Montreal: The friendly city that is a perfect blend of Europe and North America

Nelson?s Column in Montreal predates its London counterpart by more than three decades
Nelson?s Column in Montreal predates its London counterpart by more than three decades

You can often tell a lot about a city by its people.

You can often tell a lot about a city by its people.

London is metropolitan and diverse, Paris slightly aloof in an oh-so-cool way, Milan fashionable, and New York too busy to stop for five minutes, let alone sleep.

That being the case, Montreal must be one of the friendliest cities in the world.

Having got talking to a local on an internal flight from Toronto and bonded over a love of ice hockey, I found myself not waiting in snow and minus-God-only-knows temperatures for a bus into town, but being whisked on a whistle-stop tour of Montreal by my new-found friend.

An important businessman he may have been, but my unofficial tour guide thought nothing of ferrying me to my hotel via an array of local sights. Meetings could wait. He was, it appeared, intent on first showcasing his city to visitors. A better first impression could not be made by all the marketing campaigns money could buy.

It is so refreshing to meet someone who is passionate about where they live. It rubs off on you. Makes you want to explore for yourself. And so it was with Scott and his passion for Montreal. I found myself liking the city before I had even stepped foot on its snow-covered pavements.

Montreal is, as most people know, a French-speaking part of Canada. And it isn’t just the language that possesses a Gallic flavour. The architecture, culture, and attitude of its inhabitants has more in common with continental Europe than its near-neighbours in the United States. Imagine the best bits of Europe, funnelled through an unbelievably-polite, well-mannere,d and agreeable population. It isn’t far off a match made in heaven.

Strange, then, that one of the city’s landmarks is as quintessentially English as one could image.

Standing almost 20 metres high in the picturesque setting of Old Montreal stands a monument to a true British hero: Horatio Nelson. Erected in 1809, Montreal’s Nelson’s Column predates its London counterpart by more than three decades. The oldest monument in Montreal, the column was paid for by public donations from both the British and French Montrealers. In fact, contrary to what you might presume given its predominant language, the city folk held no particular love for either Napoleon or the French Revolution.

Nelson’s Column is far from being the only structure of historical note. Other highlights include the Notre-Dame Basilica in Rue Saint Sulpice which is as eye-catching as anything in Rome or Paris, and the Olympic Tower and Olympic Stadium's Observatory, which provide not only a glimpse of 1970s iconic architecture, but also spectacular views of Montreal and the surrounding area.

A stone’s throw away from the tower is the Montreal Biodome. Originally designed as a velodrome to help host the 1976 Olympics, it has since been converted into an indoor nature experience that allows visitors to walk through replicas of four eco-systems found in the Americas. It is a welcome way to spend an afternoon defrosting, if visiting during the winter months.

No trip to Montreal, however, would be complete with an evening spent worshipping at the altar of Canadian culture. Or ice hockey, as we call it.

The Montreal Canadiens are one of the NHL’s biggest clubs and a game at their raucous Bell Centre headquarters is one of the great sporting experiences. Nothing taps into the Canadian collective psyche as perfectly as night at the hockey.

Montreal is a perfect blend of Europe and North America. A city with so much to offer, and one which goes out of its way to make you feel welcome.