If you like French food and culture, like getting a good exchange for your U.S. dollar, and love a big and fun gay village, there is no better vacation than to Montréal. The region of 4 million people is the second-largest city in Canada and is more than 375 years old. The main language is French, although many also speak English. Whether it be for a long week or a weekend, you can’t beat it.
WHAT TO DO
You will find the Gayborhood, aka St. Catherine St., east of downtown (near the Berri-UQAM metro). Unlike other Gayborhoods (Boystown, WeHo, Wilton Manors), St. Catherine St. (aka The Gay Village) has not been gentrified as much. Indeed, it still retains a somewhat edgy appearance so the younger generation can see what such neighborhoods used to look like.
A walk along St. Catherine is your first activity. It is a pedestrian mall all summer complete with art displays and more. It is full of shops and restaurants plus most of the LGBTQ bars and is arguably the largest gay neighborhood in North America.
A hike up Mt. Royal is your next activity. It is easily accessible from the downtown Metros (including McGill) or you can take an STM bus to the summit.
Biking on LaChine Canal is also fun. Rent a bike and helmet at Ma Bicyclette, 2985 Saint Patrick) near the Charlevoix Metro stop. Then head over to lunch at the nearby Atwater Market, a farmer’s market and food pavilion. Enjoy a Montréal smoked meat sandwich, their version of a bagel or other gourmet goodies. Pick up some Quebec cheese as well. (The Bixi bike-sharing system is another option. You can rent them anywhere. Shared biking was developed in Montréal. They also now have the dockless bikes and, of course, scooters.)
The Botanical Garden (Jardin Botanique) is a must. They have huge outdoor gardens plus indoor gardens as well. They are located at 4101 Sherbrook St. East at the Metro Pie IX station. Don’t miss the rock garden nor the indoor orchid display.
Old Montréal along the St. Lawrence River is another idea. The Pointe-à-Callière Museum features the history of Montréal plus other special exhibitions. Watch the movie on the city’s interesting history in either French or English. You will find them at 350 Place Royale. The nearby Basilique Notre Dame of Montréal Church is another must.
The Contemporary Art Museum or MAC (Metro stop: Place d’Armes) at 185 Rue St. Catherine is very nice.
The Stewart Museum on St. Helene Island tells the story of Quebec. It is situated in an old fort. It is easily accessible by the Metro Parc Jean-Drapeau metro line. Nearby is the Biodome Environmental Museum which is also worth a visit. The Parc Jean-Drapeau on the island also features a casino, an amusement park and outdoor pool, and more.
Swimmers can swim with the LGBTQ team, À Contre-Courant, which features a nightly swim and Saturdays at an outdoor pool.
WHERE TO EAT
Vege Vege on St. Dennis St. is my favorite. It is a vegetarian buffet.
Other great restaurants on that street abound.
Try poutine while in Quebec. It’s great after too many beers. The dish is composed of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy although newer editions add bacon and more.
Air Canada is ranked among the top airlines in North America. Although their regional partner, Air Georgian, was a disappointment due to mechanical and delay issues both directions. United also has frequent service into Montréal as do most of the U.S. carriers, most often on regional carriers with the smaller planes. Amtrak serves Montréal from New York, N.Y. and you can also take VIA Rail from Windsor (near Detroit, Mich.).
Coming from Chicago Midway and a few other eastern cities, try Porter Airlines which has great fares although apparently now uses a la carte price including carry-on which surprises travelers. See the negative reviews on Yelp. The airline routes you through Toronto City Island Airport.
No matter which airline, the fares are often high due to annoying fees like the charge for NAVCAN, their privatized air traffic control. They also charge you for U.S. TSA fees even if your trip is entirely within Canada but is within 250 miles of the U.S. border. A total rip. Unfortunately, Southwest does not fly there and its bargain carrier, WestJet does not have much U.S. service. However, what you over-spend on airfare you will save on hotels and other costs due to the strong U.S. dollar.
Once at YUL (airport code speak for Montréal), purchase a $10 C ($7 US) to take the 747 Bus to your hotel. You can also take it to the Lionel-Groulx Metro and continue into the Berri UQAM station to save time. Your ticket is good as a 24-hour pass on all transit.
Montréal has a fabulous subway, the STM Metro. The system is modeled after the one in Paris — complete with rubber wheels on the trains.
The downtown stations all feature underground gourmet food courts and shopping so you never have to go outside, which in the winter is a good thing.
WHERE TO STAY
I stayed at my favorite budget hotel in the Gay Village, the Hotel St. Andre (hotelsaintandre.ca or call 800 265 7071). Located at 1285 Rue Saint-Andre, the hotel charms visitors with baguettes and croissants plus coffee delivered to your door daily — you can’t beat it. It is right off the main drag, St. Catherine’s St., and close to the Berri-UQAM metro station. Nearby is a gourmet grocery store (IGA), all the bars, two pharmacies and the provincial liquor store plus a Nautilus Plus if you want to work off the Quebec cheese and Montréal smoked meat sandwiches. The nearby Café Lulu at 852 St. Catherine is great for an espresso or a lunch or dinner.
Other lodging options in the Village include The Hotel des Gouveneurs which is more upscale.
My friend stayed at the Latin Quarter Hotel on St. Denis St. and is full of shops and restaurants.
Hotels are a bargain in Montréal — no resort fees, about half the price of Toronto or Chicago.
Pick one of your choosing at tripadvisor.com.
The Village is packed with bars for everyone. St. Catherine’s St. is a pedestrian mall during the summer. The bars include:
The Aigle Noir (Black Eagle), 1315 St. Catherine, for the leather crowd
The Stud, 1182 St. Catherine, for the male crowd
Sky Complexe, 1478 St. Catherine, features three floors of fun.
The Cocktail Bar, 1689 St. Catherine, features drag and karaoke and is a lot of fun.
The Mado Bar, 1115 St. Catherine, also has drag and cabaret.
Le Date, 1218 St Catherine, for a relaxed atmosphere
You will find dancers (aka danseurs nus/nude dancers) at the Campus, Taboo and Stock Bars. They also have a selection of saunas that seemed to have survived the Grindr craze.
You need a valid U.S. Passport to travel to Canada.
Your ATM card will work in Montréal ATMs. Your U.S. dollar is worth $1.35.
Many credit cards charge a 3 percent international processing fee for transactions.
If you speak French or even a little, start the conversation in French and then switch to English.
Buy your ticket back to the airport 24 hours in advance and use it as a day pass.
Canadian dollars are called loonies and are coins. Two dollar coins are called toonies. Canada got rid of pennies but still charges in cents but then rounds up or down. Their money is colorful and worth only 75 cents or so against the dollar.
Stick to beer while in Quebec. Their wine selection is usually limited and not very good. Apparently, the provincial government gets involved in wine selection.
Ask for the local microbrews although many bars stock Labatt’s and even Bud. The microbrewery trend is apparently slower to catch on — at least in the bars.
For more information pick up a copy or read online their LGBTQ monthly magazine, Fugues.
Bill Malcolm is a former resident of Portland, Ore. and now lives in Indianapolis, Ind. where he writes the nation’s only syndicated LGBTQ+ value travel column as a hobby. They can be read in publications in Florida, Palm Springs, Chicago and other cities, as well as on the IGLTA travel blog website. His opinions are his own and he pays for his own airfare and hotel expenses.