Shoestring reader and friend of the blog James D., currently of the Big Apple, took a trip to Montreal this summer and had the following tips for fellow no-budget travelers:
+ Getting There: if you have time, take the train from NYC. Yes, it is a long ride, but it is a beautiful one, and the best part is the train station is right in the middle of downtown. The airport is about 30 minutes outside of the city.
+ Getting Around: like NYC, the city is on a grid, making traveling around really straightforward. The Metro is fast, cheap and easy to navigate.
+ A City of Green Neighborhoods: during the days, I explored the city on foot. A great hike is up the Mountain (Parc du Mont-Royal). This was an all day hike, up and around. There are breathtaking views of the city and there were a lot of people picnicking up there.
The sightly less trendy part of the city is the Plateau. This is north of Parc la Fontaine, another wonderful park in the city. Down the hill from the park (down rue Amherst) is a nice little market that is a great place to pick up a snack for lunch.
For the historic charms of the city, head to Vieux Montreal — the Old City (think European cobblestone streets). Here you’ll find lots of museums and a nice walk along the water. Wandering around the back streets, I found a small store with a sandwich and drink combo for under $5.
The last day I walked over to one of the islands in the St. Lawrence River, Parc Jean-Drapeau. The home of the Biosphere and the Olympic Fields, you can beat the crowds by getting lost instead in the surrounding woody area.
+ Free (and Useful!) Brochures: the two best things I picked up were totally free: the first was the official tourist guide to the city. I saw stacks of these in every hotel and B&B. It has some small maps and lots of historical information about the different areas of the city and some of the more touristy things to do. It is paid for by advertisers, so I was wary of the food recommendations. The second was a free city map. This was large, but even the locals had them, so you don’t stand out holding one.
+ Practice that French: while a lot of people do speak English, a little bit of French will go far. If you get lost, it is faster to start off in broken French and the person will do their best to help you out.
+ Bring your Own: the main street in Montreal is Ste. Catherine. It is great during the summer since the majority of it is closed off and becomes pedestrian-only. However, like all downtown areas, it is the most expensive part of the city for food. I went there almost every night with a coffee and sat in one of the many little parks just to watch the city go by.
+ More Cheap Entertainment: Montreal also has a great bar culture, with many no-cover shows: jazz, rock-a-billy, etc.
+ When to Visit: every weekend during the summer, the city comes alive with festivals and parades. During the Jazz Fest you’ll find numerous free concerts all day long. Another festival I caught while visiting was Gale-rue d’Art, an art street festival.
+ Where to Stay: Montreal is filled with B&Bs. The one I stayed at fed me tons of food and allowed me to do laundry there. The manager also gave me suggestions on things to do every day. Talk to locals! Plus, if it is a good B&B, they will feed you enough for two meals.
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