Explore Montreal, Canada
Explore Montreal the metropolis of the province of Quebec. Quebec City is the political capital but Montreal is the cultural and economic capital of Quebec and the main entry point to the province. The second largest city in Canada, it is a city rich in culture and history and a well-deserved reputation as one of the liveliest cities in North America. Montreal is the second-largest French-speaking (as a mother language) city in the world, behind Paris. The population of Montreal is about 1.9 million, with 4 million in the metro area. Montreal is sometimes referred to as The Paris of North America.
Situated on an island in the St. Lawrence River at the historically highest navigable point, Montreal has been a strategic location since before the arrival of Europeans in Canada. A thriving St.Lawrence Iroquoian town called Hochelaga was on the site of present-day Montreal when explorer Jacques Cartier first visited in 1535. A hundred years later, in 1642, the tiny town of Ville-Marie was founded as a Sulpician mission by Paul Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve. It soon became a centre of the fur trade. After its capture by the English in 1762, Montreal remained (until the 1970s) the most important city in Canada and was briefly capital of the province in the 1840s.
The climate of Montreal is a true humid continental climate with 4 distinct seasons. The city has warm, to very hot & humid summers, generally mild spring and autumn, and often very cold & snowy winters. Montreal gets over 2,000 hours of sunshine annually. Precipitation is moderate throughout the year, with around 2 meters of snow per season.
Centre Infotouriste de Montréal, 1255 rue Peel, bureau 100 (at rue Sainte-Catherine; metro Peel). 1 Mar-20 Jun and 1 Sep-31 Oct: 9AM-6PM daily. 21 Jun-31 Aug: 8:30AM-7PM daily. 1 Nov-28 Feb: 9AM-5PM daily (closed 25 Dec and 1 Jan).
Old Montréal Tourist Office, 174 rue Notre-Dame Est (off Pl Jacques-Cartier; metro Champs-de-Mars). 9AM-7PM daily, from late June to early October. 9AM-5PM daily, rest of the year. (closed 25 Dec and 1 Jan).
Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport (formerly Dorval Airport) is about 20 km west of the city centre on Expressway (Autoroute) 20. Note that travel time to the airport from the city centre can be as much as an hour, depending on traffic. The airport is served by all major Canadian and U.S. airlines and is a major hub for Air Canada and Air Transat. International flights are serviced by Air Canada, WestJet, Aeromexico, Cubana, Copa, Air France, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Icelandair, Swiss International Air Lines, Turkish Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, Air Algérie, Royal Jordanian, Qatar Airways, and Air China to name a few. There are many cheap flights to Montreal daily.
The official language of the province of Quebec is French. Although Montreal has a long history of being a bilingual English and French city, French continues to be the primary language of the city. There is a sizeable community of Anglophones (English as their mother tongue) and Allophones (a language other than English or French as their mother tongue). For this reason, 53.4% of the population is bilingual in English and French. In recent years, many of the immigrants who settle in Montreal already come from French-speaking countries, so you will notice many of the diverse ethnic groups speaking in French.
What to see. Best top attractions in Montreal Canada
Old Montreal contains the vast majority of historical buildings, most dating from the 17th – 19th century, and many museums. At night several of the buildings are beautifully lit up. A Tourist Office brochure lays out a walking map. Consider following it once during the day, and again at night. There is also a 45 meter clock tower located in the Quai de l’Horloge, originally called the Victoria Pier, which you can climb up and get breathtaking views of the St. Laurence River and to a lesser extent, the city.
Le Plateau combines scenic residential streets with hip shopping and dining.
Downtown Skyscrapers, McGill campus, churches, and museums. Several blocks are connected by 30 Km of underground arcades and malls, allowing comfortable walking and shopping when the weather is foul.
Parc Jean-Drapeau, site of the 1967 World’s Fair, now devoted to green spaces and a large outdoor concert venue. The Gilles Villeneuve racing circuit, home of the Montreal Formula 1 Grand Prix. An artificial beach, a huge outdoor pool complex, and the Montreal Casino are also located on or around the park.
A few kilometers Metro ride to the north, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve offers the Olympic Stadium, Insectarium, Jardin Botanique, and Biodôme. Allow four hours to see all four.
Montreal is renowned for its beautiful street art. Wander along Saint Laurent Boulevard between Sherbrooke and Laurier metros to catch glimpses of some of these impressive murals. You can also use Graffmap on your smartphone to help discover murals beyond Saint Laurent Boulevard while at the same time exploring new areas of the city. Another recommended area for mural spotting is St. Denis street between Sherbrook and Laurier, as well as areas in Park Extension and the Mile end.
Saint Joseph’s Oratory is Canada‘s largest church. It was built on Mount Royal’s Westmount Summit which gives a stunning view of the city, especially at sunset. (6AM to 9PM)
What to buy
Although Montreal’s economy has been booming in recent years, the city remains remarkably affordable. Shopping in Montreal ranges from eclectic budget stores to high-end fashion, with a wide spectrum in between.
Rue Ste-Catherine, between rue Guy and boulevard St-Laurent, has many of the big department and chain stores as well as a few major malls. Avenue Mont-Royal has funky consignment and gothic clothing stores from boulevard St-Laurent to rue Saint-Denis and a mixed bag of neighborhood stores, used record shops, and gentrified boutiques heading east towards avenue Papineau. Rue St-Viateur is one of the city’s most interesting streets, with its amazingly varied range of businesses crammed into the short stretch between Boulevard St-Laurent and Avenue du Parc.
St-Laurent remains one of the city’s prime shopping streets, more or less along its whole length. Just about anything can be found there, with different blocks having different clusters of businesses (Asian groceries and housewares near de La Gauchetière, cheap electronics a little farther up, hip boutiques between Prince-Arthur and Mount Royal, anything and everything Italian between Saint-Zotique and Jean-Talon). Rue Sherbrooke ouest, west of the Autoroute Décarie, boasts an increasingly interesting concentration of largely food-oriented businesses. Jean-talon market, located near the intersection of Jean-talon and St-Laurent boasts a wide variety of local produce and food products (maple syrup, cheese, etc.) at very good prices.
Trendier boutiques can be found on rue Saint-Denis, north of rue Sherbrooke and south of avenue Mont-Royal est, as well as rue Saint-Laurent (continuing as far north as Bernard). The latter is in the process of becoming more upscale, so the range of shopping is highly variable and lower in density as one goes north of Mont-Royal. Rue Sherbrooke itself has a number of high-end stores (notably Holt Renfrew) and commercial art galleries in a short strip running approximately from McGill University west to rue Guy. Farther west, Sherbrooke intersects with Greene Avenue in Westmount, which boasts a short, but luxurious retail strip. Avenue Laurier, between St-Laurent and its western end, is one of the city’s prime spots for eating and shopping in high style, though there are still a few affordable spots here and there.
Furniture and antiques
On boul. St-Laurent, a cluster of high-end home furnishing stores has grown up in recent years. It starts roughly at the corner of rue Marie-Anne and is very prominent in the block between rue Marie-Anne and avenue Mont-Royal, with sparser, but still interesting stores as far north as rue Saint Viateur. Antique buffs will find interesting stores all over the city, but they’ll want to make a special pilgrimage to rue Notre-Dame est, when you head east from avenue Atwater. Rue Amherst, in the Gay Village, also has a significant concentration of antique dealers.
Photocopy shops often have internet terminals available, as do many cafés and some bookstores. The Bell phone company has installed public internet terminals (cash or credit cards) in McGill and Berri-UQAM metro stations.
There are also long-standing cyber/internet cafés (minus the café part) at many locations in Montreal.
Of course, free internet access is the best kind of internet. The organization Île Sans Fil provides free wireless internet in cafes and other locations throughout the city. Look for the sticker outside participating venues. The Eaton Centre downtown offers free wireless access in the food court. In addition many coffee shops in Montreal offer free Wi-Fi for their customers.
Also, the Grande Bibliothèque (Great Library) has many free internet terminals: you can get a library card (free to Quebec residents with proof of address) to use it there.
For emergencies call 9-1-1.
Although Montreal is Canada’s second largest city, it shares Canada’s low violent crime rates making it relatively safe. However, property crimes, including car theft, are remarkably high, despite appearances to the contrary: make sure to lock your doors and keep your valuables with you.
That being said, most tourists are surprised at how safe Montréal feels in comparison with other North American cities. In many neighborhoods, children play in the streets unsupervised by parents, doors and windows are left open during the summer, bicycles are secured with flimsy locks and left outside overnight, and people seem to be determined to preserve the city’s relaxed atmosphere.
Part of Montreal’s Sainte-Catherine downtown corridor is arguably the grittiest part of the city, especially east of Place des Arts. There are homeless people panhandling during the summer and fall. Although most of them are polite, there are some that are more aggressive. Avoid individuals wandering on the streets that appear intoxicated. The street is at its most dangerous around 3:00 a.m. when closing clubs and bars empty their drunken crowds into the street. You may also come across occasional pockets of street prostitution, especially around strip clubs.
In Montreal, pickpockets are not very common, but keep an eye on things when watching street performances in the Old City or in other crowds.
Montreal is often icy and cold in winter, be careful by dressing appropriately for the conditions and be mindful of ice or snow anytime you are driving or walking. It is not unheard of for tourists to get frostbite for walking several blocks on a sunny but cold day of -35 °C or colder without suitable clothing. Long underwear is strongly recommended to avoid frostbite and circulation problems. Street clearing of snow is generally effective but watch out for ever present black ice!
Summers are quite hot and can be very humid. Being surrounded by rivers adds to this effect. Keep hydrated.
As in the rest of Quebec, language politics and Quebec sovereignty are contentious issues in Montreal. Don’t make the assumption that all Quebecers are in favor of Quebec’s separation from Canada as many are against it. If you really want to discuss those topics with locals, be sure you are well-informed. It is still safer to avoid the subject, as it is still a very emotional issue. Use common sense and be respectful.
The first language in all of Quebec is French. Making an attempt to use the language is a great way to show respect for locals, whether or not they can speak English, even if you can manage only a few words with a very strong accent. However, it should be noted that Montreal is considered to be one of the world’s most bilingual cities with a significant minority of residents whose primary language is English. In case of doubt, you may want to open with a warm “Bonjour!” (Good day) and see what language is used in response. Most likely you will be answered in English, if your French accent does not sound local. Try not to be offended if you are trying to speak French and locals respond to you in English. Since most Montrealers speak both French and English, with ease, they are simply trying to make things easier for you.
Many people in the city and especially those working in the tourist and service industries are completely bilingual speaking either language without any accent making the city very cosmopolitan. Don’t make jokes about French people (especially since francophones in Montreal are mostly Québécois with a few Acadiens and Franco-Ontariens, all of whom consider themselves different from the French from France and from one another and it’s just plain uncivilized!). Also, do not assume that all Québécois are francophones. Montreal has a significant English-speaking community with a long history in Quebec and many immigrants whose first language is neither English nor French.
Montreal makes an excellent entryway for visiting other cities and destinations in Quebec and northern United States. Remember that you will have to pass the border control if you go to the US, and arm yourself with the appropriate Visas and papers. Add at least one extra hour for the border control.
Quebec City, about 3 hours to the north east on Highway 40, is almost but not quite a day trip. You’ll want to stay over, anyway.
Mont Tremblant lies less than two hours north in the Laurentides.
The Eastern Townships are two to three hours straight east.
Explore the Monteregie townships, a short drive east of Montreal.
Ottawa is two hours west by car.
Toronto is more distant, but still a doable six hour drive (or a faster 4.5-hour train trip).
Adirondacks is a two and a half hour drive to the south. Adirondacks is the largest park in the contiguous United States and offers outdoor activities like hiking, rafting and skiing.
Boston is a five hour drive to the southeast.
The Chateau Montebello, located an hour and a half west in Montebello, makes for a romantic getaway or stop on the trip to Ottawa.
Between December and March there is good downhill skiing in the Laurentians and in the Eastern Townships. There are some very good night-skiing centres such as Ski Bromont and Mont-St-Sauveur.
Tadoussac, about six hours away by car, has great whale-watching
New York City is only a six and a half hour drive directly south.
Official tourism websites of Montreal
For more information please visit the official government website: