Why Vacation in Montreal, Quebec, Canada?
Montreal is the perfect destination no matter what the season. Where else can you play beach volley ball in winter? Where can you find the world’s most successful music festival? And where can a trip through the subway be like a trip to an art gallery? In Montreal, of course.
Montreal is the 2nd largest city contained in the 2nd largest country in the world. It is also one of the oldest cities in Canada, founded in 1642. With a metro population of 3.6 million people, Montreal plays host to a wide range of cultures and ethnicities. But it is the French that played the largest part in this city’s long history. Even today, Montreal is the 2nd largest French-speaking city in the world. So, “Bonjour!” (Good Day) and “Merci!” (Thank You) are two words that will help you get around this marvelous city.
The city was originally known as “Ville-Marie,” (meaning “City of Mary.”) This was the French’s first permanent settlement on the island of Montreal. The name was later changed in accordance with a hilly structure within the city called, “Mount Royal.” In 1760, Montreal was surrendered to British rule. But it wasn’t until 1832 that Montreal was incorporated as a city.
Montreal sits ensconced between the huge St. Lawrence River to its south and the Rivière des Prairies to the north. As a result, summers can be quite humid and sticky.
Montreal’s climate can be bitterly cold in winter due to wind chill factors and uncomfortably hot in summer, due to the high humidity. But for the most part, the temperatures are normal reaching an average high of 80 F degrees in July, the hottest month, and an average low of 5 F degrees in January, the coldest month.
Montreal history is richly steeped in the Roman Catholic religion; many old cathedrals featured throughout the city attest to that fact.
Montreal also bears the enviable title of 10th “Cleanest City in the World.”
Must Sees in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
The Metro (subway) system. Yes, the Metro. Leave it to the Montreal citizens and a visionary mayor to come up with a way to enjoy everyday travel through the subway. Many of the Metro stations bear their own distinctive design and artwork. When passing through the Place-des-Arts station, watch for one of the earliest art works donated to the Metro; it’s Frederic Back’s 1967 painted glass mural. Works by Jean-Paul Mousseau are featured in the Peel Station.
Parc Jean-Drapeau – This downtown park has been referred to as the “jewel” of Montreal. The park plays host to many events over the year, in particular, Montreal’s huge winter festival, the Fête des Neiges.
The park, situated on the St. Lawrence River, was once known as Parc des Îles. It was later given the name of a hardworking Montreal mayor, Jean Drapeau, who had held his position for nearly 30 years, before he died in 1999. Drapeau was the driving force behind bringing the 1967 World’s Fair to the city.
The park is open daily but is closed between midnight and 6 AM. In the summertime, water sports abound here: rowing, water skiing, sailing and swimming. Other activities include beach volleyball, cycling, in-line skating, picnicking, walking, and beach lounging. Those who love strolling through flowers will delight in the park’s 25 hectare gardens.
Festival International de Jazz de Montréal – If you are planning a trip to Montreal, and you are deeply into Jazz, plan your trip for the end of June. That’s when the annual the Montreal Jazz Festival is usually scheduled. The huge music extravaganza is rated as the largest festival in the world, and it took only a few decades to achieve the title. The festival offers hundreds of concerts, many of those FREE of charge
Underground City – Downtown Montreal is actually sitting atop a 20-mile maze of corridors, tunnels and connections between buildings.
This underground, with its shops and eateries, has become quite popular with visitors and locals. Convenient connections have been made to malls, hotels, banks, museums, universities, churches, and transit stations.
Old Montreal – No visit to Montreal can ever be complete without a visit to the section southeast of downtown. Beautiful old buildings with stunning stately architecture will be found here. Cobble stone streets, horse and carriage rides (caleches), and just a general feeling of history makes Old Montreal a very special not-to-be-missed destination. It can also be reached through the Underground City.
Museums & Theatres Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Montreal has a wealth of museums catering to every interest from French Canadian history to architecture, cinema, comedy, the fur trade, the Holocaust, and more.
The best way for a museum die-hard to see all Montreal has to offer is with a museum pass. The $45 pass (includes a public transit card) provides FREE access to 30 museums, over 3 consecutive days.
Churches and cathedrals – One of Montreal’s biggest attractions are those places linked to its Roman Catholic heritage: its churches. Due to the city’s heavy concentration of churches, it garnered the nickname, “City of a Hundred Bell Towers.” Many churches have opened their doors to the public and they don’t charge admission. St. Joseph’s Oratory, the largest church in Canada, offers free guided tours on weekday afternoons.
Other churches of interest to tourists include: Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral; Notre-Dame Basilica; St. Patrick’s Basilica; Notre-Dame-du-Bon-Secours, also known as the Sailor’s Church; the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral.
Place-des-Arts- You’ll find the acclaimed Montreal symphony orchestra in this venue. The Montreal Opera and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, are also featured here. The world-renowned Cirque du Soleil was nurtured here, too.
Outdoor Recreation in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
If it’s winter time, you simply must grab a pair of skates and head off to Beaver Lake in Parc Mont-Royal. Admission is FREE.
If it’s any time of year, make Parc Jean-Drapeau your destination. Water sports, hiking, roller-blading, swimming or just sunning on a beach – it’s all here in Montreal’s major city park.
Major sports in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Sporting events include everything from hockey to rugby. Montreal is home to the:
Festivals, Fairs, and Concerts Montreal, Quebec, Canada
- La Fete des Neiges de Montreal (January – February)
This is Montreal’s perfect winter escape or maybe just a way to celebrate a long Canadian winter. This 25-year old annual event embraces the snow and cold with several days of fun events for children and adults.
Activities include snow soccer, “winter” beach volley ball, snow tubing, ice skating, dancing, live music acts, ice sculpture demonstrations, kicksled races, street hockey, Alpine skiing, treasure hunts, snow sculptures, winter hiking, an Armed Forces survival camp experience, dogsled runs, story-telling, and more.
Montreal’s first winter festival began in the early 1980s, and has always been geared towards families and kids. The polar bear was adopted as the festival’s mascot: Boule de Neige. Kids are invited to write to this big furry friend.
The event runs for a full week beginning in the end of January. The downtown city park, Parc Jean-Drapeau, is the main location for the activities.
- Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (end of June to beginning of July)
- Festival Juste pour rire (mid July) – Just For Laughs Festival.
This televised event features comedians from all over the world. Some of history’s top comedians, like Howie Mandel, have appeared at this festival.
- L’International des Feux Loto-Québec (3rd week in July)
Montreal Fireworks Festival – This pyrotechnics competition attracts tens of thousands of viewers to the free fireworks show. It has been held since 1985; every summer pyrotechnical companies compete for Gold, Bronze, or Silver trophies. Competitions begin in late June and conclude by late July.
- Les FrancoFolies de Montreal (end July – beginning of August)
This Montreal musical festival, featuring French musicians, began in 1989 and has since grown into one of the city’s most popular summer events. The entire event is held in a downtown 4-block radius (Ste-Catherine, President-Kennedy, Bleury and St-Urbain streets.) Plan to use the Metro (subway) if you are not staying downtown.Within 15 years, audience numbers had risen from 5-thousand to over 800-thousand. Festival performances now number in the 100s. Accommodation packages are a good way to attend this event.
- Montreal Dragon Boat Festival (end of July)
This annual event is staged at the Olympic Basin of Parc Jean-Drapeau in downtown Montreal.
Dining in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
When visiting Montreal, one must have at least one serving of “Poutine.” This rich and delicious French fry, cheese and gravy combination is a favorite treat of locals and visitors alike.
And then there is the famous Montreal smoked meat sandwiches. Visit one of the city’s delis or bistros, like Schwartz’s Deli, and treat yourself to smoked corned beef piled high on tangy rye bread, a little Dijon mustard, and you’ve got a sandwich fit for royalty.
- Beaver Club (wine cellar)
- Chez L’Epicier (Quebecois style)
- Cube (Sunday brunch option)
- Gibby’s (steakhouse)
- Globe (people watching)
- Moishes (steakhouse)
- Nuances (Five Diamond)
- Queue de Cheval (Old World style steakhouse)
- Toque (Casual & contemporary French foods)
- Tour De Ville (International buffet revolving restaurant)
Nightlife in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
“Sin City”: this is a name that Montreal once bore. But many believe the name still applies. Bars and nightclubs are numerous, and with a very late “last call” a night of partying can go far into the wee hours of the morning.
Areas of the city known for their extreme “nightlife” include Crescent Street, Sainte-Catherine Street West, and Saint Lawrence Boulevard (”The Main”).
Getting to Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Airports – Montreal has one major passenger airport (YUL), the Montréal-Trudeau International Airport (locals still refer to it as Dorval). This airport is a major international hub and services nearly 40 airlines including some of the smaller airlines like Air Inuit and Air Creebec. And as with all major city airports, you must expect to take a bus, shuttle or taxi to your city destination.
(Note: Don’t be unnerved when you click on the Montreal airport link as it will appear in French; just click the English button on the right side of your screen.)
Airlines – Check below for the most convenient airline.
- America West
- British Airways
- Continental Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- KLM Royal Dutch
- Northwest Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
- US Airways
- WestJet Airlines
Arriving by Car to Montreal, Quebec, CanadaBe prepared for heavy traffic just like in New York City. There are several major roadways known as “autoroutes” but all are heavily congested during morning and evening rush hours.
Taking the train in Canada is a real treat. VIA Rail, which is situated in Montreal, has regular runs to many points in Canada. The rail company also offers several discounts, including attractive savings for students, seniors, and children.
The United States Amtrak line also runs into the city with daily service between Montreal and New York City.
Montreal’s train station is the Gare Centrale.
Getting Around Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Metro (subway) – The Montreal Metro is the best choice for getting around this huge cosmopolitan city. The line is quick and easy to use and serves up to 68 stations. The Green, Orange, Yellow and Blue lines all run 7-days a week, beginning at 5:30 AM.
Maps (both paper and posted on walls) have well laid out routes that are easily followed.
Be sure to buy a “tourist card” to save money on trips. A single fare is $2.75, while a 3-day pass is only $17.00 CDN. Even a day pass at $9.00 is a wise financial buy.
Bus – The Montreal transit system and the metro are all part of the same network. Any passes or tickets purchased for the Metro are accepted on the city busses.
Outlying areas, not serviced by regular bus or Metro service, are serviced by a Taxibus.
Taxi in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Taxi cabs are in abundance in this huge city. There are no less than 20 Montreal taxi companies to choose from. Tipping is usually 15% of the fare.
Shopping Tips & Links
SECRET shopping area in Montreal.
Montreal Jazz Festival Tickets
Montreal FrancoFolies Tips
Fête des Neiges Special Events