It's a statistic that may have you scratching your head: one of the world's largest French-speaking cities is in… Canada? How does it work, you wonder? The answer: Like a charm.
Montreal takes the nicest of Canadian qualities (which is a big deal, given Canada is renowned for niceness) and gift-wraps it with a sophisticated Gallic bow. It's a year-round charmer, where fall colors and wintry-wonderland snowfall add a photogenic layer. Come summer, the streets come alive with food markets and cafes, and festivals trumpet jazz, comedy, cinema and gay pride.
Old Montreal, the city's birthplace, is the logical place to begin explorations: cobblestoned streets and grand plazas transport you to another time. The gothic Notre-Dame Basilica is wonderfully ornate, and no less interesting than its namesake in Paris. Find Rue St-Denis in the Quartier Latin for student-filled cafes and bars, and stroll the city's playground, the Parc du Mont-Royal, for greenery aplenty.
You just know this city is going to love food, don't you? French heritage meets New World innovation, and the results are scrumptious. Bistros and brasseries lean on French flavors, but there's no shortage of creativity and global cuisine. The markets are first-rate: head to Marché Jean-Talon in Little Italy for local flavor on a grand scale.
Did you know Montreal has a big reputation for bagels (and a friendly rivalry with New York)? But - we know what you're most curious about. It's poutine, n'est-ce pas? French fries sprinkled with fresh cheese curds and covered in gravy - it's fast food meets comfort food and it looks pretty ugly, but it's a must-try while you're in town.
Style and good design are Montreal trademarks (it's a Unesco City of Design, after all), and markets are a treat for food, fashion and more. The Old Town's Marché Bonsecours is a sprawling heritage landmark that houses artisan boutiques, with everything made in Quebec. Avenue du Mont-Royal is a glorious place to while away a few hours, checking out cool boutiques, hipster havens and all manner of cafes and bars.
Perhaps as a result of its snowy winters, subterranean shopping streets are a thing in Montreal. The Réso goes by a few names (including the spookily enticing 'La Ville Souterraine', or Underground City). It's a multi-level network of tunnels and stairs connecting malls, metro stations, office towers, hotels and more - some 20 miles in all. Pack comfy walking shoes!