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Stroll through the Old Montreal district and the grand architecture, cathedrals, and cobblestone streets have an unmistakably European vibe. But that’s only one side of Quebec’s most populous metropolis, set on a hilly island in the St. Lawrence River. Montreal has its own style and is known for its trend-setting design and music scenes, forward-thinking chefs and brewmasters, and globally influenced landscape. The modern downtown shows off the city’s creativity in contemporary exhibit spaces, giant murals, and the numerous festivals hosted in the Quartier des Spectacles.
Head north, where the scene gets trendier in the Plateau-Mont-Royal and Mile End areas — artsy enclaves known for concert halls, cocktail bars, and bakeries turning out the famous Montreal-style bagels. This is also a city of remarkable parks, each gifted with one-of-a-kind landmarks such as the futuristic inclined tower in Olympic Park and the famous dome over the Biosphere environmental museum in Parc Jean-Drapeau. As you venture further into the outlying boroughs, you’ll find each community puts its own spin on Montreal’s many charms.
Montreal’s comprehensive transportation system and pedestrian scale make this a convenient city to explore without a car. From Montreal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL), the main air travel hub in the region, you can catch an express bus into the city, where it’s easy to transfer to the STP (Société de Transport de Montréal) buses or the four Metro lines. Buses run 24 hours a day, though the Metro does not; if you’re out late, you may want to hail a cab or rideshare. When the weather’s warm, take advantage of the city’s BIXI bike-share program and extensive bicycle trail network. And during winter’s sometimes harsh subzero temperatures, follow the locals down into the labyrinth of pedestrian tunnels beneath the central city’s core, which connect key landmarks and metro stations. Known informally as the Underground City, the RÉSO network claims more than 20 miles (33 kilometers total) of subterranean passageways.
Montreal will woo you in every season, though summer’s jam-packed calendar, filled with acclaimed festivals and the Canadian Grand Prix races, brings out the biggest crowds. Summer in Montreal keeps the party going from June to August with the city hosting events as varied as concerts from international jazz masters and major beer tastings. If you want to beat the sometimes-muggy heat, then opt for fall’s dazzling display of colors arriving in the city’s parks. The Montreal Botanical Garden and the Morgan Arboretum are among the many scenic spots to take in the foliage.
Shoppers come out in force over the holiday season, when Christmas markets bustle and Old Montreal’s shops are all abuzz. Of course, winter’s frosty climes don’t phase hardy Montrealers, who show up by the tens of thousands for Igloofest, the season’s premier outdoor music festival. If the chill becomes too much for your taste, check into one of the Nordic spas and cozy bars that keep even the darkest months warm and cheerful.
Designed by the architect who planned New York City’s Central Park, Mount Royal stands out among Montreal’s many green spaces for the small mountain rising above the cityscape. Locals hang out here year-round, snowshoeing in the winter and hosting barbecues in the summer. But it’s a scenic spot any time of year for catching views of the downtown skyline, perhaps best seen at sunset from the Mount Royal Chalet.
When people talk about Montreal’s French-inspired ambiance, they’re more than likely referencing the city’s oldest neighborhood. Old Montreal is home to several of the region’s famous churches, including the dramatic Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, one of the world’s finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture. While you can spend hours in museums like Centre d’Histoire de Montréal or lounging in public squares like Place Jacques-Cartier, this is also a dynamic neighborhood for browsing independent storefronts and dining. Window-shop your way along cobbled Rue Saint-Paul, a picturesque commercial district where you’ll find inventively curated boutiques popping up alongside established favorites.
This historic canal is lined with industrial buildings converted into upscale residential and commercial spaces. Canal de Lachine also claims one of the city’s finest cycling paths for a pleasant spin on a sunny afternoon. Pause along the way to pick up picnic provisions to enjoy canalside at Marché Atwater, an Art Deco market hall dating from the 1930s.