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There are plenty of reasons to visit Montreal. From dynamic festivals and delicious food to the fascinating history and vibrant arts and culture scene, they all give the city a lot of its character. Here are 10 of the most compelling reasons why you should visit this unforgettable Canadian city.
With nearly 100 multi-day events per year, Montreal is truly a city of festivals. From music to art to literature, cinema, dance, and more, there’s almost always something exciting happening in the city. You’ll want to check out the Quartier des Spectacles, in particular, a zone close to downtown Montreal dedicated to hosting festivals and entertainment throughout the year. The Quartier des Spectacles is composed of multiple open spaces, including both indoor and outdoor stages. One of the city’s most celebrated events is the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the largest of its kind in the world.
Montrealers are known for their eclectic style, and the city offers a wide variety of retail destinations to match. You can start at the Eaton Centre mall downtown, and then head west along Rue Sainte-Catherine and wander through the more than 1,200 upscale chain stores, department stores, and boutiques that line the street. The city is also home to great vintage shopping opportunities, especially along Boulevard Saint-Laurent—all the way from Chinatown to Mile End.
Similarly, you can keep shopping to your heart’s content even in the long winter months that make up the downside of Montreal’s reputation. The city’s solution to the sub-zero weather has been to create a multi-level network of shops, businesses, restaurants, schools, hotels, concert halls, and more that follows over 20 miles (32 kilometers) of metro stations. Essentially, with the Underground City, you don’t ever have to go outside if you don’t want to.
If you love art, culture, history, and science, Montreal offers plenty to keep you happily occupied. For example, the Musée d’Art Contemporain (the contemporary art museum) hosts a variety of exhibits, while the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts showcases the best art, archaeology, and antiquities from around the globe. There are numerous other art and history museums, and if you’re interested in the natural world, you can check out the kid-friendly and interconnected Biosphere, Planetarium, and Insectarium.
The range of lively markets offered in Montreal is impressive, especially if you’re keen on fresh farmers’ produce and local products. The most famous of the city’s markets is Marché Jean-Talon, which is also one of the largest in Canada. Also, be sure to check out Marché Atwater and Marché Maisonneuve, which offer different atmospheres and will draw you further into the dynamic neighborhoods of the city.
With more restaurants per capita than any other North American city, Montreal is the ideal destination for the traveling foodie. The city offers a range of food-related festivals such as MTL à Table, Burger Week, and La Fête des Restos that transpire throughout the year, all celebrating the creativity of local chefs. Food trucks are also part of the food scene, serving up a delicious variety of fast and local eats. While you’re in the city, there are three foods you must try: poutine (check out the 24-hour hot spot La Banquise), a smoked meat sandwich (get in line at Schwartz’s on Saint Laurent), and a Montreal-style bagel (at either St-Viateur or Fairmount in Mile End).
As you’re wandering through the city’s dynamic neighborhoods, the vibrant street art found splashed across buildings across Montreal adds to the creative vibe for which the city has long been celebrated. Indeed, the city often assigns certain zones to the talents of local street artists, and colorful examples are seen along main roads, side streets, and even in alleyways.
Often referred to as the most European city in North America, Montreal’s history of being colonized by first the French and then the English has contributed to the city’s unusual mix of historical, religious, and modern architecture. Another contributing factor to the diversity of façades across Montreal is the heritage of varied flows of immigration over time (including Portuguese, Jewish, Italian, Irish, Chinese, and more), each adding something unique to the range of architectural styles. From the historic cobblestoned streets of Old Montreal and the resplendent mansions of Westmount and Outremont to the row houses of Plateau Mont-Royal with their distinctive outdoor staircases, its homes and buildings tell part of the city’s history. Be sure to visit the Canadian Centre for Architecture too.
With its active mélange of English and French, along with the flavors of other languages added in through immigration, the linguistic character of Montreal is a key factor in the city’s appeal. It’s an ideal place to visit if you’re interested in learning either or both of Canada’s official languages, with numerous language schools scattered throughout the city. Montreal is legally a French-speaking city, and over 60% of residents speak French at home (with just over 20% speaking English at home and just under 20% speaking neither). Montreal is the second-largest mainly French-speaking city in the world, after Paris.
Montreal is full of microbreweries, brewpubs, bars and pubs that offer delicious and beloved local and artisanal beers. Dieu du Ciel and Amère à Boire are two such hot spots, and you’ll find both places teeming with locals after work or school—or late into the night, any day of the week. Tourists often overlook Montreal’s microbreweries, but you won’t want to miss out on this aspect of local flavor.