What NOT To Do in Montreal

Montreal

I love Montreal but like every destination there are things you should and shouldn’t do when you visit. On a twist on the ever popular blog meme, here is my list of things to avoid doing at all costs when visiting Montreal.

Don’t learn any French – Yes, Montreal is in Canada where English is the most common language. Montreal is also in Quebec however where English is not the most common language, it’s French. Of course you can get around town and enjoy a trip to Montreal without knowing or speaking any French, but learning just a little bit will make your trip much more interesting. While transportation and other official signs and pamphlets are bilingual, almost all the advertising and daily language is in French. It’s also nice to be able to say a few words to people in the language they use most often. Like I said, it’s not a requirement and there’s no problem if you only speak English, but take a few minutes to learn some French and you’ll have a much better experience. Trust me.

 Montreal RESO Underground City

Stay away from the underground city – This isn’t based at all on scientific fact or studies, but I have a gut feeling that many tourists don’t take full advantage of the underground city. On my most recent visit I had a great time navigating the RESO and it turned out to be an unexpected highlight. While most visitors will see the more public face of this massive tunnel system in shopping malls or the conference center, most don’t realize just how extensive it really is. The tunnels span 20 miles spread out over almost 5 miles in Montreal’s downtown and connect everything from malls to metro stations and even hotels. During the winter it’s the best way to stay out of the frigid temperatures, but throughout the year it’s a convenient and even fun way to experience a side to Montreal many never see.

 

Stay only in the Old Port – The main historic center of town, the Old Port is everything you want it to be and more. The streets are lined with shops and restaurants and the historic buildings ooze Old World awesomeness. But there’s a lot more to see in Montreal than just the Old Port so make sure you get out there and experience all of it. Wander through the neighborhoods, drive up to Mont Royal, spend a day at the Olympic Park or if it’s warm outside head down to the urban beach. Montreal has changed a lot over the last ten years and there’s never been more to do and see in and around town, so make sure you take advantage of it all and not just the traditional Old Port section.

 

Get ‘authentic’ poutine – This is a good rule no matter where you go, but never eat anywhere with the words “authentic” “tourist” or “real” on the menu, especially when searching for poutine. The unofficial national dish of not just Quebec but all of Canada, poutine is a rich combination of fries, gravy and cheese curds. It may be heavy, but it’s a delicious snack or meal and for many defines the food experience of Montreal (for better or for worse). First, don’t eat poutine near the main tourist areas of the Old Port, which is where most of the ‘authentic’ poutine is advertised. Instead for the best in the city head over to La Banquise where they have an incredible selection of poutines including ones with chicken, sausages and even smoked meat.

Buy maple syrup – I hope my Canadian friends don’t hate me for saying this, but as a visitor to Canada one of the dumbest things you can do is to buy maple syrup. Yes, I know Canada is famous for it and is so vital to the economy that they even have a strategic maple syrup reserve. (If you haven’t read about the Great Syrup Heist, check out this article on Bloomberg.com) But the syrup that is sold in countless souvenir shops in and around Montreal is far too overpriced for a similar quality you can find at home. If you want great Canadian maple syrup, go to your nearest grocery or gourmet food store and look for Grade B syrup. The differences between this and Grade A aren’t great and it’s much cheaper. Besides, I would never trust packing bottles of syrup in my checked bags – can you imagine the potential for disaster?

 

Skip eating at Schwartz’s – Montreal is famous for a few food staples: poutine, bagels and smoked meat. Just like New York City, Montreal has a long and distinguished history of fine delis where they produce their own unique take on cured meats. In the US the closest thing we have is a high quality pastrami, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s what you’ll find at Schwartz’s. The Montreal take on this deli meat is a final product that is a little less salty than pastrami with a unique spice flavor that has no equal. The problem is that Schwartz’s is insanely popular and a line almost always extends down the block. Don’t let this deter you though, the staff at the deli know what they’re doing and you won’t have to wait long for your fix of great meat.

 Montreal Old Port

Don’t go in the first place – There’s nothing quite like Montreal anywhere else in the US or Canada and for that I’m thankful. The city has a certain vibe and feel that is all its own and oftentimes reminds me more of Europe than it does North America. The biggest mistake you can make is not experiencing this unique blends of continents and cultures for yourself. And honestly, why wouldn’t you go? From the East Coast it’s a short flight or even an easy drive and makes an ideal weekend getaway. I waited far to long to visit Montreal, something I regret but I’m making up for lost time. It’s a city I could return to again and again and still find something new and always be amazed.

What are some others things visitors to Montreal should NOT do?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

28 Responses

  1. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    It’s on my Dream Destination list!

    Reply
  2. santafetravelers

    There’s some great stuff in the post, but the “don’t do” was a bit confusing.

    Montreal is one of my favorite cities! One of the best things for me in Montreal is shopping for shoes and clothing. Also, going to their wonderful art museum. They get some great shows.

    B syrup actually has, IMO, WAY better flavor than A. More maple taste. I always buy B and look for organic!

    Reply
  3. Zubi Travel

    Don’t buy maple syrup it’s a good advice, if the bottle somewhat leaks in your luggage you’re screwed. I’ve had a similar experience with some Italian limoncello and it was really nasty.

    Reply
  4. ehalvey

    Aaaand, I’m officially starving now after seeing both poutine and smoked meat.

    I didn’t have a chance to see the underground city between the museum hopping and duck confit snarfing. Next time…

    Reply
  5. Atp

    Don’t go to top of Mt Royal to see the view of Montreal. Don’t bother eating at one of the specialized mussels restaurants. Don’t eat a game dish like venison with a berry sauce.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Why not Mt Royal? I liked going up there.

      Reply
      • A Cook Not Mad (Nat)

        I think she meant “things not to do” -don’t go to mount royal etc…

      • Matt Long

        I’ve got to find a better way to phrase these posts, far too confusing LOL

  6. Forest Parks

    The city just buzzes with atmosphere I find so it’s not hard to find things to do. It always has so many festivals and events going on that you don’t need to worry about being bored!

    What not to do…. Don’t go to a strip show, lose your hotel room and wander round aimlessly all night asking strangers where the big grey hotel is!

    Def grab syrup from the supermarket but you can often find it cheaper out of Quebec (even if still buying Quebec maple syrup).

    Reply
  7. François P.

    I would say a few more things.

    For the maple syrup, I suggest to get your can at one of the big public market, like Marché Jean-Talon or Atwater. Great price, and these markets are pretty interesting to hang around.

    For the poutine, try Poutineville (where, in my opinion, the poutine is better than La Banquise, with a nice concept in which you choose your kind of potatoes, gravy sauce, cheese and toppings).

    What NOT TO DO and Montreal? Don’t go in the many microbreweries of the city (So it means GOOOO!!!)
    Why?
    They brew some very, very good beer, and they are located in many neighborhoods throughout the city. So, you’ll see and know many places where the “traditionnal” tourist doesn’t go.
    One of my favorite:
    – Microbrasserie Dieu du ciel! in the Plateau/Mile-End neighborhoods.
    Others you can try (the one I know or remember)
    – Brasseur de Montréal (in Griffintown)
    – Benelux ( in Quartier des spectacles)
    – La succursale (in Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie)
    – HELM (in Outremont/Mile-End)
    – L’Amère à boire (Quartier latin)
    – Le St-Bock (Quartier latin) (probably the largest beer selection of the city, over 300 different kinds, from all around the world, ask for “the beer bible” when you get there)
    – Bistro-pub le Vice et Versa (in La-Petite-Patrie, not sure if they brew some beer, but they have a nice selection, outside of the popular and crowed neighborhoods, with good atmosphere)

    Enjoy!

    François

    Reply
    • François P.

      What NOT TO DO *in* Montreal?

      Sorry for the mistake, and sorry for all the other mistake I would’ve made!

      François

      Reply
  8. Nicole

    I love this post! You really drew me in with the “don’t do” thing – when I worked in a hostel in Seattle and tourists would ask me for recommendations for what to do, I would always begin my answer with “Well, whatever about that, make sure you DON’T…”

    Great information about Montreal, it’s definitely on my list of places to visit when I move to Canada next month. Better start revising my high school French!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks Nicole and have a great trip!

      Reply
  9. Caro

    Great post. As a native Montréaler and french-Canadian, thanks for making the french language the first point. It’s more than just the most used language, it’s an identity and every Québecois is proud. The city has a lot more english than it did 20 years ago and it can be painful to witness. Great point!

    Reply
  10. Mindy & Ligeia

    If you’re a sports fan, don’t miss a Canadiens games (known affectionately in Montreal as the “Habs”). Also, if you do decide to visit the Olympic Stadium, don’t forget to bring a hard hat… or have they secured the falling cement? And finally, don’t depend on a GPS while driving. The twists and turns in the highways, biways and side streets are enough to make your head spin, as well as your GPS! 🙂

    Reply
  11. Chad

    Montreal is one of my favorite cities. I think you put together a great list. I made the “Stay only in the Old Port” mistake the first couple times I visited. There’s so much more to see! The view from Mont Royal and the bars on Rue Crescent to name a couple.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks Chad and you’re right it’s an amazing city 🙂

      Reply
  12. Tom @ Waegook Tom

    I just published a post about how much I LOVE Montreal today, and I agree with EVERYTHING here. I studied French for 7 years at school, and used it as my default language in Montreal – even though everyone would automatically reply in English, because they could suss out my distinctly non-native accent. But they were happy I spoke French. I got smiles. And on the one or two occasions where people spoke in French back to me and I didn’t understand, a simple smile and a, “je suis desole, parlez vous anglais?” was enough.

    I’d add Jean-Talon market to this list, I LOVED it there. And definitely the gay village, even for non-homosexuals. I just love the vibe there. It’s all pedestrianised, buzzing with activity, lots of street art, and pink balls hanging above the streets. I love dangly pink balls.

    And GREAT call on La Banquise. So good I went there twice in three days after soliciting advice on where to get the best poutine from Twitter folk.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      So glad you love Montreal as well! I’ve been there a couple of times and each time was fantastic. There’s just a vibe to the city that’s hard to describe, but wonderful to experience in person.

      Reply
  13. Matthew Hall

    “don’t” go to a marche’

    Reply
  14. alyson

    Just decided to visit Montreal for my “big” birthday after reading this post. Thanks, Matt, and all commenters!

    Reply
  15. Michel

    Let’s not forget the fireworks competition in the summer ,held in the middle of Fleuve St-Laurent near Downtown . Also in the summer months ,every year are 3 big events. Francofolies , Festival juste pour rire and Le festival de jazz . Although you might have to pay to see your favorite artist in a given venue, many shows are free gigs held outside at Place des Festivals ( around Place des Arts ) . The area is fenced , they only enforce one rule, no drinks or food from outside. The 3 events are not stressful, good for families .
    And about the mapple syrop, just buy a can. It will not leak or brealk in your luggage !

    Reply
  16. Michel

    Oh yes Matt ?
    You forgot to mention the bike share system ” BIXI “. From April to November one can use a shared bicycle to visit the city. The ride along the canal de Lachine is beautiful at the same time giving a taste of 19 th century faded grandeure. Also, in the very cold of the winter, one has to go to the Bassin Bonsecours in the Vieux Port. Skate and admire the skyline of the city ! ( they rent skates )

    Reply
  17. Dan

    You gotta fix these double negatives! How am I supposed to know what I shouldn’t don’t don’t not do!

    Reply
  18. Meredith

    I just sent my husband off to Montreal for a work trip (Sadly I was unable to accompany him). What are some good and classy “souvenirs” that he could bring home from Montreal? I like to decorate my house with things from our travels so art or trinkets would be perfect!

    Reply
  19. Al

    Unfortunately there are some people who simply can’t learn French. I’ve tried and I just don’t have the chops and I’ve been told to shut up and speak English on the few occasions when I have tried because I’m so poor at it. Not everyone has the aptitude for it. I’ve actually been spooked away from ever visiting Montreal by people who have gone without knowledge of French and they’ve had a horrid time. Luckily there’s a lot more of Canada to see.

    Reply
  20. Klips

    Im from here and I kinda agree– except for the smoke meat.. just eat it , yes stand in line, yes get laughed at by the locals,(Me) but stand in line and try to imagine the history (its hard too.. but try)

    Reply

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