In the market for a great year-round getaway -- no passport needed? Montreal might be just what you're looking for. Its diversity of restaurants, attractions and festivals makes it the perfect destination, whether your goal is romance, sightseeing or family fun. No matter what time of year you visit, one thing's for certain -- you'll never be bored. Here are 9 reasons to put Montreal at the top of your list.
1. Restaurants for every taste and budget
Whether you're looking for a bargain for the family or a special-occasion meal, you'll have no problem finding a bite to eat in Montreal, which has more restaurants per capita than any other city in North America. Shopping on Sainte-Catherine with the kids? Stop in for lunch at the Eaton Centre food court and you'll find budget-friendly meals to please everyone, including such Québecois delights as crepes and poutine. On a date with your sweetie? Consider the sky-high views at Altitude 737, a bar-disco-dining complex that offers French and European specialties at reasonable prices. And if you've been saving up for something gourmet, visit Toqué!, one of North America's top restaurants, and splurge on the seven-course prix fixe tasting menu with optional (but recommended) accompanying wine selections.
2. Escape the weather in the RÉSO
Don't be afraid of Montreal's frosty winters or hot, humid summers -- it's a fantastic destination any time of year. Even if you can't make it when the weather's to your liking, there are ways to get around the city in comfort. Montreal is home to the RÉSO, a.k.a. the underground city, a subterranean network of walkways, shopping centres, restaurants, movie theatres and métro (subway) stations that covers an astounding 33 kilometres downtown. If you plan your trip right, you'll barely have to go outside (unless you want to).
3. The Montreal Biodome
A favourite of visitors and residents alike, the Montreal Biodome is an indoor re-creation of four different ecosystems of the Americas -- the Laurentian forest, the tropical forest, the St. Lawrence Marine ecosystem, and the polar worlds of both the Arctic and Antarctic -- complete with both flora and fauna. It's an obvious pick for kids, but animal-loving grown-ups get just as much of a kick out of watching the antics of species as diverse as penguins, puffins, beavers, monkeys, frogs, snakes, bats and countless fish and birds. In warmer weather, while you're in the neighbourhood, be sure to visit the Montreal Botanical Garden, a hot spot for the city's birdwatchers. And don't miss the Biodome's gift shop, which offers creative gift ideas for all ages.
4. Superb shopping
Just like the French, Montrealers are known for their style, and their city offers retail destinations to match. Start at the Eaton Centre mall downtown, then wander west on Rue Sainte-Catherine and pop in at the more than 1,200 upscale chain stores (BCBG Max Azria, Mexx, Browns), department stores (La Maison Simons, Ogilvie) and independent boutiques that line the street.
5. 90 festivals a year
Montreal is truly a city of festivals, and not just in the summer months. For events listings, visit the Tourisme Montréal website (www.tourisme-montreal.org).
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6. Museums for everyone
If you're a fan of art, culture, history or science, you'll find plenty to keep you occupied in Montreal. The Musée d'Art Contemporain (contemporary art museum) offers a wide range of exhibits, plus visit on the first Friday of the month from 6 to 9 pm for live music, bar service and guided tours. If the classics are more your style, check out the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for the best in European and Canadian art, Mediterranean archaeology and antiquities from around the globe. Tourisme Montréal maintains a listing of other museums and attractions in the city, including kid-friendly spots like Environment Canada's Biosphere, the Planetarium and the Insectarium.
7. Places to stay for every budget
Montreal offers a wide variety of accommodations, from high-end hotels to cosy bed-and-breakfasts. If you're looking for a downtown location connected to the métro, try the Marriott Chateau Champlain. Ask for a north-facing room on an upper floor for a fabulous view of downtown and Mount Royal.
8. A world of culture
Whether you're looking for romance or trying to expose the kids to some culture, you'll find the best of les beaux arts in Montreal. In summer, bring a blanket and take in some outdoor theatre (in English) by Repercussion Theatre. For opera buffs, l'Opéra de Montréal's season kicks off in late September. Past opening performances have included Verdi's A Masked Ball and Romeo and Juliet, The Barber of Seville and Madame Butterfly. (Note that performances have surtitles in both English and French.) If you prefer a wordless experience, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal starts its season in October and has featured productions such as Cinderella, followed by perennial favourite The Nutcracker. (Click here to discover more about Quebec.)
9. A surprise around every corner
Montreal is a city of neighbourhoods, and there's always something around the corner waiting to be discovered: a chic boutique, a charming staircase or a delightful little restaurant serving café au lait and pastries. When you're visiting, be sure to set aside some time to wander and explore the city -- and don't be surprised if you fall in love with it, too.
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