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Updated: December 2023
Planning a trip to Montréal soon? Here are 16 things to know before going to Montréal, Canada.
Montréal has so much to offer, and even before traveling to Montréal, you may want to investigate and prepare yourself with some handy, ready-to-know information about Montréal’s culture, vibe, norms, and other interesting tidbits.
From the food scene to the city underneath Montréal that locals use during the winter – this city is full of magic and interesting points that I feel so excited to share with you today!
Montréal is a city that I love very much, but there are definitely a few things that would have been helpful or just cool to know before going.
My hope is that this post serves you in that way.
Is Montréal worth visiting?
To put it lightly?
I’ve been to Montréal a couple of times now, and the way I describe it, as vague as it may be, is that it is such a cool city.
That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this beautiful northeastern Canadian city.
I personally think it’s highly underrated, and not visited enough by many of my fellow Americans.
It’s truly a place with so much visual appeal, undeniable charming European influence and culture, and incredibly nice people, no matter where you go.
The city is brimming with art, color, cafe culture, picnics-in-the-park culture, architectural beauty, natural beauty, and so much more.
Traveling from Illinois where I am currently based, not even 4 hours away by plane, is this city that makes it seem like I’ve just hopped over the pond to Europe – it’s that culturally different from your typical Noth American destination.
Not to mention, the growing and abundant diversity within the city – let’s just say that the languages spoken in Montréal go beyond the official languages of the city – French and English.
There is something for everyone, and in this post, I’ll cover with you 16 things that I think you should know before traveling to Montréal.
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16 Helpful Things To Know Before Going to Montréal, Canada
1. Montréal is an island
The first thing I want to share with you before traveling to Montréal is that Montréal is actually an island.
Not many people may not know this, and I’ll be honest, I include myself in that category of people that didn’t know this fact.
For some reason, it never occurred to me to learn about the geography of Montréal, but I think that it’s super cool and informative to know and to gain even more appreciation for what the city has to offer in terms of nature and the landscape.
Specifically speaking, Montréal is one of the largest islands of the Hochelaga Archipelago, which is known as the Montréal islands where various important rivers and bodies of water meet.
Taking a helicopter tour of Montréal would give you a really beautiful, birds-eye view of the layout of the city, and such a beautiful and unique experience of Montréal overall.
Speaking of natural phenomena, if you spend a summer there, you’ll see that Montréal experiences around 2,000 hours of sunlight, which is pretty cool experts say according to its geographic location, and other countries in the same sort of latitude that don’t receive that same amount of sunlight in the summer.
2. The language and culture
One of the important things to know about Montreal is that they officially speak French throughout the city. Canada is officially a bilingual country, where they recognize and speak English and French.
The majority of the French-speaking population lives in the Québec province, in which Montréal is located.
What I found interesting when I first went there was that everything and I mean everything, is in French.
Everything from the street names to the “stop” signs shop names, and even Starbucks is changed to “Café Starbucks.”
It’s definitely worth mentioning that there is a strong presence and feel of French culture in the air, but it’s definitely mixed in with Canadian and North American culture, and it is most commonly reflected in its food, which I’ll touch on in the list so keep reading!
Before traveling to Montréal, I was aware of the fact that French was mainly the language spoken in Montréal, but I wasn’t aware of how deep this component of everyday life runs for Montréalers.
The topic of language and culture runs pretty deep for not only Montréal but the province of Québec.
Historically speaking, the French were the ones who settled and made current-day Québec their home.
Jacques Cartier was the first person from France to arrive in current-day Québec, and Samuel de Champlain was the one to claim Québec for France and make it a colony. From then, until today, Québec has held a strong cultural bond with France, and its culture and history.
Between the 60s to the 90s and still today, Québec has been advocating fiercely for its culture, language, and traditions, starting with making French to be a recognized language in Québec along with English, as well as looking into separating from Canada due to their distinct culture and history.
Everyone basically speaks French, as it is implemented in schools for young children as a way to preserve their French heritage.
You’ll notice everything written in French, from a STOP sign to an Exit sign, to even changing names of chain restaurants to something identifiable French-Canadian.
It’s interesting, but it’s a debate and for some, a controversial one, that has been going on for a long time between the province of Québec wanting to protect their language and culture, and the rest of Canada speaking mainly English and culturally being pretty different from Québec.
Nevertheless, it’s an interesting topic and one of the important things to know before going to Montréal.
💡A quick tip!
This isn’t to say that you won’t be able to get around if you don’t speak French, Montréal is actually a very diverse city, and it’s still at the end of the day, located within Canada where English is still recognized as a language that is widely spoken.
Expect to be greeted in French initially when you enter shops and restaurants, but also don’t worry if you can’t ask for what you need in French.
I’d just recommend that before traveling to Montréal, at the very least, brushing up on the essential please and thank you and hello wouldn’t be a bad idea!
3. The vibe in Montréal
Being that Montréal is one of the first cities established in North America, Montréal whose name stems from Mont-Royal, a name given to the little mountain located at the heart of the city, offers a true coexistence of modern and old, right here in North America.
The city has a European flair that is very much a part of Montréal culture. You see it everywhere: boutique cafe shops, its cobbled streets, statues of Queen Victoria and other notable people in Montréal history, and the abundance of French spoken and written everywhere.
It also has its modern, world-renown fame and comforts that you would find in any modern, western city.
It’s an extremely artsy city, it’s very youthful, people love to go out, have a good time, spend more time outdoors, bike everywhere, they like to enjoy picnics outside in the many parks throughout the city when the weather permits, and so much more!
It’s truly one of those cities where simply by walking about outside, you’ll find something fun to do/ be entertained with.
Among my favorite activities that I did while in Montréal were a walking tour and a bike tour, as they allowed me to experience and see different corners of Montréal in and outside the old town, with a guide, and while meeting new people.
While on my bike tour, I met our tour guide who was a fellow Mexican, and it was really cool to hear from him about his experience being Mexican-French-Canadian, and his experiences living in Montréal.
It’s more laid back than a lot of other cities in North America, which I think adds to this magical quality and appreciation for the present moment that many major cities in North America, and even within Canada sometimes miss.
The vibe is truly energetic, palpable, lively, and beautiful.
It’s truly amazing to be a few miles away from the U.S. border (New York) and experience all of this, and be in a city where its people prefer to work to live and not live to work. It’s very refreshing.
4. The food in Montréal
When I first arrived in Montréal, I didn’t expect the food scene to be as amazing as it was.
All I had ever heard of when someone spoke of Montréal was Poutine (which is actually delicious), but there is so much more!
There’s so much more that I decided I would make a full list for you to be able to refer back to continuously of must-try food items that are typical of Montréal and the Québecois region, which is available to you for FREE!
I will share right off the bat some of the delicious foods I tried like poutine, beaver tails (dessert item from Ottawa), Maple Candy at Délices Erable & Cie, iconic Montréal style bagels, and a few more that I Included on the list!
All you have to do is leave your name and email in the box below to get the full list that I have prepared for you 🙂 you’ll be surprised just how expansive the food options from local cuisine to international cuisine adopted by Montréalers as home comfort.
Click below to access the list!
If you’re looking for a specific food tour that will guide you throughout Montréal to try some of their most iconic foods, I looked into this food tour that looks amazing and like a great introduction to trying out a sampler of Montréal favorites as well as learning more about the history of the food scene!
I recommend you look into it if you’d like to do a food tour while visiting this magical city.
5. The abundance of things to do in Montréal
The beauty of spending a few days in a city like Montréal is the ample opportunities to find enjoyment in literally anything.
Before traveling to Montréal, check out some of these things to do there!
From taking a bike tour around the city to buying a few snacks and taking them to the park to eat and people watch (this is a local favorite pastime) and so much more!
Depending on the season that you’re there, there is always something to do and see, as Montréal is known for its festivals and live music events that happen all year long.
Events such as the Montréal Jazz Music Festival which takes place from June to July, Igloofest which takes place between January and February, MURAL Festival in June, and so much more!
I think that it’s events like these that no matter the season or temperature outside, there’s always something happening – and that’s what personally makes a place really special.
As a visitor, simply walking down the streets of old town Montréal, appreciating the architecture, the old port, the cobbled streets, the street art all over the city, and the boutique shops and life lived outside – it’s quite magical and so amazing, again considering that this is still North America.
If you take a stroll at night, you’ll notice light projections showcasing people and scenes against the old buildings to show visitors the history of Old Montréal, in such a fun, immersive, and unique way!
You can also find this projection shown inside Montréal’s Notre Dame Basilica, which I also recommend you visit!
There’s much more to see and experience beyond the old town, by going beyond and visiting a couple of its many beautiful neighborhoods, you’ll see how even within the city, the vibe shifts slightly into local gems that offer amazing experiences all on their own.
From creative hubs in Mile End and Le Plateau to Quartier des Spectacles and Griffintown where entertainment and amazing food spots are everywhere. Parks, beach activities, and so much more!
The city is super walkable with so much public transportation to help you get around.
>> Read More: How To Easily Plan a Trip to Montréal for the First Time
6. The ease of moving around Montréal via public transportation
Speaking of, the public transportation in Montréal is SUPER convenient, reliable, and on time – the main things that make public transportation super easy to use!
In Montréal you can rely on the metro to take you around most places, and it stops running around 1 am, as well as the buses, which some run all night and run parallel to the metro lines, so it’s easy to find a bus stop if you know where the metro stops are.
I know Uber and other taxi services like Uber have been in and out of Montréal, but the couple of times that I have been to Montréal, I have been able to use Uber to get around, especially from the airport and to other places such as Mont-Royal park (which you can also get to by bus, I’ve done that too) and it’s super easy as well.
Before traveling to Montréal, make sure to check if Uber is available, and in the event that it’s not, the other local alternative to look for is called Eva.
Being a city that has a European feel, bicycles are a super common way to get around for locals, even more than cars the more central you are.
You will find that the city has a bike-share system called BIXI that many locals and visitors use.
Lastly, there is the light rail system that has not yet been officially inaugurated yet, but I do know that this light rail system is going to make moving throughout Montréal and its surrounding areas even easier.
There will also be a line that will take visitors to and from the airport to the city center which before, if you wanted to take public transit between the airport and the city center, you’d have to take a bus and metro train or an uber – so the light rail route will definitely be a nice and visitor-friendly way to increase tourism in Montréal!
7. There’s another city underneath Montréal that you can visit
I am talking about the RÉSO or the series of hallways and passageways where you can find various malls, shops, restaurants, and office buildings – all underneath the already bustling city. It’s truly really cool to see human ingenuity at play and adaptive to the climate of the place.
This underground city was created so locals could use especially during the freezing winter to avoid going outside for these amenities.
You will also find connections to the metro inside, an entrance to the main train station (Union Station) where you can take VIA Rail Canada, Canada’s National train service, which I have used to travel throughout a few cities in Canada and would definitely recommend as a form of traveling within the country.
I accidentally found myself here when I was traveling from Ottawa to Montréal when I took the wrong exit and ended up entering the underground city instead of the street exit hehe.
It’s a bit confusing if you’re not from there, but quite interesting to see how Montréalers use this space to continue living their lives regardless of what may be going on above ground, weatherwise.
It’s cool to check out, just make sure you take a map with you.
8. The incredible day trips near Montréal worth taking
Montréal is known for its incredibly beautiful French culture infused into the corners of the city. Needless to say, this is a huge drawing point. However, within a few hours or less, there are natural gems waiting to be explored.
Check out a day tour from Montréal to the cute town of Mont Tremblant, a beautiful, colorful quaint town located 2 hours northwest of Montréal.
Located with a natural backdrop of the Laurentian Mountains, and mostly known for its ski resort in the winter, there are plenty of river activities to take part in, in the summer such as canoeing, or hiking in the Mont Tremblant National Park.
Québec City is another great day tour option, believe it or not!
Only a little over 3 hours away, consider booking a day tour from Montréal to Old Québec to see its fascinating history and stunning architecture.
I actually traveled from Québec City to Montréal and took the train to get in between cities.
It was very easy and very comfortable, so definitely check out my guide on how I took the train from Québec City to Montréal.
The Laurentians is a beautiful, picturesque town surrounded by mountain landscapes of forested bliss and lakes, and is only 1 hour north of Montréal.
Day trips from Montréal to The Laurentians are constantly taken every day between these two cities, thanks to their closeness.
>> Read More: 18 Unmissable Day Trips From Québec City, Canada
9. The diverse, fun, and cultural festivals that Montréal hosts
One of the reasons why I think people are so drawn to Montréal from their first visit is the abundance of life happening everywhere, at all times, and one of the best ways of doing this is via festivals.
It doesn’t matter if it’s -10°F or 90°F, there is ALWAYS something happening, from cultural festivals to live music festivals, and literally everything in between.
Rest assured you won’t be bored, and there will probably be a festival of some sort happening while you’re in Montéal.
Here are just a few of the most popular ones, and when they happen.
January – Igloofest: an outdoor electronic music festival that takes place in Montréal’s iconic Old Port
June – Go Bike Festival: a week-long biking activities event that takes over the city, where everyone rides their bike, and participates in various biking games throughout the city, including biking extensively in car-free streets through the Tour la Nuit and the Tour de l’Île de Montréal.
August – First People’s Festival: a city-wide celebration of the First Nation people’s culture, dance, film, traditions, heritage, and food.
September – Gardens of Light: Situated in the Botanic Garden of Montéal, the Chinese and Japanese Gardens get lit up with dozens of twinkling lights, creating a magical and special ambiance, and a new experience in the garden.
December – Merry Montréal: a beautiful and cheery Christmas experience to enjoy in Montéal, with live, Christmas classics, European-style markets, and so much more.
Those are just a few, but there are definitely at least 3 major festivals happening per month, so make sure to check out the city’s official website to see them all, and plan your trip accordingly to the festival you may want to experience.
10. Hockey games in Montréal are a big thing
Hockey has been a very important sport not only in the city of Montréal but also in the province of Québec as a whole.
One of the many things to know before going to Montréal is their love for hockey, and how it has become a major tourist attraction not to miss.
And here’s the thing, whether you are a hockey fan or you’ve never seen a game in your life, engaging in a cultural activity like a live sports game is such an amazing way of immersing yourself in the local culture, and observing and appreciating something so beloved and passionate, as a hockey game in Montréal.
Here are a few stats for those who may not be too hockey savvy…
Montréal’s official hockey team: The Montreal Canadiens, or in French, le Club de hockey Canadien, or Habs.
Home arena: Centre Bell – 1909 Av. des Canadiens-de-Montréal, Montréal, QC H3B 5E8, Canada
Team colors: White, red, blue
Coach: Martin St. Louis
Wins: Winners of 24 Stanley Cups (NHL Championship), they are the oldest hockey team to continually be part of the NHL.
Tickets can easily be found to one of the many games, usually taking place during hockey season, which is October-June usually.
11. There are actually 5 seasons in Montréal
If you get in an Uber, or taxi, or take a walking tour of Montréal of some sort, the topic of road construction will most definitely pop up more than once.
The very bane of their existence, many Montréalers will refer to road construction season as the 5th season in the city.
You will notice the different orange cones dotting the streets, whether it’s in the Old Town or it’s the rest of the city, so when you’re taking a tour of any sort, especially a fun bike tour of Montréal, make sure you’re looking where you’re going.
This isn’t a shocking thing to most Canadians, especially Montréalers, as they are known to have the worst road conditions in the country, yet they spend more than double than any other city in Canada.
Not to mention, Montréal is known to take the 3rd spot on the list of most congested cities in Canada, many Montréalers are not exactly jumping for joy being stuck in traffic, and one of those reasons is the consistent road construction.
12. Montréalers love cycling everywhere
On the topic of the constant road construction, many Montréalers have decided to ditch their car and grab their bikes as their main mode of transportation, even in the dead of winter.
Cycling is such a big part of Montréal culture, that they’ve been recognized as the best cycle-friendly city in Canada.
Though I haven’t visited Montréal in the winter to see it with my own eyes, I’ve heard from locals on my other visits that this is a true fact, and that it has become a great and faster way to get around the city, get exercise, and admire their city more.
It’s certainly a breath of fresh air, and as someone who lives and comes from another cold city, It always impressed me to hear that Montréalers would ride their bikes even in the snow.
In the spring and summer, it’s quite the vibe. It’s so great to see a bunch of bikers on the roads, from Old Town to the rest of the city, and the different boroughs.
As a visitor, booking a bike tour of Montréal that takes you from the Old Town to Mount Royal, and various other boroughs and corners has been my favorite way to get to know the city, by far.
From the city’s boroughs to its main attraction points, its beautiful parks, and its incredibly lively culture, understanding Montréal’s bicycle friendliness is by far one of the best things to know before going to Montréal.
13. The diversity in Montréal is amazing
Montréal is not only one of the most ethnically diverse cities in Canada, but the world, and it is something that stands out as soon as you walk down the vibrant streets.
The city is divided into 19 boroughs (neighborhoods) and each one is its own little cultural hub and norms.
Yes, there are communities such as Little Italy and Chinatown, but in addition to that, there is a huge influx of Algerian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Filipinos, Portuguese, Haitians, Mexicans, and so many more nationalities.
A walk down the different boroughs will show visitors the different languages, cuisines, and people that live within Montréal, even though French is the main influence, Montréal has quickly become a melting pot of cultures.
So keep this in mind, and prepare to have some incredible delicacies at some of Montréal’s best restaurants such as the Haitian restaurant Casse-Croûte Sissi & Paul, Indian street food at Le Super Qualité, or exquisite North African food at Darna Bistroquet.
14. Montréal’s architecture is top tier
The city of Montréal has been gifted with the recognition of being a UNESCO City of Design, meaning that it is a recognition given to cities that have exceptionally beautiful, functional, and innovative designs.
Montréal happens to be the only Canadian city with this honor, for its impeccable historic Old Town architecture and its rapidly growing design industry, visually appealing to all who visit the city.
From Art Deco to Gothic Revival dating back to the 17th century, to modern skyscrapers popping out, and modernizing the city, an architecture tour of Montréal should be on any and all architect fanatics’ radar.
Take to the cities, be guided by a local professional passionate about their city, excited to share more about the architectural history of Montréal, and the promising future of what the city will look like in the next few years.
Check out impressive architectural sites like La Biosphére, Notre Dame Basilica, the Olympic Stadium, Habitat 67, St. Joseph’s Oratory, and the Place d’Armes where there is an American-style building next to a French-style building, representing the various influences in the city at different times.
15. Montréal’s Open Container Law and cannabis use
The city does have laws in place that say that drinking publicly is not allowed, however, the exception to that rule is that people may drink if they’re having a picnic in a designated picnic area or in one of the many beautiful parks in Montréal.
It’s not something that is super strict in the city, you don’t really see a lot of people getting busted for finishing their drink after having a picnic for instance, but it is one of the helpful things to know before going to Montréal, as well as the use of cannabis.
Cannabis has been legalized in Canada since 2018, however as far as smoking it in public, indoors or outdoors, in Montréal, the law says that it is not allowed anymore.
The first few times that I was in Montréal, people were able to smoke a joint pretty much anywhere and it was seen as a normal thing as smoking a cigarette, however, since passing the Cannabis Regulation Act in 2019, that is not allowed anymore.
If you’re planning on buying marijuana, it has to be from Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC), which has locations throughout the Québec province.
Buying it anywhere else can result in a crime.
Edibles are a questionable thing, as legally, the only kind of edible you can get at SQDC is via tea. Other marijuana-infused products are available to purchase via the SQDC such as oils, sprays, and capsules.
16. The rest of Montréal you must see beyond the Old Town
When you first Google Montréal, you may get images of the picturesque French Old Town, which is obviously gorgeous and a place NOT to miss on your trip there. However, there is also SO much more to Montréal than its historic past.
Personally, in my time going to Montréal, my favorite activities involved getting out of the Old Town to explore the different boroughs like Mile-End, going thrifting, enjoying lunch at one of the many beautiful parks, and seeing the city from a local’s perspective.
Enjoy a cultural live music performance at La Sala Rossa, grab a bagel and appreciate the art of making them at St-Viateur Bagel, or simply walk the streets of one of the 19 boroughs that best catch your eye, and take the clean, and efficient metro.
Final thoughts on these 16 things to know before going to Montréal, Canada
There it is! Just a few things I want to share with you about what to know about Montréal before booking your trip!
I am pretty sure that you will enjoy all there is to do and see while you’re there, it’s truly such a unique place in North America to experience at least once.
Don’t forget to check out my list of 9 typical Montréal specialties before traveling to Montréal, so you’re not left wondering what to order or what you should try.
Leave me your name and email and I’ll send it right away.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, Montréal is such a cool place and it’s a place that values art to a new level.
It’s so different from places where art is only reserved for galleries and museums.
Montréal makes it so its art is showcased, available and accessible for all to create and enjoy.
It’s everywhere, and it really gives the city such a cool, community, connected, and creative vibe that again, you don’t get anywhere else.
Have you been to Montréal? What did you like about it? Is there something that you would add to this list?
Drop your comments down below and share with us what you think 🙂
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