Montréal has so much to offer, and even before booking your trip there, you may want to investigate and learn these 7 things you should know before traveling to Montréal. 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.
Montréal is such a cool city. That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this beautiful northeastern Canadian city. It’s truly a place with so much aesthetic, no matter where you go. There is old European classic beauty, artsy and colorful, artsy beauty, natural beauty, and so much more. There is something for everyone, and in this post, I’ll cover with you 7 things that I think you should know before traveling to Montréal.
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 are 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.
The language and culture
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 with 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, as one of the ways they want to preserve their French heritage is by implementing strict language laws that include having everything written in French, making French language learning a requirement for school children in this province, and like I mentioned before, 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 that I think would be interesting for you to know before traveling 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!
Being that Montréal is one of the first cities established in North America, Montréal who’s 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 the European flair that a lot of people love with its 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 that simply by walking about outside, you’ll find something fun to do/ be entertained with. Amongst my favorite activities that I did while in Montréal were a walking tour and a bike tour, as it 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.
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 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 if you’d like to do a food tour while visiting this magical city.
What to do
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 that takes place from June to July, Igloofest which takes place within 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 these projection shows 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.
How to get there/ 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!
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, 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. According to other sites, it is “used by 500,000 people daily, it stretches along thirty-two kilometers, across sixty-three connected buildings, and holds 190 different points of entry.”
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.
Final thoughts on these 7 things you should know before traveling to Montréal
I hope this post has inspired a trip to Montréal for you if you have not been there! 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 specialities 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 🙂
To more travel moments like this ✨