Montreal: it’s in that little (1.5 million km2) part of Canada known as Quebec, where they speak French and can proudly say it’s one of the few UNESCO Cities of Design. I went in August and was totally drawn in by the hipster vibe, outdoorsy spirit and beautiful architecture.
If you’re planning on visiting Toronto or New York on your gap year, you’re so close you might as well schedule in a few days in Montreal too. Here are seven reasons why…
1. The street art
Montreal is one of the coolest and artiest cities I’ve ever been to. The street art here is something else. From huge birds painted on the sides of buildings to arty bolts and political statements, you don’t have to go far to see a new piece around the city.
2. It’s cycle friendly
For a city, Montreal isn’t particularly hectic. The roads are bigger and better organised than in Blighty, and they work on a grid system so it’s easy to get around and find out where you need to go. There are also hundreds of miles of cycle lanes which connect together in a methodical way.
Cycle uphill on Mount Royal and you’ll find stunning views over the entire city. There’s even a bike lane a car-width wide that stretches the whole of the downtown area safely behind a curb. There are also well-kept routes by the canal for you to try and along the south shore too.
3. The outdoors stairs
When they were building Montreal they had a problem with the snow falling off roofs and onto people on the pavement, or on the roads. This led to a law that houses had to be set back a certain amount on the street. Of course, this meant people’s houses were getting smaller. Then someone came up with the genius idea to put the stairs outdoors to create more space inside. There are whole photo books dedicated to the stairs of Montreal – they’re a beautiful architectural feature.
Fact for you: during winter in this city of snow and ice, if you don’t clear your step the postman is within his rights not to deliver your mail.
4. The Old Town is beautiful
Down in Old Montreal you’ll find boutique shops, you can explore the cool cafes and bars and eat at as many restaurants as you can afford. If you’re a bit tight on cash look out for poutine, it’s a Canadian speciality. Basically it’s chips with gravy and curd but a Canadian would tell you it was a lot more complex than that (it’s not).
5. The museums
As well as the whole area of Old Montreal being a museum, of sorts, there are some awesome museums in Montreal. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has over 41,000 works to keep you busy for starters.
The Biodome is pretty cool too – you can visit the penguins and watch feeding time, go to the insectarium or check out some super old fossils. Make sure to go in school time to avoid those pesky kids that are drawn to places like this though. There are over 4,500 animals from 250 different species and 500 plant species. Hectic!
6. The summer beach / winter ski
Clock Tower Beach is only open in the summer, and it’s the perfect place to sweat out those Montreal summer days.
You’re going to need to cool yourself with the ice in your drinks though as you can’t actually swim in the water there (it’s a river, too dangerous). Instead you can sit back and enjoy the views of the boats with a beer or two.
If your trip to Montreal is a winter one it’d be rude not to check out the ski or snowboarding slopes located within two hours of the city. Mont Tremblant is only 90 minutes away. It’s the number one ski resort in North America, with 95 trails and a high vertical drop of 649m.
7. The parks
The 17 parks of Montreal are entertainment hubs with events going on year round. Ice skating in winter, concerts in summer, races, art shows, carnivals, all sorts to keep you busy – and mostly for free. Summit Park is the best one for anyone with an interest in birds, Jean Drapeau Park has a beach, pools and trails to explore, and Parc Lafontaine is the place to be if you just want to read quietly in beautiful surroundings.
8. The Notre Dame Cathedral
You can’t go to Montreal and miss the Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s stunning outside but inside is pretty much out of this world. While you’re in Montreal check if they have any events on, if not, just go along in the day and at night so you can get the full effect.
Montreal is without a doubt one of my favourite cities I’ve ever visited. That French je ne sais quoi, language and spirit mixed with the Canadian attitude, nature and way of life makes for a brilliant place to spend some time on your gap year. Go!