Perhaps one thing that everyone in America can agree upon is that we have a phenomenal location when it comes to traveling. Living on the East coast, I find myself within a few hours from Europe, Canada, Central America, and South America. This makes short-term travel feasible, which is nothing to complain about.
I finally decided to take advantage of being Canada’s “next door neighbor” by road-tripping there with a few of my friends. From my hometown in New Jersey to Montréal, it is just a seven-hour car ride. Driving through the Adirondacks of New York and Vermont is incredibly scenic, and it makes the ride fly by. Coming from the US you will need a passport to cross the border, but the customs process is very simple (if you are like me and you REALLY enjoy getting your passport stamped, be sure to ask the officer for a stamp. You may receive a funny look from them, but it is worth it).
Montréal is the largest city in the French province of Quebec, sitting right in the St. Lawrence River, actually making it an island. French is the go-to language, but everyone here speaks English as well. The city itself has a very European feel, I always forget I am still in North America when I am in Canada.
Whether it is summer or winter, you can find plenty to do in Montréal. Every time I have been, I find myself eating and drinking my way through the city. There are plenty of hostels in Montréal, but the prices are definitely higher than what you typically come across backpacking in other countries. For a basic, bare-bone hostel I recommend Auberge L’Apero (around $13 USD), but if you are looking for a more social environment with a hostel bar, go with M Montréal (around $17 USD). Both hostels are close to metro stations and offer breakfast as well.
I do not think I have ever had a bad meal in Montréal. You can literally get any kind of food you want here, whether it is Thai, Japanese, Mexican, or American. Poutine is a classic Canadian dish, and one of my favorites. I am not a poutine expert, but the roasted duck poutine I had at Saint-Houblon was a delicious twist on the classic French fry, cheese curd and gravy dish. I highly suggest.
Bars are quite abundant in Montréal and you are guaranteed a fun night out whether it is Monday or Friday. Last time I was in Montréal it was St. Patricks Day, and if you ever have the opportunity to spend that holiday in Montréal, take it. In the summer there is a plethora of live music in parks, with a lot of it being free. The city itself is pretty budget friendly.
The summer months leave more room for outdoor activities, like Mont Royal. This is Montréal’s mini mountain at just 764 feet high. There is a viewpoint you can drive to, but the short hike up to the top is a perfect activity for the evening when it cools down. At the top you can expect beautiful panoramic views of the city. The Jean-Talon Market is incredible in the summer as well. Hundreds of vendors set up inside and outside to sell fruit, veggies, maple products, and snacks. The best part is the free samples! The market is open during the winter months as well, but only the inside portion. Another free activity is the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, or the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. You can easily spend half a day in this multilevel museum located in downtown Montréal. Another quirky place to check out is Eva-B- the most incredible thrift store you have ever seen.
My number one recommendation for Montréal is the Notre-Dame Basilica. I completely underestimated this church and its beauty, and did not even visit it my first trip to Montréal. The simple outside is not anything even close to the exquisite architecture inside. No matter how many churches you have been to all around the world, I guarantee this one will impress you. The Notre-Dame Basilica is located in Old Montreal which is a bit more pricy and touristy, but still worth a stroll nonetheless. The cobblestone streets and location on the port of Montréal give off a completely different vibe than the rest of Montréal.
If you are anywhere in the US within driving distance to Canada, take the road trip! It makes traveling to another country very affordable and simple. I have yet to explore other cities in Quebec, let alone the rest of Canada, so any suggestions are appreciated!