Montreal has always been somewhat of a family joke. As a family we spent over a decade living and traveling through Europe. One day while living in the states, we overheard a travel agent recommending a trip to Montreal because it was just like Europe only cheaper and closer. Based on that declaration, I avoided Montreal for the next twenty years. (I can be pretty stubborn)
However, people change and grow. And last summer I decided I could be the bigger person and planned a trip to Montreal for my birthday. The city’s compact old town, cobblestone streets, cafes, churches and green spaces do give the city an old world European feel. I can also report, it is a beautiful, unique and worthy destination in its own right.
Jacques Cartier “discovered” the Indian village of Hochelaga in 1535 and European settlers came to the mouth of the St Lawrence River beginning in 1541. This makes it one of the oldest permanent settlements in North America. Today is also the 9th largest city in North America which provides an interesting contrast of 16th century history with 21st century culture.
Old Montreal is the heart of the city and you should plan to spend at least a full day visiting Basilique Notre-Dame, Place d’Armes, Place Jacques, Muee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, and Vieux-Port de Montreal.
If the weather is nice, visit Parc du Mont Royal. It is a magnificent green space on top of the large “mountain” in town and for which the city is named. It has wonderful views, parks, and a beautiful old cemetery that dates back to the 1850s.
Two things off the beaten path I would recommend: 1) Visit one of the public markets like Marche Jean Talon. Not only are these a wonderful place to observe daily life in Montreal, people watch and eat, you can also pick up some fantastic souvenirs (like maple syrup or maple candy) for a fraction of the cost you will pay elsewhere in the city. http://www.marchespublics-mtl.com/en/markets/ 2) Walk around the neighborhoods. Like most old cities, Montreal has some beautiful and distinct neighborhoods that are fun to explore. Frommer’s has a great synopsis of the different areas. http://www.frommers.com/destinations/montreal/706089
Travel Tips: Montreal is very walkable but the metro is also easy to use and affordable. Similar to France, I was warned the locals are frustrated if you don’t speak French. I didn’t find this to be true. But like any destination, people respect and respond to a few polite words that show you care. Montreal can be a great weekend destination or part of longer excursion as you are just a short drive away from Quebec City, Ottawa, Niagara Falls or countless smaller locations where you can enjoy the great outdoors!
Books: Two of the most well-known award winning books that take place in Montreal are The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, by Mordecai Richler and The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant, by Michel Tremblay. Heather O’Neill and Kathy Reichs also both write series that take place in this fascinating and diverse city.
Local website about Novels Set in Montreal: http://www.cityline.ca/2013/06/8-great-novels-set-in-montreal/
Some additional resources on Montreal: