Making the Most of Montreal

May 24, 2018

As if you needed more reasons to visit Montreal -- the second-largest city in Canada and eighth in North America -- a hotel building boom, particularly of the luxury variety, makes it easier than ever to find a room. The increased supply of rooms -- nearly 2,000 by the end of 2018 -- should translate to more deals for visitors. Still not sold? Check out our insider tips on taking full advantage of what gives Montreal "a certain je ne sais quoi" (Travel + Leisure).

What it’s known for

Located on the Saint Lawrence River, Montreal is known for packing an abundance of culture onto one small island. A bilingual city in a French-language province, Montreal is split into a variety of boroughs that vary greatly from one to the next. From the art-centric Plateau; to the quieter, restaurant-heavy Sud-Ouest; to Old Montreal with its grand, historic architecture, Montreal prefers eccentricity to uniformity. (The Tam Tams, a drumming circle that gathers at the base of Mont Royal every Sunday, serves as an example of that Montreal mentality.) Local landmarks like Habitat 67, the Notre-Dame Basilica, the Olympic Stadium and the giant cross on the top of Mont Royal also stand out as a few of Canada's definitive images.

With a weather forecast and lifestyle split into four distinct seasons, Montrealers enjoy sweltering, festival-crazed summers, as well as long, snowy winters made for skiing, snowshoeing or simply hibernating in front of the fire. In short, the people of this city really pull off a certain joie de vivre, moving at a much more languid pace than other North Americans. And while Montrealers are extremely industrious regardless of the season, they know how to live well, and how to look good while doing it.

How to get around

While most guidebooks will tell you to explore Crescent Street, Saint Laurent Boulevard or various parts of Old Montreal to see horse-drawn carriages on cobblestone streets, it’s best to establish what you feel like doing. Try to leave some of your planning up to chance. Pick a neighbourhood to explore rather than specific destinations on a checklist.

Insider tip: Consistently ranked as one of the top transportation agencies in North America, Montreal’s public transport system, abbreviated as the STM, is a great way to get around the compact city. With extensive metro and bus routes, the STM is a great bet. One trip costs $3.25, and a three-day pass goes for just $18.

In warmer weather, take a BIXI: Montreal’s bicycle rideshare. Biking through the city along the many designated bike paths is a great way to explore the city’s storied architecture. If you’re travelling further than a few blocks, take an Uber. One is always located within five minutes of you, wherever you may be in the city.

And while Montreal is located in a French-speaking province, don't worry -- everyone speaks English. However, it is always helpful to brush up on your high school French or to grab a phrase book before stepping into the province of Quebec. In Montreal, a "bonjour" and "merci" can go a long way.

Best time to visit

The most popular time to visit Montreal is during the summer when the city’s festival season is in full swing (think the Osheaga, the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Just for Laughs Festival, the Formula 1 Grand Prix). You'll get the most bang for your buck, however, in the off-season months from March-May or September-November. Expect an abundance of deals, especially from Toronto and New York, where flights can go for as low as $250 on Porter or Air Canada, and where a train ride on VIA Rail or Amtrak costs you less than $100.

What to do 

When travelling to Montreal, sitting down for a nice dinner is a must. In warmer weather, grab a glass of wine on Vin Papillon’s terrasse or at Larry’s: a cozy spot in the Mile End. In colder weather, head north to the restaurant Manitoba for a hearty meal of locally sourced game and produce.

Insider tip: Download the DINR app. It will let you know which perennially popular restaurants (like Joe Beef, Garde Manger or Toqué!), have last-minute seats available.

If you’re an art lover, try smaller galleries like Parisian Laundry, Arsenal or the often-overlooked Canadian Centre for Architecture. Looking for a late-night drink? Try Brasserie Harricana for a pint of something delicious or Big in Japan bar for a great cocktail. Grab a coffee at Cafe Myriade in the downtown area, Cafe Olimpico in the Mile End or Tommy in the Old Port on a Sunday afternoon. Sample some of the continent's best cheese selections at the Jean-Talon Market or the Atwater Market to the south. See a show at one of the hundreds of Montreal venues spread throughout the city, both big and small.

In short, don’t be afraid to explore the city without an agenda. Montreal is your oyster after all; slurp it up.

Feeling Inspired? Browse our Only in Canada collection or visit our Quebec Guide for more information.

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