With its beautiful old town and vibrant energy, Montreal is a popular destination for travelers from around the world. The city is full of history, has an amazing culture and great people. In fact, Montreal is the perfect place for those willing to experience a little bit of exoticism without feeling out of their element. There are some things, however, that might be confusing for first-time visitors and newcomers. So, here is a list of 15 things to know before your first visit to Montreal.
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1. There are tons of festivals
This is one of the reasons why I chose to live in Montreal and not another city. I personally love when there’s a lot to discover and do in a city. And I can tell you, there’s literally always something going on in Montreal. Whether you visit in summer or winter, there will most likely be a festival, free exhibit, exposition or live music somewhere. Summertime is even better, as the city hosts no less than 2 festivals per week at a time! From Osheaga to the international fireworks festival, there is something for everyone in Montreal. Some other popular festivals include the Francofolies, Just for Laughs, and the Food trucks festival. In fact, there is so much to do, you’d need at least a week to visit all the main tourist sights and attend some of the events in town.
2. Taxes aren’t included in prices
In Quebec, the price of goods is shown without sales taxes. I was really surprised when I first bought something and ended up paying more at checkout. Coming from Europe, it took me a few weeks to get used to. It’s a little bit of buzz killer in terms of shopping, as you have to add 15% to the regular price of goods. So something that in appearance seems cheap, ends up being more expensive once you get your card out.
3. You can’t leave without trying Poutine
Poutine is the national dish, and one cannot visit Montreal without trying it. The most famous poutine restaurant in town is called La Banquise, and they are open 24/7. But in reality, you can try poutine in many restaurants. The dish includes french fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy. It’s definitely very caloric but so delicious! Most restaurants also have vegetarian versions of the poutine, which is quite nice too.
4. Hockey is very popular
Hockey is the national sport in Canada, but here in Montreal, it’s almost like a religion. You’ll see many people rocking hockey jerseys, and you’ll most likely hear about the Canadiens, also called “the Habs”. And you’ll even see the latest hockey news while waiting for the train. In fact, you cannot go to Montreal and not see an ice hockey game!
5. Cannabis is legal
I know weed is legal in many American states, but I had never lived in a city where people can actually smoke it legally. If you don’t smoke cannabis, you’ll most likely smell it almost everywhere you go. Yes, weed is legal here in Canada, and Montrealers are really enjoying it at any time of the year. If you’d like to try out some legal cannabis during your stay, head to the SQDC which is the official government-owned cannabis store. All you have to do is bring your ID (you have to be 18+ to get in), and choose your strain at the counter. They even have fully qualified staff who can help you choose the best cannabis strain for you. How cool is that?
6. Montreal is a bilingual city
Montreal’s official language is French, and consequently, the street signs are written in French. However, Montrealers have very good English, so don’t worry if you don’t speak French. In fact, I know people who’ve lived in Montreal their whole life and don’t speak French at all. You can easily visit the city, and even find a job if you only speak English.
7. Old Montreal is a tourist hub
Old Montreal is definitely one of the most beautiful parts of the city. Head to the Vieux Port, visit the Museum Pointe a Calliere or relax on the Jacques Cartier place. Old Montreal is where you’ll see the city’s old buildings and history, but it’s also a massive tourist hub. Everything is overpriced in this neighborhood, and I mean literally everything. Most Montrealers avoid old Montreal, but if you’re visiting you have to take a stroll around. Just try not to buy your souvenirs there.
8. It’s extremely cold in winter
Everybody know winters in Montreal are harsh. But you cannot know how cold it is until you’ve lived one. The way the city manages winter is quite impressive, to be honest. But When it gets to 30 or 40 below, trust me you do not want to go out. That’s one of the reasons why Montreal built an underground city so that people can escape the winter cold and still enjoy their shopping spree even when it gets to minus 40. So if you’re visiting in winter, be prepared for the extreme cold.
9. You can get a ticket for jaywalking
Another thing I noticed when I arrived in Montreal is that the police is everywhere. I mean literally, I can’t spend a day in Montreal without seeing police cars. They are here, and they will even give you a fine for jaywalking. The fine is between $40 and $200, so it’s really not worth it.
10. There are bikes everywhere
When summer comes, Montrealers want to enjoy the sun and most of them bike to work instead of taking the subway. In fact, all things biking are very popular in this city. Montreal even has a public bicycle sharing system called Bixi, where you can rent a bike for a few hours or a day. It also has 400 miles (645 kms) of bike paths and even has a bike festival. And to be honest, biking is one of the best ways to experience Montreal and see the sights.
11. You’ll love the outdoor staircases
One of Montreal’s particularity is its outdoor staircases. Most houses and apartments have them, which makes this city pretty unique in North America. They make the city so quirky and are great for amateurs of photography. You’ll probably hate them when you realize your hotel’s door is at the top of the stairs and you have to carry your bag all the way up there though.
12. Happy hour is called “5 à 7”
Known to locals as 5 à 7, happy hour is Montreal’s favorite time of the day. There are many places in town where you can celebrate 5 à 7 every day. Head to one of the city’s microbreweries for a good atmosphere, good booze, and great prices. If you’re new to 5 à 7, try the three-level microbreweries called Brutopia. It’s very well known for its homegrown seasonal brews, fantastic live music, and beautiful outdoor terraces. You can also try the Distillery on Ontario east or Buvette Chez Simone in Mount Royal.
13. There’s a lot of street art
Montreal is a beautiful, young and vibrant city. In recent years, it has become a hub for urban art and it seems like every building in the city is decorated with stunning work of art. Head to Boulevard Saint Laurent to see the most amazing graffiti in the city. Just stroll down the street and you’ll see them everywhere. In Mount Royal, you’ll see many cafes, eateries and vintage stores with awesome murals. Be curious, and hunt for these gems around the city.
14. July first is moving day
July first is Canada day, but it has become an official moving day in Montreal. It’s not a legal requirement, but more of a tradition in the province of Quebec. It dates back from the time when the province was using mandate fixed terms of leases of rental properties. If you’re visiting not the first of July, don’t be surprised to see the many moving trucks in the narrow streets of Montreal.
15. Convenience stores are called “depanneur”
Convenience stores in Montreal are called depanneurs or “deps”. You will see them at almost every street corner. And some of them are more than just convenience stores. For example,‘Le Petit Dep’, located near the Notre Dame Basilica, is one of the most popular convenience stores in Montreal. Actually, this depanneur is also a cafe. Inside, you’ll find homemade sandwiches, soups, and even ice creams.
Montreal is one of the quirkiest city in North America and is definitely worth a visit. With its French heritage, unique customs and terms, you’ll love Montreal’s exoticism. This city is also one of the best for festivals, events, and open-air markets. If you’re looking for an exciting city to visit in Canada, then Montreal is the place for you. I hope you enjoyed reading this list of 15 things to know before your first visit to Montreal. Have you ever been to Montreal? Let me know in the comments below!
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