Montréal is a proudly French city. The city began as a French fur-trading post. Its official language is French, and many Montrealers insist on speaking it. Even its neighborhoods, such as the university neighborhood, the Quartier Latin, are named after their Parisian namesakes. Montréal’s colorful townhouses, bohemian lifestyle and love of dining and the arts all mirror the French capital. Check out the cafés and bookstores of Plateau-Mont-Royal in the city’s northeast for the purest taste of Montréal’s Parisian spirit.
Thanks largely to its Old Port, Montréal has historically been a wealthy trade city, and much of the city’s architecture has been built on a grand scale. Step inside massive churches such as the Notre-Dame Basilica, where the famous Canadian singer Céline Dion was married, and St. Joseph’s Oratory, the largest church in Canada. Visit museums housed in bold, postmodern buildings, such as the Rio Tinto Planetarium in the Olympic Park, and the Biosphere, located on Saint Helen’s Island.
Montréal is a city of festivals, its year-round calendar peaking in the summer months. Festivals dedicated to jazz, fireworks and stand-up comedy annually attract millions of visitors from across the world. Many are held in the Quartier des Spectacles among the skyscrapers of Downtown or on the islands of the Parc Jean-Drapeau. Others, such as the excellent Divers/Cité gay pride festival, take place in Montréal’s lively gay neighborhood, the Village.
Montréal is located in the very south of the Canadian province of Québec, only 45 miles (72 kilometers) from the U.S. border. The city rests on an island between the St. Lawrence River and the Rivière des Prairies, with a hill at its center called Mount Royal. Climb up the hill for a full view of the Montréal cityscape.
Though Montréal is spread wide across the island, an excellent public transportation system makes it easy to navigate without a car. The metro is the most convenient option, with 68 stations throughout the city and cheap visitor deals such as 3-day or weekend passes available. The metro is as vibrant as the city itself: each station was designed by a different architect in a distinct style.