There are always people I know going to Montreal, whether they be friends or colleagues, to either work or play. I guess because I am so passionate about the city, I frequently dispense advice on what to do or see. But I lived there, and I cringe to count the years, 10 years ago.
At one time, I put together a Montreal Cheat Sheet that listed out my favourite restaurants, shops, theatres and outdoor spaces to explore. But it's all out of date and really, I can't claim to know Montreal very well. But every time I return to visit, I'm struck by certain things that haven't changed.
It is still (and long may it be), a city that works to live. Can't say the same about Toronto, Ottawa or Calgary. I'm not sure about Vancouver, comments on this are very welcome.
So despite the fact that I can't name exactly where to eat and which theatre companies are reliable, I think can still recommend in a very general way how to get into the groove that is particular to Montreal.
Most all large cities have fantastic restaurants, creative cheap eats, and a broad selection of global flavours.
But Montreal has the largest number of restaurants per capita than any other city in North America.
This should be a clue as to how to plan your visit. EAT. There is so much good food in Montreal, and don't be shy if you don't speak French. Better yet, if an establishment is not totally Anglo-friendly, eat there. The food is probably superior to its more accommodating peers.
Montreal is an island in the stream. Literally. If that weren't exciting enough, there is a "mountain" in the middle of the island. Go there in all four seasons of the year and walk, cycle, run, ski the path or trails. Visit the lookout and have a beverage in the chalet up on top. When warm, lie in the grass. Smoke, drink, drink tea....just relax.
There are lots of parks to enjoy, I highly recommend renting a bicycle and exploring these outside public spaces and observe how these cherished places play out such a prominent role in bringing together the people of the city.
If you're young, old, gay, straight, French, Anglo, multi-coloured, religious or just downright messed-up, there is a place for you to elevate your soul. Whether it be a movie, nightclub, architecture, a worship service, concert, art installation, busking or street art, Montreal will provide for you. Just make sure to put in the effort and go out and look. Try something new!
I have never done much of that (as I am currently saving for the house that I now live in), but I am convinced that you can find the highest quality, most unique, imaginative items in this city. You'll find your desires have come to life.
And then of course there are the boxes to tick and the history to absorb. To visit Montreal should be an exercise in finding that which is unique. Montreal has that in spades. Please stay away from the cookie-cutter hotels and McRestaurants. The city has so much to offer and I firmly believe has what it takes to delight even the toughest customers.
And if you're still not sure, just visit in the summer for the Festival de Jazz.