|Great views from the top of Mont Royal.
Yes, the hill is what the city is named after, and
it is a great way to spend some time--walking up
It has been a grand tradition here at the Spew to offer unsolicited advice when conferences are in Canada. A big caveat: I haven't lived in Montreal in ten years, so stuff has changed. But the most relevant changes are national, not provincial or municipal, so I can still provide some useful guidance.
First, to get into the country (yes, Canada is a different country, with its own border stuff and everything including roaming rates for your phone), you need passports (this ain't the 1980s) and to have filled out the ArriveCan app. You can download it via your phone, either android or iphone, and then you input a heap of information within three days of your entry into Canada. You have to do it shortly before you come to Canada. Airlines may check that you have done so, you definitely will be checked at the border posts either via land or air. Downloading the app feverishly filling it out as you wait in the border line in NY or Vermont is not a great strategy as it will require info and maybe even pics of your covid vax records. The good news is that you won't need a test (that changed last spring).
Update: I forgot to mention that masking in Canada is ... not consistent. The mandates went away but a fair amount of people still mask indoors.
Second, there are multiple ways to get from the airport to downtown--train, bus, taxi. Downtown is not that far away, but traffic in Montreal sucks with construction season always a challenge (rush hour is not great in the morning and starts early in the afternoon). If you are driving to Montreal, well, vaya con dios, as the drivers and the structure of the system both are awful. People will make right turns from the left lane, for instance. Merging on highways can be a challenge since there may be very little space/time/visibility. So, my best tip is this: if you are driving and you see a merging sign, head to the far lanes (far right if your lane is on the right side of the merge, far left if you are on the road on the left that is merging towards the right) as this will allow you to avoid being in that magical lane that merges instantaneously.
Third, it is is a fun place for language politics. One of the controversies of late has been the tradition of bonjour/hi. That generally service folks in downtown (more so as you go west, less so as you go east, and this might be my most outdated bit of info) speak both English and French and will respond with French if you respond to their bonjour and in English if you respond to hi. I lived ten years in Montreal (suburbs and McGill, so not the most French of places) and never had to speak much French to get by. When I got stopped for speeding, I asked the cop if we could it in English since I didn't want to mess up the high stakes conversation, he said "I don't have to" and then we continued on in English. If you can speak French, go ahead, of course, although the accent may mess you up some. Far more nasal than French French.
Fourth, it looks like a bit of rain next week. Bring a jacket as we are already in fall with temps in the low 70s as the high and low 60s and even high 50s as the lows.
Fifth, I mentioned above as an aside but it is serious--Canada's cell system is expensive and your phone will work but at a price, so check your phone provider if they have any deals for roaming in Canada. No, no worries about moose roaming.
The important thing is Montreal is a great city and easy to get around. The metro system works well, although the whole "underground city" tourist thing is wildly overrated. The conference is south of downtown so it is close to the Old Port area which has a heap of restaurants and bars. Quebec beer is better than Ontario beer, and heaps of great crafty stuff is available. Here's what I wrote for the 2011 ISA re tourism:
- Old Port area has, well, the older, more European buildings, restaurants, tourist traps. It has the science museum and some other stuff. Plus perhaps even some skating. Might even be one of the few places that would rent stakes as Canadians seem to be required to own skates (which means that most rinks do not rent).
- Bell Centre. Hockey is religion here. The game is always sold out and there are always scalpers selling tickets right out in front before the game. Bring a heap of cash, and you should be able to find some tickets.
- Art museum on Sherbrooke is pretty good.
- If you want to see failed government planning, grab a metro or taxi and head to the Olympic Stadium. They did productive stuff with some of the other buildings, including turning the cycling arena into Bio-Dome.
Basic navigation: If you are on Rene Levesque Boul and are looking at the Sheraton--you are looking North, and uphill. The main east-west streets are Sherbrooke, Maisonneueve, St. Catherine and Rene Levesque. St. Catherine is the most interesting--it has the most shopping, restaurants, naked lady places, and so on. If you walk either east or west on St. Catherines, you will find a restaurant or an area that is interesting. And have much to talk about. St. Laurent and St. Denis to the east are the main streets with heaps of stuff. Indeed, they sometimes call St. Laurent "the Main" especially when they are tearing it up. At the bottom of St. Laurent is a small China town. There are Vietnamese places there and nearby.
Money: C$ is about US$.80 these days. Lots of places to change money, especially on St. Catherine street
(handy for the lap dance places, I guess), but any bank will trade US
and CA dollars. Best bet is just using an ATM.
This gets us to cuisine where there are just a few key rules as almost all food in Montreal is terrific:
1. The only reliably meh food is Mexican. Pretty much everything else is terrific. There are a few key streets that have lots of restaurants--Crescent to the West and St. Denis to the right had heaps of places 10 years ago. I don't know what the pandemic did.
2. French, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese are all reliably terrific. Indian and Portuguese and Thai are all good, too. My old guide lists specific places but I can't tell you how many of them are still open and good. My old students commented on the thread and have some great suggestions.
3. The beer is quite good. Again, from my old guide: I like Blanche de Chambly. Boreale, Le Cheval Blanc, McAuslan, Dieu du Ciel are all good. I like some of the more national brands as well: Alexander Keith's and Sleeman's. You can find these two in most places.
4. Chez Cora has a heap of choices for breakfast. It is a wonderful Quebec breakfast chain.
5. Tim Horton's is always super slow so only go if you have time to stand in line and learn how to be polite and patient (you would then be on your way to becoming Canadian).
6. Poutine sounds scary but is really tasty. Not at all healthy but super tasty--fries, cheese curds (WTF?), gravy. Yum.
7. Quebec food at nice restaurants features duck, rabbit, and other stuff--very good cuisine in its own right.
8. I didn't mention Montreal bagels because I wanted this to be a nice, positive post. Smoked meat is also a thing in Montreal, but is not that special.
So, do get out beyond the hotel--there are plenty of great bars and restaurants. All over the place.