We’ve had wonderful vacations to most major cities in Canada and after a recent first-time visit to Quebec Province’s Montreal we felt that the country’s second largest city is Canada’s most unique vacation destination. This cosmopolitan metropolis gave us the inimitable feeling we were actually visiting Europe. And keep in mind a vacation to Montreal, rather than Europe, allows two major advantages: you’ll save considerable money on airfares and take many less hours getting there. More specifically, the city genuinely feels quite a bit like Paris exuding that city’s joie de vivre. Everybody speaks French and most signage, newspapers, stage productions and activities are usually in French. Like Paris it has colorful sidewalk cafes everywhere, a spectacular Notre Dame Cathedral, world class art museums and a very French l’art du savoir-faire outlook on life. Visiting Francophiles will be in nirvana! For more details about everything in this article plus much more information on activities, lodging, dining and all things Montreal go to these fact-filled websites: or

Where TO Start:
Since Montreal is such a walk-able city and public transportation, especially the underground metro-subway, is so timely and reasonably priced we’d recommend flying in, avoid the expenses of a car rental and parking, and booking a downtown hotel. Our perfectly located four-star Le St. Martin, one of the newest in Montreal, had beautifully decorated rooms, and employees who made us feel very much at home. Additional centrally located hotels fitting most budgets and lodging needs can be found on those before mentioned websites.
Our What to do AND See Favorites:

m2First of all we’d recommend finding a touring company, preferably one that offers the on/off ability, to tour the city giving an overview of all the important attractions. Here is a list of our personal do-not-miss faves: a stop towards the top of Mont Royal Park, Montreal’s most prominent natural site, is the very best place to really see the city below getting a sense of the major city landmarks; a long stroll through the Old Port’s pier area along the St. Lawrence River, then into the Montreal Museum of Archaeology to see the very informative multimedia presentation “Yours Truly Montreal”; follow this stroll by meandering up through yesteryear’s enchanting Old Town and then on to the Gothic Revival masterpiece, Notre Dame Basilica; Montreal may offer one of the most unique shopping experiences in the world. Five shopping centers connected together offering over 1700 shops and restaurants all located underground, like a hidden city-within-the-city. It’s also connected to the Metro and to Montreal’s best known department stores, The Bay Company and Simons, located on Montreal’s main outdoor shopping street, Saint Catherine. No matter what negative weather Mother Nature might have in mind this subterranean aspect is a shopper’s paradise; visits to the Museum of Fine Arts and the Contemporary Art Museum should be no-brainers for all art lovers.

More What to See AND Do:

If time permits, here are a few more things to enhance your Montreal experience: Stroll through the lively Little Italy neighborhood where your European experience extends beyond France; take a boat cruise on the famous St. Lawrence River, gateway to the Great Lakes; explore downtown Montreal’s historic Victorian brownstones, modern skyscrapers, the awe-inspiring St. Patrick’s Basilica and the enormous and stunning Mary Queen of the World Cathedral; if you bring the kids be sure to head out to the fun-filled La Ronde Amusement Park, one of Canada’s finest; the Biosphere Museum, a unique and spectacular structure originally built by the United States as our country’s Pavilion at the 1967 World Fair Expo, is now dedicated to environmental exhibitions; Olympic Park, home to the Botanical Gardens and Olympic Stadium-built for many 1976 Summer Olympic Games events – also includes the Montreal Tower, the world’s tallest inclined tower providing more great city vistas.

World Class Events:

Montreal is home to numerous highly regarded annual events and scheduling your visit during one or more would be ideal. Fortunately we scheduled our trip when three major festivals were taking place and we enjoyed a little of each. We called it our “winning trifecta of festivals”. Montreal’s International Jazz Festival, the world’s largest, taking place in the vibrant Quartier des Spectacles, considered Montreal’s cultural heart, didn’t disappoint; the annual somewhat off-the-wall Cirque Festival presented both indoor and outdoor performances by over one hundred international circus performers showcasing amazing talent. Montreal is also headquarters for the famous Cirque du Soleil and other circus companies plus a few circus schools. Luckily we were able to attend Soleil’s newest show, KURIOS, soon to go on the road around Canada and then to

San Francisco in November. We’ve viewed over ten different Soleil shows in Las Vegas and San Francisco and Kurios had acts that bring dangerous edge-of-your-seat thrills to an all new level. When the show comes to San Francisco and you have the opportunity, do not miss seeing this amazing performance. Third in our trio of events was Montreal’s International Fireworks Competition staged between countries annually at La Ronde overlooking a reflective water pond in coordination with resounding musical accompaniment. Creative pyro-technicians vie for awards at the most prestigious event of its kind in the fireworks’ cosmos. We witnessed an unbelievable, almost overwhelming, high octane thirty minutes of dazzling pyrotechnic firepower by Italy’s team, last year’s winner. Other major events that may interest our readers include the annual Formula One race and the city’s annual universally acclaimed comedy, music and film festivals.

Dining IN Montreal:

m4There are restaurants in Montreal serving every ethnic cuisine imaginable but we suggest you stick with French and continental offerings for more complete culinary memories from our Europe-of-the-Americas. Why not try dining at as many charming sidewalk cafes as possible in Old Montreal and most anywhere in town. Our hotel’s Bistro L’Aromate served scrumptious breakfasts and their sidewalk seating area was delightful for any meal. Another recommended sidewalk dining experience is Bistro Le Balmoral, a surprisingly non-profit restaurant featuring live jazz, Francaise influenced dishes with surplus revenue going towards Jazz Festival support.

Mademoiselles will love lunch or afternoon tea at Birk’s Café par Europea, uniquely located in Maison Birks, one of Canada’s most exclusive jewelry stores. Hold tightly to those credit cards, ladies, as you walk through their enticing glittering temptations. In addition to experiencing European influenced gastronomic outings we had considerable amusement trying some specialty foods Montreal claims as their own. We started at Reuben’s Deli, a storied institution that features Montreal-style smoked beef and another Montreal specialty, Poutine. Our verdicts: the lightly smoked beef sandwich was heavenly and Reuben’s creative version of Poutine with their smoked beef added to the standard recipe of French fries covered in gravy and cheese curd was a yummy taste treat. Another fun foodie challenge occurred when we read Montreal folks consider their bagels the best in the universe and especially better than New York’s. As longtime New York bagel devotees we tried the city’s two top bagel award winners: Fairmount and St. Viateur. Our verdict: we thought both were equally good and sweeter than New York’s but only one of us thought they were better than the Big Apples’. Sorry Montreal, but a tie is still better than a loss.