I’m not going to beat around the bush, I absolutely love Montreal. From the little I saw of Canada, I really loved the combination of the multicultural influences and the super-friendly, relaxed vibe everyone seemed to have. A total foodie destination, quite a few people warned me that Montreal wasn’t as chilled or welcoming as other parts of Canada, but I didn’t find that. Although I only have Toronto to compare it to, I felt instantly at home in Montreal when I visited it as part of Trek America Northeastern BLT and loved my experiences there.
What You Need To Know
- Montreal is the largest city in the Canadian province of Quebec.
- It’s is the 2nd largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris. Most Montrealers are at least bilingual and English is commonly spoken.
- Montreal’s time zone is GMT-05:00.
- The currency used in Montreal is Canadian dollars.
- There’s a service tipping culture of around 10%.
How to Get to Montreal
Air: The airport code for Montreal is YUL and there are direct flights from London which take between 6 hours 30 minutes to 7 hours 30 minutes. Currently, if you are a British Citizen traveling to Canada by air for a short period of time, you don’t need a visa, but will need an electronic travel authorisation (eTA). Check before you fly!
Land: Montreal can be accessed via the State of New York, USA and is around a 1 hour 15-minute drive from the border. It’s also a 5-hour 12-minute drive from Toronto in the Province of Ontario. Unlike with air travel, you currently don’t need an eTA or visa if you’re a British Citizen, but again check for your circumstances!
Sea: Montreal has its own cruise port, but unlike most ports, ships travel from the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River which runs through Montreal. Like Land, no eTA or visa is currently required for British Citizens, but make sure this is the case at the time you plan to visit for your own circumstances.
Weather & Seasons
Montreal has similar seasons to those experienced in the UK but with more extreme winters.
We all know that seasons are changing year on year thanks to Global Warming, but here’s a rough idea of the seasonal weather in Montreal:
Winter – Runs from December to February with temperatures averaging between -5 and -10 Celsius. Roads and bridges in Montreal have to be replaced regularly because of erosion from the amount of salt used in winter, so expect snow and ice. January and February have the least amount of rain, averaging about 7 rainy days.
Spring – Runs from March to May with temperatures averaging between -2 and 14 Celsius. Don’t be surprised if you have a few days of snow (the photo above was taken in April).
Summer – Runs from June to August with temperatures averaging between 17 and 21 Celsius. August is usually the wettest month of the year, with around 20 days being classed as rainy days.
Autumn – Runs from September to November with temperatures averaging between 3 and 16 Celsius. September and November usually see considerable rain with around 17 days being classed as rainy days.
Here’s a map of showing the locations of the places I’m going to talk about
Accommodation in Montreal
There are absolutely loads of budget options in Montreal, and when I visited we stayed in HI Montreal Hostel, which was just down the street from the Underground City (I’ll get to that in a second) and is around £30-40 per night.
Like most cities, there’s something there for all price ranges and you have your usual chains like Best Western, Sofitel, and Holiday Inn.
If you want a really special trip, have a look at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono had their iconic bed-in from 26th may to 2nd Jun 1969 and wrote “Give Peace a Chance”. Other famous guests include Queen Elizabeth II, Fidel Castro, Charles de Gaulle, Princess Grace of Monaco, Indira Gandi, Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama and John Travolta.
Whatever your budget, I’d look at the following areas:
- Old Montreal – Great for all the historic architecture, attractions, and sightseeing, but also more expensive and quite touristy. Good if you haven’t got lots of time and want things on your doorstep.
- The Plateau – The ‘cool’ area around St-Laurent Boulevard, Mont-Royal Avenue and St-Denis Avenue with lots of cute independent shops, smaller bars/clubs, and restaurants. A bit of neighborhood feel, but I like that. It’s pretty affordable, and my favorite area.
- Downtown – Like most cities, it’s where the main shops can be found, with the “bigger hotels” being found here.
It’s really easy to get around Montreal, and budget friendly!
- Montreal’s Metro system is great if you want to beat the cold. Stations are shown on the street by blue-and-white signs that show a downward pointing arrow surrounded by a circle. It runs from around 5:30 am to 12:30 am Sunday to Friday and around 1 am on Saturday night (or Sunday morning). It costs C$3 and fares are charged per ride and not distance. One and three-day passes are also available.
- Buses cost the same as Metro systems and you can use Metro system tickets on them. If you’re paying on the bus, exact change is required. If you’re traveling in the winter months, you can also call the number at the bottom of the bus sign and it will tell you when a bus is due so you don’t have to stand in the cold.
- Travelling by bike is a big thing in Montreal, probably because it’s a big student city. There’s a self-service bicycle rental programme called BIXI that’s like a Borris Bike in London, where you hire from one stand and drop it off at another. You can buy a 24-hour access pass for around C$5 which gives you unlimited access. Be warned though that any trips longer than 45 minutes will incur additional charges. If you want a longer bike ride, or for more than one day, it might be better to visit an actual bike rental shop.
- Like most cities, taxis are also widely available. The initial charge is about C$3.30. Uber is also currently operating in the city.
- Walk! Montreal is the perfect walking city and you can discover a lot you wouldn’t normally be able to see.
- Of course, you could hire a car, but like most cities, traffic can be heavy. As a visitor, I’d recommend using other means of transport.
What to Eat In Montreal
Montreal is the ultimate foodie destination as it has so many multi-cultural influences in addition to its own delicious delicacies. Need convincing? Just type in Montreal food and start salivating at the options that come up. It’s part of the culture and really helps you experience Montreal.
I’m not going to give lots of recommendations because I’d be here all day. Seriously, there are so many amazing restaurants that it would be impossible to narrow down. If you’re only going to have one sit-down waiter service meal, make it at O.Noir. A dining experience which shows guests what it would be like to lose your sight, this is one of the best experiences I’ve had, and something I think everyone should do.
What food to try
On my Trek American Northeastern BLT tour we were given a list of food to try and it ended up being a huge, very delicious, foodie scavenger hunt that gave us a true flavour for the city (excuse the pun). Here’s the list we were given, some of my own, and a couple of restaurant ideas just to get you started:
- Poutine – A fast-food staple that will solve any hangover, this is chips with gravy and cheese curd.
- Smoked meat – Super thick sweet-meets-salty meat sandwiches with over a dozen slices are what I want for my lunch every day. If you want to be authentic, grab one at Schwartz’s.
- Bagels – No explanation needed, but some say they are even better than New York’s. Best place to get them? Fairmount Bagel or St. Viateur.
- Maple Syrup – Over 70% of the world’s maple syrup is produced in Quebec, so it would be rude not to give it a try.
- Portuguese Chicken – Think succulent roasted chicken with cornbread and piri piri sauce. Romados are iconic for it.
- Beaver Tail – Fried dough pastries hand stretched into the shape of a beaver’s tail then piled high with toppings. I recommend the Nutella Beaver Tail from Beaver Tails
- Craft Beer – Microbreweries are popping up all over the city with a lot of restaurants and bars brewing there own!
- French – A lot of the good ones such as L’Express and La Chronique require reservations and are on the pricier side, but in a city with so much french-influence, it’s part of the experience.
- Ketchup Chips – The best ones are said to be made by Lay’s, which are only available in Canada! You can also get Ketchup Doritos and Pringles too. Essentially they’re crisps glazed in a ketchup.
Montreal’s Must-See Sights
Although there aren’t as many ‘sights’ as other big cities, there are still some incredible things to see in Montreal. I’d really recommend spending time in Old Montreal. You can tell you’re in this area as you’ll notice red street signs written in French. It’s here you will find Notre-Dame Basilica, a historic basilica built in the Gothic Revival style. This is also the basilica where Celine Dion and Rene Angelil got married.
I’d also recommend going up to see Saint Joseph’s Oratory on Westmount Summit. A Roman Catholic basilica and national shrine, you could even see pilgrims climbing the staircase of 99 steps on their knees, pausing to pray at each step. Another piece of architecture I’d recommend seeing is Habitat 67. A little bit out of the way but really different, it’s a residential housing block, made of 354 identical stacked concrete boxes.
If you’re in Montreal for a couple of days head over to the Montreal Islands. This dome is the Montreal Biosphere in Parc Drapeau on St. Helen’s Island. The dome was the former pavilion of the United States for the 1967 World Far, known as Expo 67. It’s now a museum in Montreal dedicated to the environment.
Speaking of the environment, because it gets so cold in Montreal in winter, some of the cities main features can be found underground! Referred to as Underground City, it’s a series of interconnected office towers, hotels, shopping centres, residential and commercial complexes, convention halls, universities and performing arts venues. Just be careful not to get lost in the maze!
Things To Do In Montreal
One of the best things to do in Montreal is climbing Mount Royal. A large volcanic-related hill, it’s actually classed as a small mountain and is what the city of Montreal is named after. You can walk through Parc Du Mont-Royal for panoramic views of the city, see Chalet du Mont-Royal and the Mount Royal Cross, or even enjoy the Tam-Tams. What’s Tam-Tams? A free festival around the George-Etienne Cartier Monument in Parc Du Mont-Royal where drummers, dancers, and vendors gather, usually weekly between May and September. It gives off a bit of a student vibe, but still pretty cool.
Apart from Parc du Mont-Royal, there are lots of other open spaces to explore like Parc Jean-Drapeau. Situated in the Saint Lawrence River, this Parc is made up of two islands, the Saint Helen’s Island and Notre Dame Island. Home to La Ronde (Canada’s 2nd largest theme park), Stewart Museum, Casino de Montreal and the Biosphere, it’s also home to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. Better known as the Grand Prix du Canada, you can actually cycle, drive, skate, jog or walk on the Grand Prix track between April and December, and cyclists, in particular, take it pretty seriously.
If you fancy visiting some museums, Montreal has plenty to choose from. The above photo is of the Olympic Park, from when Montreal held the summer games in 1976 (the same year Nadia Comaneci was awarded a perfect 10 in gymnastics). The Park is now home to the Montreal Biodome that lets visitors walk through replicas of four ecosystems found in the Americas. There’s everything from penguins to anacondas in there! If nature is your thing you can also visit the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, the Insectarium, and the Botanical Gardens.
Other Museums in Montreal include:
- Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
- McCord Museum – celebrates Montreal History and houses collections of costumes, decorate art, aboriginal objects, paints and prints.
- Montreal Science Centre
- Point-a-Calliere – an archaeological and history museum
I hope this has either inspired you to visit Montreal or help you plan a trip!
I love how Montreal is so multi-cultural so I’d love to know what multi-cultural destinations you’ve visited! Let me know in the comments below!