10 Tips for Your First Trip to Montreal
With its classic French charm and youthful, artistic energy, Montreal makes a fantastic vacation destination. Whether you’re into architecture, music, food, or art Montreal will overwhelm you with amazing options. If you want modern, upscale spaces, or historic cozy corners, or hip, trendy streets, you can find it all in Montreal.
But there are a few quirks you should know about the city and a few ways to save a few dollars on your visit. I’ve compiled this list of tips for your first trip to Montreal to help you get the most out of your time here.
Use transit to get around and save money
Montreal is a very walkable city but for those times when you want to travel a little further, their transit system (STM) is clean, safe, and reliable. If you’re going to be in the city for a few days, save some money and pick up a multi-day unlimited pass. Instead of paying $3.50/ride you can get an unlimited day pass for $10, 3 days for $20.50, or a weekend (4pm Fri-5am Mon) for $14.50. Perfect if you plan to take more than 2 rides/day during your time in Montreal.
You can’t turn right on a red light
If you’re going to be driving in Montreal, there’s one important rule of the road to know: you can’t turn right on a red light. Contrary to most of Canada, you could be in for a big ticket if you fail to remember this one. The reason for the rule was to protect pedestrians at crosswalks from inattentive drivers.
The city is bilingual
The official language of Montreal is French, making it the 2nd largest French city besides Paris. Unofficially, Montreal is a very bilingual city with almost half the population being able to speak both French and English. While you don’t need to speak French to get around, making an effort, even an awkward “Bonjour,” or “Merci,” will earn you an appreciative smile before the other person switches to English.
5-à-7 means happy hour
5-à-7 (pronounced as cinq-a-sept in both English and French) is a French-language term for activities taking place after work and before returning home… or what you might know as happy hour. If you want to see a lively time, and maybe find some drink or food specials, check out the local pubs and bars between 5pm and 7pm.
The legal drinking age is 18
To go along with the concept of a 5-à-7, you should know that the legal drinking age in Quebec is 18 (while most of Canada is 19). This is part of what makes Montreal a popular party destination. Combine that with the high number of festivals all year long, and strong (6% isn’t rare) Quebec beer, and you’ve got the makings for a wild time. You can use this info to seek out the party scene…or to avoid it altogether.
North isn’t really north
Locals give directions that automatically tilt the city grid east. When a place is described as being north, it’s actually northwest — or “Montreal north.” Directions are based on the local interpretation that the St. Lawrence River flows from west to east, even though in reality it flows north or northeast. If you use the river as your south line, you’ll be able to interpret local directions with no problem. Or you could always use Google Maps.
A “dep” is a convenience store
Much like how New York has its bodegas, Montreal has its deps. Short for the French word dépanneur, which refers to a corner or convenience store, it’s an example of how English often borrows from Québécois terminology. So if someone asks you if you need anything at the dep, let them know if you want any chips, cigarettes, bread, or (cheap) wine or beer.
Save money with a Museums Card
If you’re passionate about history, science, or fine arts or just looking for things to do on rainy or cold days, consider getting a Montreal Museums Card. Available for 2, 3, 4, 5 days, the passes allow you one visit to each of the member museums in the city…and there are a LOT of museums and galleries (at least 45). If you wanted to visit the Biodôme, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the McCord Museum, it would cost you $64 but with a 2-day pass you’d save at least $24. If you visit two sites a day, this is a good value.
Take a free walking tour
While technically the tour is free, in practice it’s more of a pay what you want tour. You’re encouraged to tip your guide at the end what you feel the tour was worth. The 2 hour and 15 minutes, 2.3-km walk is a great way to be introduced to the charm of Old Montreal. It’s also a great way to meet other travellers and hear stories and anecdotes you’d miss wandering around on your own.
While this concept is still pretty foreign to me, in Montreal, there are a growing number of restaurants where you can bring your own wine (or beer) to have with dinner. Most restaurants will charge you a corkage fee to cover their expenses like glasses, decanters, etc. This allows a restaurant without a liquor license to serve alcohol to patrons. The BYOW restaurant scene in Montréal is now quite expansive and includes a large selection of neighbourhoods, price points, ambiances, and cuisines.
Montreal is a wonderful destination to explore. Whether it’s your first time venturing abroad, or you’re a seasoned traveler, these small tips will help you relax and enjoy your vacation in the city.
Do you have any tips for visiting Montreal? I’d love to read your advice for travellers as well!
Book Your Trip to Montreal
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Expedia. It's one of my favourite search engines because it allows you to search for and compare flights from multiple airlines.
Book Your Accommodations
You can book your hotel with Booking.com as they have the most comprehensive inventory so they are best for booking a hotel. If you want to stay in a vacation rental or cottage in Montreal, use VRBO to find the perfect place for the whole family.
Book Your Car Rental
If you want to travel on your own timeline, be sure to book your car rental with Discover Cars early.
Book Your Travel Insurance
While Montreal is generally a safe city, you never know when something could happen. Be prepared with travel insurance from SafetyWing. Travel insurance has certainly saved my butt before.