Last updated March 29, 2014
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Montreal is located at 45°30 N / -73°36 W. It is the largest city in Quebec and the second largest in Canada, with a metropolitan population of 3,824,221 (Statistics Canada, 2011). Montreal is one of two large islands in this part of the St. Lawrence River (the other, Île Jésus, includes Laval and several other communities) and its highest point, Mount Royal, is 232m/761 ft high.
The entire island of Montreal became a single municipality on January 1, 2002 although this was reversed January 1, 2006 in the case of 14 of the suburbs, leaving 15 municipalities on the island, of which Montreal is by far the largest, being divided into 19 boroughs (arrondissements) each of which has a borough mayor and a certain amount of autonomy. Wikipedia's article on the 2002-06 municipal reorganization of Montreal goes into detail.
You can download a very detailed PDF city map and other maps from this page on the Montreal transit site.
The official city site has a map portal with many kinds of maps.
You can check the seven-day forecast and have a look at current weather conditions as well as find information on weather statistics on the government's weather site.
Montreal's climate varies a lot over the year. The city is known for its cold winters, but its summers are hot and generally sunny, with occasional muggy days. May and October are arguably the pleasantest months for outdoor activities and walking. Evenings will often remain a little chilly except on the hottest days.
One thing worth understanding about Montreal is that it begins to snow in late November and although snow is quickly removed from roads and sidewalks, it piles up everywhere else and remains part of the landscape until it begins to retreat sometime in mid-March.
Average temperatures vary from 10 to 25°F (-13° to 5°C) in January to 65-80°F (18°-27°C) in July.
The island of Montreal* uses the 514 area code. Laval, the North Shore, the South Shore, the Laurentians, Upper Richelieu, Lanaudière, Montérégie, Eastern Townships and Upper Yamaska use the area code 450. Some calls from 514 to 450 are local, some are not; most calls from Montreal to Laval and Longueuil are local and do not require dialing 1. A new code, 438, is being gradually introduced, mostly for cell phone service, because 514 is nearly full up. 450 is growing so fast that it will soon be joined by another code, 579.
A local call from a phone booth costs 50 cents.
*also Île Bizard, Île Perrot, Nuns' Island (Île des Soeurs), Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame (the last two islands are parts of Parc Jean-Drapeau)
Within Canada letters (up to 30 g) cost $1.00. To the U.S., letters are $1.20 and elsewhere $2.50. There is no postcard rate – a postcard counts as a first-class letter. More details here. Canadian postal codes can be looked up on the Canada Post website. U.S. zip codes can be looked up here.
Montreal has some areas with free wireless connections and there are cafés that offer free wifi and occasionally even public terminals. You may want to consider joining the free wireless group Île Sans Fil and creating an account there before coming to Montreal. They provide free wifi in many cafés and other public places.
The unit of currency is the Canadian dollar. Coins are in denominations of 5, 10 and 25 cents, and $1 (a large gold-colored coin) and $2 (a large bimetallic coin). Bills in $5 (blue), $10 (purple) and $20 (green) are in common circulation and you can get $50s (red) and $100s (brown) from banks, though not from most automatic teller machines (ATMs). Some stores are cautious about accepting bills larger than $20 because of counterfeits.
New Canadian currency is made of plastic, although some paper bills are still in circulation.
The copper penny was phased out in February 2013. Cash registers can show totals with pennies but they are rounded up during cash payments. The rules for rounding are shown in a graphic here.
Most stores and restaurants accept Visa and MasterCard and some accept American Express. You usually get the most favourable exchange rate by using your credit card. Most ATMs are networked to Cirrus and Interac and accept major credit cards if you have a PIN to enter into the machine.
There are many currency exchange centers throughout the downtown area. They either charge a fee or take a couple of percentage points off the exchange rate for their services. Banks can usually handle U.S. funds without any problem but may not be prepared to handle other currencies. Bank branches are commonly open from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m. during the week, often with extended hours on Thursday or Friday, but all Canadian banks have reduced the number of their branches in recent years and, in some cases, reduced the hours of existing branches.
Most goods and services in Quebec are subject to two taxes, a federal Goods and Services Tax of 5% (usually listed as TPS on receipts – Taxe sur les produits et services) and a provincial sales tax of 9.975% (TVQ on receipts – Taxe de vente du Québec). An accommodation tax of 3.5% per night of hotel stay is also charged.
Books are not provincially taxed, and most groceries are not taxed at all unless something counts as ready-to-eat. Almost everything else is taxable.
A tip of 15% is customarily left for waiters and waitresses at the table, calculated on the pre-tax total of your bill. It will not be calculated for you – the additional charges on a restaurant bill are taxes, not service charges, and are not voluntary. You are free to leave more or less than a 15% tip if circumstances warrant. In bars, the tip tends to be offered as you pay for each drink or round. Taxi drivers also normally get a tip of 10 to 15% as do those who render personal services such as haircuts. Many counter service establishments have a tip jar: whether you drop in a bit of change is entirely up to you.
Canada Border Services Agency website
Visitors need a valid passport to enter Canada. They may also require a visa (see below). For information, check with a Canadian embassy or consulate.
Persons under 18 years of age travelling without their parents should have a letter of authorization from a parent or guardian to travel into Canada. The U.S. government has a useful page with further tips for U.S. residents visiting Canada.
Visitors from non-visa countries can stay for three months in Canada and can arrange an extension of a further three months on application to Immigration Canada.
If you are divorced, separated or travelling without your spouse and are bringing your children to Canada, you should bring a document demonstrating the permission of the other spouse, proof of legal custody or a notarized letter from the other custodian(s) which gives travel permission for the specific duration of the trip.
Each adult visitor may import, duty free, a maximum of 40 ounces (1.1 litres) of liquor, or 24 12-oz cans of beer or ale into Canada as personal luggage. Up to 50 cigars, 200 cigarettes, and 400 grams of tobacco and 400 tobacco sticks may be allowed entry duty free. There are many rules for importing firearms into Canada.
This government page lists countries according to visa requirements as well as special categories of visitor not requiring a visa.
You can check this page to find the addresses of foreign embassies in Canada.
U.S. consulate in Montreal: 514-398-9695
Pierre Elliott Trudeau International, 22 km west of downtown, now serves all domestic, U.S. and international passenger flights. Locals will still sometimes call it Dorval Airport.
Mirabel International, 55 km northwest of downtown, no longer serves passenger flights.
A taxi ride from the downtown area to Trudeau Airport costs a flat rate of $40.00 not including tip.
A public airport shuttle, the 747, runs from the downtown area to the airport. It is equipped with luggage racks and accepts regular STM tickets and passes although cash fare (coins only) is $10, which also buys you a pass good for 24 hours on the entire STM system. If you're in town, you can buy a ticket for the 747 bus with a credit card at any parking terminal, but it won't include the day-long pass.Aéroports de Montréal's site has arrival and departure notices and other useful updates.
Montreal has bus connections to other cities within Quebec, in the rest of Canada and in the United States. Intercity bus travel does not carry the same stigma as in the U.S. and the buses to Quebec City and Toronto, for example, are quite clean and pleasant. The main bus terminus is the Gare d'autocars de Montréal on Berri between Ontario and de Maisonneuve, tel. 514-842-2281, metro station Berri-UQÀM.
Montreal is on Via Rail's Windsor-Quebec corridor. You can reserve tickets on their website or get them from your travel agent.
Amtrak runs the Adirondack from Montreal to New York daily. Tickets can be priced and reserved on the site. This is currently the only passenger train connection from Montreal to the United States.
There are two major downtown train stations, Central Station (Gare Centrale) and Lucien-L'Allier. Both are connected to the Bonaventure Metro station and thus to the underground city. Lucien-L'Allier, also connected to the metro station of the same name, is only used for commuter trains.
Central Station, unlike major train stations in many other cities, is functionally invisible. It's located underground below the Queen Elizabeth Hotel and just north of Place Bonaventure. It's easily reached from Ste-Catherine Street by strolling through the Place Ville-Marie mall and looking for the wayfinding signs, or via Bonaventure metro station. Any taxi driver can bring you directly there. But don't expect to find a physical train station at street level.
Québec 257 km
Montreal is in the Eastern time zone of North America, 4 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time during the summer (Eastern Daylight, EDT) and 5 hours during the winter (Eastern Standard, EST). Daylight Savings Time is observed from the second Sunday in March till the first Sunday in November.
In French and sometimes in English you will see times quoted in 24-hour format, e.g. 20h30 is the same as 8:30 p.m. Keep this in mind for the times of events and for parking restrictions noted on official signs.
General retail hours are from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, from 9 a.m. till 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. Saturdays. There are exceptions: many large pharmacies, some grocery stores and some bookstores stay open late all week, and some smaller boutiques may open their doors later in the morning; noontime opening Sunday is not unusual. If you are uncertain about a store's hours it is wise to phone ahead.
Electricity in Canada is 110V and the plugs are the same as in the U.S. If you come from a country that uses 220V electricity, you will have to bring a converter for any appliances you bring along.
Officially, Canada is metric. Temperatures are given in Celsius (we really don't use Fahrenheit any more) and road distances and speed limits are in kilometres: cars are calibrated in km. That said, many Canadians will still give casual measures in feet, inches, pounds and ounces, depending on circumstances, and these are usually still well understood if you use them.
Canada has several federal statutory holidays. Provinces also have their own holidays.
Holidays in 2014:
January 1: New Year's Day
Some stores open on holidays, although Christmas is all but universally a closing day. Boxing Day, Dec. 26, is commonly given as a holiday (although not in retail, where Boxing Day sales are common) as is January 2. Easter Monday seems to be declining in importance and is mostly observed now only by government offices, which also close on Remembrance Day, November 11. Businesses and schools stay open on November 11, but civic ceremonies are held to honour war veterans and two minutes of silence are traditionally observed at 11 a.m.
Montrealers often also observe Valentine's Day (February 14), Mother's Day (second Sunday in May), Father's Day (third Sunday in June) and Halloween (October 31), although these are not legal holidays. Depending on their origins, Montrealers might also celebrate Muslim holidays or Jewish holidays, the Asian lunar new year, or other saints' days or national holidays. A major parade is held on a Sunday near St. Patrick's Day (March 17) whose connection with Ireland is by now only a notional one. It will be held on Sunday, March 16 in 2014.
Montreal has a longstanding tradition of ending residential leases on June 30. As a result, July 1 is moving day for a significant percentage of tenants in the city.
The last two full weeks of July are traditionally the Quebec construction holiday, and many other unionized workers take these two weeks off as well.
Montreal is a cosmopolitan city. Quebec's language laws impose restrictions on outdoor signs in languages other than French so you will see few signs in English, but in the parts of Montreal where most travellers go, services are available in English as well as in French. French is heard throughout the city but in many neighbourhoods other languages will also be heard. Roughly half of Montreal's residents speak French at home.
Ambulance, fire, police, health emergencies: dial 911. For non-emergency police matters, dial 514-280-2222. For health inquiries that are not emergency: dial 811.
Health care in Canada is of a high standard but it is advised that you get travellers' insurance before leaving home because it is not free for visitors. Keep the insurance documentation with you in case of emergency. You should bring any medications you need with you, especially sufficient quantities of prescription medicines. These should be kept in their original containers to avoid difficulties at borders.
Sanitation is equal to any developed country and our tap water is drinkable. You do not need any special immunizations to visit Canada and you do not need to drink bottled water while here.
Montreal has a relatively low crime rate. Nonetheless it is a large city and you should remain normally vigilant about your possessions and your person. There are a few sketchy parts of town but none that are categorically dangerous.
The age of majority and legal drinking age in Quebec is 18.
You can buy beer and wine at grocery stores and many corner stores (dépanneurs), but for a better selection of wine and for stronger liquors you must go to a government store (Société des Alcools).
Many restaurants have a liquor license; in some areas, notably Prince Arthur and around Duluth Street, restaurants do without a license and customers can bring their own wine, reducing the expense of the meal. This is not universal and you must look for the "Apportez votre vin" signs.
Beer and wine can be sold in stores until 11 p.m. and bars must stop selling alcohol at 3 a.m.
Smoking is not permitted on any form of public transit, in restaurants and bars, stores, shopping centres, in cinemas, in elevators, in government offices or in banks, and inside office buildings. Many buildings have cigarette disposal arrangements outside. You must be 18 years or older to buy tobacco in Quebec.
The usual recreational drugs are illegal in Canada. Purchase and consumption of small amounts of marijuana is unofficially tolerated, but is still technically illegal, so be circumspect.
Minors can't buy lottery tickets or scratch games and can't go to the Casino.
Montreal's original street grid was laid out long ago relative to the old port on the St. Lawrence River waterfront so our "north" is actually northwest, or close to it. Some people find it disorienting or annoying to discover that in Montreal the sun apparently rises in the south and sets in the north. It's probably too late to do anything about this convention but it may be helpful to understand that it exists. This also explains why the South Shore is actually mostly to the east on maps.
As you go north, away from the St. Lawrence, address numbers increment. If an address includes "east" or "west" this is relative to Boulevard Saint-Laurent (also known as St. Lawrence or "the Main", sketched as a red line on the map at right) from which addresses increment both eastward and westward, sometimes into the five figures.
Distances and speed limits are posted in kilometers throughout Canada. 60 mph roughly equals 100 kmh. Gasoline prices are in litres.
You may not turn right on red lights in Montreal, although this is now permitted in Quebec off Montreal island.
Montreal presents some hazards for drivers. Pedestrians are pretty blasé about crossing on red lights, and most road construction and repairs have to be done in the summer months so you are likely to run into occasional detours when driving around town in the summer.
Seatbelts are mandatory even in back seats. Helmets are required for motorcyclists. It is obligatory to stop when a school bus is stopping, regardless of the direction in which you are driving. On a few major streets, bus lanes are marked with a large white diamond shape and you should not use and absolutely must not stop or park in these lanes within the hours noted on the accompanying signs. Some streets have bike lanes: these will be marked.
City police patrol in white cars with a blue stripe (although they also have several stealth cars with very faint markings). Parking infractions are monitored by city employees in reddish-orange cars – these folks wear green uniforms and are sometimes known as Green Onions.
The older part of Montreal was built up before the automobile and streets can be narrow and cramped, so parking conditions can sometimes be frustrating. Be wary of neighbourhoods where certain parking spots are reserved for local people with numbered stickers. On residential streets, days and times for street cleaning or snow removal should be visible on a sign and at those times you need to move your car if it's on the side to be cleaned. After heavy snowfall you may see small no-parking signs stuck right into snowbanks.
Because parking can be so difficult, sightseeing on foot and by Metro is encouraged, at least within downtown, the Plateau and Old Montreal, unless you have mobility problems.
The Sûreté du Québec (SQ) patrols on highways, both inside and outside the city, usually in white cars with a double stripe, black and yellow. Outside the city, local municipalities can also ticket you if you commit an infraction on a road in their territory.
Montreal has an excellent public transit system, the STM (Société des transports de Montréal) operating the Metro subway system (see map) and 196 daytime bus routes (23 night routes). Google Maps offers excellent transit routing throughout the whole metropolitan area.
Maps and information about the transit system are also available in every Metro station and at tourist information points. There's also an excellent app called Transit (free with a $4.99 annual subscription upgrade) for iPhone and iPod Touch which gives timing on bus routes near one's location.
The Metro shuts down around 12:30 a.m. after which the whole system shifts over to the night bus service until 5:30 a.m.
The STM fare system consists of the Opus smart card and one-trip magnetic cards. If you pay a fare with change, take the card from the machine and keep it to use as a transfer if necessary (and to show to transit police if they ask). You do not need a ticket or pass to exit the metro system as you do in some cities.
A monthly regular adult pass (CAM – carte autobus-métro) giving full access to the metro and bus system costs $79.50. A single fare is $3.00 and in the bus must be paid with exact change. For tourists a special card giving full access for a day costs $10 and for three days costs $18. Full fare grille for 2014.
Bus drivers neither make change nor sell tickets, but all metro stations have manned ticket booths and ticket machines. Some dépanneurs (corner stores) and pharmacies sell passes and tickets.
People who are not Montreal residents don't qualify for seniors' reductions or student fares on the STM system.
Surrounding Montreal are other transit systems including the large STL serving Laval and RTL serving the South Shore. There are also five commuter train lines serving various suburbs; a sixth, the Train de l'Est, is scheduled to open in 2014.
If you're comfortable on a bicycle it would be interesting to see Montreal en vélo. Bicycling magazine named Montreal the top bicycling city for 1999. However, keep in mind that motorists tend to be aggressive and you have to ride circumspectly.
Montreal has pioneered Bixi, a system of short-term rental bicycles available in a large area of central Montreal. These beautifully designed, adjustable and comfortable three-speed aluminum bicycles have been adopted by locals and tourists alike. The fare structure is geared toward short-term use: after paying one's five dollars for 24 hours of access, the bikes are free to use for trips taking less than half an hour, but the rates rise pretty fast if you keep a bike longer than an hour. There are several iPhone apps that track Bixi availability in real time. Bixi racks are removed toward the end of November and reappear in late April or May.
Helmets are not mandatory for cyclists, but bicycles should be equipped with reflectors if you will be riding after dark, and if you're using your own bike or a longer term rental bike you should have a good lock: bicycle theft is endemic. The Maison des Cyclistes, 1251 Rachel East, 514-521-8356, rents bikes and sells maps of bike paths in and around the city. There is also bicycle rental in the Old Port (514-847-0666). You can bring a bicycle into the metro, but you must follow the rules.
Montreal has four daily newspapers. Only one, The Gazette, is in English. There are three French-language dailies, Le Devoir, La Presse and Le Journal de Montréal. Of these, only the Journal still prints a Sunday edition.
Two free tabloid dailies publish only on weekdays: 24H, belonging to Quebecor, which also owns the Journal de Montréal, which is distributed mostly throughout the metro system, and Métro, part of the international Metro newspaper chain.
Fugues is a monthly paper by and for the local gay community, and can be found in the Village and in many other cultural locations around town. There are also various weeklies and other publications produced by the city's many ethnic communities. Corriere Italiano is probably the oldest of these.
For international papers, check any Maison de la Presse Internationale or Multimags or drop into the Grande Bibliothèque ground-floor periodicals section any day but Monday.
The main tourist information centre – Infotouriste – in Montreal is located near the corner of Peel and Ste-Catherine at 1255 Peel, metro Peel, 514-873-2015 or 1-877-266-5687.
For general information on city affairs, dial 311.