Why Go To Montreal
There is only one word that really captures the essence of Montreal: multifaceted. This city represents the melding of the Old and New Worlds, with 18th-century structures blending into a 21st-century skyline. Old-fashioned houses are now home to funky fusion restaurants, and the familiar sound of English is juxtaposed against the rolled "r"s of French. Rainbow flags fly alongside cloth emblems from India, Portugal and France, and traditional French pastries are sold alongside the distinctly sweet sesame seed, Montreal-style bagel. Just when you thought you'd seen it all, a short elevator ride exposes you to another city located several stories below ground level.
This versatile city's top attractions include world-class museums and bustling marketplaces. Start your tour along the ancient cobblestone streets of Vieux-Montréal. Here, you can explore historic cathedrals or grab a cappuccino at one of the traditional French cafes along Boulevard Saint-Laurent. If history doesn't excite you, head to the bustling downtown area for an afternoon of shopping or to Parc du Mont-Royal for a hike. Just make sure to save some energy for when the sun sets; Montreal – especially Rue St-Denis – is known for a nightlife scene that continues until the wee hours of the morning.
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Best Months to Visit
The best times to visit Montreal are from March to May and from September to November, when the weather is milder and hotel vacancies run amok. But aside from fluctuating rates, you'll discover that there really isn't a bad time to vacation here. Warm summer temperatures make exploring on foot much more enjoyable, while the heated Underground City passages provide refuge during the winter. If you are drawn to the temperate summer, make sure to book in advance: Montreal hosts numerous popular festivals during this season.
Weather in Montreal
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
What You Need to Know
- Montreal is bilingual Most of the population speaks French, so you may want to bring a phrasebook on your trip. However, most residents also speak English.
- Prepare for cold weather This city is no stranger to winter weather. High temperatures this time of year average in the upper 20s; pack plenty of warm clothes.
- Leave the car behind Although parking is cheap, gas prices are not. The expansive public transportation system will get you where you need to go.
How to Save Money in Montreal
- Travel during the shoulder seasons Early spring and late fall are quieter times for Montreal, meaning hotels drop their rates.
- Rely on your own two feet This is a very walkable city, especially if you explore it by neighborhood. If you're growing weary, the public transportation is both convenient and cheap.
- Go sightseeing Many of the most beloved attractions – including Vieux-Montréal, St. Joseph's Oratory and Parc du Mont-Royal – do not charge admission.
Culture & Customs
Montreal is located in the French-speaking province of Quebec. Although you won't have any trouble finding English speakers here, you may want to come prepared with a few French phrases such as "bonjour" ("hello"), "s'il vous plaît" ("please") and "merci" ("thank you").
The official currency in Canada is the Canadian Dollar, which is roughly equivalent to the U.S. dollar. When it comes to most other cultural factors, including dress, restaurant and tipping etiquette, Montreal does not differ too greatly from major American cities.
What to Eat
Like the French, Montrealers pride themselves on top-notch cuisine. Although traditional French cuisine still reigns supreme, Montreal's palate has broadened over the past few years to include Portuguese, Thai, Moroccan, Indian, Mexican and numerous other international cuisines. Whether you're looking for some steak frites or sushi, a little taste of Paris or a little taste of je ne sais quoi, Montreal has it all. If you're looking for a few Canadian staples, you'll readily find those available as well, including poutine (french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy). Montreal-specific specialties include smoked meat (try Schwartz's) and bagels (which some say even rival that of New York City). Fairmont Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel Shop often duke it out for the title of the city's best bagels.
If it's a bit of Old French cuisine that you're craving, head to Vieux-Montréal, where many of the historic buildings now house traditional French bistros and restaurants (restos), including Toque, LOV and the breathtaking Crew Collective & Cafe. If you're looking for a more contemporary take on traditional favorites, try eating along one of the main drags – boulevard St-Laurent, rue St-Denis or rue Crescent – which have become major foodie hubs over the past several years. For a more diverse array of restaurants, take a stroll through the Mile End neighborhood just north of Parc du Mont-Royal, which is home to numerous immigrant populations and boasts a wide array of international menus, including Portuguese and Hassidic.
Montreal is safer than most U.S. and European cities of similar size. But it's still necessary to exercise common sense, especially after sundown. Avoid walking alone at night, and keep an eye on your valuables. Nightlife hot spots such as rue St-Denis and rue Ste-Catherine can sometimes draw rowdier crowds. Montrealers are generally very tolerating of all lifestyles and forms of discrimination are rare. However, Montreal is a politically liberal city, and its residents generally do not agree with U.S. policies. Political demonstrations do take place, but they are rare. More common than political demonstrations are days when temperatures drop below freezing. Montreal's chilly winters can sometimes catch visitors off guard. Winter travelers should make sure to pack plenty of warm layers as well as mittens, scarves and hats.
Getting Around Montreal
The best ways to get around Montreal are on foot or by public transportation. Montreal is a very walkable city, but if your feet do grow weary, the Montreal Metro and bus are both cost-efficient and easy to use. There is also a public shuttle bus (No. 747) that runs between downtown and the Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) 24/7. There are two routes – one drops visitors off downtown, making 11 stops along the way. The other is a straight shot to the Lionel-Groulx station, where you can hop on a metro train to your desired destination. Rides cost CA$10 (roughly $7.50) per person. You can also take a cab from the airport to downtown, which will cost CA$41 (around $31).
Entry & Exit Requirements
A passport is required for citizens of the United States to travel to Montreal, and to re-enter the country. If you are planning to drive, you must produce a passport, passport card or NEXUS card that allows expedited border crossings for both private and commercial travelers through Canadian and U.S. border controls. For more information, visit the U.S. State Department website.
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