This is an Cliff Notes-style travel guide to the city of Montréal in the Canadian province of Québec. It's got 70% of the stuff you need to know about traveling here with a few of my observations and opinions thrown in.
Take them however you want to, but don't let my views prevent you from visiting with an open mind.
All of my reviews/opinions are my own. I have no affiliation with any businesses mentioned here.
|1. How long to visit?|
|2. On French|
|3. Cultural observations|
|7. Things worth doing|
|8. Overhyped stuff|
How long to visit?
2-3 days if you're in the millennial demographic, 4 otherwise. There aren't that many tourist attractions; food and nightlife are the main draws here.
If you don't know a thing about Montreal, learn this: the entire Canadian province of Quebec is essentially its own French speaking country surrounded by anglophones. Think of it as "Little France".
When you cross the border from the USA to Canada, you go from middle-of-nowhere Vermont to middle-of-nowhere Quebec but a lot changes quickly.
All signs and advertisements are written in French and everyone speaks to you in it by default. English menus are only available at popular tourist restaurants.
It's polite to know some French, but if I said "hey", people changed to English right away. Only one guy who I spoke to didn't speak any English.
I've been to east and west coast cities in the United States; Auckland, New Zealand; Bangkok, Thailand; and a few others, but Montreal felt like no city I've ever been to before. The best way that I can describe it is an American-style city with a European vibe.
It's is a cultural mishmash; there isn't too much cohesion in people or culture. You'll either love it or be unsettled by it depending on your political attitudes.
Walking around and interacting with a few people, I got the vibe that French Canadians aren't huge fans of Americans. Or people who can't speak French. But it's very subtle.
Smoking is much more popular here than in the United States.
People are shorter than Americans on average.
Montreal is a very liberal city.
You pay for things with the Canadian dollar, complete with pictures of the queen. At the time of writing (late May 2018), $1 USD = $1.30 CAD.
I stayed at the largest and most popular hostel in Montreal, the M Montreal. Located on the edge of the Gay Village neighborhood, they cater to all demographics with dorms and private rooms available. I stayed in a 10 bed dorm.
It was extraordinarily clean for a hostel. Plus they provided breakfast each morning, had events each night, and a had decent (and soundproofed) bar downstairs.
The only thing I didn't enjoy was the actual bed. It was way too squishy and the frames were made of hollow metal. This made it really difficult to stay quiet in the mornings and evenings. But they did have privacy curtains around the beds.
I'd recommend it overall, but if you're looking for more party or more quiet, stay in a more specialized hostel. You'll find the greatest number of people here though.
Buses and the metro are the main forms of transit here. You can buy a one, two, or three day pass that includes the bus and metro. At the time of writing, my 3 day pass was $18 CAD, a steal since a single ride is around $3 CAD.
Never took the bus, but the Metro is fast, prompt, and clean. Announcements are made in French only.
Uber is available too as always.
Things Worth Doing
Yes. This Jewish deli is really as good as people say, and this is coming from someone on a meat-heavy diet. Absolutely go here and try a "smoked meat" (smoked, corned beef) sandwich. The beef just melts in your mouth, and it'll probably be the best thing you eat on your entire trip.
Notre Dame Basilica
Only $6 CAD for entry into a beautiful old church. Has an optional tour too. Extremely Instagramable. Probably cool if you're religious too.
Old Montreal/Old Port (pictured in the post's cover photo)
Easily the most charming part of the city. It feels very European. Be sure to walk around at night because it's even more picturesque.
There's a ferris wheel, a zipline, and a few other attractions in the Old Port if you have kids.
Poutine at La Banquise
Poutine is wonderful stuff. It starts with a base of french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. Then you can choose from an array of additional toppings.
I got the shoot-out, and it was so good that I forgot to get a picture.
And La Banquise is one of the only restaurants in Montreal open 24 hours a day!
Mont Royal Lookout
The highest point in the city. Great for pictures.
I wandered to the top with a girl I met named Melissa, but we scaled the wrong side. If the paths seem too steep and there's no large road nearby, you're definitely going the wrong way. (It's way more fun though. Just wear decent hiking shoes.)
Fortunately, nothing was overhyped except for some food.
New York-style bagels are better. People claim that Montreal bagels are crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, slightly sweeter, and denser. They're right, but they're also not savory at all. I tried both popular spots Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel and both were missing the salty flavor I appreciate in a bagel. They're worth a try, but absolutely overrated. A great value at about $1 CAD/bagel if you're traveling on the cheap though.
Fairmount was better.
Dic Ann's Burgers
I saw this one on a list of "must-try" foods in Montreal. It's a thin hamburger on a thin pancake looking bun. Nothing special. Both the patty and the bun were bland. Give this one a miss unless you really like burgers.
BeaverTails (or Queues de Castor)
Basically a thin donut in the shape of a beaver's tail and coating in a dessert topping of your choice. The consistency was between a donut and a churro. Worth trying, but nothing special if you've ever had a churro or a funnel cake.
Didn't get the chance to try too many Canada exclusive snacks, but I did try BBQ Doritos and Ketchup-flavored Lays.
BBQ Doritos taste exactly like BBQ Fritos.
Ketchup chips are like a milder, tomato-flavored salt and vinegar chip, but the purple-ish color is off-putting.
You don't need to try these. Get some Cadbury chocolate instead.
If you're looking for some fresh foods, visit the Jean-Talon Market in Little Italy.
Visit the Canadian convenience store Couche-Tard, enjoy the hilarious name, and grab a unique Canadian snack.
Visit the Gay Village during the day for the culture and people-watching. If you're gay, go back at night for some fun.
There's also the Biodome and Biosphere, but I never made it to either.