Drive about six hours north of New York City (about 330 miles) and you’ll find yourself in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. If you’ve got the time and like to ride the rails, Amtrak operates the Adirondack passenger train daily between New York City and Montreal. The 10-hour trip takes you through the scenic Hudson Valley and the Adirondack Mountains.
After you arrive, don’t be surprised if you become disoriented, and wonder for a moment if you are somewhere in Europe. Montreal was established in 1642 as a base for the fur trade, and the oldest buildings date back to the late 1600s. The second-largest city in Canada, Montreal is a fascinating mix of the old and the new, the historic and the cosmopolitan.
One of the city’s top draws is the cobblestone streets, quaint European character and delightful nooks and crannies of the historic district of Old Montreal, including the Old Port. Wear your walking shoes, because Old Montreal is best explored on foot. A walking tour will reveal, among other things, historic churches; an ornate City Hall built in 1872; art galleries and museums; fountains and sculptures; the two-story domed Marche Bonsecours Market, and the Place Jacques Cartier public square.
Some of Montreal’s more intriguing streets are Laurier Avenue (known for its cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and specialty shops); the trendy, upscale Rue St. Denis, and “Main Street” Rue Ste. Catherine, shopping heaven. (Parent alert – parts of Rue Ste. Catherine is adult-oriented). To experience Montreal nightlife, visit one of the liveliest streets in the city, Crescent Street, which is lined with clubs, restaurants, and bars.
You might want to bring your English to French dictionary – French is Quebec’s official language, and Montreal, the province’s capital city, has the largest concentration of French language speakers in one area outside of France – over half of the city’s population speak French.
Montreal is interesting geographically – it is situated on and around a boomerang-shaped island (the Island of Montreal) at the juncture of the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers, and a triple-peaked 765-foot hill (Mount Royal, after which the city is named) dominates the downtown heart of the city. The Island of Montreal is the most heavily populated freshwater island in the world, and be warned, the bridges joining the island to the mainland are some of the busiest anywhere, even by New York standards.
Modern downtown Montreal is located at the foot of Mount Royal, and local law prevents any buildings from being taller than the mountain and diminishing its imposing effect. Make it to the top, and you are rewarded with a sweeping view of the entire city. Mount Royal is surrounded by one of the city’s largest green spaces, Mount Royal Park. Atop the mountain towers a distinctive 31-and-a-half foot cross, lit by LED lights that, while normally white, can be programmed to change color.
To escape the long, cold Quebec winters, Montrealers flock to one of the largest underground complexes in the world – the “underground city”. The underground city is an interconnected labyrinth of shops, services; food courts; cinemas; major buildings; shopping malls; universities; condos and apartment buildings; bus, commuter train, and metro stations – even an arena and an amphitheater.
If you’re into nature, check out the unique Biodome de Montreal, a facility replicating four different ecosystems found in the Americas, or the 75-hectare (185-acre) Montreal Botanical Gardens. If archeology is your thing, you’ll enjoy the Point-a-Calliere archeological museum, with actual underground archeological digs and an amazing waterfront view from the fifth floor.
If you’re visiting in the winter, make sure you’re there for Poutine Week February 1st to 7th – a festival celebrating amazing variations of Quebec’s signature dish of fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Just FYI, poutine is said to be THE best hangover food ever.
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