Montréal is The Best-Kept Secret in North America An Insider's Guide

Montréal is The Best Kept Secret in North America: An Insider’s Guide

I feel like family in Québec and Montréal, and by the way, Montréal is my favourite city in the world! It’s the only place that combines all the good things about Europe and America, with none of the bad! 

Holly Cole

Montréal is a city that often gets overshadowed by its more prominent and well-known counterparts in North America.  But the old saying “quality over quantity” applies here, as Montréal has much to offer for those who are willing to take the time to explore!

There are so many great things to do in Montréal that it can be hard to decide where you want to start. Still, though the city may not have as much going on as some of its more famous brethren like New York City or Las Vegas, what it lacks in quantity is made up for by quality. Spend a day exploring the old town and getting lost among cobblestone streets before heading over to La Ronde—Montréal’s amusement park with roller coasters galore! Once you've had your fill of rides and adrenaline rushes, take a break from all that excitement with a stroll around Mount Royal Park.

A bit of Montréal History 

Montréal is a bilingual city. Montréal has the second-highest population density in North America, after New York City. The city of Montreal was founded on May 17th, 1642, by Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve. Montreal has many beautiful parks and green spaces to explore. 

In 1832, 58 cotton mills were operating in Canada; 34 were located in Montreal, making it the most industrialized city. The average annual temperature is 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit), but they have four seasons every year, so you'll never get bored! Please take this from a California girl don’t think a thin pair of leggings or joggers will get you through even in the fall.

Monument à Paul de Chomedey en Place D'Armes

Get the Best of Both Worlds

Montreal is an eclectic melting pot of cultures and languages. An international destination for tourists, Montreal's 19 boroughs (arrondissements) each have their mayor and council to represent the needs of its people.

The city with a unique French-speaking culture packs plenty into its dense urban sprawl. From world-class festivals like Jazz Fest in July, folkloric Old World architecture on rue Saint-Denisstreet near Mont-Royal Park, or historic buildings along with Rue Notre Dame downtown that dates back as 1695!

The Montréal region is a melting pot of cultures, languages, and traditions. There are 80 different languages spoken in the area – including French, English, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Greek, Chinese, German, Portuguese, Creole, and Vietnamese- with more than 50% of residents who speak at least two tongues!

Before you ask, yes, you should learn French before you go to Montréal. The only people who spoke English to me were my Airbnb host and a young lady at the local Pharmaprix. She was interested in why I would leave sunny SoCal to visit chilly Montréal.

Greetings in Montréal are sure to confuse visitors. Locals greet their friends with a kiss on both cheeks, starting from the right side of the face and gradually moving towards its left counterpart until they meet at chin level. This custom is unlike other Canadian customs, where people shake hands instead of giving kisses to greet one another.

How to get to the city from YUL Airport

When I was there in 2017, Uber was not allowed to operate in Montréal.  I had to take the STM (Société de transport de Montréal) 747 shuttle from YUL to Montréal.

At the YUL Montréal-Trudeau airport, there are four fare vending machines in the international arrivals area. You can make payments with cash or by debit card. The bus stop outside of customs offers STM representatives who can answer any questions for you about this transportation option and help get a ticket on your way out!

Before you leave for the airport, it is essential to buy your fare. You can purchase it at any of these locations: métro stations, Tourist Welcome Office in Old Montréal, Centre Infotouriste, or Stationnement de Montréal (Parking) pay station, and the 747 bus. The fare is $10 and, most importantly, paid in cash with exact change only as no bank bills are accepted! 

Montreal-Trudeau airport offers a 24-hour shuttle service to and from downtown, with two different route options. The first option is the YUL Montréal-Trudeau Airport – Lionel Groulx Bus Station (Destination Terminus), which will take you on one-stop directly into central Montreal. This first option trip would typically take around 25 minutes in light traffic or 35 minutes during heavy congestion. Alternatively, if you want more stops along your way, like at hotels located on boul René Lévesque, choose the bus that goes down Berri Street UQAM Centre Ville Métro Station.

Be adventurous and take the métro.
Buses will often refuse passengers with bikes or luggage on board to avoid impeding other riders. The driver can always request that you get off the bus if space becomes limited aboard. Don’t try to be slick, either. The drivers will not hesitate to kick you off the bus. 
The OPUS card and Bike Map. Old tech still works!

When Is The Best Time To Visit Montréal? 

The best time to visit Montréal is during the summer when the city comes alive with outdoor concerts and festivals. It also makes sense for visitors who want a more active experience, as they can explore all of Montreal’s different neighborhoods, which are not accessible in other seasons. My friend Matthew went in the Spring and loved it! They also could experience the city more since they were not stuck indoors like when I went in the Fall/Autumn. I would stay clear from visiting any place in Canada during winter, though, because it gets frigid!

What To Do When You're in Montréal

Montreal is a city that has something for everyone. From Mount Royal Park to Old Montreal, there are endless points of interest and attractions in the French-Canadian metropolis. A few must-see sites include Notre Dame Basilica Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mt Royal lets you take advantage of this beautiful historic site while getting some fresh air at one of its many outdoor areas.

Those who enjoy exploring nature over history or architecture, then head on down to Montréal Botanical Garden.

My Home in Montréal

Have you ever visited a place that feels like home? Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie is one of Canada's largest Italian communities, and the Little Italy community in this area thrives with authentic food and great places to drink. One popular destination for locals and tourists alike is the Jean-Talon Market which offers fresh fruits, vegetables, meats & cheeses (among other things) year-round outside on sunny days or inside during colder months. This market also has various options from regional delicacies such as rare Charlevoix lamb to tempt your taste buds in every corner!

I set up camp here, and I loved every minute of it. I wouldn't hesitate to come back to stay in this neighborhood. It's a perfect place to jump-start your trip with transit lines and metro stations within walking distance. It had everything I needed, including peace during the night hours.
Brick + Bikes


Mount Royal Park is a beautiful place to explore for those who love nature. Along its lush green paths, one can find an impressive variety of plants and animals in their natural habitats or enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, biking the pathways through this large park. Les Amis de la Montagne offers many services that help visitors better appreciate what they have here, including educational programs on ecology with interactive terminals and map kiosks scattered throughout the grounds, as well as guided hikes and bike tours!

Mont-Royal has gorgeous views from up high overlooking downtown Montréal, and you're also just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the best bagels you ever tasted at St-Viateur and the world-famous smoked meat sandwiches from Schwartz.

My shitty picture. LOL.

Vieux-Port (Old Port)

Vieux-Port Montréal has a very different vibe day and night. Why not try it both ways to see what you think? Vieux-Port Montréal is a fascinating place to visit at any time of day. The city lights are beautiful, and the docks have great restaurants you can enjoy while sitting by the water, listening to waves lapping against boats.

Vieux-Port Montréal is the oldest neighborhood in Montreal, so it offers a very unique perspective. Tourists and locals alike will enjoy taking pictures of all the old buildings – some dating back to 1760! The nightlife here fits well with both crowds as there are many bars for those who want to party into the wee hours while enjoying live jazz music or watch local artists perform on stage.

There’s something so calming about Vieux-Port Montréal that will make anyone feel relaxed no matter what hour it may be, whether during daylight or evening hours when the skyline appears more magnificent than ever before with its neon signs shining brightly.

You can buy this attraction "passeport" for Vieux-Port

I met an older woman who was also traveling solo. She sat next to me, and we talked for about an hour. Those stories are mine to keep. It was lovely. A couple of days later, I returned to Vieux-Port and met a Peruvian man playing his pan flute. I finally had to buy one of his CDs.

Pont Jacques Cartier from Vieux-Port
Montréal Skyline

Why You Should Visit Montréal

Well, why not? For me, it was the poutine, architecture, and the chance to get a piece of Europe in North America. I hadn't seen what Autumn weather was like in a while, given that I live in SoCal. I had always wondered what it was like to climb up those spiral staircases. I know, weird. One of my professors at the Alliance Française was a Montréalaise named Anne who was never short on stories about her hometown. The differences in Québécois French and Parisian French sold me. I just HAD to visit. You often find yourself forgetting that you are still in North America. It felt familiar and distant all at the same time. The people were friendly, and the food was spectacular.

My Trip Itinerary

Sainte-Catherine Street

Sainte-Catherine Street is a bustling street that houses notable skyscrapers of Montréal. It also includes shops and venues to enjoy music, with many historic attractions nearby as well.


Griffintown is a historic district in Montréal. The Griffintown District was originally an Irish village and also once the poorest, most neglected area of Montreal. It's now revitalized with trendy cafes and craft breweries on formerly abandoned streets but still has its humble roots preserved beneath it all.

BTW, take a peek at the Farine Five Roses sign. It does look better at night.
Farine Five Roses Sign

Jean-Talon Market

I LOVE THIS PLACE! It’s where I had poutine with shredded duck and foie gras sauce. It was so damn decadent. I had a delicious smoothie, too. You know, to even things out. 

Poutine from Jean Talon Market. Poutine has fries and cheese curds. This one also is made with shredded duck and foie gras sauce.
Poutine avec canard effiloché et sauce foie gras
Meats on a Stick

Marché Bonsecours

A historic marketplace in Vieux-Montréal. I had to stop myself from buying everything in there.

MONTRÉAL QUÉBEC - ALLEZ ELIZABETH - Bonsecours Market (Marché Bonsecours)
Bonsecours Market (Marché Bonsecours)

Schwartz Deli

Everyone kept telling me about this place, and it does live to the hype. Located in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, they are short with pleasantries, so don't spend too much time reading the menu. It's the size of the thimble and cash only. If you can grab a seat, consider yourself lucky. Otherwise, it's grab-and-go.

Smoked Meat from Schwartz
I'm sorry to inform you that I will not be able to taste the Portuguese-style chicken goodness of Romados. Ugh. My stomach is crying, too.

St. Viateur Bagel Shop

I haven't had real New York bagels, but so far, these are it.

Get a fresh one!


I kept going back to snag pictures of the city. From Vieux-Port, you can see Habitat 67, Le Pont Jacques-Cartier (Jacques Cartier Bridge), and the Biosphere.

Abandoned Factories near Vieux-Port

Day Trip to Québec City

Buy your ticket a least a day in advance. I suggest getting out of Montréal as early as possible so you can enjoy a full day in Québec City. You'll board your train at Gare centrale de Montréal located at 895, rue de la Gauchetière Ouest, Montréal.

On My Next Trip

Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal

I was in the area, and I didn't bother getting a ticket.


Jardin botanique de Montréal

I hadn't realized I was just a short bus ride away, and I never found the time. The day I was supposed to go, it started to rain hard.  Being from NorCal, I am not a stranger to downpours, but this was on another level. I went downstairs to Restaurant La Bonne Humeur (permanently closed) and grabbed some soup instead.

Another great place that closed was Restaurant La Bonne Humeur on Rue de Bellechasse. Homestyle Québécois cooking. I got so fucking lucky. 

La Biosphère de Montréal (Parc Jean-Drapeau)

I really want to see the remnants of Expo 67. 

Biosphere view from Vieux-Port

Habitat 67

If you haven't noticed by now, I love architecture and all things Expo 67. There is a 90-minute tour where you can visit Moshe Safdie's apartment. Safdie is the architect that designed Habitat 67 for Expo 67.

Habitat 67 view from Vieux-Port

Mont Royal

I technically made it here, but it was already past the park curfew. I didn't get to enjoy it fully. I took a shitty picture because I didn't have my tripod, and in my frustration (and hunger), that's how I ended up at Schwartz and Romados. Food cures all, right?

More food and more shopping!

Book Your Trip to Montréal!

Travelers who are too eager to pass the border into the United States or Canada often overlook Montréal. But one of my favorite things about this city is how it forces you to slow down and take a look around, exploring all that there is in your current location before moving on. And what I've found most surprising about traveling through Montréal has been its cultural diversity. It's no wonder so many people call this “the Paris of North America” because walking down any street here will feel like being transported back in time as far as style goes! 

If you're looking for an experience unlike anything else, then book a trip to Montréal soon. 

And take me with you!


ALLEZ ELIZABETH - Montréal is The Best-Kept Secret in North America An Insider's Guide

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.