Montreal

Destination Location

Montreal

Overview

Montreal is commonly referred to as the Paris of North America. It's definitely a fitting description—but not just because of the French-speaking residents. Like its counterpart in France, Montreal is full of culinary, historical, cultural, aesthetic, romantic and trend-setting attractions.

Montreal is a vacationer's delight, loaded with sensational diversions for even the most discerning tastes. The remarkable Cirque du Soleil is based here, offering performances by troupes of fearless performers, high-flying acrobats and stunning dancers.

Montreal's Jazz Fest, which hits the streets and concert halls each summer, attracts music lovers from across the country and beyond. This annual event features jazz performances and concerts in other genres, by a whopping 3,000 artists from at least 30 countries.

For two weeks in July, many of the world's funniest people head to Montreal for the Just for Laughs Festival, treating audiences to top notch stand-up comedy. With monologues, one-liners and hilarious stories from real life, these comedians will keep you laughing at venues across the city.

Avid museum explorers will love the Montreal Museums Pass. Get access to 38 of Montreal's best museums, including Canada's premier contemporary art museum, Musée d'art contemporain and the celebrated Montreal Biodôme. The pass is good for three days and gives you unlimited access to Montreal's bus and Métro (subway) public transit systems.

Montreal is also home to the National Hockey League's legendary Montréal Canadiens and the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes. Make new friends quickly by picking up a jersey and joining the cheering crowds.

North of the city, you can take part in some sporting of your own. The Laurentian Mountain Region is a vast and beautiful area, perfect for hiking, canoeing, cycling, golfing, skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. Experience winter or summer at its best at Mont-Tremblant, Mont Saint-Sauveur, Morin-Heights and many more.

Back in Montreal, you can feast on incredible 5-star fare at some of Canada's top restaurants. Or, sample unique local delicacies like the crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside Montreal-style bagel or steaming plate of French fries with rich gravy and cheese curds known as poutine.

Top off your evening with a trip to Montreal’s vibrant downtown nightlife scene, complete with clubs, pubs, concerts and parties embracing chic or shabby, lively or laid-back styles.

Montreal is a fantastic destination for:

  • culture and history
  • shopping and dining
  • romance

Airport served by: Montreal, QC (YUL)

Destination basics

Montreal summers boast humid average highs of 26 C, while winters are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Snow, wind and ice are commonplace here, with average winter highs around -5 C. Spring and fall are often mild, but atypically warm falls and cold springs are also common. Dress appropriately for the season and you can't go wrong.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Montreal

Bienvenue à Montréal! Now that's hospitality with a distinctly French flavor - and what could be more appropriate for the second largest French-speaking metropolis in the world? But French is only one of 35 or so languages you will hear on the streets of this international island city of 1.6 million inhabitants (more than 3.6 million if you include the suburban neighborhoods).

Demographics show that Montreal residents come from 80 countries, forming an urban mosaic of vibrant ethnic communities and neighborhoods safe to walk in day or night. Visitors will detect a distinct British influence in parts of the city, inherent in the culture since the days when English merchants controlled the city's trade. All in all, it's easy to see why "cosmopolitan" is the adjective most used in describing Montreal.

Characteristically, there'is the famous joie de vivre - the ineffable combination of spirit and ambiance Montrealers exude without even trying. You will see it in the summertime cappuccino-sippers cramming sidewalk cafés; in the long lines outside Schwartz's, home to the city's best smoked meat; and in the lovers holding hands on Mount Royal, the city's parkland mountain rising 264 meters (866 feet). The same spirit can even be felt on an outdoor skating rink in the dead of winter, in the tuxedoed crowd listening raptly to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (Orchestre symphonique de Montréal), or when hockey fanatics at the Bell Centre scream and pump their fists in unison with every Montreal Canadiens goal.

What makes Montreal one of the world's truly great cities? It starts with its location. The island sits at the confluence of three rivers: the mighty St. Lawrence, the Rivière des Prairies and the Ottawa. Montrealers describe their streets as going north-south and east-west, but the island itself is askew, tilted to the northeast.

The Main (La Main)
Splitting the city in half, both physically and psychologically, is Saint Laurent Boulevard - The Main, as it is affectionately known. It is here where waves of immigrants first settled upon their arrival in the New World. Reminders of the past still abound in family-run Polish delis tucked beside upscale restaurants and in dollar stores located next door to swank billiard emporiums. This is ground zero for the city's addresses (streets number east and west from St-Laurent) and, historically, this was the demarcation line between English and French Montreal, with the French predominating to the east and the English to the west.

These days, the dividing line is no longer completely rigid, but there are still distinct English and French areas. You will find the English restaurant and bar scene concentrated on Bishop Street and Crescent Street; the French on St-Denis Street and areas east in the Latin Quarter (Quartier Latin) and Gay Village. The traditional French residential areas are tightly packed districts that stretch all the way to the Olympic Park (Parc Olympique) and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve; English becomes more noticeable as you move west, culminating in the affluent suburb of Westmount.

Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal)
At the southern end of St-Laurent Boulevard, past, lies the historic district of Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal), a major tourist attraction with its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn calèche rides and Old Port (Vieux-Port) activities. This is where, in 1642, the city's first European settlers staked their claim to a land they thought was theirs by divine right. You can still see the remnants of their original fortifications, and you can check out artifacts from the period at the Montreal History Centre (Centre d'histoire de Montréal) as well as the Pointe-à-Callière Museum of archaeology and history. Also found here are the oldest buildings in Montreal, with some, such as the Sainte-Sulpice Seminary (Vieux Séminaire Saint-Sulpice), dating back to the late 17th Century.

Montreal Islands
Across the St-Lawrence River, the Expo 67 islands of Ste-Hélène and Notre-Dame still glitter from when Montreal hosted the World's Fair in 1967. Today the site is home to La Ronde amusement park, the Gilles Villeneuve Racetrack (Circuit Gilles Villeneuve) and Montreal's world-class Casino.

Plateau Mont-Royal
On the other end of The Main is the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood, unusual in that it encompasses both ethnic shops and restaurants on Parc Avenue as well as the hip Francophone crowd along St-Denis Street. This is Canada's most densely populated area, and its smaller streets, with their winding staircases and small BYOW (bring your own wine) restaurants, remain a picture of true Montreal life.

Little Italy (Petite Italie)
Just a little further north and you will hear Italian spoken on Montreal's streets over in the city's own Little Italy, the original home of the first Italian immigrants and now one of the liveliest areas in the city with its espresso bars, boutiques and authentic Italian cuisine.

Underground City (RÉSO)
No visit to Montreal is complete without a visit to the Underground City - Montreal-above-ground has been described as the tip of the urban iceberg. Beneath it lies the world's most extensive system of interconnected pedestrian and Metro (subway) networks, linking buildings, boutiques, restaurants and even residential apartments. You could spend an entire winter in this subterranean city without ever once having to face the cold or snow.

The Metro system itself has lines running east-west and north-south (albeit, askew) to just about every part of the city. While you are down there, check out the 68 architecturally unique stations, each created by a different designer.

Entertainment means just as many things in Montreal as it does elsewhere, but the city is perhaps most famous for its justifiably legendary nightlife. Bars stay open until 3a here, which is later than anywhere else in Canada, and even then, few customers leave willingly. As with dining and accommodations, however, the visitor will benefit greatly from exploring the less heavily touristed areas of the city.

Bars & Clubs
On Friday and Saturday nights, locals either make a beeline towards rue Crescent and rue Bishop or they avoid them like the plague. Traditionally known as the center of Montreal's Anglophone nightlife, they are now known mostly for their numerous dance clubs/meat markets (Winnie's being one of the most famous). Those in search of a more sedate pint in the area can find one at the Irish pub Hurley's, the charming Brutopia brew-up, and at numerous other places that are popular among an older, English-speaking crowd.

The Boulevard Saint-Laurent is the city's most famous street, as it is the traditional dividing line between the city's English and French-speaking areas. Nowadays, booze serves as a very effective lingua franca, especially on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, when things don't cool down until dawn. The strip between rue Prince-Arthur and Mont-Royal Avenue features dozens of pubs, clubs, bars and assorted other dives that defy generalization.

In the latter category are the Bifteck and Copacabana two friendly, endearing, impossibly smoky taverns attracting a mixture of students and 20-somethings. Cut a rug at the Belmont sur le Boulevard, lounge among the hipsters at Tokyo, or just enjoy the quiet serenity of Else's, an arty but unpretentious pub full of Plateau-dwellers. It's all within a 20-minute walk around the Boulevard Saint-Laurent.

You can complete a similar if somewhat less bohemian pub crawl on St-Denis Street, St-Laurent's more French, polished cousin, located one major street to the east. The action on St-Denis is clustred around Ontario Street in the Latin Quarter (Quartier Latin), where mind-boggling bars such as the Saint-Sulpice compete with the quieter allure of pubs such as l'Ile Noire, Cheval Blanc, Pub Quartier Latin and the Sainte-Élisabeth. The funky, eclectic bars and cafés situated farther north between Rue Rachel and Avenue Mont-Royal attract a suitably diverse crowd: check out Barouf, Quai des Brumes and Bily Kun. This street is home to dozens of patios (or terraces, in local parlance) that are perfect for watching the world go by.

For those unwilling or unable to go softly into the night, after-hours clubs such as Stereo Nightclub will let you stay until at least 10a on Saturday or Sunday morning, but not before extracting at least CAD20 from your wallet.

Museums & Galleries
Place des Arts, meanwhile, is home to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal), Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and l'Opéra de Montréal.

The Canadian Centre for Architecture (Centre Canadien d'Architecture) presents exhibitions and multimedia displays that range from the straightforward to the thoroughly bizarre, and as a result has gained a worldwide reputation.

Of course, Montreal is more than a university town on a bender. Museums, galleries, theater, cinema and unclassifiable fringe elements enjoy great public interest from a citizenry for whom the arts represent an integral component of having a good time. An impressive if not overwhelming collection of the European masters awaits visitors at the Musem of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts), whose magnificent premises also host first-class touring exhibitions. The Museum of Modern Art (Musée d'Art Contemporain), itself an amazing building, offers a fascinating glimpse into Quebec's thriving community of modern artists. The Canadian Centre for Architecture (Centre Canadien d'Architecture) presents exhibitions and multimedia displays that range from the straightforward to the thoroughly bizarre, and as a result, has gained a worldwide reputation. There are also dozens of smaller galleries, museums and exhibition spaces that dot the cityscape and remain relatively undiscovered by tourists.

Cinema
Montreal is at the center of the province's vibrant cinema community, as evidenced by its fine repertory houses and state-of-the-art first-run theaters. The Paramount Multiplex offers stadium seating, state-of-the-art sound and IMAX screens. The Ex-Centris Theatre showcases digital technology along with an impressive program of Canadian and international films. It also hosts the Festival International Nouveau Cinéma every autumn.

That's just one of the festivals Montreal has to offer. Other film fests include the World Film Festival, International Festival of Films on Art and FANT-ASIA. The Just For Laughs Festival is a joyous yearly tradition, while locals flock downtown to Place des Arts for the outdoor shows associated with the Montreal International Jazz Festival and the Francofolies.

Theater
Theater buffs will find both English and French productions. Well-known companies include the Centaur, whose program features in-house Canadian and international dramas; the predominantly French Infinithéâtre; and the National Theatre School (École nationale de Théâtre du Canada), which hosts occasional presentations. Many smaller companies exist in the city, and though some are ethnically oriented, most enjoy a pleasantly diverse audience.

Concerts/Performances
The Place des Arts is home to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal), Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and l'Opéra de Montréal.

Information on nearly every cultural event in the city, as well as local news and reviews, can be found in the two free arts weeklies, Hour and Mirror, which are available in coffee shops, convenience stores and various other locations.

Montreal is the second biggest French-speaking city in the world, but you wouldn't necessarily know it based on its restaurants. Its incredible assortment of ethnic cuisines gives an accurate reflection of the myriad of cultures that contribute to the city's vibrancy, although unlike some other large North American centers, eateries here tend not to cluster according to cuisine type.

Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal)
Old Montreal is home to one of the city's most popular French restaurants,Toqué!. Normand Laprise's fusion masterpiece has garnered international attention while draining the coffers of the gastronomic elite. Eggspectation, a popular brunch spot, is a modern operation that boasts massive portions and glitzy decor. Unfortunately, this establishments sports ponderous lines on Sunday starting at around 10a. On the bright side, this good-natured eatery serves as a great place to soak up local atmosphere and gossip.

Plateau Mont-Royal
The Plateau Mont-Royal is an area of older residential buildings and is home to thousands of students, artists and young professionals. The Boulevard Saint-Laurent's trendy clubs and pubs mingle with dozens of restaurants that run the gamut from upscale, decor-first hotspots (Buona Notte) to innovative sandwich shops, and from the cheap Italian fare to the steaks and buckets of coleslaw at Moishe's. If you are unsure where to go, following the crowds on Saint-Laurent is a safe bet.

A 10-minute walk east from Saint-Laurent will bring you to charming and bustling rue Saint-Denis, which is not to be missed especially during the summer. This is perhaps Montreal's most Parisian thoroughfare, offering restaurants, bars and cafés, most with cozy patios shoe-horned in wherever they can possibly fit. You could easily spend hours watching the world go by over a café au lait, a beer or a meal.

Despite a number of ethnic restaurants, Plateau Mont-Royal is home to several traditional French eateries where one can find traditional, buttery fare and old-guard opulence, and L'Express, which lays claim to the best steak-and-frites. These restaurants can be found in the restaurant-rich strip between rue Sherbrooke and Mont-Royal Avenue, along with scores of smaller establishments of every conceivable ethnicity.

Brunches or late breakfasts are extremely popular ways to start the day, though whether this is a wholesome tradition or the result of a weekend's heroic consumption of cocktails is up for debate. Mont-Royal Avenue is home to Beauty's, the oldest and best-known brunch spot. If you'd rather grab a quick breakfast bite on your way to work, then try these two bakeries in the Mile-End part of Plateau Mont-Royal: the Fairmount or the Saint-Viateur. These two bakeries are known for their bagels. The Montreal bagel, a skinnier and less polished version of the New York variety, is an economical staple.

For a reasonable priced lunch, try Schwartz's Delicatessen. The city's large Jewish community has also contributed heavily to the local cuisine. While comparing Montreal Smoked Meat to pastrami is sure to raise the hackles of any traditionalist, no visitor should neglect to visit these cramped, dingy quarters.

The narrow, residential streets of the Plateau also conceal some gems, most notably a tight-knit community of French bistros where patrons are invited to bring their own wine. Exemplified by Le P'tit Plateau, Bistro l'Entrepont and Au Petit Resto, these intimate, romantic spots serve some of the best food in the city at table d'hôte prices rarely exceeding CAD20. They are great places at which to appreciate local life and practice your French. Prince Arthur Street, located between Boulevard Saint-Laurent and Avenue Laval, also offers many BYOW (bring your own wine) options; however, with a few exceptions (notably the stick-to-your-ribs Polish fare at Mazurka), the food at these heavily tourist-oriented establishments is fairly middle-of-the-road.

Downtown
Downtown, many bars and restaurants are found on rue Crescent and rue Bishop. In the past, this was where the Anglophones came to eat, drink and be merry. This area overflows with tourists in summer, so it is best to know where you are going before you go; mediocre food is an unfortunate but avoidable fact of life here, as are high prices. Other downtown hotspots include the Old Dublin, which whips up great pub grub and fiddles each night away with live music.

And no trip Downtown is complete without a visit to the chic Golden Square Mile section where you will find the fancy Ritz Carlton hotel which houses the popular restaurant, Maison Boulud.

Though hardly comparable to the Spanish or Italian, Montrealers do eat late, especially on weekends. Most restaurants will be open to diners by 6:30p, but it's best to make reservations for 8p or later if you want company. Downtown hotels tend to direct their guests toward downtown restaurants and nightlife, not out of any animosity or collusion but simply because many tourists are reluctant to venture farther afield. The key to enjoying the hundreds of restaurants and bars that the city has to offer is to be adventurous; you are unlikely to be disappointed.

Montreal

Province: Quebec

Country: Canada

Montreal By The Numbers
Population: 1,704,700 (city); 4,098,900 (metropolitan)
Elevation: 36 meter / 118 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 99 centimeters / 39 inches
Average Annual Snowfall: 209 centimeters / 82 inches
Average January Temperature: -9°C / 16°F 
Average July Temperature: 21°C / 70°F

Quick Facts 

Electricity: 120 volts 60Hz, AC 

Time Zone: GMT -5; Eastern Standard Time (EST)

Country Dialing Code: 1

Area Code: 514 & 438

Did You Know?

Montreal is sister-city to Hiroshima, Japan.

Montreal is considered one of the cleanest cities in the world.

Orientation

Montreal is located in Quebec, Canada. Montreal lies  about 255 kilometers (158 miles) southwest of Quebec City.

Although Montreal's history goes back long before Jacques Cartier "discovered" the island in 1535, the intrepid explorer can certainly lay claim to being the first European to see it from the top of Mount Royal, the city's centrally located mountain park.

Amerindians referred to these grounds as Hochelaga, and used the island as a meeting place where tribes could discuss trade and other important matters. The official founding date for Ville-Marie (later to become Montréal in honor of the King of France) is May 18, 1642, at which time Jeanne Mance and Paul de Chomedey Sieur de Maisonneuve came ashore with about 40 colonists and proceeded to drive out the Iroquois.

The buzzing colony, known as Nouvelle-France, became a major jumping-off point for fur traders, explorers and settlers who wanted to venture further inland towards the Great Lakes and down into the Mississippi Valley. In 1760, Montreal had a mostly French population of about 4000. The architecture of this period can be seen in buildings such as the Sulpician Seminary (Vieux Séminaire Saint-Sulpice) and Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Chapel.

The second event that would eventually shape modern Montreal happened in 1763 when, following the British victory in the Seven Years War (1756-1763), France was forced to relinquish its North American territories.

Under British rule, Montreal became an important port (the largest inland port in the world, in fact) as well as Canada's largest city and commercial hub. It was home to Canada's first banks, mercantile houses and fur-trading companies, all of which centered around the rue Saint-Jacques (St James Street to the English speakers) in what is now Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal). You can get a good look at buildings still standing from this era, including the Bank of Montreal.

Between 1800 and 1850, the city experienced a population explosion, increasing from around 9000 up to 57,000. For five years, between 1844 and 1849, the city even served as Canada's capital, until a rampaging crowd burned down the buildings that housed the legislature. The mid-19th Century saw the city expand into manufacturing and heavy industry, and Montreal became Canada's railway hub. A flood of job opportunities drew both immigrants from overseas and rural Quebecois, and the population continued to soar, reaching half a million by 1911.

By that time, the city's Golden Square Mile area - Atwater to the west, Parc to the east, Mount Royal to the north and René Lévesque to the south—contained some 70 percent of all Canada's wealth. Huge properties such as the 60-room Ravenscrag Mansion on Avenue des Pins West were commonplace.

It was also around this time that non-British immigration brought in the third wave of Montreal's development. European Jews, Italians and Greeks joined Irish and Scottish immigrants to make the city a much more cosmopolitan place.

Shortly after World War II, Montreal began a slow, steady decline in influence and power as the Canadian economy looked southward to the United States and away from a weakening Great Britain. Corporate headquarters migrated to Toronto, which began to receive the bulk of new investment.

The shift was accelerated by two factors: the building of the St-Lawrence Seaway, which allowed ships direct access to the Great Lakes, and the revival of Quebec nationalism, which started with the so-called Quiet Revolution in the 1960s and culminated in the election of a separatist government in the late 1970s. This led to a further exodus "down the 401," referring to the highway between Montreal and Toronto.

Despite these woes, however, Montreal managed to hold its head high through the 1960s and 1970s thanks to its tenacious mayor, Jean Drapeau. A man with grandiose visions, Drapeau orchestrated the building of the city's subway system (the Metro) in 1966, snagged the prestigious Expo 67 international exhibition, and then sold the city as the site for the even more illustrious 1976 Summer Olympics.

While Montreal may have relinquished the honor of being Canada's largest and most economically influential metropolis, it still relishes its role as the nation's most spirited and international city, in addition to being the French gastronomic center of North America and a place where historical strands join to create a potent mix of pride, art and culture.

Montreal has a rich history, gorgeous architecture and – of course – two languages. When you visit, you'll immediately see the city's unique cultural mix, at once classic and contemporary, bold and subdued.

The cuisine here is a mix of the best of France and the best of Canada. Downtown, you'll find elegant French bistros across the street from poutine stands. You'll also find some of the most delicious desserts and sweets in the country, along with honey-coloured maple syrup.

But Montreal's culture runs even deeper. The history here is visible around every corner. The old buildings still standing (and in use) downtown remain like a moment out of a turn-of-the-century postcard. Old warehouses here are repurposed as luxurious condo buildings. And museums, art shows and festivals regularly keep the streets alive with activity all hours of the day and night.

Just outside of the city, you'll find plenty of beautiful mountains to explore and ski chalets where you can rest your feet. Mont Tremblant offers a picturesque view, reminiscent of the famous French Alps. Not to mention, the incredible powder snow is perfect for skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in the winter. In the summer, visitors can hike, kayak and relax in the sun.

Regardless of what you do during your stay in Montreal, you're sure to leave smiling – perhaps thinking to yourself, "Montreal, je t'aime."

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