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Solo Travel, Local Culture And Going Beyond The Guidebook In Montreal, Canada

downtown montreal

Downtown Montreal. Photo courtesy of bryanscott.

Looking to travel to Montreal, Canada? Montreal native and editor of Moi, messouliers Jennifer Doré Dallas shares her local knowledge of the city with advice and recommendations below on how to travel on a budget, solo and beyond the guidebook through this fascinating destination.

1. For a beyond the guidebook experience

Visit the Villeray neighborhood, which is where I live. Hop off at the Jean-Talon metro station (subway) on the orange line, and walk west toward the Jean-Talon market. Take some time to explore it, then buy produce for a picnic. Continue west on Jean-Talon Street until you hit St-Laurent where you’ll turn right. Two streets north, you’ll find the Park Jarry, a beautiful park many people overlook. Stroll along and relax, eat what you bought and do some people watching. If you’re lucky, you’ll even see some slackliners and could join in on an outdoor yoga or karate class. Once you’re done, take Villeray Street to the east. It’s a great little street to get a feel of the residential neighborhood. Stop for a coffee at Café Vito, have our traditional dish poutine at Frite Alors, have a drink at Miss Villeray, buy an original souvenir at the shop at the corner of Henri-Julien Street, grab a cupcake at Mlles Gâteaux or an awesome baklava at Pâtisserie Villeray. Continue your exploration of the neighborhood (Castelnau and Jarry streets are also interesting) or head back to the metro station by walking on St-Denis street.

2. For those wanting to experience local culture

You can’t get more local than visiting a coffee shop or sipping a cocktail on a terrace during the summer months. During a festival is also a great time to be in Montreal. We love to eat out with friends or escape the heat in our parks, so that’s a great way to go local. Rent a Bixi bike for the day and let your intuition guide you.

Poutine. Photo courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik.

3. For someone wanting a traditional meal

You HAVE to try poutine, which will undoubtedly become one of your Canada travel highlights! It’s basically a meal consisting of fries covered in gravy and curd cheese. It’s not only for tourists, we love it and eat it too. There is also an ongoing “war” about the best poutine places as well as its birthplace, so everyone will have a different opinion about where to eat one. Most people agree the Banquise is the best place in Montreal for a true poutine fest!

4. For those wanting to partake in some adventure

One of the fun places to go is the Canal Lachine. You can stroll along the water or bike. It’s even possible for the bravest to surf in the rapids. A lot of locals go there and, although you need a little bit of previous experience, it’s possible to ride the waves for some afternoon fun. If you do like surfing, you can also do some interior surfing at Maeva Surf in Laval. There are also interior skydiving, climbing and trampoline centers that can be fun for a rainy day.

5. Stay in a Hostel

If you’re a backpacker or budget traveler heading to Montreal, know that our hostels are well rated, so they are a great place to sleep on the cheap. Save on transportation by buying a day or week pass. Montreal is easily walkable or cyclable too, so venture out. You’ll find interesting stuff along the way. Produce markets are a great way to eat on a budget. Some prices are steep in more popular markets, but you’ll be able to sample products and chit-chat with the owners, which will transform eating into a full-on local experience. Grab bites here and there instead of having a 3 course meal. If you want to, remember most appetizers in restaurants are enough for a meal for most people, so you won’t need to order an entrée. A day on Mont-Royal or walking around near the Stadium are also ways to see the sights on the cheap, as they don’t require any money, but you’ll have some great photos to take home!
parc jarry

Parc Jarry. Photo courtesy of abdallah.

6. For those wanting to assimilate into local culture

Learning a little bit of French will go a long way. Most people speak enough English to converse with you, but saying bonjour (good day), s’il-vous-plaît (please) and merci (thank you) will show your good intentions. Don’t forget to tip, as well. You may not be accustomed to it, but we have a 15 % tipping policy here (taxis, waiters, coffee shops, etc.).

7. For a local accommodation with character

Try to find an apartment for rent on Airbnb. You know the ones with typical Montreal spiral staircases? Those are a great option. Sleep in a bed and breakfast to be able to interact with locals and not only tourists. Also, find a hostel or hotel out of the tourist zones.

8. Sip a drink paired with a beautiful view in Montreal

Head to a terrace. We love having a drink outside in the summer months after so much cold weather. Here are some of my favorites. But beware, as in most cities, going for drinks isn’t a budget affair!
  • Terraces Bonsecours in the Old Port
  • Terrace du Labo Culinaire de la Société des arts technologiques
  • Le Sainte-Élisabeth bar (interior garden though)
  • Suite 701
  • Bistro des Moulins
  • Hôtel Nelligan’s rooftop terrace
  • Café des Éclusiers
  • And soooooo many more…
making drinks

Craft cocktails. Photo courtesy of star5112.

9. Party like a local in Montreal

Downtown Montreal has dozens of great places to go out. If you’re looking for more of a budget experience, try pubs and bars and stay away from streets like Crescent or Sainte-Catherine. If you want glamour, then business district has some chic places to explore!

10. For a must-experience day or weekend trip

Quebec City is only 2.5-hour bus ride away. During the fall months, don’t miss heading north for some incredible colors in our forests. Go apple picking too! Just outside of Montreal (a subway ride away), Laval has great shopping malls, restaurants, parks and bike paths to explore. Want to go farther? Hop on a plane and explore the many Victoria BC travel experiences to be had!

11. For solo travelers

If you’re traveling solo in Montreal, it’s good to know that Montreal is super safe. I am a solo female traveler myself and always compare everything to Montreal. You can easily walk safely on main streets until late into the night, and taxi drivers have a good reputation. Obviously, like anywhere else, walking in dark streets or alone in empty neighborhoods is never a good idea — especially when alcohol is in the mix; however, if you stay on the beaten path at night, you’ll be fine. During the day, there aren’t any places I’d tell you not to go. Just be street smart like in any other big city with your wallet and bag, like on the subway. Personally, I’ve never been robbed, mugged or harassed in 30 years nor have any of my friends, so you can rest assured you’ll have a great time. jennifer

About The Expert

Jennifer Doré Dallas 
is a blogger, backpacker, foodie and paparazzi who has traveled to 35+ countries. While traveling, she has a Ziploc bag addiction and hates umbrellas. Stuff she can’t leave behind? Her notebook and camera (ok, ok, her iPhone as well…). Her budget tip? Markets and grocery stores and staying away from guidebook restaurants. Follow her adventures at Moi, messouliers or email her at info (at) moimessouliers (dot) org.

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About Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa is an New York-based travel content creator who is passionate about empowering her audience to experience new places and live a life of adventure. She is the founder of the solo female travel blog, Jessie on a Journey, and is editor-in-chief of Epicure & Culture, an online conscious tourism magazine. Along with writing, Jessie is a professional photographer and is the owner of NYC Photo Journeys, which offers New York photo tours, photo shoots, and wedding photography. Her work has appeared in publications like USA Today, CNN, Business Insider, Thrillist, and WestJet Magazine.

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