Young, hip, multicultural, and affordable, Montreal—the largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris—likes to eat, party, socialize, and complain (with a good dose of humor) about the numerous construction sites in the city. Most of the population has French as a first language but English is spoken everywhere, so it’s easy to strike up a conversation with locals who will intervene if you look lost. The chances are, no matter where you are from, this accepting place will make you think you’re a Montrealer yourself.
When to Go
Summer (June to September) is king in Montreal. Festivals and celebrations take over the city, terraces are packed, and outdoor activities abound. It can get quite hot and sticky (between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit) in both July and August. Fall colors peak in October, when the city is popular with European travelers and sweater-loving types. For a shot of Québécois winter, come in January and February.
Time your visit to one of Montreal’s many festivals—the Francos de Montréal music festival (June), International Jazz Festival (July), Montréal Cirque Festival (July), Osheaga Music and Arts Festival (August), Igloofest (January), and Montréal en Lumière winter festival (February-March), to name only a few. Just head to the Place des Festivals and Place des Arts downtown. The chances are something will be going on.
What to Eat
Don’t miss trying the city’s distinctive bagels, thinner than New York’s and first boiled in honey-sweetened water, then baked. In April, don’t miss the crabe des neiges (snow crab) and the crevettes de Matane (local Nordic shrimp); in May, get your crackers out to eat fresh local lobster. June is for strawberries and July for raspberries while August is for corn, devilishly sweet and devoured with plenty of butter and salt. Both casual and high-end restaurants love to showcase local seasonal products. You can also get them to go at the various public markets in the city. Jean-Talon and Atwater Market are central and well worth a visit.
Souvenirs to Take Home
Montreal offers plenty of goods to take home. Pick up maple products in the city’s public markets or ice cider, made near the city and sold at the SAQ, the state-run alcohol shops. In honor of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Montreal native, bring back a pair of socks with Montreal motifs on them, may they be bagels, poutines, or construction orange cones. Montreal is also a good place to buy indigenous art as well as Quebec arts and crafts. The shops at both the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Arts are great places to find local creations.
Sustainable Travel Tips
Come to Montreal with your reusable bags; the city has banned one-time-use plastic bags. Download the Téo Taxi app on your phone to ride around in style in the electricity-fueled, brand-new, green-and-white taxis. From the airport, take the 747 bus straight to the Lionel-Groulx Metro station or to different locations in the heart of the city. The ticket costs $10 and gives you 24 hours of travel. You can also buy three-day or weekly passes (good from Monday to Sunday) that will also cover your trip back to the airport.
Head to Parc Jean-Drapeau and find the Alexander Calder statue, “L’Homme” (Man), a favorite legacy art piece from the 1967 International Exposition that was held here. The statue is worth a snap but the view in front of it is even better: From here, you get the river, Old Montreal, Mount Royal, and the entire Montreal skyline in one single frame.
A reporter covering international news for Montreal newspaper La Presse, Laura-Julie Perreault has lived in this unusual city for 21 years. She is the co-author of Guide du Montréal Multiple, a guide to the city’s diversity. Follow her at @laurajulie.