What is it like living in Montreal? Where is Montreal? How does cost of living in Montreal compare with other cities? We help you address some of the questions about Montreal before you research your adopted city further.
Apartment hunting in Montreal? Rentals.ca is one of the best resources to help with your house-hunting search. Rentals.ca has a good selection of houses, condos and apartments for rent.
- Where is Montreal?
- About Montreal
- Weather in Montreal
- Cost of Living
- Things you will notice about Montreal
- Dining out in Montreal
- Montreal’s Nightlife
- Festivals in Montreal
- Transit in Montreal
Where is Montreal?
Montreal is located in the southwest of the province of Quebec, just 70km (43 miles) from the US border. The city itself is situated on The Island of Montreal at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa rivers.
Montreal is the second-largest city in Canada and the second-largest predominantly French-speaking city in the western world, after Paris. Language is the most conspicuous difference between this city and province and the rest of Canada, but more on that later. The city’s reputation for lively nightlife and hedonism began during the period of prohibition when Americans would head north in search of alcohol and a good time, and it remains a bustling, cosmopolitan city to this today. It has a more European feel than a standard North American city, as well as a relatively inexpensive cost of living compared with other large Canadian cities. The city takes its name from the three-peaked hill, Mount Royal, which sits immediately northwest of downtown.
The weather in Montreal goes through four distinct seasons, with winter being drastically different to what most immigrants would be accustomed to in their native countries. Snow cover can be expected from early December until late March, though this is changeable year to year. January and February are bitterly cold, with temperatures often hitting -20°C or below. You will need a sturdy pair of boots and thick socks, as well as a warm winter coat and hat, scarf and gloves. Spring tends to be short, with a warm May leading into hot, humid summers where you can expect daily temperatures in the high 20s. Autumn explodes with colour, with oranges and browns covering Mount Royal and the large parks dotted around the island.
Cost of living
The biggest financial bonus for anyone moving to Montreal is that rental prices are much lower than other Canadian cities. A decent room in a shared apartment in a good area close to downtown can be rented for $400 per month, with some one-bedroom apartments starting at $550-600. These are base figures, and depending on taste and expectations you can expect to pay more. Household utilities are quite reasonably priced and generally charged per month. Groceries and eating out, however, are at or above the national average. A pint of local beer in a bar off the beaten path should set you back about $5, but imports are more expensive, as much as $9 in the more touristy areas around Crescent St and the Old Port. Tipping is standard practice, typically a dollar per drink or 15-20% of the bill for good service. Overall, the cost of living in Montreal is affordable, but this can be offset by slightly lower wages and higher taxes than the national average.
Things you will notice about Montreal
- Swearing: While the standard French swear words such as merde are used, stronger profanities are those borrowed from Catholicism and its liturgy. When a Montrealer stubs her toe or wants to admonish someone, she’ll probably scream tabarnak! This comes from the church tabernacle. Other choice profanities include sacrament (“sacrament”), ostie (“host”, as in communion bread), and maudit (“damn”). Changing and mixing swearwords is a sort of verbal art, and a quickfire “ostie de tabarnak de calisse!” signifies a very angry person and not a priest speaking in tongues.
- Mount Royal: On a clear day, you will notice the “mountain” (more like a hill at 233m/764ft, but don’t say that too loudly as locals take great pride in it) before you even set foot on Canadian soil. Its three peaks are very conspicuous when flying or driving into the city, and few cities in the world have such a wonderful natural amenity right in the heart of the city. Winter means cross-country skiing, tobogganing and snowball fights, with the other three seasons providing lush parkland, an artificial lake and paths where joggers and cyclists compete with pedestrians for space. A chalet with a lookout point overlooks downtown and beyond toward New York State and Vermont.
- The “Underground City”: Officially known as RÉSO and sometimes referred to as la ville souterraine, this series of interconnected passages provides refuge from extreme weather during the winter, as well as often being a pleasant getaway from particularly hot summer afternoons. With more than 120 exterior access points and around 32 km/20 miles of tunnels, it connects Métro stations, commuter stations, shopping malls, offices, apartments, banks, universities, the main bus station and the Bell Centre arena.
- Cycling: This is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, with hundreds of kilometres of cycle paths. The BIXI system is rated as the best public bike system in the world, with more than 400 stations dotted around the city.
- Politics: Many Quebecers, almost all of them francophone, have a fiercely nationalist streak. The dream is to one day break away from Canada and form their own country, a feat they almost managed in a 1995 referendum. Before launching into a debate, be sure to know what you’re talking about. It’s practically impossible to avoid politics when living in Montreal.
Dining out in Montreal
In any list of the best dining cities in North America, Montreal is usually in the top three or four. Some even rate it the best, and its only real rival in Canada is Vancouver. It’s hard to measure these things, but it is said that Montreal has more restaurants per capita than any other city on the continent.
One could list the different styles and ethnicities of the cuisine available, but it’s easier to list what is not on offer: absolutely nothing. Every continent, and indeed practically every country, is represented. You will find numerous restaurants of the sort that are popular in any western city — Italian, Asian, American-style diners — but life in Montreal would not be the same without poutine.
What is poutine? The three basic ingredients are well-done French fries, cheese curds and brown, meaty gravy. It is said that the gravy was added so the food stayed warm during the long, cold winter. Like other local working-class delicacies across the world — consider pizza or stew — poutine was established by using a mixture of seemingly unappetizing, leftover foods and throwing them together, with surprisingly delicious consequences. Other ingredients such as beef, pork, chicken, seafood and vegetables are often added to the basic ingredients, and a variation called poutine italienne substitutes bolognaise sauce for the gravy. The 24-hour La Banquise on Rachel Street in the Plateau serves more than 25 variations of poutine, and a long line out the door can usually be seen in the small hours of the night.
The sizable Jewish community has left its mark on local cuisine, with smoked meat (viande fumée) a particular favourite. Schwartz’s on St-Laurent is the centre of the smoked meat world, or so it would appear from the seemingly permanent line of people around the block waiting to get in.
Many restaurants allow you to bring your own wine and beer, and there is usually a SAQ liquor store or dépanneur (corner store) nearby. Look out for “apportez votre vin” signs in windows. The quality of wine in the SAQ stores is much better, as for some bizarre reason the dépanneurs and most supermarkets are not allowed to sell wine that tells you the grape variety on the label. The highest concentration of “apportez votre vin” restaurants is in the Plateau, particularly on Prince-Arthur, Duluth and Rachel Streets.
Some of our favourite restaurants are:
- Le Mas des Oliviers – Southern French (Bishop St, Downtown)
- Joe Beef & Liverpool House – Steakhouse & Seafood (Notre-Dame St)
- La Salle à Manger – French, Quebecois (Mont-Royal Avenue, Plateau)
- Bocata – Wine bar, French (St-Paul St, Old Montreal)
- Garde Manger – Seafood (Saint-François-Xavier St, Old Montreal)
- Toyo – Japanese (De la Montagne St, Downtown)
- Tuck Shop – Bistro (Notre-Dame St, St-Henri)
- Pintxo – Spanish (Roy St, Plateau)
Montreal is world famous for its nightlife, and rightly so. Whatever your budget or music taste, the city provides a seemingly endless range of options from small dive bars to the most upscale nightclubs. It is truly the entertainment capital of Canada. Retail alcohol sales stop at 11 p.m. and bars and clubs stop serving at 3 a.m., though in summertime some establishments try to stretch the night out an extra hour. The legal drinking age in Quebec is 18, a year earlier than most of Canada and, given Montreal’s proximity to the USA, many American students head north over the border for a weekend of revelry. Bachelor (stag) and bachelorette (hen) parties come for the abundant adult-oriented joints around town.
There are three main strips for bar-hopping. Trendy and expensive Crescent St on the western side of downtown caters mostly to anglophones and tourists, though the adjacent Bishop St has more of a local clientele. McKibbins on Bishop St is highly recommended for a genuine atmosphere and live music. Boulevard St-Laurent on the edge of the Plateau — particularly the stretch from Sherbrooke to Ave des Pins where you’ll find stylish bars and clubs with a more francophone clientele — gets extremely busy when Concordia and McGill students are back for a new session. The Latin Quarter on St-Denis comes into its own during the summer, when large outdoor patios (terrasses) line the stretch between de Maisonneuve and Sherbrooke. More local scenes can be found in the Gay Village around Beaudry Métro station, Mont-Royal Avenue in the Plateau and Monkland Avenue in NDG.
Every month of the year contains some sort of festival in Montreal, but things really get going when the sun comes out in summer and the area around Place des Arts hosts free shows all afternoon and evening. The largest jazz festival in the world occurs from late June into July, and some of the most renowned acts on the planet join an influx of tourists to the city. Montreal is also home to the world’s largest comedy festival, Just for Laughs (Juste pour rire), which comes just after the jazz during the second half of July. The Osheaga music festival is a weekend-long summer jamboree on Île Sainte-Hélène, with multiple stages hosting some of the most famous artists in the world.
If you plan on living relatively close to the city and don’t plan on owning a car, it is very likely that you will regularly be using the city’s Métro system, built in the mid-1960s in time for the 1967 Expo and 1976 Olympic Games. Run by the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), the Métro has four lines, 68 stations, and is the busiest subway system in Canada in terms of daily usage. The green line runs east-west, as does the horseshoe-shaped orange line at its busiest section – both lines run through downtown. The blue line runs east-west to the north of Mount Royal, and the short yellow line serves Longueuil and the South Shore.
At the time of writing, a single journey costs $3 including transfers within the Métro and to STM buses. Two tickets cost $5.50. It is strongly advised, however, that you purchase on Opus pass for $6 and charge it for a pre-paid time period: one month costs $77, a week costs $23.75, three days costs $18, and one day costs $9. Students under-25 can get their Opus pass charged for $45 per month. The Opus pass can be used on all on-island (i.e. excluding Laval and Longueuil) Métros and buses. The Métro runs until approximately 12.30am on weekdays and 1.30am on Friday and Saturday nights.
Other commuter trains serving the outer suburbs are run by the Agence métropolitane de transport and are priced distinctly from STM services.
For those who plan on driving around the city, take time getting used to driving on the right before tackling the downtown area where drivers often take daring risks. Driving in winter can be hazardous, particularly after a huge dump of snow, so make sure that your vehicle is properly kitted out with the appropriate tyres (pneus) and heating system. Canadians, especially those who move to Quebec from another province, will repeatedly moan about the roads, but people moving from Ireland will find them to be generally better than home.
Montreal is perfect for cycling, with hundreds of kilometres of designated bike paths. The BIXI system is a public bicycle sharing system that is available for three seasons of the year from April to November. With more than 5,000 bikes and 400 docking stations throughout the city, signing up for a BIXI subscription ($80 per year) is a good investment.