Montreal is Canada's second-largest city and the second-largest French-speaking city in the world. Montreal has 1.6 million people within its city limits and 3.8 million throughout its metro area. The city gets its name from the large hill at its center, Mont Royal, which is one of Montreal's most beloved public parks and the home of St. Joseph's Oratory, a Catholic shrine that draws millions of pèlerins (pilgrims) each year.
Although francophones (French speakers) predominate, most Montrealers are fluent in both French and English. Anglophones (English speakers) used to dominate the city's business community, but the rise of Parti Québécois in the 1970s shifted the balance of power. Adding to the mix are Montreal's sizable Italian and Jewish communities and newcomers from Haiti, Central and South America, Mexico, the Philippines and Arab countries.
Most higher-end hotels are near Old Montreal and the city's financial center, while the smaller, budget-oriented lodgings and B&Bs can be found from fashionable Rue St. Denis eastward. Montreal visitors should try to schedule their trip during one of the many city festivals, which occur year-round.
Among those drawing the most visitors to Montreal are the International Jazz Festival and Canadian Grand Prix, held each June. The comedy festival Just for Laughs occurs each July as does the International Circus Arts Festival. Each August, fashionistas can take in the city's annual Fashion and Design Festival in August as well as Montreal Fashion Week in September. The World Film Festival happens each August and September and features works from more than 60 countries.
One of the most fascinating attractions in Montreal is the Museum of Archaeology, located in Old Montreal. You begin by taking an elevator down several levels below present-day Montreal, to the site of the 17th century village that predated Montreal. You will see 350-year-old tombstones and walk along the banks of the now-defunct Rivière-St-Pierre. You will then ride up, level by level, through later generations of Montreal life.
Another must-see Montreal attraction is the Museum of Fine Arts, which moved in 2011 to a new location built onto a historic structure, the former Erskine and American United Church, on Sherbrooke Street in downtown Montreal. It has the world's best collection of Canadian art as well as world-renowned artists such as Rembrandt and Renois. Among its more unusual displays is a collection of 3,000 Japanese snuff boxes donated by Georges Clemenceau, France's prime minister during World War I.
Visitors to Montreal during the warmer months should visit Parc Jean Drapeau, which occupies two islands in the St. Lawrence (Île Ste-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame). The park has a large amusement park, La Ronde, which is now part of the Six Flags family; a casino; and a beach. It remains open during the winter, with ice skating or sledding using inner tubes.
Other worthwhile attractions in Montreal include its huge botanical garden and the Montreal Insectarium, one of the largest insect museums in the world. If you are driving home to one of the Great Lakes or Northeastern states, grab some goodies at Marché Jean-Talon, a giant food market with some 300 vendors of gourmet foods.