Whenever I travel, I get so excited & I usually start making plans way ahead of time. But not this time, for my trip to Montreal. Not that I didn't look forward to it, but I left the day after getting back from our vacation to South Africa, and planning that road trip had occupied most of my free time. But even though I was only there for a few days and hadn't made any plans, this city didn't disappoint. Some of the best experiences come unexpected, I guess!
Montreal is the 2nd largest city in Canada and the 4th largest French-speaking city in the world (behind Paris, Kinshasa & Abidjan.) But if your French is bad, you'll have nothing to worry about as long as you speak English. I didn't really know anything about Montreal except that it gets really cold in winter, with a lot of snow. But this was summer, and weather was amazing!
Thank God it was, because a friend of mine who lives there always told me that this is a city that needs to be experienced on foot. I never really quite understood what he meant by that, but I believe I do now. Public transportation is good - with a decent metro & bus network - but there's a lot to be seen in a relatively small area.
To be fair, I haven't exactly explored all of Montreal. I stayed at Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel, right in the middle of Montreal's downtown area. I was only here for a few days and spent just about all of my time in downtown and the Old Town/Old Port.
Founded in 1642, it's one of the older North-American cities and it still shows: in between the skyscrapers and the more modern landmarks that were built for the 1967 Expo & 1976 Olympics, are a ton of old buildings that scream the grandeur of the French colonial empire and the height of the British empire. Well, old… You won't find buildings as old as you could see in Europe. But relative to most other North American cities, there sure is a lot.
But there's more to Montreal, and that American-European blend is magical. Shopping is fun and easy in the many malls and big-brand stores in and around the Rue Sainte-Catherine, while the abundance of small bars and bistros make it very cozy.
A few blocks north-east of Rue Sainte-Catherine is Mont Royal, the hill that gave the city its name. The eastern half of that hill is now a park: Parc du Mont Royal, designed by the same architect who did New York's Central Park. If you like a nice walk or jog, this is the place to go: it's a 6 km (~ 3.5 mi) round-trip trail to the top of the park, where a stunning view of the Montreal skyline awaits you at the Mount Royal Belvedere. Or extend that jog with a few kilometers if you want to see some more of the park, like the Lac aux Castors or the Mount Royal Cross.