Which of Eastern Canada’s two leading cities is for you? Paul Blaney compares them on style, atmosphere and attractions
Canada’s two largest eastern cities conjure up quite different images in the mind of the UK traveller. While Toronto is modern, high-rise and looks to America, Montreal is seen as more historic, cultural and Europe-leaning, particularly in regard to its French roots.
But there are some notable similarities – not least the fact that both are cosmopolitan, dynamic and a relatively short flight from the UK. Here we outline the attractions of these two great Canadian cities, comparing and contrasting to help you sell them more effectively.
When to go
Toronto: It’s best to visit between May and October, unless you want to pack some warm clothes. In summertime, the city is full of festivals and street culture.
Montreal: The long nights of summer are the best time to see the city, although, for the hardy, the snow-covered city with its underground shopping also has winter appeal.
Where to stay
Toronto: Toronto has a variety of central hotels that will seem like a steal to anyone who’s paid New York or London prices.
Particularly good value is the four-star Sheraton Centre Hotel, with rates from £39 per person per night. Another economical option is the three-star Strathcona Hotel, located across the street from Union Station.
Montreal: With its range of hotels, from three-star to luxury five-star, Montreal offers great value for money – even if your client wants a downtown location.
For sheer style, recommend the grand old Fairmont Queen Elizabeth. In the Old Port district, Le Nelligan is a charming, affordable boutique property.
What to see and do
Toronto: The CN Tower, Canada’s most famous man-made landmark, rises 550 metres above the city. The views from the top rival New York’s Empire State Building and Chicago’s Sears Towers. The panorame deck floor is made of glass, so warn clients they may not want to look down!
The city’s hop-on, hop-off bus service has also been a great hit. A stroll around the Harbourfront is always rewarding; the district hosts dozens of festivals and cultural events, and has waterfront dining as well as river cruises.
Every great city needs a great park and High Park is a real gem with 130 acres of trails and nature reserves.
Montreal: Old Montreal is where Europe meets North America – cobbled streets, a cathedral (where Celine Dion tied the knot) and historic architecture, as well as intimate restaurants and quaint cafés.
The city’s Botanical Garden is the world’s second-largest with a variety of themed gardens and exhibitions, as well as the Magic of Lanterns festival in autumn.
Montreal also has wonderful neighbourhoods for strolling and browsing, from Le Plateau, Mile End and Outremont to Little Italy and Chinatown.
Finally, a fine family attraction is the Biodome – four ecosystems, ranging from polar to tropical rainforest, under a single roof.
Where to shop
Toronto: Toronto has built a reputation over the last decade as an alternative to New York and Chicago for shopping breaks from the UK.
The hip, pedestrianised Distillery Historic District, an upscale neighbourhood of retail stores, is the Toronto equivalent of Covent Garden.
Montreal: Montreal’s City Centre and Underground City, along Sainte-Catherine Street, boast some 15,000 stores, big and small, both at street level and underground. The Underground stretches for 20 miles beneath the city centre.
More quirky shops and boutiques can be found in Le Plateau and Outremont districts.
Where to eat
Toronto: In terms of variety, Toronto just about beats Montreal, with everything from Peruvian to Ethiopian. The Harbourfront district is hard to beat but for dinner with a view it has to be 360 The Restaurant (left) atop the CN Tower.
Montreal: As ‘capital of French Canada’, Montreal scores highly for French cuisine as well as traditional Quebecuois favourites such as poutine (French fries, gravy and melted cheese), tartre au sucre, chien chaud (steamed hotdog) and feves au lard (pork with baked beans).
Toronto: China’s Terracotta Army will be coming to the Royal Ontario Museum from the end of June. New Ritz-Carlton and Thompson hotels will open in 2010.
Montreal: Just opened is the Montreal Airport Marriott Hotel with its Bijou bar/restaurant. And in May, Cirque du Soleil will launch its latest touring show in Montreal’s Old Port.
Out of town
Toronto: Suggest to clients planning a city break that they get out of the city on a day trip to Niagara Falls, just 90 minutes away by road.
Montreal: Clients can combine city and countryside by taking a few extra days to explore the Laurentian mountains, Montreal’s playground.
How to sell
Toronto and Montreal are excellent value with spacious downtown hotel rooms at bargain prices.
Both are served by direct flights from the UK, are easy to navigate and friendly; French may be the main language but most Montreal citizens speak English.
Toronto is great for eating and shopping, and probably better for families. Children are well catered for, especially in summer when ferries take visitors to Toronto Island Park with its beaches, cycle hire and snack bars. The Toronto Zoo boasts a two-acre water play area.
Montreal’s appeal is to the more cultural visitor, although the historic city is balanced by a thriving modern one.
Advise clients to twin Montreal with Quebec – the latter is worth more than a day trip.
And keep an eye on Montreal’s festival calendar; both its jazz and comedy festivals are a major draw.
Finally, if your clients really can’t decide between the two cities, you could ask them which they like better, America or France?
Then again, there’s no real need to choose, and operators report a recent increase in twin-centre trips that combine Toronto with Montreal.
Canadian Affair’s five-night Toronto & Niagara Falls escorted coach tour starts from £859 per person, including return flights and accommodation on a twin-share basis. The Canada specialist is also offering three nights in Montreal and four in Quebec City this summer from £859 per person, based on two adults sharing. The price includes five-star accommodation, flights, and return rail travel from Montreal to Quebec City. transatholidays.co.uk, 0870 074 4747
Thomas Cook Signature offers a new Toronto & Montreal twin-centre package from £408. The price includes two nights’ accommodation in each city and rail travel between the two, but not flights. tcs4agents.com, 0844 871 0672