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Part of French Canada, just north of the US border with Vermont, Montreal is a unique city which mixes Old World European charm with a distinctly modern North American buzz.
An incredible city where centuries-old architecture is still very much alive, you can stroll down cobblestones streets, past heritage churches and 18th century facades, and the next minute be in a bustling metropolis.
Montreal is an energetic, modern city, that is also fiercely proud of its European heritage; it has many faces, and offers a conflicting yet captivating fusion of North American modernism and Old World Europe.
The city goes crazy over a festival, is passionate about its food, and has a proudly European flair despite being a Canadian metropolis. The great news is that you can experience all of this on a budget!
Getting There and Getting Around
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Flights to Montreal are reasonably priced, depending on where you’re coming from. Most cities in North America can get a flight to Montreal for under $500, depending on the time of year and the airline. Trips from New York to Montreal are typically around $200 to $300. If you’ve rather save on money than time, you can also opt for the Megabus, Greyhound or Via Rail train.
Once you’re in the city, you also have several options for how you want to get around. Montreal has a great metro system, with 68 different stations and 4 different lines. Buses and taxis are also a very easy way to get around (though buses are obviously cheaper if you're on a budget); relative to its size, Montreal has over 100 buses that effortlessly connect you to across the island. Among these are express routes for busier intersections, express buses to and from the airport, as well as night buses that run well into the wee hours of the morning, making sure you get home safe and sound!
Car rentals are a great way to save money if you're planning on making many trips outside downtown (worth noting that street signs here are in French). But the most budget friendly way to get around though is by walking, and Montreal is well set up for pedestrians. If you book yourself a central hotel and plan to stay within the city, you can quite easily make your way between neighborhoods by foot.
From the months of April until October, the city of Montreal installs bike rental systems known as Bixi throughout the downtown core and surrounding suburbs. For $7 a day (a full 24 hours), you can use bixi as many times as you want, and this is an excellent alternative way to get around and explore Montreal like a local.
Finding A Place to Stay
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There are many budget-friendly options for accommodation in Montreal. You can opt for a hostel, which is usually the cheapest option and is perfect for students or solo travelers.
There are also lots of affordable homes and rooms available on Airbnb, with prices as low as $90 a night. If you’re willing to stay outside the downtown core, you can even find hotels for under $100 a night.
What to Do
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Fortunately, Montreal has a lot of free and cheap places to explore, no matter what time of year, and one of the best ways to explore is starting out by walking around the neighborhoods to soak up the atmosphere.
If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, your best bet is Mont-Royal. The small mountain is right in the heart of the city and makes for an easy afternoon climb. Explore different hiking trails, or pack a picnic lunch and relax with views over the city.
Old Montreal is another must-see area of the city. The historic waterfront area has European-style cobblestone streets and a busy promenade full of restaurants, bars, shops, and more excitement. Don't miss Notre-Dame Basilica, a church that’s nearly two centuries old.
Pro tip: Mass at Notre-Dame Basilica is celebrated at 11 a.m. on a Sunday, and even if you're not religious, it's worth stopping in just to listen to their choir perform, backed by an enormous pipe organ. It's quite the musical performance.
Art museums throughout Montreal usually have a specific day of the week, or time of the day when they offer free entry, so this is worth looking into if there are particular museums you want to see. Popular museums include the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
During winter you can ice skate for free, as many free ice skating rinks open up throughout the city center, and during summer you can take a free 45 minute guided tour of City Hall (offered in French and English).
Eating on a Budget
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You can’t visit Montreal without eating poutine! The French-Canadian delicacy of french fries, gravy and cheese curds is available just about anywhere, but La Banquise is often voted as best in the city.
Another Montreal staple is smoked meat, which you can try at one of the city’s many delis. Schwartz’s Deli, Rueben’s Deli and Steakhouse, and Snowdon Deli are some of the most beloved spots for a classic Montreal smoked meat sandwich.
Deciding which bagels to get in Montreal is a little like choosing which one of your household pets you love more. Either way, St. Viateur and Fairmont Bagels are a must-eat while in Montreal. Enjoy the mouthwatering, hand rolled bagels fresh from the oven any time you want! Make sure to pack some extras in the suitcase for the way home.
When to Splurge
Visiting Montreal on a budget is quite easy, and the range of cheap activities on offer means if you want to take your trip a step further and splurge, you can!
If you want to treat yourself to a fancy night out, the Notre-Dame Basilica also hosts AURA, a two-part multimedia event that has light, music and an immersive experience. Tickets for this event cost $24.50 for adults.
In the summer, you must check out the Just for Laughs comedy festival. Stand up comics from around the world travel to Montreal to perform, and while you can usually see a showcase for cheap, headliners can cost up to $100 a ticket.
With these tips, you’re ready to experience the beauty and excitement of Montreal on a budget. Do you have any tips to add?