Canada's most diverse metropolis, Montréal, is an island city that favors grace and elegance over order and even prosperity, a city where past and present intrude on each other daily. In some ways it resembles Vienna—well beyond its peak of power and glory, perhaps, yet still vibrant and beautiful.
But don't get the wrong idea. Montréal has always had a bit of an edge. During Prohibition, thirsty Americans headed north to the city on the St. Lawrence for booze, music, and a good time, and people still come for the same things. Summer festivals celebrate everything from comedy and French songs to beer and fireworks, and, of course, jazz. And on those rare weeks when there isn't a planned event, the party continues. Clubs and pavement cafés are abuzz from late afternoon to the early hours of the morning. More extraordinarily, Montréal is a city that knows how to mix it up even when it's 20 below zero. Rue St-Denis is almost as lively on a Saturday night in January as it is in July, and the festival Montréal en Lumière, or Montréal Highlights, enlivens the dreary days of February with concerts, balls, and gourmet food.
Montréal takes its name from Mont-Royal, a stubby plug of tree-covered igneous rock that rises high above the surrounding cityscape. Although its height is unimpressive, "the Mountain" forms one of Canada's finest urban parks, and views from the Chalet du Mont-Royal in the Parc du Mont-Royal provide an excellent orientation to the city's layout and major landmarks.
Old Montréal holds museums, the municipal government, and the magnificent Basilique Notre-Dame-de-Montréal within its network of narrow, cobbled streets. Although Montréal's centre-ville, or downtown, bustles like many major cities on the surface, it's active below street level as well, in the Underground City. Residential Plateau Mont-Royal and its surrounding trendy neighborhoods are abuzz with restaurants, nightclubs, art galleries, and cafés. The greener areas of town are composed of the Parc du Mont-Royal and the Jardin Botanique, where you can walk, bike, or take a horse-drawn carriage ride along miles of paths.