Guide to Montreal

Montreal over river at sunset

Based on population, Montreal is the second largest city in Canada with nearly four million residents. It is also a very popular travel destination for tourists of all types, delivering a delectable taste of France without having to leave North America. With a happening cultural scene, a rich history and an embarrassment of culinary riches, Montreal is well worth visiting any time of the year.

Getting Around the City

Montreal is a very walkable city, particularly in the downtown core and in historic Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal). For longer distances, visitors are offered several transportation options.

  • Metro: Operated by Société de transport de Montréal (STM), the Montreal Metro subway system consists of four interconnected lines with a total of 68 stations. Investing in a reloadable OPUS card is recommended for longer stays. Day passes, which can be loaded on L'Occasionnelle cards provide flexibility and a great value. Single fares are offered on a per-ride basis and are not time-based.
  • Bus: Public buses in Montreal use the same fares as the Metro. Multi-day passes are valid for unlimited travel and buses can access neighborhoods underserved by the subway system.
  • Woman on rental Bicycle
    Rental Bikes
    BIXI: For a fun and more unique way to see the city, consider the BIXI bike rental system. Short single trips of up to 30 minutes one-way are $2.95, while 24-hour and 30-day passes are available for $5 and $30, respectively.
  • Uber: The popular ride-sharing service is available in Montreal.

Getting to and From the Airport

Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport is located approximately 20 kilometers (or 12.5 miles) southwest of downtown Montreal. Getting to and from the airport typically takes about 30 minutes, depending on traffic.

  • 747 Express Bus: One of the most convenient options, the 747 shuttle service offers several stops in the downtown Montreal area before terminating at the Berri-UQAM metro station. The standard fare is $10 per person and includes 24 hours of travel on the STM bus and metro network.
  • Taxi: Taking a cab between downtown Montreal and the airport carries a fixed fare of $40. All other destinations start with a minimum fare of $17 and are charged based on the meter.
  • Rental Cars: Several car rental companies operate out of Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport, including Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National and Thrifty.

Accommodations

Montreal is home to numerous hotels, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnb vacation rentals. Depending on the reason for your visit, the most popular part of town to stay is typically in the downtown area or in Old Montreal. Great options to consider include:

  • Le Westin Montreal: Steps from the Place d'Armes metro station and Notre Dame Cathedral, Le Westin Montreal offers luxurious rooms and bountiful amenities, including a small pool. Rooms typically start around $300 per night.
  • Residence La Citadelle: For a more affordable place to stay in Montreal, Residence La Citadelle is a student residence that operates as a quiet hotel during the summer. It provides a central location near the McGill University campus with rooms starting around $129 per night.
  • Bed & Breakfast du Village: A more colorful experience can be had by staying in the Gay Village at Bed & Breakfast du Village. Don't let the unassuming brick facade mislead you. Cozy and inviting rooms are available starting around $125 per night.

Popular Attractions

As a major Canadian city, Montreal offers a little something for everyone.

Family-Friendly Activities

For families visiting with children, Montreal provides great educational opportunities that are also a lot of fun.

  • Montreal Biodome
    Montreal Biodome
    Biodome: Operating as part of the larger Espace pour la vie alongside a botanical garden, insectarium and planetarium, the indoor Biodome transports visitors to four distinct ecosystems populated by over 4,500 animals and 500 plant species. Single adult tickets are around $20 with discounts offered for students, seniors, children and families, as well as when tickets are bundled with other Espace pour la vie attractions.
  • Mont Royal Lookout: For a bird's-eye view of Downtown Montreal, hike up to the Chalet du Mont Royal near the peak of Mount Royal. A large outdoor plaza provides terrific photo opportunities. For less of a hike, take the #11 bus and walk 10 minutes through Mont Royal park to the chalet.
  • La Ronde: It may not necessarily be the most educational of experiences, but this amusement park owned and operated by Six Flags can be a lot of fun. Located on Saint Helen's Island, La Ronde boasts 10 roller coasters, as well as plenty of thrill and kiddie rides. Single visit tickets for adults and children are $63.99 and $46.99, respectively.

Churches

Coming from a rich Roman Catholic tradition, Montreal is home to many breathtaking churches and cathedrals that are open to worshippers and non-worshippers alike.

  • Notre Dame Basilica
    Notre Dame Basilica
    Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal: Not to be confused with the Parisian church of the same name, Montreal's Notre Dame features impressive Gothic architecture and breathtaking wooden carvings. Admission is $5 unless you are attending mass.
  • Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde: Translating as Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, this minor basilica is the third largest church in Quebec. The exterior is topped by statues of 13 patron saints. No admission fee is charged, but donations are accepted and appreciated.

Shopping

If you're looking to spend some money, Montreal has you covered.

  • St. Catherine's Street: Spanning over 11 kilometers (about 7 miles), St. Catherine's is one of the busiest commercial shopping streets in Montreal. Major retailers include Old Navy, Forever 21, SAQ Signature and Best Buy.
  • Complexe Desjardins: A mixed use building connected to the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Complexe Desjardins offers a multi-level shopping center with a food court and dozens of retailers, including Yves Rocher, Ardene and La Vie en Rose.
  • Atwater Market: In the southwest of the city, you'll find this terrific indoor public market with fresh produce, wine, cheese and other delicious treats.

More Places to See

For a richer taste of the Montreal experience, consider these highlights too.

  • Old Montreal
    Old Montreal
    Underground City: Connecting multiple metro stations, hotels, commercial buildings and shopping complexes in the downtown area, Montreal's Underground City is a convenient way to get around without having to brave the elements outside. Look for "RESO" signs for entry and exit points.
  • McGill University: Located at the base of Mount Royal, the campus of McGill University is well worth exploring. At the Redpath Museum, you'll find a unique collection of fossils, taxidermy specimens and cultural artifacts with admission by donation.
  • Old Montreal: Adjacent to downtown, Vieux-Montréal is the oldest part of the city. This is truly where you can get a taste of France with historic buildings, authentic eateries and cobbled streets. This is also where you will find the Old Port (Vieux-Port de Montréal) with a boardwalk and the Voiles en Voiles pirate-themed activity center.

Where to Eat

Perhaps even more notable than its French culture is the food and culinary scene of Montreal. Can't-miss restaurants include:

  • La Banquise: The iconic Quebec poutine - French fries served with gravy and cheese curds - is best experienced at this 24-hour eatery near Parc La Fontaine. Try more adventurous combinations like La Taquise with guacamole, sour cream and tomatoes or La Trois Viandes with ground beef, bacon and pepperoni.
  • Shrimp risotto at L'Express
    Shrimp risotto at L'Express
    Schwartz's Deli: Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen is home to one of the most amazing smoked meat sandwiches you will ever have. Montreal smoked meat resembles corned beef or pastrami and the meat comes piled high on the humble sandwiches here.
  • L'Express: To experience an authentic French bistro without taking a plane to Paris, go to L'Express on Saint-Denis Street. Enjoy such classic French dishes as duck foie gras terrine, shrimp risotto, pot-au-feu beef stew and steak tartare.
  • St-Viateur Bagel: Compare New York's bagels with Montreal's finest. With multiple locations around town, the bagel bakery offers multiple varieties, including several cream cheese options.
  • Garde Manger: Headed by celebrity chef Chuck Hughes, Garde Manger in Old Montreal takes a casual upscale approach to French-inspired cuisine. The menu changes constantly and reservations are highly recommended.

General Montreal Tips and Advice

When visiting Montreal, keep these tips in mind:

  • Language: While French is the dominant language among locals, most Montrealers are also fluent in English, particularly those who work in the service industry. Still, as a matter of courtesy, strive to exchange basic pleasantries ("Bonjour. Comment ça va?") in French before resorting to English.
  • Money: Montreal uses the Canadian dollar and is served by several major Canadian banks. Several currency exchange offices are located through the city too, many of which are operated by Calforex.
  • Accessibility: Visitors in wheelchairs or traveling with children in strollers may find some parts of Montreal difficult to navigate. The cobbled streets of Old Montreal can be rough and the overwhelming majority of metro stations lack elevators.
  • Festivals: Montreal's over 100 festivals are scheduled throughout the year, with many during the summer months. Check the Tourism Montreal website for the latest events calendar, including festivals for everything from anime to music to theater.

Savor the City

Embracing its diverse multiculturalism while simultaneously embracing its French roots and modern sensibility, Montreal can make for a great vacation for travelers of all ages. Eat the food, get inspired by the churches, and eat more of the food.

Guide to Montreal