Canada might stamp your passport when you arrive in Montreal, but with your first glimpse of the city's cobblestone streets, sunny sidewalk cafes and wrought-iron balcony railings, you'll feel as though you've been whisked off to Europe. With French street signs, upscale boutiques and joyful elan of its people, Montreal feels more like Paris than a major North American metropolis. Canada's second-largest city is home not only to a French-speaking majority but also to native English speakers and immigrants from all over the world.
Montreal balances opposing forces gracefully, maintaining its historic old town area just across the St. Lawrence River from the innovative geometric architecture of Habitat 67, a modern housing development. The towering office buildings in Montreal's downtown core reach for the sky alongside Mount Royal, the gentle mountain whose acres of parkland provide quiet respite just a few blocks from the city's energetic commercial district.
Political and cultural differences between the French province of Quebec and the rest of English-speaking Canada have caused tension over the years. Montreal was founded by French Catholic settlers in 1642 as Ville-Marie and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The small colony survived years of harsh winter weather and bloody skirmishes with Iroquois tribes only to be taken over, along with the rest of French Canada, by the British following the French and Indian War. Despite the British occupation, the present-day province of Quebec has staunchly maintained its French language and culture, leading to 20th-century efforts to make the province a sovereign nation.
The city's influences -- French, English and many others -- are evident in the variety of languages spoken on the street and in the architectural marvels that include everything from old-world to modern structures in traditional to avant-garde styles. You'll find a mix of European chic, cutting-edge culture and a cool urban vibe.