Did you know that Montréal, Québec is a port for many ocean cruises that visit eastern Canada and New England? Despite not being situated on the ocean, Montréal’s location on the St. Lawrence Seaway allows large cruise ships to visit its port. In fact, many “Canada and New England” cruise itineraries begin or end in Montréal, or in Québec City to the northeast.
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We just came back from a five-day trip to Montréal, and we had a blast. We weren’t on a cruise this time, but Mr. SBC and I joined my daughter and her friends on a road trip to the Osheaga Music Festival.
Does your cruise begin or end in Montréal? If so, you’ll definitely want to stay at least a couple of days in Montréal before or after your cruise to enjoy what this beautiful Québécois city has to offer. Whether you’re planning on driving around the city, taking public transportation, or even renting a bike, we share our tips on getting around Montréal.
Do I have to speak French to navigate Montréal?
In general, no. Most people that you’ll come in contact with in hotels, restaurants, and shops have a good command of English. Often when greeting you they will say, “Bonjour, hello” as a signal that they speak both languages.
If you get lost in the city, it won’t be difficult to find someone who speaks English. Just in case, I recommend using the Google Translate app, and making sure you download the French language file for offline use.
The signs are all in French
If you have studied French in the past, it’s a great idea to brush up on the language before you visit. French is the sole official language in Québec, and although many humans speak English, almost all of the signs in the city are written in French only.
If you’re planning on driving around Montréal during your visit, you’ll need to have a basic understanding of the language. I noticed this especially when trying to find parking in the city. For free on-street parking (which is a rarity), often you have to read ten different signs to determine whether you’re allowed to park there.
For paid street parking, the signs with the payment instructions are very hard to find. When you do find them, the instructions are detailed, and all in French. Each time we parked the car, it seemed like there was a different way that we had to pay!
You’d think that a paid parking lot would be the easy way to go? Nope! For each of the pay lots near the Métro stop that we frequented, there was a different set of steps (all only in French) that you had to follow to make sure you could pay. I never once saw an attendant on any of those lots if I needed to ask a question.
Know your days of the week when reading street signs…or else!
On our last day in the city, my daughter and her friends had a few last sightseeing stops they wanted to make, so they drove into the city (instead of taking the Métro), so they could quickly head home after their day. When I was enjoying the free wifi at a café, I got a text from her.
“OMG MOOOM I got a parking ticket. $65!!!”
Now my daughter by no means speaks fluent French. In fact, she’s nervous to speak it at all. But she did study the language for a few years in high school, and I know that she knows enough to read and understand the basics. I had warned her to read the signs very carefully when she was trying to park in the city. I called her back.
“Hon, how did you get a parking ticket? Remember I told you to read the signs?” I said.
“But, Mom, I did read the signs! We drove all around, and I was reading the signs. We didn’t want to waste money on a parking garage, so we drove around until we found a free spot. It said “No parking on lundi and some other day, but it didn’t say anything about mardi,” she replied, frustrated.
“But, it IS lundi. It’s Monday,” I said, confused.
“Lundi isn’t Monday,” she said, “It’s Sunday.”
Then it dawned on me. “Honey, tell me the days of the week in French?” I asked.
In a sing-song voice, she answered, “Lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, vendredi-samedi-dimanche.”
“And in English?” I asked.
“A-ha!” I said. “There’s the problem. In French-speaking countries, you say your days of the week starting with Monday. We say them starting with Sunday. You’re off by a day.”
And that’s why it’s a good idea to brush up on your French if you want to drive in Montréal.
How to travel between the airport and the cruise port
Montréal’s cruise port is located in Vieux-Montréal at 333 De la Commune Street. Iberville Passenger Terminal, where cruise ships dock, is about 20 minutes by car from the airport. There are several car rental agencies near the terminal, with Thrifty being the closest.
A taxi or an Uber will run you about $40-55, depending on which section of the cruise terminal your ship is in. The taxi flat rate to and from the airport is $40, unless your ship is docked in berth T3, which has a $53 flat rate.
Another option is Téo Taxi. A company founded in Québec, Téo has a fleet of electric cars with free wifi. The cost will be about the same as a traditional taxi, but it’s a greener choice. Make sure to download their app before you go if you plan on trying them.
If you want to take public transportation to and from the airport, I wouldn’t recommend it if you have much luggage, as it’s over a 10-minute walk from the station to the cruise terminal. If you’re really keen to save money and have just a rollaboard (or if you’re one of those rare breeds – the backpacker cruiser. I’ve met a few of you in my travels and I’m always amazed), it is possible to do, and it will cost you less than $15.
From the airport, take the 747 bus from Pierre-Elliott Trudeau station to Lionel-Groulx. Then take the orange line train toward Montmorency to Place-d’Armes, and walk to the cruise terminal. The entire journey should take you around an hour.
If you’d prefer to take the cruise line’s transfer between the airport and the cruise port, check with the cruise line for the price per person. Transfers can be expensive compared to a taxi, especially if you’re traveling with several people. However, with a cruise transfer you don’t have to worry about trying to communicate in a foreign language.
How to get around in Montréal
Take the Métro
If you don’t plan on having a car in Montréal (or even if you do), the Métro is the easiest way to get around the city. There are four different lines: yellow, blue, orange and green. Just look for the color, make sure to note the name of the last stop on the line in the direction you’re heading, and look for the corresponding signs. It’s super simple.
The stations we visited were clean, and we never once felt unsafe. Note that there are very few public restrooms in the stations, and the ones that do exist are difficult to find.
Métro tickets are $6.00 for a round trip, a single day pass is $10, and a three-day pass is $18. Student and senior discounts are available for residents only.
If any member of your party uses a wheelchair or scooter, be aware that very few of the stations are accessible. Some exceptions are Laval, Berri-UQAM, Côte Vertu, and Lionel-Groulx. The paratransit page for the public transit authority has lots of information on accessible travel within the system.
The green, yellow, and orange lines all start running at 5:30 AM each day. They all run until 12:45-1:10 AM, depending on which station they depart from. On Saturday nights, the trains on these lines run 30 minutes later.
The blue line starts at 6 AM, and the last train leaves at 12:15 AM.
What about the buses?
Although the Métro was easy to navigate, I found the bus system to be confusing. We only took the bus once, and then walked back because I wasn’t confident that I could figure out how to get back by bus!
We wanted to visit the Mile-End district, so I looked up how to get there on the train. The forecast was calling for rain, and the closest Métro stop to our destination was a 20-minute walk. Even if the weather was nice, I knew we’d have no wifi for navigation, I didn’t have a paper map, and I wasn’t convinced I could successfully navigate us on foot in the right direction.
There was a bus from the Métro station that would bring us right to where we wanted to be, so I made a note in my phone to take the train to the Laurier station and then take the #46 bus west and get off at Saint-Viateur. Simple, right?
A stopped bus does not equal a bus stop
We exited the station, and I looked around to see if I could spot the bus stop. To our left, I saw a bus pulled up to the curb. The driver was in his seat, the door was open, and he was chatting with another driver standing in the doorway. I peered around the front of the bus to read the electronic display. Bus #46, yay! But nowhere did it say in which direction it would be heading.
I caught the attention of the two drivers, and with a nervous but expectant smile, cheerfully said, <Bonjour! Cet autobus, va-t-il vers l’est ou l’ouest?> (“Hello! Is this bus going east or west?”)
The second it came out of my mouth I thought, “Do people even say “autobus” these days? I probably sound like some kind of Victorian time-traveler asking “whether the omnibus will be traveling in my direction”. This is what happens when you study French for years in the 1980s and 90s, with textbooks from the early 70s, and then spend 25 years hoping to bump into native speakers so you can see what slang might have changed.
The other reason for my nervousness is that French speakers always understand me. For some reason, nine times out of ten, they think I’m Belgian (except in Belgium…they don’t know what to make of me). So I carefully ask a question, and I get an answer back in rapid-fire French. The problem is, when the speaker is Québécois I have a tough time understanding the accent, the regional words, and decades of slang that I missed out on between my 1972 textbooks and today. Thankfully, this time I understood.
“Ha ha,” he chuckled, continuing in French, “This bus isn’t going anywhere. We’re on break! That’s why the bus isn’t at the bus stop.” He pointed down the intersecting street, still laughing, with a twinkle in his eye. “The bus stop is over there!”
<Pffffft. Oh! Mon Dieu!> I said in my best caricature of French mock frustration, clapping him on the arm in jest as he laughed at me. <Désolée. Et merci,> I replied, smiling.
More confusion awaits
Happy that I understood, we headed over to the real bus stop, where five or six other patrons were waiting for the bus. After about five minutes, a bus with the correct number pulled up to the stop. It still didn’t specify east or west. I planned on asking the driver the same question I had asked the other guy, but replacing the old-fashioned “autobus” with “bus”.
We boarded the bus, holding our Métro cards, ready to swipe, insert, or do whatever we should do with them. But this driver held his hand over the payment terminal, looking down at his phone. He continually shook his head as if to say, “Don’t swipe your card, and don’t talk to me.”
We found seats near the back of the bus, and hoped that we were going in the right direction! As the bus began to move, I was happy to see that there was an electronic sign over the driver’s seat announcing what the next stop would be.
Then I noticed some passengers pressing the call strip on the wall to request stops, but the sign announcing the next stop wasn’t changing. The problem? I couldn’t see the signs at the actual bus stops through the window, so I had no idea whether our stops were corresponding with what was listed on the display.
Our stop was announced on the display, so we got ready to get off, but then someone pressed the call button. Not sure if the unscheduled stop was actually our stop, we waited until the next stop. We had gone too far. To make things worse, it was now pouring rain.
Did we just steal a bus trip?
The doors opened at the stop, and we exited through the middle door onto the sidewalk. We hadn’t paid for our ride, since Mr. Grumpy Driver had blocked the payment terminal. I saw that the bus hadn’t continued on its way after we exited. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “Maybe we were supposed to pay when we got off?”
The bus continued to sit where it was. Horrified that we might have just stolen a bus ride, I turned to Mr. SBC in a panic. “Wait, I think we have to go back on and pay!”
“What do you mean?” he said, “Remember how he was covering the payment thing? I think it was broken.”
“But the bus is still sitting there! I think they’re waiting for us to pay!” I said.
Mr. SBC gave me a look. “The bus is still sitting there because it has a red light.”
We were able to find a nearby Starbucks to connect to wifi, and thankfully we weren’t too far away from our destination to walk. That was my first and last trip on a Montréal city bus!
Taxis and rideshare
Taxis, Uber, and Téo taxis are available in Montréal, but can be expensive. Lyft does not currently operate in Québec. We didn’t have a need to use a car service during our trip, but the girls did take an Uber a few times. A quick mid-day trip in an Uber X from our hotel to Longueuil station cost close to the same price as their late-night (after the Métro stopped running) Uber X trip from downtown back to our hotel on the outskirts of the city. So pricing can definitely vary.
Biking around Montréal
On our first drive around the city, I was amazed to see how many people were traveling by bicycle. Not only were there many bike lanes on the streets, there were also areas with dedicated biking ways that were blocked off from the regular vehicle traffic.
Montréal has been in the top 20 of the Copenhagenize Index for the world’s most cyclist-friendly cities since the list began in 2011. In fact, from 2013 to the present, it’s been the only city in North America to make the list!
We didn’t rent bikes ourselves, but we did spot lots of bike rental stations throughout the city. Most of the bike rentals we noticed were from Bixi, a company that has 540 self-service rental spots all over the city from April 15 through November 15 (the stations are removed for the winter). Prices vary based on several factors including membership status and length of rental.
To rent a Bixi bike, you pay at the station and use the code you’re given to unlock a bike. When you’re done, you can return the bike to any of the Bixi rental stations around town.
All in all, I found it simple to get around in Montréal, especially by using the Métro. The bus? Never again. Have you visited Montréal recently? What did you think about transportation in the city? Let me know in the comments below!
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