Montreal for students and budget travellers

By Siena Anstis   Trail Canada

Discovering Montreal can be inexpensive and as exciting as you’d imagine Canada’s second biggest city can be. Packed with restaurants, clubs, bars, museums, galleries, and an old Port, Montreal combines charm and adventure into one big party city. Travelling doesn’t have to be expensive, though get ready to walk or buy a week-long tourist pack and take Canada’s most efficient transport system, the metro.

First off – Montreal is a bilingual city where most people speak both languages. Most Montrealais do not discriminate if you can’t speak French and although it’s polite to say and funny to hear, “Parlez-vous Anglais?” in an embarrassing French accent, if you can’t stick it out, just smile and speak your mother tongue.

Places to see in Montreal are extensive. The city organizes itself into several different communities, which all have two things in common: food and bars. To find a bit of that old French charm most people are craving for when they come to Montreal, the Vieux Port will fill you to the brim with narrow cobbled streets, the Notre-Dame Basilica and crumbling buildings. The Vieux Port runs along the St. Laurent river and looks out at the funky American Biosphere, an amusement park and a random hodgepodge of apartments (each with a terrace) built bythe crazy Canadians. Walking in the streets of the Vieux Port, you’ll pass countless numbers of bars, cafés, and beautiful courtyard restaurants – if you’re on a budget, I’d recommend just ogling, the Vieux Port thrives off tourist dollars.

Downtown Montreal runs primarily down St. Catherine street cutting through the centre of town to the grittier outskirts. St. Catherine boasts a large number of trendy shopping stores, if you’re in Montreal for clothes (preferably cheap) check out the endless selection at Simon’s Department store, a favourite of local students and tourists alike.

Mount Royal, situated North of the downtown section and accessible on foot or by taking the Metro in the direction of Henri Bourassa to the Mont-Royal stop is a funky, smaller district. There’s a large number of yummy bakeries and cafes, and second hand, vintage-new clothes stores. If you take a left out of the metro, you can walk to the Mount-Royal mountain where a whole series of events are going on. On Sundays, check out the free tam-tam shows and hike up to mountain for some well-deserved exercise and a nice view. During the summer, concerts and a variety of other events happen in the park, just check the local newspapers. A popular long boarding festival called Top Challenge also happens every year and draws a huge crowd of long boarding connoisseurs and curious bystanders. Also – remember that in Montreal drinking in public is legal provided you’re having un pique-nique, so stop at the Mont Royal grocery store and pick up a baguette, some cheese, a pate and a bottle of wine (liquor is sold in all grocery stores and depanneurs [corner stores])- so do it a la francaise.

St. Denis will give you another rush of la francaise. Get off at the Berri-UQUAM metro, and walk St. Denis street; both sides of the road are packed with bars, restaurants, tea houses and shisha lounges, as well as a few clothes stores. Try the crepes café (you can’t miss it) for an oozing banana-chocolate treat, or the tea lounge for a hot cup of something exotic.
…And those are only a few of the many districts in Montreal; ask for directions to “China town”, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve’s Ontario Street (best at night during a light winter snow), Jean Drapeau Park and Little Italy.

Students, travelling on restricted dollars, will soon notice that Lebanese food is what sushi is to Vancouver: cheap, fast, delicious and easy to find. Try some zatars under the Second Cup on Maisonneuve right beside Concordia University, or in the Guy Concordia metro look out for the $1.50 Falafel wraps (it isn’t really junk food…).

If you’re looking for intellectual-oriented activities, not involving walking and admiring what is unaffordable, check out Concordia University. The university spreads through out the centre of town between Peel and Atwater metros. Get off at Guy-Concordia metro and venture into the Hall or Library building where you can pick up a student newspaper and check up on university-organized events. Concordia is known for its political activism and always has a thousand different, usually free and open to public events, on going on campus. Check out the University of the Streets Cafes weekly discussions in cafes around Montreal (univcafe.concordia.ca/html/home.html), or Monday evening free political movie screenings in the Hall building.

To top off all of this learning business, Crescent Street, one of Montreal’s most famous bar streets (of course, Montreal does have more than one, check out St. Laurent Street and the Gay Village), is no more than a stone’s throw from Concordia University; Mckibbins Irish Pub offers $5 Open Bar Ladies’ Nights on Wednesdays, great food and huge pints.

If you’re grappling for a place to stay, either make friends with some locals (students make up a huge part of the Montreal population) or check out hostelz.com and search for one of the many hostels in downtown Montreal (make sure to price check each one, some have better deals than others).

Last of all, if you are here during hockey season starting in November; make sure to check out Reggie’s Student Bar, in Concordia University. They offer $1 beers, $2 shooters, and cute bartenders on Hockey Night. Hockey fever in Montreal is intense, just make sure you are cheering for the Habs (officially known as les Canadiens, Montreal’s hockey team) or you are guaranteed to leave with a black eye.

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