Montreal, Canada has to be one of my top three cities in the world. There is a European feel and attitude but most people still speak English and it is in my home country of Canada. The best part is that Montreal is a world class city without the high costs.
My wife and I truly love going to unique cafes, drinking good espresso and people watching. We are not so interested in sight-seeing anymore so most of our travels involve going from one cafe or restaurant to the next. Montreal definitely has one of the best cafe cultures in the world.
There are so many great independent coffee houses with real character. Starbucks makes a decent espresso, but we would never go to one in Montreal. We love eating fresh bagels or croissants in small cafes with owners and staff that obviously care about what they are doing.
Montreal still has plenty of local shops where the owner still works everyday. I love seeing the vacation signs on shops saying they are closing for a couple of weeks. Why not shut down for a short break instead of trying to find replacements that are not going to deliver the same quality?
French Canadians also have an appreciation for food that is disappearing in most Western cities. High quality ingredients, good wine and slow meals with friends still take priority. Sure the fast food and shopping malls are encroaching but people still appreciate real food and culture.
St. Viateur Bagels and Cafe Olimpico are two perfect examples. At St. Viateur you can only get plain, poppyseed and sesame seed bagels. Skipping all the fashionable flavours means that your bagel is likely to come out of the wood burning oven just minutes before your purchase. Cafe Olimpico is completely devoid of all of those trendy, yuppy coffee blends that anyone who understands coffee would never drink. Both shops are about simple quality and are inexpensive compared to the franchised stores.
Culture Capital of Canada
The culture of Montreal is difficult to describe but the people are definitely more open minded and accepting than in other cities. I find that there is an appreciation of art, music and food that many other cities lack.
Once you get out to the suburbs, I am sure Montreal will be like any other Canadian city with the large shopping malls, and SUV driving yuppies that spend their evenings in front of TVs. However, the downtown core is so alive and vibrant that it definitely is my favourite city in Canada and maybe even the world.