Montreal is a mix of many things. It’s a mix of English and French; old and new; as well as European and North American influences. A nearly overwhelming amount of restaurants, festivals, the historic Old Port and an intricate metro (subway) system mean that Montreal has something for everyone. It also has a vibrant nightlife that routinely draws in partygoers from all over the world. Here’s a detailed guide from a local Montrealer (ME) to help you make the most of your time in one of North America’s most storied cities.
Getting Around: Traveling through Montreal is very easy. The metro system is divided into 4 easy to use colour-coded lines (green, orange, blue & yellow). Most buses run on a steady schedule, passing roughly 2 to 5 times an hour. There are a few transportation price points for visitors to consider.
- 1 way ticket with metro/bus transfer: 3.25 CAD
- Unlimited evening ticket (6 pm – 5 am): 5 CAD
- 2 way ticket with metro/bus transfer: 6.00 CAD
- 1 day tourist/visitor’s ticket (unlimited use of metro/bus): 10 CAD
- 3 day tourist/visitor’s ticket (unlimited use of metro/bus): 18 CAD
- Weekly pass (unlimited use of metro/bus) 25.50 CAD
- 10 tickets with metro/bus transfer: 26.50 CAD
- For more information visit Montreal’s official public transit site.
Food Prices: I suggest doing groceries any and everywhere you travel. If your accommodation has a kitchen, toaster-oven or microwave, you’re golden. If not, load up on cold sandwiches, nutrition bars, fruit and water. A week’s worth of groceries will run you 50 CAD to 100 CAD depending on where you shop.
The cost of food varies as much as Montreal’s ethnic groups. You can go cheap with a 2 CAD slice of pizza at Altaib’s or a 4 CAD poutine (1 of Montreal’s famed dishes) from La Belle Province. There is also an endless list of sandwich/wrap shops that sell their specialties for under 10 CAD. On the other hand, you can have a proper meal with meat, sides and a drink (juice, beer or wine) for 25 CAD to 45 CAD on average. If you want to experience the fine dining Montreal has built a reputation for, you could easily shell out over 100 CAD per plate. It would be money well spent.
Hotels/Motels: The cheapest (budget) hotels or motels you’ll find in Montreal range between 35 CAD to 65 CAD in the downtown core (where most of the fun is). Solo accommodations are cheapest, so if you’re traveling in twos or more, expect to pay more too (unless you share a hostel dorm).
Hostels: Hostels are one of the only relatively cheap things you’ll find in Montreal. It’s an expensive city. If booked early enough in advance, hostel accommodations start at roughly 5 CAD and increase to north of 115 CAD nightly. Like most international cities, there are hostels at all points on the price continuum.
Accommodation Alternatives: Montrealers are known to be very friendly, especially if you speak French. A free account on Couch Surfing could land you a few free nights on a host’s couch or bed. Alternatively, you can party until 3 in the morning then keep the party going at one of Montreal’s after-hours clubs (not suggested, sort of). It’s not the healthiest choice, but it’s cheap (I’m not sure if I’m serious about this yet).
EXPERIENCE MONTREAL ON A BUDGET:
Museum Mania: Montreal has plenty of museums (60+), many of which offer free/reduced admission on select days.
- Museum of Contemporary Art: Adult admission 14 CAD – Child admission 10 CAD – 1/2 price on Wednesday evenings from 5 pm to 9 pm.
- Centre Of Design At UQAM: Free from 12 pm to 6 pm from Wednesday to Sunday. Works on display are made by Quebecois designers as well as foreign ones.
- Centre of Canadian Architecture (Centre d’Architecture Canadien): Free from Wednesday to Sunday 11 am to 6 pm and Thursdays from 5:30 pm to 9 pm. Students enter for free with proof of student status.
- Several museums offer free admission on the last Sunday of May and a number of buses offer free rides between the museums as well.
Free Festivals: Montrealers are festival fanatics! The city hosts over a hundred festivals each year, from the Caribbean themed “Jump Up,” to film festivals and the world famous Jazz Festival. Many of the festivals have free shows on select days. One of the more popular winter festivals is Montreal En Lumiere (Montreal In Lights), a multi-day, multi-event festival celebrating Montreal culture and ending in the almighty Nuit Blanche (White Night). Nuit Blanche is a nocturnal promenade filled with alcohol, food, parties and just about everything else.
See City Hall For Free: A 45 minute to 1 hour guided tour of Montreal’s City Hall is available from May through October. It’s a great way to learn a little more about the city.
Free Ice Cream Day: Once a year in the warmer months (April to August) Ben & Gerry’s offers free ice cream to anyone who has the patience to line up and wait for a cone (normally in mid-April). Starbucks, RedBull and many other companies often send employees out to the street level to offer refreshments and samples of new products a few times a year, generally in the summer and fall.
Take A Walk: Montreal is a relatively small island. It’s very easy to get around on foot or on a Bixi bike, especially if you stay in and around the downtown core. If you’re coming from further out, you can get to anywhere on the island by car within 30 minutes (in good traffic conditions). Walk around and take a look at all of the beautiful architecture, cobble stone streets, parks and lakes, all for free. Walk through the Old Port or along the Lachine Canal and you won’t be disappointed.
Put On Your Dancing Shoes: Each Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday of the summer, enjoy free dance lessons (ballroom) with professional instructors at Parc Jean Drapeau.
Tour The Public Markets: Montreal’s markets are great for 2 reasons. First, they’re an easy way to find healthy, delicious and affordable food and beverages. Second, it’s probably the easiest way to get a glimpse of what life in Montreal is like from a local perspective. They’re also good locations for photography.
Free Ice Skating/Skiing (Winter): Parc Angrignon and Parc Mont Royal offer free cross-country skiing trails and skating rinks. Parc La Fontaine, in the always popular Plateau district has a free skating pond as soon as the temperature dips below zero. Ice skating is also available for free at Parc Jeanne-Mance, Lac Aux Castors (Beaver Lake), the Quays in the Vieux Port (Old Port) and Parc Du Mont Royal. Every neighbourhood in Montreal has a few smaller parks that open free skating rinks in the winter. You’ll generally see friendly hockey games going on or young kids sharpening their skating skills. Lastly, the Old Port sometimes offers night concerts.
Tip: If you’re in Montreal for the New Year, the Old Port is the best place to see the fireworks and festivities (grab a beaver tail dessert snack too).
BEST EXPERIENCES IN MONTREAL
(Parc) Mont Royal: Like walking? Snapping pictures? Great views? Exercise? Mont Royal offers all of this and more. There are multiple entrances to this huge park. Hike all the way up the mountain to the giant cross that overlooks the city for an awesome view. Get an even better panoramic view of the city from the Chalet Mont Royal.
When the weather warms up (April to October), Montrealers also take to Parc Mont Royal for ultimate frisbee, volleyball, soccer, football, picnics, music and hookah. Go there on Sundays and dance barefooted to the rhythms of African drums being played (what we locals call tam-tams). If you get lost, it’s on Saint-Urbain street near the Sir George-Etienne Cartier statue.
Stroll Through Old Montreal: Old Montreal is one of the most historically rich parts of Montreal. It’s filled with great restaurants, museums, art galleries, a science centre, food trucks, clubs, a haunted house, zip lining, a man made beach, a gorgeous clock tower and a breath taking view. If you’re only in Montreal for a short stay, this is your best bet.
Place D’Armes: This is a small but beautiful square located near the entrance to the Old Port. It’s one of the premier and most important squares the city has to offer. It’s home to the Aldred Building, the Bank of Montreal’s first ever building, the New York Life Building and last but not least, the beautiful Notre Dame Basilica. Entrance to the Basilica is 5 CAD for adults and 4 CAD for children. It’s open to the public as of 8 am. Go early in the morning to experience the impressive design and presence of the building peacefully.
Musee Des Beaux-Arts/Museum of Fine Arts: Free admission when only permanent exhibits are on display. Temporary exhibits cost 12 CAD. Anything considered to be fine art can be found at the MFA. In the past there have been Miles Davis and Jean-Paul Gauthier exhibits. You can also see industrial design, African themed and a variety of painting exhibits on display as well. It’s the perfect place to spend a cold or rainy day.
Oratoire Saint-Joseph (Saint-Joseph’s Oratory): This building needs no introduction. It is one of the most visited locations in Montreal and Canada. It provides yet another amazing view of the city’s skyline, and once again, it’s a great location for photography or romance (Snowdon metro). It’s definitely a must-see.
Jean-Talon & Atwater Markets: The city’s most popular markets open hundreds of stalls offering food (specialized grocers), drinks and local handmade crafts. Stop by for a snack and some people watching. Jean-Talon market is located in the middle of Little Italy (Jean-Talon metro). Atwater market is located in the southwest side of downtown in the Little Burgundy area (Lionel-Groulx metro).
Le Plateau: This is hands down the trendiest and most artsy part of Montreal. It has captivating residential streets that take you back to a different time in the city (great for taking pictures). Neat restaurants and stylish boutiques are what characterize this cool part of the city.
The Biodome: This is literally a one of a kind structure that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. It houses 4 separate ecosystems under the same roof (1 for each of the most animal friendly climates spanning from North through South America). You can get a ticket to the Biodome for roughly 15 CAD. For a bit more, you can get access to the Insectarium and Planetarium too. It’s located in what was initially constructed as the Velodrome of the Olympic Games (Viau metro).
Parc La Fontaine: This park is ideal for anyone who likes staying fit. It has tennis courts, sand volleyball courts and lots of walking/running room. It’s picnic friendly and offers free live shows and movies. Hipsters love it!
Bike Around: Montrealers love biking. Want to feel like a local? Rent a Bixi bike and go cruising around the city. Print out a map, plot out your destinations and get rolling. Alternatively, there are half-day guided bike tours that take you all over the city within 3-4 hours and the guides are very knowledgable. It’s perfect for anyone visiting Montreal in the summer time that isn’t staying for very long. The downside to these guided bike tours is that they aren’t free.
Go Green At The Jardin Botanique (Botanical Garden): Did you know Montreal’s Botanical Garden is one of the largest in the world? It’s been around for more than 80 years, has 10 distinct greenhouses, and only costs about 15 CAD. It’s a gorgeous place to spend a sunny day.
Get On A Boat: If you’re lucky enough to know someone who owns a boat, ask them to take you on a tour of the Old Port. You won’t be disappointed. Otherwise, there are 45 minute – 60 minute boat tours of the harbour (a great location to see Canada day fireworks) or hour and a half long boat tours of the Lachine Canal (another part of Montreal that is overflowing with history).
Insider Tip: Montreal has 15% GST (goods and sales tax). Factor that into your spending.
Insider Tip #2: Tipping is a must in Montreal, your hosts & servers will be very appreciative. Don’t know how much is enough? A good rule of thumb is to tip at least how much you pay in taxes (15%). It will always be written on your receipt (no need for a calculator).
Did you find this post informative? Do you have any stories or intelligent reviews of Montreal you’d like to share? Leave a comment or response below. Hit me on Twitter [at]DriftAway2015 or like and comment on my Facebook page, Drift Away – Travel Blog and follow me on Instagram [at]godriftaway for all of my recent travel photography.
A la prochaine (until next time),