If you’ve been to Montreal, or even further North to Quebec, you will have experienced a side of Canada that us Americans aren’t really used to. The thing is, I’m not your typical American anymore, which puts me in both a more advantageous, as well as stranger situation to be in when faced with French Canada. You see, my initial thought of an Americanized way of life, whilst speaking French and doing so with a very different accent, has been proved pretty ridiculous! Because despite being able to relate to both French and American (or more correctly Canadian) aspects of French Canada, it is in fact an entirely unique and exciting culture, with a lifestyle very much of its own.
Though it is not just thanks to my crazy, multi-national background that allowed me to discover so much of Montreal. Amongst the thousands of French citizens becoming permanent residents of Canada every year is a dear friend of ours, who over the last few years has constructed his very own little Canadian family. We could not miss out on such an opportunity to head over to their homeland and discover the fantastic culture in which they live.
Welcome to Montreal!
One of the biggest things that strikes you about Montreal is its sheer beauty as a city. An architectural contrast of the old and the new, with modern high rises downtown and greenery that saturates the city. Along with Montreal’s very unique landmarks it’s definitely a city that visually you’ll never forget! As a first time visitor to the city, there are some things that you just don’t want to miss out on seeing:
The Olympic Park – an incredibly distinctive sporting complex with the world’s tallest inclined tower AND one of the largest Botanical Gardens in the world
The underground city (Ville Intérieure) – over 20 miles of underground tunnels used for shopping, hotels, banks, offices, transport and more
Mount Royal - Montreal’s magnificent urban park overlooking the city
The Biosphere – not technically classed as a landmark, this environmental museum is not only hard to miss, but an awesome part of the city’s scenery!
Notre-Dame Basilica – even for those who are not religious, this sublime production of architectural elegance is worth seeing
Falling into the Jardins de Lumière
It’s not surprising that the most popular time to visit Montreal is during the summer, when most schools are out and many city events or festivals take place. But if you’re lucky enough to visit the City during the Fall season, you’re in for a real treat. Famous for its beautiful foliage, Montreal is one of the best places to see Autumnal colors at their best!
It’s also the time of year when the Jardins de Lumière (Gardens of Light) takes place in the city’s botanical gardens. A spectacular demonstration of hundreds of elaborately constructed lanterns in the shapes of animals, people, buildings and even vehicles. Specifically influenced by the Chinese light festivals as well as Japanese gardens, this magical tour was one of the biggest highlights of our trip to Montreal.
First impressions from a food addict
Travel just isn’t travel without culinary discoveries and a huge amount of time devoted to satisfying our little, travelling taste buds! So naturally, exploring Montreal was no exception! First stop: the infamous Poutine! This large plate of fries (or appropriately ‘English chips!’) topped with gravy and cheese curds has been Quebec’s cherished comfort food that can now be found across the entire country. And yes, it is ALL it is cracked up to be! Second stop: some Montreal-style smoked meat, an emblem of the City’s cuisine. For this experience, we were recommended one of Montreal’s most popular delis; Schwartz’s. Not only is this iconic food hub a fantasy for any tourist, but it is just as popular with the locals. And quite rightly so. Even after lining up on the side walk for about half an hour (and we were very lucky), we couldn’t have had a better culinary experience! An old diner where people come together and share tables or eat at the bar. And the food? An overwhelming, yet impressive selection of some of the best smoked meats (sandwiches) you’ll possibly ever taste. Having said that, I was somewhat surprised to discover that the ‘smoked’ meat had in fact a very subtle taste compared to the BBQ taste I had prepared myself for!
*The guy next to me had travelled all the way from Calgary just for the Black Cherry Soda (Cerise Noir) served at Schwarz’s!
If you are a food addict like me, you cannot go to Montreal without taking a tour around one of the most famous farmer’s markets; the Marché Jean-Talon. An overwhelming explosion of colors, aromas and multicultural flavors, the hustle and bustle of this market will get you wanting to try and buy pretty much everything. And do so, as much as you can! There are loads of stalls and restaurants presenting impossible decisions of what to eat, and of course, plenty of opportunity to stock up on Canada’s infamous maple syrup.
A brief rendition
Whether you’re American, Canadian, French or whichever nationality you have, Montreal is an incredibly exciting city to visit. It’s trendy, artistic vibes, along with the forward kindness of the people, make it one of the coolest places on earth. As with any trip, I could have easily spent a few more days, weeks, or even months exploring the area and there wouldn’t be a single day where I wouldn’t discover something new. However as it goes, we only had a few days in town, and whilst we made the most of what the city has to offer, this post represents such a small percentage of the amazing place that is Montreal.
What were your first impressions of French Canada? What stood out for you? What were your highlights? Let us know in the comments section below! And as always, if you have any questions you would like to ask, feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to help.