I am in Montreal for vacation for the second time in five and a half weeks (and I am already plotting when to go again). Obviously there are many reasons why I visit the same city again and again. I have collected ten why you should visit Montreal.
- It is a big city. I am a huge fan of proper big cities. People always say that Boston is big, but I think of cities with at least 3 million inhabitants. Greater Montreal has more than 4 million. Plus a great and modern metro system. Plus buildings in downtown are connected by an underground tunnel system so that you don’t have to step outside on bad weather days. Although it is totally worth it walking overground and exploring the different districts.
- The Plateau. This is a neighborhood close to the city center. The name derives from the district being – you might have guessed it – on a plateau. Houses are both colorful and beautiful. The larger streets are full of small boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. To me it all feels like a mix of academia and boheme. This is where people go to the same neighborhood restaurant once a week. And they might bring their own wine. Oh, and when I try to speak French in the Plateau, people let me practise and don’t reply in English to make things easier or faster.
- Les Québécois. Nice people to sum it up. I feel it is very easy to start chatting with people in Montreal. You immediately get to know a little about the history and why people love living in Montreal. At the same time, I don’t get the impression that they are just extra nice for tips. Saying that I don’t only talk to people working. And for me the big introvert it means a lot when I talk to “random” people. Also, before I open my mouth, they tend to believe that I am either from Quebec myself.
- The city parks. There are so many parks and also squares around making the city green and beautiful. The biggest one is the Le Mont Royal from where you have an amazing view at the Montreal. Even though I walked up there – all the way up countless stairs (I know I can hardly believe it myself that I did that) – there are metro stops close by and bus stops. No matter how you get there, the view is worth it. My favorite parks so far are the Parc La Fontaine and the tiny St. Louis Park.
- Many independent coffee shops. I don’t mind coffee chains, and Tim Horton’s, a Canadian chain, definitely is a nice addition. But walking around Montreal you’ll see so many cute independent cafes that you just want to sit in those and sip on coffee all day long – or until you’re overdosed (trust me I’ve been there). I am a huge fan of the Montreal idea of a large coffee: it comes in the size of a breakfast bowl. All cafes also sell fresh foods like croissants. Or even better croissants filled with chocolate and with almonds on top – yes, food heaven exists.
- European atmosphere. From all the places I’ve been to in North America so far, Montreal is the most European one. I think to a big extent that is due to the architecture and the preservation of the French culture. The Catholic churches and cathedrals look just like the medieval ones in Europe. The atmosphere in general is relaxed, there isn’t a big rush. I even get the feeling that people do not mostly consume fast food, but meet in proper restaurants for dinner with friends – and sometimes you find delicious almost old-fashioned meals like blood sausage and liver. People still smoke in the streets, albeit not many, and the legal drinking age in this region is 18. Alcohol goes together with dinner, it isn’t frowned upon like in Puritan New England (not that that keeps people from drinking, but at least you don’t talk about it …)
- Poutine. I guess you either love or hate the dish – I love french fries with gravy and cheese. There are restaurants around where you can choose your toppings. There is nothing else to add: I heart poutine!
- Arts. There is much street art in Montreal, but also many galleries, theaters and museums. I particularly liked the Museum of Fine Arts. In October they had a special exhibition of Jean Paul Gaultier’s wedding haute couture and pret-a-porter creations. This time I definitely wanted to visit the Museum of Modern Art. The Leonard Cohen exhibition was indeed wonderful. Cohen used to live in Montreal by the way. Having listened to some live music, I’d say that Montreal has a pretty good music scene.
- Cider. It comes in so many more flavors than apple – rose, cranberry, pear, berries – and is very mild. It tastes much like lemonade so don’t forget that it contains quite a bit of alcohol. (Oops, is this the puritan in me coming out and warning people? Have I lived in New England for too long?)
- It is affordable. I know it is not the most important point, but it is important. There is a huge difference for instance between me per night paying $ 70 for a bed in a dorm of a just okay hostel in New York City and in Montreal paying $ 22 for a bed in a dorm in the best hostel ever including breakfast and hottubs on the rooftop. Coffee is usually cheaper in the independent cafes, entry to museums is less pricy, etc. I know that NYC is a great city, but the way prices have skyrocketed over the last few years is just insane. By now I’d rather go three times to Montreal instead of going to NYC once.