectacular outlook if you follow the locals to any of the free locations on either side of the river or on the Jacques Cartier Bridge, which closes to traffic. Add a splash of color to your trip at this fabulous night sky display.
With dozens of other festivals going on throughout the year, take your pick: the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, the Montreal World Film Festival, plus many other surprising and often quirky choices are there for your entertainment.
The Montreal Botanical Garden, Planetarium, Biodome and Insectarium together form the largest grouping of natural history museums in Canada, and should be on every visitor's itinerary. They are set inside the old Olympic Stadium, where a tour allows guests to step inside the stands for an insight into the events, athletics, trade shows and concerts that have taken place on-site.
Combine a trip to St. Joseph's Oratory, Canada's largest church, with an exploration of Mount Royal park in the center of the city. Mount Royal was designed by 19th-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, creator of New York's Central Park and Boston's Emerald Necklace. Be sure to check out other famous churches such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Cathedral of Marie-Reine-du-Monde as well as the Museum of Fine Arts on Sherbrooke Street West.
Within North America, only New York City has more restaurants per capita than Montreal, so plan to try everything from downtown cafes and breakfast spots to any of the superb bistros and restaurants lining the historic streets of Old Montreal. French-style pastries as well as poutine—the signature Quebecois snack consisting of French fries, gravy and cheese curds—are both essentials. Schwartz’s is a deli serving up original smoked meat, as it has for generations.
Outdoor dining is available throughout Montreal during the summer and is of the gracious, Parisian-inspired variety, complete with cloth linens and impeccable wait staff. You won't find just a few token tables squeezed onto sidewalks with traffic whizzing by; you'll instead discover a casually elegant, outdoor food culture. If you need to eat on the run, try a souvlaki or gyro wrap from any Greek eatery you happen to pass by.
If you want an authentic French experience, spring for accommodations in Old Montreal and enjoy the cobblestone streets, ornate wrought-iron trim, and historic stone architecture adorned with bright window boxes in summer. The Hotel Nelligan is a favorite in this district. Business travelers will appreciate the many fine downtown Montreal hotels, such as the Omni Mont-Royal on Sherbrooke Street, or the Loews Hotel Vogue on Rue de la Montagne.
If you're driving to Montreal between November and April, be sure to check weather reports for snowy or icy driving conditions. Off-season travel discounts during these months can be worth taking advantage of. The Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) is located just 12 miles west of downtown and handles international flights to and from the Canadian city.