The perfect mix of old and new, this cultural capital offers a colonial historic district, a flourishing art scene and exciting nightlife.

Canada’s cultural capital, Montréal is a heady melange of Gallic joie de vivre and North American confidence. It’s traditionally been split down the middle between Anglophone and Francophone communities, but this rivalry has been eclipsed in recent years by a flourishing arts scene, energetic nightlife and the city’s status as the epicentre of Canadian indie rock.

See
Cobblestone streets and colonial buildings make up Old Montréal, the city’s historic waterfront district. At its heart, Place Jacques Cartier is packed with cafés and street musicians, and it’s a short walk to the 19th-century Gothic Revival Notre-Dame Basilica (basiliquenddm.org; £3).

Conceived by the man who designed New York’s Central Park, Mount Royal Park is an urban mountain – the Kondiaronk Lookout at the top has panoramic views. Don’t miss the Cross of Montréal – a 40-metre-high illuminated cross that marks the founding of the city in the 17th century (lemontroyal.qc.ca).

The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts is Canada’s oldest museum – a treasure trove of works from Canadian artists such as Jean-Baptiste Roy-Audy and Paul Kane, with the likes of Picasso, Rembrandt and Monet in support (mmfa.qc.ca; closed Mon; free).

The Quartier Latin is the beating heart of bohemian Montréal – a resurgent university district full of thriving restaurants, clubs and record shops. It’s a hive of activity during the jazz festival, with free open-air performances a regular occurrence (quartierlatin.ca).

Just an hour's drive north of the city, the Laurentians are a landscape of oak-forested hills and crystal-blue lakes peppered with villages. St Jérôme is the gateway town, marking the beginning of the Parc Linéaire le P'tit Train du Nord – 124 miles of walking trails (laurentians.com).

Eat and drink
La Croissanterie Figaro styles itself as ‘un petit coin perdu de Paris’ (a little lost corner of Paris), and the pavement outside is always packed. Try bowls of café au lait and croissants in the morning (00 1 514 278 6567; lacroissanteriefigaro.com; 5200 Rue Hutchison; mains from £5).

Bright and boisterous Juliette & Chocolat was born of its eponymous owner’s passion for the brown bean, which comes in the form of drinks, desserts and pastries, alongside delicious savoury crêpes (00 1 438 380 1090; julietteetchocolat.com; 3600 Blvd St-Laurent; crêpes from £6).

Montréal’s own Robin Hood, Judy Servay donates profits from Robin des Bois to charity. Seasonal international cuisine is delivered around the exuberantly decorated interior by volunteer staff (00 1 514 288 1010; robindes bois.ca/fr; 4653 Blvd St-Laurent; mains from £7).

Crudessence in up-andcoming Mile End is a favourite with locals, who come to feast on raw, vegan and organic dishes in a cheery canteen-style interior. Try a lunch of courgette lasagna with macadamia nut ’rawcotta’ (00 1 514 510 9299; crudessence. com; 105 Rue Rachel Ouest; mains from £8).

Touted as Montréal’s top restaurant, Toqué! sees fresh Québec produce rendered with classic French finesse and paired with recommended wines in an elegant dining room (00 1 514 499 2084; restaurant-toque.com; 900 Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle; mains from £15).

Sleep
La Loggia Art & Breakfast is a flamboyant b&b in a 19thcentury house in the heart of the Village, Montréal’s gay district. Five modern guest rooms are decorated with original artwork and there’s a leafy sculpture garden behind the house where guests can eat breakfast (001 866 514 524; laloggia.ca; 1637 Rue Amherst; from £50).

The Bonaparte exudes a faintly European ambience with wooden floors, Louis Philippe furniture, exposed-stone walls and French windows – some with views of the Notre-Dame Basilica. There’s also a rooftop patio with great city views (00 1 514 844 1448; bonaparte.com; 447 Rue St-François-Xavier; from £95).

Close to the waterfront in the heart of Old Montréal, Le Petit Hôtel is the latest pretender on Montréal’s boutique hotel scene. Rooms feature hardwood floors, colourful furniture and an array of electronic gadgets. Don’t miss the lively café in the lobby downstairs (00 1 514 940 0360; petithotelmontreal.com; 168 St-Paul Street West; from £100).

Sleep Design aficionados will love The Gault, in Old Montréal. It features polished concrete floors and steel accents, original 19th-century cast-iron columns and iPads on request. The thirty stark but serene loft-style rooms are spread over five floors (00 1 514 904 1616; hotelgault.com; 449 Rue St-Hélène; from £130).

The upmarket Hôtel le Germain is close to McGill University campus. With an air of calm sophistication, rooms are decked out with crisp white linen and Québec-crafted furniture, plus there’s a good in-house restaurant (00 1 514 849 2050; germainmontreal.com; 2050 Rue Mansfield; from £135).

Getting around
Montréal’s Métro runs quickly and quietly on rubber tyres. Tickets are valid for a one-way journey anywhere in the city – bulk-buying works out cheaper. Trains operate until 12.30am, but some bus services run throughout the night (tickets £1.75; stm.info).

When to go
In late June, before the humid summer hits its peak, the world’s biggest jazz festival (montrealjazzfest.com) takes place. In July 2012, the Just for Laughs Festival marks its 30th anniversary (hahaha.com).

How to go
Air Canada (from £415; aircanada.com) and British Airways both fly direct from Heathrow to Montréal Trudeau Airport (from £610; ba.com). From there, take STM bus 747 downtown from the airport (£4; stm.info).

The article 'Mini guide to Montreal, Canada' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.