There comes a time in every New Yorker’s life where they need to remove themselves from the city. As a former New Yorker, I still get itchy feet if I spend more than two weeks straight in Manhattan. It’s summer, and instead of worrying about having to pay $5 for every cup of coffee just to edit a video in a crowded coffee shop in the city, I decided I’d flee up North where the Canadian dollar is on my side.
Suddenly, $5 becomes $4 and that was enough to convince me to book a $60 overnight bus to little France of North America: Montreal. I’d been twice before, making it the perfect “repeat city” to take a solo trip and not stress about having to see all the “top coolest things to do.” The beauty of spending time in a “repeat city” is that you can focus on just living.
Sometimes doing your boring old routine in a foreign place can make life seem so much more vibrant. So five days, and almost a dozen cups of coffee later, I came up with this list that might make you book your next flight to Montreal.
Here are 16 reasons to love Montreal.
1. The Bilingualism
The minute you cross the Adirondacks and get into French Canada, your mind starts working double time, and you question the education system of the States, and why we weren’t raised to speak two languages. I left New York because I wanted to grow my mind a little more, and challenge myself to speak French, and if we’re being honest here, understand Canadian French. I couldn’t help but smile every time someone mistook me for a Québécoise, and spoke to me in French, and switched on and off to English just because if I’m from Montreal, odds are I speak both, because most people do. My friend made a good point: it doesn’t matter which language you speak, the fact is, you’re always striving to understand or speak the other you’re not as comfortable with, and for that, you’re always challenging yourself to learn.
2. It’s coffee shop heaven
Outlets, quirky and comfortable arm chairs, $3 coffees and $5 glasses of wine for those late nights, high-speed wifi, mellow hip hop beats playing in the background, and friendly staff is basically every single experience i’ve had in a coffee shop while in Montreal. As a digital nomad (god, how pretentious does that sound?) these factors are critical. Think of coffee shops as the watering hole for tomorrow’s version of a 9-5. With the internet, comes savvy people who find ways to make money on the internet, and with that comes a need for the perfect place to sit with terrible posture indulging on caffeine as we hunch over on our laptops. Montreal takes the cake. You can walk down a street and simply stumble on a place you’d have to fight to get a table in in a place like New York. A+ on the coffee shop score.
3. Their appreciation for summer
The first time I ever went to Montreal was for spring break in college with Damon. All our friends flaked last minute, because they thought March would mean freezing temperatures still, and they were right, but we still went. We definitely froze our asses off, and understood the bitter cold of late winter, and now, I was able to experience the sweetness of summer heat. These Canadians appreciate the summer so much that the city oozes with life. Bike riders all hours of day and night, street fairs, free events in every neighborhood, and freaking fireworks every Saturday night at 10 PM just to celebrate the fact it’s summer. How adorable.
4. $5 meals at L’entrepôt
This is one of those food spots I wish I knew about the minute I arrived in Montreal, but leave it to me to discover the goodness that is a hip bar with $5 meals on the last day. That’s right. L’entrepôt has sandwiches, burgers, pastas, quesadillas, all for $5 – including a soup, salad, or fries. Escuuuuume. I had to indulge in a $5 turkey sandwich (which really only cost me $4 USD), and equally enjoyed the trap music playing on the tv screens while the bartender told me to save my money to travel more. It was my kind of place.
5. The value of the Canadian Dollar
This really should of been the #1 reason, but leave it to me to not think in order. XE.com breaks the conversion rates down, and it just so happens that the USD is 1.25 times the CAD. Something as small as $.25 makes a big difference when you’re “living” in a city, and it was comforting to know that I was saving money just by not being in New York.
6. Rent prices
Speaking of saving money, let’s talk about their rent prices and how absurdly cheap they are. Maybe I’m just jaded because I’ve been skimming craigslist and haven’t found a listing under $1500 in any decent part of NYC in my week-long research (just for kicks). After visiting a friend in the McGill area, he told me his MASSIVE, I repeat, MASSIVE 1 bedroom apartment was only $1100. That sounds like a lot, but when you factor in the rooftop pool, terrace, doorman, and proximity to nightlife, it’s a steal. An apartment like that would easily go for $3,000 in New York – all the way up in Harlem. Apparently Montreal’s rent prices are significantly cheaper than Toronto too: #sold.
7. Bike culture
Any city that values the concept of active living, and less pollution is one that I personally want to be in. The urban planning was created to encourage bikers, which makes it way safer and more desirable to wheel around instead of drive. Everything is so close too, that it’s not a major hassle. I highly recommend renting a Bixi (or their version of a bike share service), and if you’re there on the last Sunday of the month, you can even ride for free.
8. Jazz music everywhere
First things first, a lot of coffee shops turn into Jazz or open mic areas after 9 PM, which is convenient for someone like me who enjoys working, and loves a good music night. Secondly, who knew Montreal had so many talented musicians? I went out solo to a tiny Jazz nook called Diese Onze, and it was a hub of music lovers there to appreciate the bilingual show. Am I the only one who smiles when I hear things in two languages back to back? Do a quick google search and you’ll probably find music spots all around you, they’re everywhere.
This city is perfect for solo travelers because it’s like a big little city. You can get everything you want and need, all within walking distance. And the city streets are so clean (flash down to #11), that its enjoyable to stroll around even at night. If I was hungry at 11 PM, you better believe I walked a mile to get my $5 meal at L’entrepôt. The public transportation is also really user friendly and convenient (especially for those damn winters. They’ve even created an underground city connecting metros where you can avoid the street level if you want).
Within the first few hours of my trip to Montreal, I managed to have conversations with people from Syria, Paris, New Delhi, and the US. Clearly, I was thrilled at the melting pot of people who all shared a love for the things I’m writing about on this list. One cab driver told me “j’ai penseé que je pouvais réaliser tous mes rêves ici.” Translation: he was there for the Canadian dream – and he confessed loving the experience even 30 years after immigrating from Syria.
11. Safety and cleanliness
I was actually surprised on day three because I hadn’t seen one piece of garbage on the street, and hadn’t been cat-calling, or begged for money once. It’s funny how those uncomfortable situations are the norm in a city like New York or certain parts of LA (shout out to Downtown). The truth is, Montreal is squeaky clean, and super safe.
12. Artsy fartsy scene
You want Brooklyn? Go to Mile End. Not only are the streets covered in art, but you’ll find the best shops and random obscure statues along the sidewalks. Aside from Mile End, there are tons of artsy fartsy neighborhoods, growing in their reputation for underground culture that are worth the trip alone.
13. Proximity to NYC
As mentioned, I booked a last minute $60 bus ticket up North and within 8 hours, I was speaking a whole ‘nother language. Not only was the ride really easy, it was comforting to know that I could get another stamp on my passport without flying across the Atlantic. Don’t wanna sleep with your neck cramped for 8 hours? Take a 53 minute flight and boom, you’re in Laguardia Airport (wondering why you’re back in NYC).
14. Boutiques, and local shops
The reasons I love Europe is the same reason I love Montreal: there are still local shops. Sure, you have local businesses in US cities too, but they’re a dying breed. In the budding neighborhoods of Montreal, you can get anything from embroidered pillows with cute French sayings to bird cages, all from locals. Is it just me or do mass produced goods feel “cheap?”
15. Breakfast food
I may not be a morning person, but holy damn, do I love breakfast. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many eggs Benedict in my life. To be honest, it’s not my fault, I have a hard time NOT ordering it when it’s on the menu, and their restaurants were so well equipped for breakfast, that eggs Benedict always stared me right in the face, winking at the 600 calories I was about to willingly consume. Again, shout out to local establishments where you’ll most likely always get an above Denny’s quality meal for a decent price with great ambiance. Here are a few spots to indulge in breakfast (aka eggs Benedict).
16. Canadian friendliness
It’s been said Canadians sleep with their doors open. I can’t say I’m on that level yet, but what I can say is that I always seem to meet the friendliest people in Montreal. It’s like they’re just happy to be alive that drama and pettiness isn’t their top priority (unlike other French speaking regions *shade to Paris*). Montreal is pretty much 50% foreigners, and 50% French Canadians, which creates this accepting energy that flashes itself via smiles from strangers.
Perfect example: I met a friend of Damon’s once last year, and from that one meeting, we’ve kept in touch via social media, and when he found out I was in town, he invited me to a pool party with all his friends, who were equally as nice. There’s a charm to the friendly people that I always look forward to experiencing.
Clearly, if you haven’t gotten your booty to Montreal yet, it’s probably the perfect time to shut up and go. Have you been before? Comment below if you have any other reasons to love this amazing city!