350 year old Montreal is on an island 40km(25mi) long and 15km (9mi) wide, where the Ottawa River flows into the Saint Lawrence River on its way to the Atlantic, about a thousand miles further east. The most striking landmark is Mont Royal, a 232m (760ft) remnant of volcanic rock known locally as 'the mountain' which overlooks the core of the city in the south-central part of the island.
It was a major commercial centre back in the fur-trading days (then called Hochelaga) because it could be reached by ocean-going vessels. British merchants, who helped the city flourish as a bustling trade centre in the late 1680s, were followed over the years by waves of immigrants from more than 80 countries and every continent. The city's rich history and early commercial success is reflected in the many greystone buildings in Old Montreal. Montréal has thrived on its cosmopolitan nature, and is the second largest French-speaking city in the world.
The 3.3 million population city (Canada's second-largest) is thriving cultural centre, dotted by monuments, museums and world-class sports palaces hosting national and international events. It was home to Expo 67, the 1976 Summer Olympics, and now regularly hosts major festivals, including the Montreal Comedy Festival, the Montreal Jazz Festival, and Grand Prix car races. Montreal is home to the NHL's Montréal Canadiens, the Montréal Expos Baseball Club and the Canadian Football League's new Alouettes. Montréal is the gastronomic capital of Canada and second on the continent only to New York. Montréal has a distinctly European flair with sidewalk cafés, quaint bistros, chic dining rooms and restaurants. Residents treasure the many parks in and close to the city, including the Mont Royal, which overlooks the city's beautiful downtown. In the winter, residents are close to skiing, including at the popular Mont Tremblant, in the Laurentian mountains just north of the city.
The main downtown heart of Montréal is the area south of Mont Royal, with Rue Sainte Catherine, the main shopping street, running east to west through its center. McGill University separates the downtown from the mountain, and to the east is the chic district of Plateau Mont Royal, with its classic 19th-century architecture and hopping nightlife.
Running north-south through the district, is the Rue Saint Denis and the Boulevard Saint Laurent, known as 'The Main' who's restaurants, history and ethnic mix make it one of Montréal's best-known streets. It also delineates traditional French-English boundaries; with the area east of The Main being largely French and the area west largely English. Both The Main and Rue Saint Denis continue south towards the Saint Lawrence River to the historic heart of the city, the Vieux (Old) Montréal and Vieux Port area to the southeast of downtown.
Directly to the east of downtown is the strongly French flavored Quartier Latin, which is dominated by the emblematic Université du Québec à Montréal The city's gay district, The Village, lies a bit further east along Rue Sainte Catherine Est. South of the Quartier Latin, and to the southeast of downtown, is the city's compact Chinatown.
Here are some highway history notes (from west to east):
Highway 40, the major east-west roadway through Montreal is submerged below local roads so the freeway feels like you are driving in a ditch with high vertical walls. Plan exit off-ramps and on-ramps beforehand, so you don't get surprised or over-shoot your expected exit. Unless you are in a hurry, a visit to Old Montreal is worthwhile, and gives a sense of early Canada, since Montreal was already a major manufacturing centre in the early 1800s when much of the rest of Canada was still virgin wilderness. The city also has some amazing restaurant and great nightlife (and the drinking age is 18 here).
You can by-pass Montreal completely, if you have no need to stop or visit (say, on your way back), using a toll route. Take the AutoRoute30 Southern by-pass, which keeps you on the South Shore, via Chateauguary and Valleyfield.
You want to enter Montreal via Route 148 to/from the northwest and the scenic Ottawa Valley, and via Route 132 to/from the east and small villages (some 450 years old) on the south shore of the St Laawrence Riveer. Navigate carefully in between, since the roads through Montreal are heavily trafficked, and Quebec drivers seem to assume everyone on the roadway not encased in a car (cyclists and pedestrians) must have a death wish.
The major bridges across the St Lawrence River have bike/pedestrian lanes including the Hippolyte-Lafontaine (Autoroute 25), and the Jacques Cartier (Ile Sainte Helene / Man And His World). Keep in mind these bridges cross high above the river, so need long approach ramps (which thankfully, means gentle slopes). As a cyclist you have the advantage of stopping along the bridge to capture the shipping traffic below, and views of the city that are only too fleetig for motorists.
Blue = main Trans-Canada route | red = downtown montreal detour| green = bicycle safe route
|Use mouse to drag/move map. Click on "+" or "-" to zoom in or out. "Satellite" shows photo, "Hybrid" combines map & photo.|