How to Experience Montreal Like A Local

Things To Do In Montreal If You’re Visiting For The First

| Opinion based

Local Montreal guide and tips to exploring the city

Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there? Not so for Montreal! Montreal is an amazing city to visit and live in. As locals know, there is always something new to discover and experience. Or old favourites to experience again and again.

But, like many popular tourist destinations, we have our fair share of tourist traps. We also have a whole host of hidden spots where locals love to go to experience the very best this city has to offer.

Picture of Montreal coming from the south shore

As a tourist, how can you experience the city like a local? Here are our top tips:

1. Check festival and event listings… to avoid

Montreal has a vibrant festival culture. In the summer months, it feels like there’s one happening every weekend. Many of them are wonderful to experience and often have free shows and street performances to accompany them. But if you’re not in town specifically for a festival and you want to spend some time walking around, discovering the city, without pressing crowds all around you, it’s best to avoid the area where they’re happening.

For example, you don’t want to be trying to reach your AirBnB on Rachel street in the middle of Tour de l’Ile, and you definitely don’t want to be looking for downtown parking when it’s the Habs home opener.

Locals know when and where to avoid going at any given time of year. All it takes is a quick Google of events around the dates of your planned visit to know what’s happening and where.

2. Ditch the car

Montreal is a BMW city. Bus (or bike), metro, walk. Traffic is bad, parking is confusing, there’s construction everywhere, and locals just prefer not to deal with it.

If you have to drive to get here, find yourself some long term parking on arrival and forget your car exists until it’s time to head home.

3. Get familiar with the metro

The Montreal metro system may not be the most aromatically pleasing subway system in the world, but it is really easy to figure out. And Google Maps’ public transportation directions make it even easier to get from A to B.

The metro uses simple colour-coded lines and, unlike more complex systems, it’s one line per track, so as long as you’ve got the right station and direction, there’s no risk of hopping on the wrong train.

To figure out your direction, use the name of the end-of-the-line stop. For example, if you’re starting at Bonaventure station on the orange line and want to get to Berri-UQAM station, you want direction “Montmorency” as that’s the name of the terminal in that direction. If you’re getting off at Berri-UQAM to switch over to the green line to head towards Pie-IX station, get off at Berri-UQAM and simply follow the green signs for “Honoré-Beaugrand”, as that’s the terminal in the Pie-IX direction.

If you’re going to be in town for a few days, purchase one of the multi-day or weekly passes instead of individual tickets, as this can save you a lot of money in the long run.

4. Don’t miss the bagels

Remember when we said food is life in Montreal? We weren’t kidding. Food really is everything here. On top of the amazing restaurants, bars and cafes, Montreal also has the best bagels in the North America (sorry New York, but it’s true).

Montreal bagels are dense with a large hole in the middle. A proper Montreal bagel is handmade, boiled in honey water and baked in a wood fire oven. The classic is the sesame bagel, but they come in everything from plain, to poppyseed, to pumpernickel, to onion and so much more.

There are two top contenders for official bagel of Montreal: St. Viateur and Fairmount. Though the debate as to which is best rages (also good heartedly) on, what every Montrealer can agree on is that nothing beats a hot, fresh out of the oven bagel. Do not miss this!

Photo by Oscar Nord on Unsplash

5 - Don’t stand on the street at 3am shouting “MONTREAL!!”

Please. Just don’t.

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

6 - Do hit up a terrace

They say our love of terraces is because our winters are so long and summers so short. And that’s definitely a big part of it. But we also love us some people watching and staying part of the action without really having to… act.

There’s just something about relaxing outside on a beautiful day, sharing a few drinks and good food with friends or family and enjoying good conversation, live music or even just taking in the view instead of staring at your smartphone that makes you truly feel part of the city. You hear a lot about “the vibe” in Montreal. On a terrace is where you feel the vibe.

Photo by Nidia Dias on Unsplash

7 - Take in a show

There’s so much more to live entertainment than the big venues (although you’ll find some incredible acts there as well). Montreal has many smaller concert venues like Metropolis, Corona Theatre and Theatre St. Denis, and then there are the many, many venues with amazing local talent on display, often for free.

Check out bars and clubs with live performances, small comedy clubs and improv groups and even restaurants that feature live music. Take in a burlesque show at The Wiggle Room, grab a pint and enjoy the live bands at Brutopia, Hurley’s or McKibbin’s, head down to St. Denis for some live blues at Bistro à Jojo, or hit up Upstairs Jazz Bar for live jazz and good food. Feeling a little country? The Wheel Club is home to the The Old Time Country Music Club of Canada and is a live music experience you won’t soon forget! And if you’re looking for something even more laid back, there’s always Sunday Tam-Tams at Mount Royal Park!

8 - Take a hike

Just because it’s a bustling city doesn’t mean there isn’t any nature to take in. Montreal has a variety of parks to explore and while it may not be the most vigorous hiking of your life, it is how many locals get their nature fix.

Mount Royal park is the largest with extensive walking and biking trails, which are used for skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, the beautiful Beaver Lake and of course, a breathtaking view of the city that even born and raised Montrealers still Instagram. Other favourites include Parc Lafontaine, Jarry Park and Westmount Park. If you want to venture outside the city, that’s when you get a real taste of nature. Check out Oka National Park, the many trails of St Sauveur, St Bruno and Mont Tremblant, or tackle the stunning trails or the Gault Nature Reserve in Mont St Hilaire.

Relax the Montreal Way

Above all, just try to relax, have fun and go with the flow. It’s the Montreal way ;-)