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  • Writer's pictureMartine Bertin-Peterson

Montreal: A Francophile’s Paradise Just Across the Border

If you’re dreaming of a Parisian vacation filled with culture, art, and gastronomy, but don’t have the money or time to support such an excursion, consider Montreal for your next trip. As the second largest French-speaking city in the world and a global hub for fashion, food, art, and culture, this Canadian city is perfect for anyone looking for an international vacation without having to hop the pond. Personally, my favorite part of this city is its accessibility to second-language learners. With around 59% of the population speaking both French and English fluently, Montreal offers the ideal environment for beginners who want to practice their French. Most servers and retail workers will suffer through broken French and provide perfect English when reaching a linguistic impasse. Locals, however, tend to have a knack for spotting tourists and will almost always offer English first. But, compared with the linguistic fatigue that can plague travelers in foreign lands, one can always (with near certainty) use English as a lingua franca.

Although Montreal is quite chilly in the winter, dropping temperatures should not deter you from traveling there in the colder months. With low tourism and a decrease in demand, the possibility of scoring a fantastic hotel room or Airbnb skyrockets. Not to mention some of the more festive activities are available during the holiday season. If there’s anyone who knows how to have a good time in the winter months it’s the Canadians!

On colder, snowy days, your best bet is Montreal’s Musée des Beaux-Arts. This giant complex is composed of five buildings, each with different collections, all of them connected by an underground walkway. Perfect for those days when the weather is not ideal for walking outside, one can spend all day visiting collection to collection, protected from the elements. I would be surprised if you could make it through all the collections, I was challenged to visit one a day!

On crisp, clear, sunny days there is nothing better than to visit Old Montreal. Intersected by pedestrian cobblestone streets and lined with classic cafés and pubs, this section of the city is high on charm. I recommend starting the day with a leisurely brunch at one of the district's fabulous breakfast spots. If you yearn for a truly French brunch, Le Cartet on Rue McGill is a recommended spot. This elegant, airy space offers a deliciously fresh breakfas sure to fuel you for the day ahead. If, perhaps, your idea of a perfect brunch involves endless breakfast-appropriate beverages, then be sure to check out Rosewood: a sophisticated pub and restaurant with bottomless mimosas.

After a delicious brunch, I decided to walk towards the center of Old Montreal and take a look at the district’s Notre Dame Basilica. Built in 1824, this Gothic style church deceives the eye with a relatively ordinary exterior and an absolutely extraordinary interior. The inside of the church is supported by high vaults painted in dark blues, deep purples, and emerald greens, and dotted with hundreds of golden stars. Like looking through a kaleidoscope, don’t be surprised if the grandeur of the place takes your breath away! Although admission is $6, it is certainly worth the price as one can spend at least an hour trying to decode the ornate features on the ceilings and walls .

The Old Port of Montreal is only about a five-minute walk from the Basilica. In the summer this waterway is bustling with festivals, street performers, and pop-up shops, however the winter brings different amusements. When it is cold enough, the small pond adjacent to the port freezes over and ice-skaters, amateur and professional alike, take the rink by storm. Towering over the ice and sport, La Grand Roue de Montreal delivers a vista of Montreal that only a 60 meter Ferris wheel can provide. With heated cabins and a 360 view of the city, La Grand Roue de Montreal makes for a great break after an afternoon of walking and skating.

After a long day of sightseeing, the best way to end the day is with a bar crawl. The downtown district of Montreal near the Rue Sainte Catherine has bars on every corner. If you don’t mind bracing the cold for a two-minute walk after every drink or so, you can see all the life and color this district has to offer in one splendid evening. Establishments in this area range from Moose Bawr which sells liters of beer for only $7 and offers a Canadian Hockey atmosphere to the exclusive Upstairs Jazz Bar with classy drinks and unbeatable live jazz.

While this list is far from exhaustive, it should be noted that Montreal is definitely a worthwhile travel experience, especially for those who reside in the States! With diverse language, art, food, and culture, this city is the perfect match for the international traveler and is ideal for a long weekend away.

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