Perched on an island in the St Lawrence River, Montreal brings a touch of French flair to North America. With its quirky neighbourhoods, a reputation for hosting some of the world's best-known festivals and a superb dining scene, this laid-back city seduces visitors without ever trying too hard.
Old meets news in the city's historic heart, the riverside district of Vieux Montreal. The area's biggest attraction is the imposing Notre-Dame Basilica, but it is easy to while away an afternoon exploring the 400-year-old stone houses lining the cobblestoned Rue Saint-Paul, now home quirky boutiques and cafes. The elegantly converted Bonsecours Market also houses a number of shops.
One of the typically French things about Montreal is the locals' insistence on being able to enjoy fine food at a reasonable price. One of the most American things is the diversity of food on offer in this multicultural city. Overdose on foie gras-laden dude food at the legendary Au Pied de Cochon; marvel at Laurent Godbou's delicate creations at Chez L'Epicier; or just try your luck at one of the high-quality neighbourhood bistros.
Montreal's charm lies in its patchwork of contrasting neighbourhoods, from the elegance of the Golden Square Mile to the hipster haven that is Mile End. While you are exploring, keep an eye on the lamp-posts: they are different in each neighbourhood, so are a good way to keep track of where you are.
Montrealers love a party, so try to time your visit with one of the city's legendary festivals. It shouldn't be hard; the city hosts more than 100 each year in the dedicated downtown Quartier de Spectacles. They attract top-notch talent - the annual Montreal Jazz Festival has featured everyone from Diana Krall and Aretha Franklin to St Vincent and Bebel Gilberto – but the best thing about a Montreal festival is the laid-back feel. With most performances free of charge, locals wander along after work, creating a casual vibe far from the mosh pit madness that characterises festivals elsewhere.
For sleekly styled loft rooms, views across town and little luxuries such as Aveda toiletries and free Wi-Fi, downtown's Hotel le Germain (www.germainmontreal.com) is the place to go. Those who prefer a more historic ambience will fall for the waterfront Auberge du Vieux-Port (www.aubergeduvieuxport.com), a 19th-century warehouse equipped with wrought iron beds.
The city's most famous dish, poutine – fries topped with curds and gravy – is surprisingly tasty, and the ultimate hangover food. If that's not to your taste, try the local bagels: lighter and tastier than the New York variety.
The writer traveller courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission.