Montréal is a terrific walking city. All the neighborhoods listed in this book are compact enough to be easily experienced by foot. Other transportation—Métro, bus, bike, taxi, car—will generally only be necessary when traveling from one neighborhood to another.
When walking, cross only at street corners and only when you have a green light or a walk sign. City police are known to issue tickets to jaywalkers in an attempt to cut down on the number of accidents involving pedestrians.
Travelers in wheelchairs or using strollers will find the city generally accommodating. Sidewalks have curb cuts for easy passage onto the streets.
July 1: Citywide Moving Day -- Montréal is an island of renters, and some 100,000 people move from old apartments to new ones every July 1. Rental leases used to be required to start on that day, chosen in part so that it doesn’t fall within the school year. It’s no longer a mandate, but most leases still start and end on that date. July 1 also coincides with Canada’s National Day, ensuring that separatist-minded Francophone Québécois won’t have time to celebrate that national holiday.
All but certain to be miserably hot and humid, Moving day is a trial that can, nevertheless, be hilarious to observe. See families struggle to get bedroom sets and large appliances down narrow outdoor staircases! Watch sidewalks become obstacle courses of baby cribs, bicycles, and overflowing cardboard boxes! Listen to the cacophony of horns as streets become clogged with every serviceable van, truck, and SUV! Visitors can take advantage of numerous garage sales and trash picking, although you’ll certainly want to avoid driving in residential areas on that day. The whole process provides a good excuse for partying when it’s all over.
For speed and economy, nothing beats Montréal’s Métro system, operated by the STM (Société de transport de Montréal). The stations are marked on the street by blue-and-white signs that show a circle enclosing a down-pointing arrow. The Métro is relatively clean, and quiet trains whisk passengers through a decent network. It runs from about 5:30am to 12:30am, Sunday through Friday, and until about 1am on Saturday night (technically Sun morning). Information is available online at www.stm.info or by phone at tel 514/786-4636.
Fares are set by the ride, not by distance. A single ride, on either the bus or Métro, costs C$3. You can purchase tickets for cash only from a booth attendant at a Métro station, where you can buy a set of 10 tickets for C$25.50. Automatic vending machines take credit cards. Tickets serve as proof of payment, so hold onto them for the duration of your trip. Transit police make periodic checks at transfer points or upon exiting and the fine for not having a ticket can run as high as C$500.
One-day and 3-day passes are a good deal if you plan to use the Métro more than twice a day. You get unlimited access to the Métro and bus network for 1 day for C$10 or 3 consecutive days for C$18. The front of the card has scratch-off sections like a lottery card—you scratch out the month and day (or 3 consecutive days) on which you’re using the card. They’re available at select stations; find the list at www.stm.info.
You’ll see locals using the plastic OPUS smart card, on which fares can be loaded on automated machines. Blank OPUS cards must first be purchased for C$6 before any value is loaded onto them, so unless you’re a frequent traveler to the city, the paper tickets and 1- or 3-day passes are your best bets.
To pay, either slip your paper ticket into the slot in the turnstile and take it as it comes out, or show your pass to the booth attendant. A single paper ticket acts as its own transfer ticket; there are 2 hours from the time a ticket is first validated to transfer, and you insert the ticket into the machine of the next bus or Métro train.
Note: Accessibility is limited for wheelchairs and strollers. Accessibility is often difficult for people with mobility restrictions or parents with strollers. Only Métro seven stations have elevators. There can be substantial distances between stations as well. Traveling by bus might be the better option.
Smartphone users can download the STM app for iPhone and Android from the App Store and Google Play. The app provides daily bus and subway schedules and lets users save routes, among other options.
Bus fares are the same as fares for Métro trains, and Métro tickets are good on buses, too. Exact change is required if you want to pay on the bus. Buses run throughout the city and give tourists the advantage of traveling aboveground, although they don’t run as frequently or as swiftly as the Métro. Select buses have front-door access ramps for wheelchairs and strollers.
Montréal has an exceptionally good system of bike paths, and bicycling is as common for transportation as it is for recreation.
Since 2009, a self-service bicycle rental program called BIXI (www.bixi.com; tel 877/820-2453) has become a big presence in the city. A combination of the words bicyclette and taxi, BIXI is similar to programs in Paris, Barcelona, and Toronto, where users pick up bikes from special BIXI stands throughout the city and drop them off at any other stand, for a small fee. (The company that started the city program declared bankruptcy in early 2014, but the city and other partners swooped in and operations have continued without a hitch to users.) Some 5,000 bikes are in operation and available at 400 stations in Montréal's central boroughs.
While 1-year and 30-day subscriptions are available, visitors can buy a 24-hour access pass for C$5. During those 24 hours, you can borrow bikes as many times as you want. For each trip, the first 45 minutes are free. Trips longer than 45 minutes incur additional charges, which are added onto the initial C$5 fee. Depending on your needs, zipping on and off BIXI bikes throughout the day can be both an economical and a fun way to get around. BIXI operates from April through November before shutting down during the harsh winter months.
If you want a bike for a full day or longer, it will be cheaper to rent from a shop (you’ll also get a helmet and lock, which BIXI doesn’t provide). One of the most centrally located is Ça Roule/Montréal on Wheels (www.caroulemontreal.com; tel 877/866-0633 or 514/866-0633), at 27 rue de la Commune est, the waterfront road in Vieux-Port.
A huge network of bicycle paths runs throughout the city, with whole sections of roads turned into bike lanes during the warm months. The nonprofit biking organization Vélo Québec (www.velo.qc.ca; tel 800/567-8356 or 514/521-8356) offers guided tours throughout the province (vélo means “bicycle” in French).
Passengers can take bicycles on the Métro from 10am to 3pm and after 7pm on weekdays, and all day weekends and holidays. This rule is suspended on special-event days, when trains are too crowded. Board the first car of the train, which can hold a maximum of four bikes (if there are already four bikes on that car, you have to wait for the next train). Details are online at www.stm.info/en/info/advice/bicycles.
Several taxi companies participate in the Taxi+Vélo program. You call, tell them you have a bike to transport, and a cab with a bike rack arrives. Up to three bikes can be carried for an extra fee of C$3 each. Participating companies are at www.velo.qc.ca (search for taxi+vélo); Taxi Diamond (tel 514/273-6331) is one choice.
Cabs come in a variety of colors and styles, so their principal distinguishing feature is the plastic sign on the roof. At night, the sign is illuminated when the cab is available. The initial charge is C$3.30. Each additional kilometer ( 1/2 mile) adds C$1.70, and each minute of waiting adds C63[ce]. A short ride from one point to another downtown usually costs about C$8. Tip about 10 to 15 percent.
Members of hotel and restaurant staffs can call cabs, many of which are dispatched by radio. They line up outside most large hotels or can be hailed on the street.
Montréal taxi drivers range in temperament from unstoppably loquacious to sullen and cranky—just like in any other city. Similarly, some know the city well; others have sketchy geographical knowledge and poor language skills. It’s a good idea to have your destination written down—with the cross street—to show your driver. Also keep in mind that not all drivers accept credit cards.
Montréal is an easy city to navigate by car, although traffic during morning and late-afternoon rush hour can be heavy.
If you’ve got a smartphone enabled with an international data plan, you can easily use your device’s GPS navigation function (keep in mind that this uses a lot of data roaming). Apps such as NavFree GPS Canada can be used in offline mode to view pre-loaded maps much as you would a traditional paper map.
Downtown Montréal has plenty of metered spaces. Traditional meters are set well back from the curb so they won’t be buried by plowed snow in winter, but you’ll most likely find computerized Pay and Go stations. Look for the black metal kiosks, columns about 1.8m (6 ft.) tall, with a white “P” in a blue circle. Press the “English” button, enter the letter from the space where you are parked, and then pay with cash or a credit card, following the onscreen instructions. Parking costs C$3 to C$4 per hour depending on the neighborhood, and meters are in effect every day until 9pm. Check for signs noting parking restrictions, usually showing a red circle with a diagonal slash.
Most downtown shopping complexes have underground parking lots, as do the big downtown hotels. Some hotels offer in and out privileges, letting you take your car in and out of the garage without a fee—useful if you plan to do some sightseeing by car.
The limited-access expressways in Québec are called autoroutes, with distances given in kilometers (km) and speed limits given in kilometers per hour (kmph). Because French is the province’s official language, most highway signs are only in French, though Montréal’s autoroutes and bridges often bear dual-language signs. In Québec, the highway speed limit is 100 kmph (62 mph). Toll roads are rare.
One traffic light function often confuses newcomers: When you see a green arrow pointing straight ahead instead of a green light, that means pedestrians have the right of way in the intersection. After a moment, the light will turn from an arrow to a regular green light and you can then turn left or right in addition to going straight.
A blinking green light means that oncoming traffic still has a red light, making it safe to make a left turn. Turning right on a red light is prohibited on the island of Montréal, except where specifically allowed by an additional green arrow. Off the island, it is legal to turn right after stopping at red lights, except where there’s a sign specifically prohibiting that move.
Drivers using cellphones are required to have hands-free devices. Radar detectors are illegal in Québec. Even if it’s off, you can be fined for having one in sight.
While most visitors arriving by plane or train will want to rely on public transportation and cabs, a rental carcan come in handy for trips outside of town or if you plan to drive to Québec City. Terms, cars, and prices for car rentals are similar to those in the rest of North America and Europe, and all the major companies operate in Québec. A charge is usually levied when you return a car at a location other than the one from which it was rented. Rental-car agencies are required to provide snow tires on car rentals mid-December until March 15, and many charge an extra fee.
The minimum driving age is 16 in Québec. Many car-rental companies will not rent to people under 25. Others charge higher rates for drivers under the age of 21. Renters under 25 may be asked for a major credit card in their name.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.