A Guide to Visiting Montreal, Canada

While In high school French class, I learned that there was a city less than 500 miles away from my hometown where most people spoke French, Montreal, Canada. On my eighteenth 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 Montreal. I didn’t know much about Canada or Montréal at the time, but was ready to explore. A round-trip train ticket was sixty dollars. I bought it and anxiously headed north. Montreal made such an impact on me that I’ve returned at least ten times since then. I thought I’d share a little information about the city for others who wish to visit.

Mount Royal Park in Montreal, Canada

Mount Royal Park in Montreal, Canada

Montreal 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 Montreal?

About seventy percent of Montreal’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 Montrealers, each making up about three percent of the population.

What is the weather like in Montreal?

Montreal has a similar climate to New York City. It has 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.

Boats at the Montreal waterfront

Boats at the Montreal waterfront

What currency does Canada use? How do I get the most for my money?

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 be found at the Bank of Canada website.

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’s no surprises.

Is it easy to get around Montreal?

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 Montreal. There are several reasonably priced hotels there with a metro station right in the middle of them.

What kind of lodging is available in Montreal?

Montreal has hundreds of hotels, motels, hostels, and B&B’s. 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 Montreal?

Eat – The city is becoming known as a great gastronomic destination. The cultural diversity and history of Montreal is represented by its food. You can find just about any kind of food for any budget. Montreal 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 – Montreal 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 in Montréal. 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 – There are lots of shopping options for anyone’s style. Traditional shopping can be found on Rue Sherbrook at the base of Plateau Montreal. Latest fashions and trendy styles can be found on Saint Catherine. If you’re looking for souvenirs, the area around Vieux Montréal (Old Montreal) is your best bet.

Visit Old Town – Vieux Montreal 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 Montreal

– Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica

– Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

– Casino de Montréal

– Montreal Botanical Gardens

– La Ronde Amusement Park

What events are held in Montreal?

– Montreal Jazz Festival – 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.

clowns at Montreal Jazzfest

Montreal Jazzfest

– Fête des Neiges – The Snow Festival is an event, held in January, celebrating all things Winter. Activities include ice canoe racing, ice skating, soap box 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.

Montreal fireworks seen from Longueuil, Canada

Montreal fireworks

– Le Mondial de la Biére – Held in June at Place Bonaventure, sample 600 beers from over 135 breweries.

– Montreal is known for it’s festivals. You can probably find something going on no matter when you plan on visiting.

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