With over 1.8 million residents, Montreal is Canada’s second-largest city and is located in the province of Quebec. With its intriguing mix of French language and culture, charming cafes, markets and restaurants, and historical old town, it’s truly a unique urban destination to experience in North America.
We don’t leave the west coast to explore other destinations in Canada often, but when we do, Montreal is a favorite. There are many moments where you might even feel as though you are in Europe (much like we did after taking a red-eye flight overnight from Vancouver). In this post, we share 6 tips to plan a trip to Montreal based on our weekend getaway.
1) Getting Around:
We flew into Montréal–Trudeau International Airport (IATA: YUL, ICAO: CYUL) domestically and decided not to rent a car. When we looked at taking an Uber/Lyft downtown, it was pretty expensive at about $75CAD due to surge pricing but every time we checked, it was more or less the same price and circumstance. The 747 YUL Montréal-Trudeau Airport/ Downtown shuttle bus to downtown costs $10 per person each way but you also have the option to purchase a 3 day pass for $20.50 per person. We decided to purchase the 3 day pass because it would more or less pay for a return journey on the bus and we could also use it to take the subway and other busses in the city. Overall, we were happy with our decision since the bus was easy to take and we did end up taking the subway a number of times. Traffic was also bad to and from the airport and since the bus can use carpool lanes, we feel that it actually ended up saving us travel time.
2) Stay Downtown:
If you are there for a short period of time, it is worth it to stay downtown for convenience and to maximize time. You will be steps away from attractions, entertainment, dining, bars, and public transit. We ended up staying at the newly opened Humaniti Hotel, Autograph Collection . Humaniti is a 15 minute walk to Vieux Montreal and some things on rue Sainte Catherine and a 45 minute walk to Marché Atwater. Overall, we enjoyed our stay at Humaniti Hotel due to the location, the comfort of the room, the amenities (gym, pool, rooftop bar, and restaurant), and the service. Caveat: The pool is much smaller than it appears in photos, is quite shallow though, and has a bit of a scene going on. Check out Booking.com for more options and hotels deals in downtown Montreal as you may want to skip Humaniti Hotel unless you have Marriott Bonvoy Elite Status.
3) Parlez-vous Français?:
Montreal is in Quebec, a primarily French-speaking province that prides itself on its French culture and autonomy. Understanding French comes in handy here as most people will address you in French but many people speak English too and if they see you struggling in French, they will speak to you in English. You can easily get by as a non-French speaker but some places have menus entirely in French and so you will need to ask questions. Overall, we found people helpful when there were French words we didn’t understand on menus.
4) Experiencing the City:
There are many things to do in Montreal and everyone has their favorites. We are lucky to have visited before, so we focused mostly on things we hadn’t done together yet. Our itinerary/eatinerary consisted of the following:
a. Marché Atwater: Marché Atwater has been in operation since 1933 and will make you wish you lived in Montreal to buy all the gourmet cheeses, olives, meats and other gastronomical delights housed inside. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the market and some Singaporean influenced snacks from Satay Brothers.
b. Time Out Market Montreal: If you don’t have time to check out lots of the restaurants in Montreal, Time Out Market’s 16 eateries and 3 bars can give you a chance to experience the food by some of Montreal’s renowned chefs. We should probably branch out but we love Paul Toussaint’s ceviche de poisson due to how unique it is (might be one of the better ceviches we’ve tried in Canada).
c. Duluth Street: Duluth Street is a pedestrian street located at the end of the Plateau Mont Royal neighbourhood. In the summer, the street is bustling with people outside enjoying the company of hours and meals at one of the many patio restaurants. There also plenty of wine shops nearby to grab a bottle of wine to take to the restaurant to enjoy with your meal; some restaurants in Montreal are BYOW (bring your own wine). One cited reason why BYOW is allowed is due to the cost of acquiring a liquor license, which makes sense since we found beers pretty expensive in Montreal compared to other cities. If you have your heart set on eating at a specific restaurant, consider making a reservation if possible. Many places had long lineups!
d. Poutine and Craft Beer: Like other cities, Montreal has a great craft beer scene! You can’t really come to Montreal and not eat a poutine and so we recommend going to Messorem where you can get awesome craft beers (…and beer slushies during the summer!), as well as made-to-order poutine from their kitchen. We also liked every beer we had at Brasseurs Avant Garde and thought it was worth the trip out this way (thank you to our patient waiter who helped us translate the menu and kept refilling our water during the heat!).
e. Picnic in the Park: Montreal has lots of parks and some places are pretty tiny and so it makes sense to get takeout to enjoy at a park or one of the many outdoor public seating areas in the city. It is worth waiting in line for the creative ice cream flavours at Kem Coba and try to save room for gnocchi from Drogheria Fine next door (it’s worth the carb coma and this combination screams Anthony Bourdain meets Stanley Tucci in a travel show!). We also have a soft spot for Ma Poule Mouille, our favorite Portuguese chicken restaurant of the ones we have tried. Ma Poule Mouille serves awesome chicken, chorizo, and fries bathed in a piri piri hot sauce you will want to drink (Phil Rosenthal from “Somebody Feed Phil” stopped here too!). We really can’t get this in Vancouver and so we indulge when in Montreal!
5) How Long to Stay:
Our visit was pretty short; we flew in on the red-eye, spent one night, and flew back the following day. We feel that we had enough time to experience what the city has to offer in about 30 hours but think that having 2 nights and close to 3 days to visit would have been optimal. Montreal is a good long weekend destination for sure.
6) When to visit:
Unless you enjoy cold weather and snow, it is best to visit Montreal between May – October. Summer can get pretty hot and muggy and so spring and fall are much more conformable. Montreal is a very fun place in the summer due to all the street festivals and activities though. It is also a good time to visit in the fall when the leaves change colors; it’s beautiful to see!
We tried to cover a lot of ground during our short visit, but barely scratched the surface of what Montreal has to offer; we did not get to have bagels or smoked meat, wander Old Montreal or spend time at le Plateau Mont-Royal during this visit (thankfully we have done all of that before on past trips!). With many more beautiful streets to explore, foods to try, and conversations to have in Fren-glish, we feel that we still left with unfinished business and need to visit again, as soon as possible!
Have you been to Montreal? If yes, what are some of your favorite things to do?