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We don't want to be rude, but Montreal has a somewhat split personality. The old part of town is undeniably European, not to say French. Nearby are shiny skyscrapers that give the city a North American appearance. The majority of the inhabitants speak French, but a significant minority is English-speaking. Winters are bitterly cold, summers scorching hot. Although life above ground always continues, Montreal has partially entrenched itself. It is therefore hard to describe Montreal, other than by saying that the city is unique.
It is for example the only city in the world where the sun rises in the south. Now you probably think "huh?" This can be explained by the fact that the inhabitants of Montreal consider the St Lawrence River as being 'south' and the Mont-Royal as being 'north'. That is not in line with the compass direction. It is, however, important to know as the Montreal version of the wind direction is indicated on street signs and is also used on all local maps. Now you understand why West Island is called the way it is, while in reality it is located south of the city. Confusing? Not at all, just turn the map 90 degrees...
The old heart of the city (Vieux-Montréal) is Place Jacques Cartier, a square that runs from the old port to the city hall. On summery days the square is filled with outdoor cafés, dozens of street artists give a performance and it becomes the ideal place for strolling around. The square is surrounded by small streets with houses dating back to the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The former storage warehouses and merchant houses have become cafés, restaurants, galleries and souvenir shops. It is all very much aimed at tourists, but North Americans in particular love it, as old inner cities barely exist on their continent. At night the narrow streets and squares are beautifully illuminated.
Trade brought great wealth to Montreal and this was emphasized when at the beginning of the nineteenth century a large church was built on the Place de Armes. The neo-Gothic Basilique Notre-Dame has a colorful interior with white statues against a blue background.
The Musée d'Archéologie et d'Histoire de Montréal is very special. It was built on top of archeological remains and they are left in situ as they were found. In the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, which is housed in the former customs office, you can see how Montreal developed from a modest trading post to the city it is today. You can for example watch a movie and there are 4 models of the city at different stages of development.
To avoid the harsh winters as much as possible, Montreal has an extensive underground network. This network has gradually grown into a complete city. You can go from the subway station to a hotel, then have dinner in a good restaurant and go to the movies, without even putting on a coat. That may sound oppressive, but it's not that bad, as the underground city is spacious and uses a lot of natural daylight. Currently there are almost 2000 shops, several hundreds of restaurants and eateries, and a few dozen cinemas and theaters in la ville souterraine.
In 1976 Montreal organized the Olympic Games and it didn't go unnoticed to the inhabitants. Over thirty years they have had to pay extra taxes to pay off the enormous mountain of debt. All that remains is the Olympic Stadium with an odd inclined tower and a roof that is suspended from cables. From the tower you do have a wonderful view of the city though. The former velodrome now houses the Biodôme. Here, four different ecosystems have been brought together: a tropical rainforest, a Canadian forest, the Saint Lawrence Marine Eco-system and a polar area. Close to the Biodôme lies Montreal's magnificent botanical garden.
There used to be a clear dividing line between the French-speaking and English-speaking part of town: Boulevard St-Laurent. This division is starting to fade. The eastern part of town is definitely still more French and the western part more English, but in between it's a mixed area. Not least because of the immigrants from countries where neither English nor French are spoken.
For excellent restaurants you have to go to the Rue St-Denis. In this area there are also many lively bars, cafés and nightclubs. Not surprisingly as the McGill University and the Université du Québec à Montréal are close by.
In the north, Montreal is protected by Mont-Royal. Residents simply call it 'the mountain', although it's more a substantial hill. Anyway, Parc du Mont-Royal is a popular area to spend free time. On beautiful summer days it is always crowded, but also in winter when tout Montreal comes here for cross-country skiing. You can take a horse-drawn carriage to the top of the 'mountain'.
The Mont-Tramblant National Park is located almost 150 kilometers north of Montreal. It's a wonderful nature reserve with over four hundred lakes and many waterfalls. Here you can take beautiful hikes (there are tent camps in the park to spend the night) or canoe on one of the lakes.
The Gatineau Park is located west of Montreal, near the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Various hiking and biking trails are plotted through the wooded hills. Some hills are steep, so these trails are only for well-trained cyclists. In winter it is a popular area for skiing and cross-country skiing, which explains why it is the backdrop for the largest Canadian cross-country skiing event, The Keskinada Loppet. While you are here, make sure to also visit the Canadian capital.
As is the case in many other large cities, Montreal struggles with traffic jams. In Montreal this is partially due to the fact that the city is situated on an island: It is costly to build bridges and tunnels to the suburbs on the other side of the St Lawrence River. For cars there are only four bridges and one tunnel. The northern Rivière des Prairies is much smaller and is spanned by eight bridges.
You can park in the street, but finding a free space is not easy. Also don't think that you don't have to pay if you don't see any parking meters. In Montreal the parking meters are not located along the sidewalk, but right next to the buildings. This way they do not hinder the large snowplows when they make the roads passable in winter. Most shopping malls and hotels in the city center have large underground parking garages.
The airport is located 25 kilometers southwest of the city. You can easily reach Montreal Trudeau Airport by rental car as it is located right along Highway 20. From Montreal the airport can also be reached via the Côte-de-Liesse (Highway 520).