Montreal is popular for its European flair and mix of French and Anglo culture. Montreal is a great city to visit if you want to feel like you’re on a completely different continent, while still feeling like home. However, Montreal is a very unique city, and one you’ll have to be prepared for if you want to have a good time. You also have to be prepared for some culture shock as well if you aren’t familiar with city. Here are a few things you should know before you come to Montreal.
If you’re coming from the East Coast or the North-Midwest, know that there are tons of cheap flights to Montreal coming into the city. You could book flights to Montreal with a regional airline like Porter and get a great deal on your next trip. You’ll get the chance to get better seats than you usually get through a national airline, and their flights are much less crowded as well.
While it’s true that you won’t have trouble finding someone who speaks English in the city and that a large portion of the population is bilingual, don’t be fooled. Montreal is a French city first. While you will notice a lot of bilingual signs, there’s nothing that obligates businesses to offer service in English or signage. So, don’t be surprised if you can’t get service in English either, especially in the east end of the city.
However, there is also a clear demarcation between the unofficial French and English side of the city. The city is pretty much split in half by St-Laurent street, and the more you go west, the more English the city gets. So, you won’t have issues getting service on the west end, though it would be wise to learn some basic French words for signage if you want to get around the city.
If you’re staying on the island, you’ll have no problem getting around the city. Montreal has an extensive subway system, or the Metro as it is called, that covers most of the city. It’s also very safe and reliable and will get you pretty much anywhere in the city in minutes.
In addition, you have tons of self-service options as well. The city offers easily accessible bikes for rental all over the city and they’re pretty affordable. You can also rent electric bikes and scooters in most areas of the city.
While in most of the country, you can turn right on red lights, Montreal is one of the only major cities where you can’t. So, don’t make the mistake of turning on a red light or you might get a ticket, or a warning depending on the agent. Note, however, that you can turn right in most municipalities outside of Montreal proper.
Speaking of red lights, don’t be surprised if you see people walking straight through them. People will usually cross on red lights if there are no cars, so this could be a shock for some. Also, pedestrians and cyclists are kings in Montreal and have priority rights when crossing the street, and they fully take advantage of it. People are also more likely to jaywalk, so be prepared for that as well.
If you’re thinking of coming in the summer, make sure that you visit at the beginning of the summer season. Montreal lives through its festivals, and they’re one of the major attractions to the city.
The season starts with the Francofolies that take part at the beginning of June. This festival is focused on French culture and features mainly francophone artists. This is a great opportunity to learn a bit about French culture and have fun with the whole family. This is followed by the Montreal Jazz Festival, which is one of the biggest of its genre in the world. Tons of artists from around the world come to perform on one of the many stages right in the “Quartier des Spectacle” which is an area of the city dedicated solely to outside shows and festivals.
Though it’s called the Jazz festival however, there are artists across all genres there, so you’ll be able to find something that is more your speed there no matter your preferred style of music.
The Jazz festival is followed by the Just for Laughs Festival, which is the single biggest comedy festival in the world and attracts the world’s biggest comics. Every year, top performers come to perform free and paid shows at some of the city’s top venues. Some of the most popular comics had their first big break there, such as Jerry Seinfeld and Dave Chapelle. The streets are also animated with street performers and dancers. This is the most family friendly of all the festivals and also takes place in the Quartier des Spectacles.
Winters can be bitterly cold in Montreal, so unless you’re used to it, you’ll be in for a shock. It’s not uncommon for temperatures to dip under the -40 degrees mark, so be prepared for that. On the flipside, summers are notoriously hot in Montreal, and tend to be more humid, so you should be prepared for this as well.
Montreal however is a great place if you’re into winter sports, and you’re only a few minutes away from some of the best slopes you’ll find on the East Coast. There’s also the Igloofest, which is a mega electronic festival that takes place dead in the middle of winter.
Montrealers and Quebecers in general have a different attitude towards sex than in most other places in Canada and North America, so this could come as a shock for some people. Some parts of the city can be a bit seedy at night, so make sure that you know which areas to avoid. Strip clubs are also front and centre on important strips, so that’s something you’ll have to be prepared for as well.
With that being said however, Montreal remains one of the safest cities in North America, so you’ll feel safe in most parts of the city, even after dark.
You should also know that the drinking age is 18 in Montreal and in Quebec, so be prepared to see a lot of college kids strolling down St-Laurent street. Also, know that beer in Quebec tends to be a bit stronger than in the rest of Canada or in the States, so try to look for light beers if you’re looking for something that is closer to what you’d get back home. Also, know that the city has a strong micro brewery scene and history as a brewing city, so make sure that you visit at least one on your next visit and sample some of the best beers the city has to offer.
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