A Guide to Visiting Montréal, Canada
In my high-school French class, I learned that there was a city less than 500 miles away from my hometown where most people spoke French—Montréal, Canada. On my 18th birthday, eager to make use of my new freedoms and wanting to immerse myself in the language I was trying to learn, I headed to Montréal. I didn't know much about Canada or Montréal at the time, but I was ready to explore. A round-trip train ticket was 60 dollars. I bought one and anxiously headed north.
Montréal made such an impact on me that I've returned at least 10 times since then. I thought I'd share a little information about the city for others who wish to visit.
Montréal is a diverse North American city with European charm. It's located about an hour north of the Canadian border, about 350 miles (560 km) north of New York City. It's roughly the same size in population as Philadelphia or Houston.
What Language Do People Speak in Montréal?
About seventy percent of Montréal's inhabitants speak French at home. Thirteen percent speak English as a first language. Although many people speak French, the city has the largest bilingual population in the world. You won't have a problem if you speak only English.
Italian, Arabic, and Spanish are the next most popular languages spoken in the homes of Montréalers, each making up about three percent of the population.
What Is the Weather Like in Montréal?
Montréal has a similar climate to New York City, with four distinct seasons. Summers are warm and can be humid. Officially, the average summer high is about 79 degrees, but I've been there a few times when the temperature was above 90. Winter is very cold, windy, and snowy. Spring and fall are the most pleasant.
What Currency Does Canada Use?
Canada uses the Canadian dollar. At the time of publishing, the Canadian dollar is worth about 20% less than the US dollar. Currency converters are easy to find online. One can also be found at the Bank of Canada website.
How Can I Get the Most for My Money?
- You'll get the most for your money if you use a debit card or credit card for purchases.*
- Use an ATM in Canada if you need cash.*
- Avoid exchanging money at the border or your hometown bank. The exchange rate will be worse, there may be fees, and your money won't go as far.
*There's sometimes a one percent foreign conversion charge for ATM withdrawals or credit card purchases, but it's still better than other options. Check with your bank or credit company before traveling so there are no surprises.
Is It Easy to Get Around Montréal?
You won't need a car in the city. It has good public transportation with an extensive Metro (subway) system, buses, and taxis. Of course walking is always a great way to explore too. If you don't even want to drive into the city, you can stay across the river in Longueuil and take the metro into Montréal. There are several reasonably priced hotels there with a metro station right in the middle of them.
What Kind of Lodging Is Available in Montréal?
Montréal has hundreds of hotels, motels, hostels, and B&Bs. You'll be able to find something to suit you no matter what you're looking for. If you're visiting during the summer, especially July when there are lots of events going on, make your lodging reservations well in advance.
What Is There to Do in Montréal?
This vibrant city is full of things to see and do, and there is something to cater to every age and taste.
Eat! The City Is Known for Its Food
The city is becoming known as a great gastronomic destination. The cultural diversity and history of Montréal are represented by its food. You can find just about any kind of food for any budget. The city is full of restaurants, bistros, cafes, boulangeries, creperies, and delis. If you want fast food, that's well represented also.
Don't forget to try poutine, a local favorite dish that combines french fries, cheese curds, and gravy.
Drink in the "New Orleans of the North"
Montréal is sometimes referred to as the "New Orleans of the North" for its vibrant nightlife and joie de vivre attitude. Upscale restaurants, dive bars, outdoor terraces, and just about anything you're looking for can be found here.
You can find a place to imbibe just about anywhere in the city, but much of the nightlife is centered around Rue (street) Crescent and Rue Saint Laurent. Rue Saint Catherine is also a lively spot, but some of the establishments here are a bit more seedy.
Shop for the Latest Fashions or Traditional Souvenirs
There are lots of shopping options for anyone's style. Traditional shopping can be found on Rue Sherbrook at the base of Plateau Montréal. The latest fashions and trendy styles can be found on Saint Catherine. If you're looking for souvenirs, the area around Vieux Montréal (Old Montréal) is your best bet.
Visit Old Town
Vieux Montréal is the historic district of the city. Its cobblestone streets are lined with shops, outdoor cafes, and restaurants in converted 17th-century buildings. Artists and street performers are always present there. Old Town is a can't miss site if you visit Montréal.
Take a Walk in Mount Royal Park
Climb the stairs from Rue Peel, take a paved bike path, or walk one of the trails to the park. When you arrive, you can relax in the chalet by the lake, have a snack, and then check out the great views from the observation point.
A Few More Things to See in Montréal:
- Montréal’s Notre-Dame Basilica
- Montréal Museum of Fine Arts
- Casino de Montréal
- Montréal Botanical Gardens
- La Ronde Amusement Park
What Events Are Held in Montréal?
Montréal is known for its festivals. You can probably find something going on no matter when you plan on visiting, but here are just a few.
- Montréal Jazz Festival: This is the biggest jazz festival in the world! For more than a week in July, a few blocks of the city are closed down to make room for stages and entertainers from around the world. Tickets are needed for some shows, but hundreds are free. If you visit for Jazzfest, make reservations in advance.
- Fête des Neiges: The Snow Festival is an event, held in January, celebrating all things winter. Activities include ice canoe racing, ice skating, soapbox racing down Saint Denis Street, igloo building, and lots more.
- International Fireworks Competition: The largest competition of its kind, pyrotechnics from across the globe compete all through the month of July. The competition is held at La Ronde, but you’ll have a good view from Old Montreal.
- Le Mondial de la Bière: Held in June at Place Bonaventure, sample 600 beers from over 135 breweries.
© 2020 Chad Claeyssen