Montreal is the metropolis of the province of Quebec. Quebec City is the political capital but Montreal is the cultural and economic capital of Quebec and the main entry point to the province. The second largest city in Canada, it is a city rich in culture and history and a well-deserved reputation as one of the liveliest cities in North America. Montreal is the second-largest French-speaking (as a mother language) city in the world, behind Paris. The population of Montreal is about 1.9 million, with 4 million in the metro area. Montreal is sometimes referred to as The Paris of North America.
Montreal is composed of 19 large boroughs. The most important one in central Montreal for visitors is Ville-Marie, which is further subdivided into neighbourhoods. From West to East, some of its neighbourhoods include:
Plateau Mont-Royal district
Prohibition on sales of alcohol in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s made Montreal a mecca for cross-border fun seekers from nearby New England and New York. The city built up a seedy, yet playful, industry in alcohol, burlesque and vice. In the 1960s, an urban renewal drive centred around Expo 67. The World’s Fair in Montreal brought a subway system and a number of attractive urban parks and is considered to be one of the most successful World Fairs. Over 50 million visitors gathered to Montreal during this memorable summer. The 1976 Olympics left a strikingly idiosyncratic stadium and many other urban improvements.
The opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959, though much lauded as an economic boom, spelled the beginning of the end for Montreal’s economic dominance in Canada. Once the transition point between western railroads and eastern sea carriers, Montreal watched helplessly as some of this business moved farther west, up the now navigable Seaway, to ports in Ontario and on Lake Superior. The Quebec Sovereignty movement, which began to pick up steam in the 1960s, further chilled the atmosphere for Canada-wide businesses, many of which moved their headquarters to Toronto.
Following an economic depression in the 1980s and 1990s, Montreal became more secure in its place in North America and the world. It remains a centre of culture, arts, computer technology, aerospace, the biotech industry, and media for all of Canada.
It has been said that Montréal is the only city in the world where the sun “rises in the south.”
Montrealers use an unconventional compass, using the river and the mountain as cardinal points. When you are downtown, the St Lawrence River is “south” and Mount Royal is “north”; making the West Island and the East End correct in both their names and orientations. The dividing line between “east” and “west” downtown is the boulevard Saint-Laurent. In downtown, streets slope up “north” toward Mount Royal. This local compass tends to confuse visitors because the “East” End is really to the north and the “West” Island is to the south, and the St Lawrence River runs almost northeast-southwest at this location.
Most local maps use this convention as do the highways around the city. For example, Autoroute 15 north actually runs northwest and Autoroute 40 east runs northeast.
To underscore this fact, a Montreal map will show that the “south end” of Victoria Bridge is in fact further north than the “north end”.
Montreal is an extremely inviting destination for gay and lesbian tourists. Canada’s contributions to gay rights have recently become widely known, but Quebec was the first state in the world to pass a non-discrimination law for sexual orientation, and the first province in Canada to provide same-sex civil unions (although Toronto was the first municipality in Canada to do so). Same-sex marriage is legal in Quebec (neither residency nor citizenship are required for a marriage license, but there is a three-week waiting period after you receive the licence) as well as in the rest of Canada. Canadian and Quebec immigration law allow residents to sponsor their same-sex partners or spouses.
Montreal itself is a very safe, open, and inviting city. During the summer months, the strip of the gay village on St Catherine street between Berri Uqam metro and Papineau Metro becomes pedestrianized. The métro station in the Gay Village, Beaudry, is marked with rainbow pillars. Montreal’s pride celebration, Divers/Cité(last week of July, first week of August) is the second-largest in Canada after Toronto’s.
For Gay men, the most popular drinking spots in the village are currently Renard and Mineral which get packed quickly, so best to arrive early, followed by Stud, District and Black Eagle. In terms of gay clubs, Sky and Unity offer a variety of dancefloors and music. As for events, MPU and LuvHaus happen once a month so check out their facebook pages for events.
The climate of Montreal is a true humid continental climate with 4 distinct seasons. The city has warm, to very hot & humid summers, generally mild spring and autumn, and often very cold, cloudy & snowy winters. Montreal gets over 2,000 hours of sunshine annually, mostly concentrated in the summer months. Precipitation is moderate throughout the year, with around 2 meters of snow per season.
Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport (formerly Dorval Airport) is about 20 km west of the city centre on Expressway (Autoroute) 20. Note that travel time to the airport from the city centre can be as much as an hour, depending on traffic. The airport is served by all major Canadian and U.S. airlines and is a major hub for Air Canada and Air Transat. International flights are serviced by Air Canada, WestJet, Aeromexico, Cubana, Copa, Air France, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Icelandair, Swiss International Air Lines, Turkish Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, Air Algérie, Royal Jordanian, Qatar Airways, and Air China to name a few.
The taxi fare to and from downtown is a fixed price of $40 and not less than $17 to other destinations (a sticker on the window behind the driver gives the boundaries of the zone where the flat fare applies; if you are going from or to places outside this zone, you will have to pay a metered fare with a minimum of $17 when leaving from the airport). If you wish to pay by credit card, let the driver (not the dispatcher) know before you get into the taxi, as it is not unknown for drivers to insist on cash upon arrival. In addition, it is wise to confirm that your destination is within the boundary of the flat fare.
STM Airport Express bus 747 offers service between the airport and downtown Montreal 24 hours a day. A single fare will cost $10 (exact change in coins only when paid in the bus) and includes unlimited use of the STM bus and metro network for the following 24 hours. There is also a ticket machine in the airport where you can purchase fares. You also have the choice of purchasing a three-day pass for $18 or a weekend pass (valid from 6PM Friday until 5AM Monday) for $13 that also include the price of your 747 fare. The bus will stop at Lionel-Groulx metro station and a number of downtown stops. Free Wi-Fi service is available on most 747 buses. It is an approximately 20 minute ride to the first Métro station, Lionel-Groulx on the Orange and Green Lines, which provides easy access to many parts of downtown and other popular destinations. The bus terminates at the Gare Autocars (intercity bus station) where you can transfer to local buses, Greyhound, Orléans Express, and the Métro (Orange, Green, and Yellow lines via the Berri-UQAM station).
It is possible to go downtown by the cheaper regular public transit system. Late at night, it is all right, but during peak hours, you will need to complete several transfers with potentially crowded vehicles so it is really only best to do so only if you are on a very low budget and/or have very light baggage.
Between 5:00 AM and 1:00 AM, take bus 204 east (est) or bus 209 which leaves from outside arrivals every 15-30 min to Gare Dorval (Dorval Train Station). Check that the driver is not going west (ouest) as both ways are served from almost the same place, and the sign does not say. Also, be sure to keep the ticket that the driver will give you as it is a transfer which you will need later. From Gare Dorval, use your transfer ticket to catch any one of buses 211, 411, 405, 425, or 485 to Lionel-Groulx metro station. Also make sure it is going east as the same routes go west too. Your transfer will then let you into the metro. This costs only $3, but exact change in coins only must be provided to the first driver. Take the Montmorency-bound orange line or the Honoré-Beaugrand-bound green line into downtown on the metro.
Between 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM, for the same price ($3, exact change in coins only), take bus 356 (again, check that the driver is going east, not west) directly into downtown via Sherbrooke. This bus runs relatively close to most downtown hotels. However, if needed, a transfer can be completed to access the rest of the city. See the STM’s trip planner or Google Maps for more details.
Montréal Saint-Hubert Longueuil Airport is 16 km (10 miles) east of downtown Montreal, with Pascan Aviation mainly offering charter flights within Quebec. The distant Montréal–Mirabel International Airport, 39 km (24 miles) from Montreal and formerly the city’s main entry point, does not offer scheduled services and is currently occupied by cargo airlines. Charter companies such as Jet Charter Canada can arrange air charter services at each of Montreal’s airports, including YHU and YMX, with aircraft ranging from economical single & twin engine props to luxury business jets.
Plattsburgh International Airport and Burlington International Airport, both located in the US, are each about two hours’ ride from Montreal. Adirondack Trailways offers a bus service between Plattsburgh International Airport and Montreal. Greyhound offers a bus service from Burlington International Airport and Montreal. For travellers from the US, these airports may offer a significant cost savings compared to Trudeau but at the added inconvenience of arranging ground transportation between the US and Canada.
If you consider the snow, the potholes, the dense downtown traffic, the few and expensive parking places and all the signs in French, driving in this huge city can be a true dare if you are not prepared. Downtown, several streets are one way, making somehow intricate turning at an intersection. The autoroutes (those are expressways or freeways) are quite difficult if you are a tourist because most signs are written in French- although the symbols are quite the same as in English Canada and the United States. Be watchful of the lack of relation between the street names and the real cardinal points: the “east”, “west”, “north”, and “south” of the street names are actually northeast, southwest, northwest and, southeast respectively, so the navigation system won’t be very helpful if you are not aware of this.
From Toronto, take Highway 401 east about 5 h until it becomes Autoroute (Expressway) 20 on the Quebec side of the border. It will then take about an hour to get to downtown. Be alert for frequent speed-limit changes along this road. To reach downtown follow the Centre-Ville signs and take Autoroute 720 (Autoroute 20 continues over the Pont Champlain bridge to the South Shore).
From Ottawa, it’s about 2 hours east along Highway 417 (which becomes Autoroute 40 in Quebec) to Montreal.
From Quebec City, it’s about 3 hours west on either Autoroute 40 or Autoroute 20.
From New York City, take Interstate Highway 87 north through Albany and the eastern half of New York State for about six hours. After the border crossing near Plattsburgh, the freeway becomes Autoroute 15, which leads directly into downtown Montreal over the Pont Champlain, the most beautiful approach to the city. The drive time from Plattsburgh to downtown Montreal is approximately one hour.
From Syracuse and further west, take Interstate Highway 81 north through Watertown across the Thousand Islands Bridge in Canada, then merge onto Highway 401 east to Montreal.
From Boston, take Interstate Highway 93 to Highway 89 after you cross into New Hampshire. Follow Interstated 89 north to and through Vermont to the border crossing, where it turns into Highway 133. This secondary road continues to Autoroute 10, which leads directly into downtown Montreal. The whole trip takes about 5 hours. Once you cross the border it is about an hour to Montreal.
Montreal Central Station (Gare Centrale) is at 895 rue de la Gauchetière Ouest, one block west of rue University, and is served by the Bonaventure metro (subway) station. Note that prices are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise specified.
VIA Rail Canada operates fast and comfortable passenger trains from Montreal along the busy Quebec-Ontario corridor and to destinations in northern Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. All fares below are five-day advance booking prices for one-way travel in “Comfort” (coach / economy) class, expect to pay almost 50% more if you book on the day of travel. Check the VIA website for “express deals”, which are posted every Thursday. Highly discounted tickets are available, typically for long distance train routes or short distance trips at non-peak hours. Express deals on short distance trips (e.g. Montreal-Toronto) are typically offered only for the upcoming weeks, whereas long distance deals (e.g. Montreal to Winnipeg) may be available several weeks in advance. “VIA-1” (first / business) class is available for a premium and includes a meal, alcoholic refreshments, snacks, and free wireless internet in both station lounges and on board the train. VIA Rail offers free travel to infants (under 2 years) not occupying a seat and discounted travel for children (under 11), youth (12-25 years old or anyone with an ISIC card), and seniors (60 and over). Bicycles can also be brought aboard as is on certain Corridor trains during the summer months. See Rail travel in Canada for more information.
Three evenings a week, VIA’s “Ocean” service departs for the overnight journey to New Brunswick (fifteen and a half hours, from $110 coach, $162 upper berth, $219 bedroom) and Nova Scotia (twenty hours, from $133 coach, $187 upper berth, $245 bedroom). The choice of sleeping accommodation varies according to the season. Along with trains between Montreal and Quebec, the Ocean is now almost exclusively operated by modern Renaissance trains that were originally built for the aborted Channel Tunnel sleeper services between Great Britain and France.
Three evenings a week, the Ocean also pulls the “Chaleur” train as far as Matapedia. The train divides in the early morning and the Chaleur follows the southern shore of the Gaspé peninsular as far as Gaspe (17.5 h, from $106 coach, $165 upper berth, $215 bedroom).
VIA also offers three weekly round trips to Senneterre, in Abitibi (eleven and a half hours, from $81), and Jonquière in the Saguenay (nine hours, from $55). Both trains operate as wilderness services: a request stop may be made at any point along the route for those who want to hike and kayak in the remoter regions of Quebec that the train passes through.
Amtrak’s ‘Adirondack’ service to New York (11 hours, from $65 US) departs daily, with connections in Schenectady to (but not from) Chicago (24 h, $114 US) and in New York to Philadelphia (14 h, $97 US) and Washington, DC (16 h, $120 US). The train also passes through much of upstate New York and hugs Lake Champlain for a large part of the trip. South of Albany, the route follows the Hudson River and passes a number of historic sites. Reliability of the service has improved greatly since an extra hour was added to the previous 10 h schedule, but one should still factor in the frequent possibility of arriving an hour later than scheduled.
The journey to New York is cheaper but slower than by bus (see below), which takes 7-9 h, but the superior comfort, extra legroom and ability to walk around the train and visit the cafe car for food and drink at your leisure, as well as the good view from the train of the Lake Champlain and Hudson River scenery, make up for this. While the bus is superior in terms of speed for a direct journey to New York, where getting for A to B is most important, the extra time on the train is more pleasantly spent in terms of comfort and scenery.
Train passengers leaving from Boston may take the Northeast Regional or Acela Express to Penn Station, New York, and transfer to the Adirondack line to Montreal, but this method requires significant layover times in New York.
There are extensive services to Montreal from cities in Ontario, Quebec, New York, Vermont, and Maine. Buses arrive and depart from the Station Centrale d’autobus (not to be confused with the Gare Centrale or central train station) at 505 boulevard de Maisonneuve est, (directly above the Berri-UQAM metro station]. Call 514-842-2281 for schedules and prices.
Intercity bus services to Montreal are offered by Megabus, Coach Canada, Adirondack Trailways, Greyhound Canada, Greyhound Lines, Voyageur, and Orléans Express. Orléans Express is the principal bus carrier in the St. Lawrence Valley, including the Montreal—Quebec City route (discount student tickets are offered). Connections to the Canadian Maritimes (New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia) are available through Maritime Bus, which terminates service in Riviere de Loup, where it connects to Orleans Express. Voyageur, a subsidiary of Greyhound Canada, provides service to Ottawa, connecting with other bus routes to points in western Canada. Coach Canada provides service to Toronto, connecting with other bus routes to western New York, southern Ontario, Michigan and Illinois. Other regions of Quebec are served by various companies.
Greyhound Lines offers three daily direct services and Adirondack Trailways offers two daily direct services, from New York, with additional trips operated on weekends and in summer (8 h, from $76.50 US). Vermont Transit, a subsidiary of Greyhound Lines, offers four daily direct services from Boston, though Vermont Transit is now operating under the name of Greyhound Lines (seven hours, from $72 US). Note that there is no student discount on the Montreal-New York service.
The train is slower but significantly cheaper; around $62 CA compared to about $75 CA for the bus. However, for about $15 CA extra, the bus makes for a much quicker journey with a much quicker passage through customs; so for speed, the bus is far superior; but for comfort and scenery, the longer train journey is more pleasantly spent.
The Port of Montreal includes the Iberville cruise terminal on the Alexandra Pier in the Old Port (Vieux-Port). Each year, about 50,000 passengers pass through Iberville terminal, which is an easy walk to and from the historic district of Old Montreal. If you want to bike around, bicycles can be rented from Montreal on Wheels, located just five minutes’ walk from the terminal. Alternatively, you can take one of the taxis lined up at the dock. Major companies include Taxi Diamond and Taxi Coop.
Montreal is an island in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River, so it is only accessible only by boat or bridge. It is neither safe nor legal to ride on many of the major bridges, including the Île aux Tourtes Bridge (Highway 40), the Galipeault Bridge (Highway 20), and the Champlain Bridge (Highway 10/Ile Des soeurs/Nun’s Island). There is a separate bike lane on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge and the rail bridge that connects Ile Perrot with Saint Anne de Bellevue (running parallel to Highway 20)
From Montreal Central Station (Gare Centrale)
Upon disembarking the train, go to the baggage claim area and wait there for a baggage attendant to bring your bicycle to you. If you have checked other baggage, claim it at the conveyor belt. The easiest way to exit the station is at the main entrance near the baggage claim through the parking garage onto rue de la Gauchetière. All other exits require you to carry your bike up flights of stairs. At the west side of the station is the entrance to the Underground City and access to Bonaventure metro station on the Orange line. However, there is no elevator access to the metro from the train station, which means that you have to carry your bike and luggage down several flights of stairs.
From Montreal-Trudeau International Airport
The airport is on the western part of the island. From the main terminal, exit onto the main access road and turn right. Wind along the access road until the first major interchange and turn right. You will reach Albert de Niverville Boulevard and be forced to turn left (south) towards the main highway (Autoroute 20). At the end of this Boulevard, turn right on Cardinal Avenue. To your right, you will come to a pedestrian underpass that takes you under the railway tracks and leads to the Dorval Circle, a very busy traffic circle. This looks intimidating, but the traffic lights will allow you to ride safely under Autoroute 20 to Dorval Boulevard (Boulevard Dorval). Continue south down Dorval Boulevard until the end. Turn left on Lakeshore Drive (Chemin Lakeshore) towards the city. This road turns into Boulevard St. Joseph. You will eventually come to a bike path to your right that winds along the shores of Lac-Saint Louis (part of the Saint Lawrence river) through the town of Lachine. Continue down this path until you reach the entrance of the Lachine Canal. Cross the canal and continue down the Lachine Canal Bike Path (Piste Cyclable Canal Lachine) and follow the signs to the Old Port (Vieux Port) in Old Montreal (Vieux Montreal). The Lachine Canal Bike Path can be quite busy on weekends and holidays, so be ready to take your time. It is paved over its entire length.
Cyclists approaching Montreal from the west should take secondary highways to Dorion, where Autoroute 20, inaccessible to bicycles over most of of its length, becomes accessible as it crosses bridges first to Île Perrot (Perrot Island) and then to the Island of Montreal (at Saine-Anne-de-Bellevue). Bicycles should use the sidewalk on these bridges as traffic is usually heavy. From here, cyclists may take Lakeshore Boulevard and the Lachine Canal Bike Path (see Airport section above) to Old Montreal and the downtown core.
The Isle-aux-Tourtes Bridge on Autoroute 40 is not accessible by bicycle.
From the United States
Cyclists approaching Montreal from the South Shore to the south and east of Montreal may access the Island of Montreal a number of ways prior to the first significant snowfall. The surest way is using the multipurpose path of the Jacques Cartier Bridge. A paved bike path along the shores of the Saint Lawrence River provides the most scenic approach to the bridge.
An equally popular route is from the Saint Lambert Locks (Ecluses Saint-Lambert) of the Saint Lawrence Seaway near the Victoria Bridge (Pont Victoria) east of Montreal. The bike drawbridge may be blocked by the entertaining spectacle of a ship passing through the seaway. From here, cyclists take the Grand Prix racing track (Gilles-Villeneuve circuit) on Île Notre Dame to the Concord Bridge to Montreal. This route is closed sometimes for car racing events. In this case, cyclists can take a circuitous detour down a gravel causeway dividing the seaway and river to the Estacade, an ice boom that crosses the river parallel to the Champlain Bridge to Nun’s Island and eventually Montreal. A lesser known crossing involves one at the Sainte Catherine Locks (Ecluses Sainte-Catherine) at Saint Catherine south of Montreal. These bridges cross the seaway to the same causeway as the Saint Lambert locks. In this case, the road to the Estacade ice boom is paved. These bike links from the South Shore are open from 15 April to 15 November, from 6:30AM to 10:00PM.
The Champlain Bridge, Mercier bridge, and Lafontaine Tunnel are definitely inaccessible to bicycles. These can be dangerous, even in a car. A bicycle path crossing the Mercier Bridge was expected to open in 2012 but has only been built halfway across the river, due to funding cuts by the the provincial government. Thus, the Mercier remains inaccessible to bicycles or pedestrians.
Walking is a favoured way to get around the densely packed downtown and the narrow streets of Old Montreal, especially during the warmer months. However, beware during winter months, as sidewalks can be icy and extremely hazardous after winter snow and ice storms. Winter boots with good grip are essential for surviving pavements that have not been cleared. Beware also (as much as you can) of thawing ice falling from overhanging balconies and roofs. But you can always take the stairs down to Montreal’s famous “Underground City” (Montréal souterrain), called RÉSO, a network of pedestrian corridors connecting Métro (subway) stations, shopping centres, and office complexes.
Jaywalking is widespread and rarely punished (although Montreal police now hands out jaywalking tickets more frequently). However, be aware that drivers are used to jaywalkers timing their crossing with their passing and will most likely go on when a pedestrian steps in the street, braking or slowing down only if they feel a collision likely. At an intersection, however, a pedestrian will have right of passage before turning traffic, but some drivers do not respect this. Montreal drivers rightly have a poor reputation for aggressiveness and they generally do not respect pedestrians. Always watch out for drivers and cyclists before crossing.
Rue Sainte-Catherine is Montreal’s main commercial artery and busiest pedestrian thoroughfare. The “Underground City” and the Green Line (or line 1) of Montreal’s Metro is easily accessible from all the major office complexes, shopping malls, department stores, and theatre complexes that line it. Smaller chain stores and restaurants also vie for valuable commercial space. Well-kept historic churches with green space provide quiet oasis and contrast with the giant neon signs of strip clubs. Major hotels generally can be found one or two blocks north and south of Saint Catherine in the downtown core. Bars, restaurants, and dance clubs cluster within a block of Sainte-Catherine around Crescent and Bishop, catering to a mostly English-speaking and the international student clientele. Rue Saint-Denis and Rue Saint-Laurent, farther east, and the Gay Village between Berri and de Lormier, even more to the east, are mostly French-speaking and local. McGill College Boulevard in the downtown core from Saine-Catherine offers an open view of Mount Royal to the north and an impressive view of the Place Ville-Marie skyscraper to the south. Keep your head up and beware of following the flow of the crowd on this street: throngs of pedestrians often walk across cross streets against red lights, risking life and limb.
Rue Prince-Arthur, east of Saint-Laurent, is for pedestrians only. Another pedestrian-only locale is Montreal’s Chinatown, situated on Rue de la Gauchtière Ouest between Saint-Urbain and Saint-Laurent. A good trick for navigating downtown Montreal is to remember that streets slope up toward Mount Royal, which is just north of downtown and easy to see from most locations.
During the summer months, quite a few streets in Montreal become pedestrianized. The most popular stretch is in the Gay village between Berri and Papineau, which is easily recognized by the multicoloured spheres hanging overhead, with the second most popular one being Rue Ontario in the Hochelaga district which is much more local and arguably the liveliest of the two.
The districts surrounding downtown Montreal are especially delightful on foot. To the south is Old Montreal (Le Vieux-Montréal) (its narrow streets and buildings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries really can make you feel like you’re in Old Europe) and the Old Port (Le Vieux-Port), a waterfront strolling park with exhibits and boat tours, is very popular with the locals. To the north, the Golden Square Mile and the McGill University Campus is wedged between Mount Royal and Sherbrooke Street on the southern slope of the mountain. Old Victorian mansions and townhouses can be found along the sloping streets, many now housing McGill University’s offices and libraries. Just west of downtown is affluent Westmount, a perfect example of 19th-century English-style homes and gardens (inhabited to a great extent by English-speaking people) climbing the slopes of Mount Royal’s western part (the higher you climb, the larger the old mansions). Just east and northeast of downtown are the mostly French-speaking Gay Village (Le Village Gai) and Plateau (Plateau Mont-Royal) districts. Street after street displays turn-of-the-19th-century row duplexes and triplexes, replete with famous Montreal outdoor staircases, overflowing front gardens (or snow-covered gables, depending on the time of year), and tiny shops tucked into every nook and cranny. For people who like to see a culture where it lives, Le Plateau is the place to wander about in.
Mount Royal (Mont-Royal) is also accessible from the urban core on foot. Fit pedestrians can climb Rue Peel to the southern edge of the park. A series of renovated staircases will take you directly to the Chalet near the top of the mountain, with its classic view of the downtown core. A more leisurely climb to the top awaits those on Olmsted Road (6.5 km), a wide, gently sloping bike and foot path accessible from the Plateau in Parc Jeanne-Mance (also known as Fletcher’s Field). Smaller foot paths serendipitously branch off from this road. A cross-country ski path also winds to the top in the wintertime. Mount Royal’s park was designed by Frederick Olmsted, a landscape architect who lived from 1822 to 1903 and was also responsible for the design of Central Park in New York City and the Emerald Necklace in Boston.
It is easy to hail a taxi on most busy streets. Taxi drivers are generally friendly, although in typical Montreal fashion, they tend to drive aggressively. Although all taxi drivers are able to understand street addresses in English, it is important to bear in mind that some Montreal taxi drivers have a very limited knowledge of English. In Canada, as in the United States, it is customary to tip a taxi driver approximately 15% or slightly higher. Get cash before hailing a taxi cab or ask the driver if he or she will accept a credit card. If you do not, you may find yourself on a ride to the closest ATM where the driver will stop and wait for you to get cash. Most Montreal taxi drivers accept US currency at par, as long as the value of the Canadian dollar is close to parity with the US dollar.
Driving (SAAQ) in Montreal can be a challenge for many North American motorists. Although turning right on a red light is allowed across the rest of Quebec (except at intersections where a sign indicates this is not permitted), right turns on red are strictly prohibited on the island of Montreal. The stop lights at most of downtown intersections are located on the opposite side of the intersection, not at the actual stop line as in some of Europe.
The use of road salt to keep roads ice-free during severe winters takes its toll on the roadways, which are either heavily potholed or subject to perpetual construction. Downtown traffic is dense. Street parking can be difficult. Parking meters are in use seven days a week in most districts (9am-9pm Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm Sat, 1pm-6pm Sun), including statutory Holidays. The standard parking ticket cost is $52. Parking tickets may be appealed in court only by the owner of the car that was subject to the infraction, so if a rented car is ticketed, the person who rented may be unable to contest the charge. Car parking downtown is expensive at around $3 an hour at parking meters or $25 per day at commercial parking lots. Parking signs are all in French, and will describe a day and hour (based on 24h clock) along with conditions for parking. Many arterial roads prohibit parking on one side during rush hour, and vehicles are subject to $150 fine plus towing costs and other fees. Also be aware that Montreal does not paint curbs red next to fire hydrants, but it is still illegal to park there.
There are also many private and public parking lots, and their prices vary widely. There may even be $15-$20 differences between two parking lots just a few blocks from each other. Street parking can be difficult to find on the weekends, and garages are often full. A few downtown hotels offer overnight parking for $12-15 a night. When it comes to parking, plan ahead.
During the winter months, heavy snowfalls are common. In the aftermath of a snowstorm, an intensively-prepared “déneigement” (snow removal) process begins with intimidatingly large snow plows and trucks clearing, chewing up, and transporting away the snow. If you leave your car parked on a street, pay close attention to any orange “no parking” signs that will appear on roads to be cleared. Tow trucks will sound a loud 2-tone horn siren just before clearing. This is an announcement that a street is about to be cleared and that all parked cars will be cited/and or towed if they are not moved. For this reason it’s important to be able to check your vehicle at least once daily after a snowfall. It is best to use indoor or underground parking if snow clearing is likely.
Many downtown streets are one way, which can complicate getting around. If you see a sign at an intersection that has direction arrows in a green circle, that means those are the only directions you are allowed to turn. Left turns are allowed on a green light provided there are no other signs prohibiting. Visitors should be familiar with the flashing green light , which indicates a protected left-turn (priority), which is equivalent to a green arrow in other parts of the world. Some signals are green arrows that flash, this is the same meaning. Autoroutes (expressways or freeways) can be challenging for visitors, as most signs are French, but most symbols are the same as in English Canada and the United States.
For people who need a car for a short term, Montreal has many services to offer among auto sharing or car rental. If you are looking for a car-sharing company, Communauto is the most popular one. Amigo Express is also one of these companies, they offer an online platform which allows you to find a lift anywhere in Quebec. If you need a car for a roadtrip or another specific need, Hertz, Avis, Budget many big companies have branches in Montreal., but sometimes there is an advantage to choose a smaller company like Légaré, which gives you a free GPS in every rental. Pay attention – if you need to park in Montreal, it is not that easy to find the right place and the right moment. You will also probably have to pay for your parking. Please obey the traffic rules.
Cycling is a very good way to visit the City, especially its central neighbourhoods like the Plateau Mont-Royal. The city has over 660km of cycle paths, which include recreational paths, on-street separated bike lanes, and on-street bike lanes labelled with painted lines but no barriers. Popular bike routes include the Lachine Canal path that stretches from Lachine, along Lac St-Louis, down to Old Montreal along the canal. You can cross over to the South Shore either on the Jacques Cartier Bridge, Île Notre-Dame, or via the Estacade ice bridge from Île des Sœurs. See “Do” for suggested bike path routes.
Cyclists should be cautious when biking on shared routes with cars. Most drivers are courteous, but accidents are not infrequent. Drivers may not check for bicycles when turning, changing lanes, or opening car doors. Montreal drivers are also notably aggressive compared to those in rural areas or other cities in Canada. Street cycling is generally safe for those comfortable riding a bike in a flow of urban traffic, but those used to rural traffic or recreational cycling should stick to bicycle-only pathways. It is common practice for cyclists to ride slowly through red lights or stop sign, although these practices are illegal and police do occasional give out tickets. Lights and reflectors are legally required after dark and police do occasionally ticket for improper lights occasionally. Helmets are not required by law.
Bike rental shops are common throughout the city, particularly in the Old Port and the Plateau areas. Bikes can also be rented through the public Bixi system. First, find a bike at one of the city’s 460 Bixi stations. (Maps are available on the Bixi website or through the Bixi app.) Then, insert a credit card. You will be charged a $100 deposit that will be refunded after the bike is returned, and a service fee depending on your choice of usage. Choices include a single trip (30 minutes to take a bike, ride it, and return it to another station) for $2.95, a 24 hour pass (unlimited 30 minute trips over a 24 hour period) for $5, or $14 (unlimited 30 minute trips over a 72 hour period). Longer subscriptions are available as well. Stations are easy to find downtown and in central neighbourhoods, and also extend less frequently into more distant areas. Bixis are not designed for longer excurions like going on an afternoon picnic or taking a day trip. Extra fees accumulate after the 30 minute mark on any given trip, and they add up quickly.
Montreal is home to one of the three public subway/metro systems in Canada, the others found in Vancouver and Toronto. The public transit system, run by Société de transport de Montréal (STM), is safe, efficient, and is overall pleasant to use. Tickets have been replaced by cards with magnetic stripe containing one trip, called an à la carte ticket. These are valid for one trip (including unlimited transfers in the same way for 120 min) on the metro and buses, costing $3.25 each (exact fare in coins is required on the buses but not on the metro) but are also available for less when you purchase 2 for $6.00 either from the metro agent, the automatic fare vending machine located in metro stations, or an authorized seller.
Unlike some subway systems you do not need the fare card to exit, but you can use the card to transfer to a bus, and you can be asked at any time by a transit cop to produce the valid fare card. So don’t throw it away while you’re still in the transit system or you can be fined.
Note that Montreal metro stations and train cars lack air conditioning, the Metro can sometimes get uncomfortably hot, in every season. It does however still exist as the best transport option in the city. The train cars are all old (original rolling stock) and will be replaced over several years starting in 2016.
Announcements are in French only as is the vast majority of signage. In addition, Montreal transit workers are not obliged to speak in any language other than French (with the exception of customer service representatives). While most transit workers are happy to speak to you in English and are generally friendly to visitors, it is possible that a question in English might be met with sign language or dead silence. It never hurts to begin a conversation with “Bonjour, est-ce que vous parlez anglais?” (Bahn-zhoor, eske voo pah-lay ahnglay? – see French phrasebook). The customer service counter at Berri-Uqam (on the Orange, Yellow, and Green lines) have English-speaking staff. In addition, airport staff are fully bilingual.
When departing from metro stations in Laval and Longueuil, tickets and passes bought in Montreal can’t be used. You have to pay a different fare inbound from those stations.
If you are using cash to pay your fare on the bus, it is important to have the exact fare since the driver does not give change; you will receive an à la carte ticket, which is your proof of payment and your transfer.
Passes are available which offer unlimited travel on the bus and metro for periods of 24-hours ($10) or three days ($18) and are well worth it to avoid fumbling for change, checking transfer times and restrictions, and worrying about getting off at the wrong stop and having to repay. There are also evening passes valid from 6:00 PM to 5:00 AM ($5) and weekend passes valid from 6:00 PM Friday to 5:00 AM Monday ($13). As with all fares, they are available everywhere there is an OPUS machine. Weekly ($24.50, week is from Monday to Sunday) and monthly ($82) passes as well as 10-trip fares ($25.50) are also available; unlike one-day and three-day passes, these fares must be loaded onto an OPUS card (see below) and are not available in paper ticket form. Only students (25 years and under) studying at a recognized academic institution in Montréal or seniors (65 and over) may benefit from reduced fares, and a special OPUS card must be obtained from the STM.
The OPUS card is a smart card with a chip that contains your fare and transfer information. The OPUS card can be purchased at all metro stations for $6.
OPUS cards can be refilled and paper fares can be purchased at metro stations using the automated machines or at the ticket booth (cash only). They can also be purchased from other authorized sellers. A list of sellers is here.
Fare prices increase at the start of every year (although the expected increase for 2016 has been delayed). The current fare grid can be found here.
The STM website offers an online trip-planner service on their home page and their smartphone app. Trip planning can also be done using Google Maps. Free bus and Metro system maps are available from the ticket booth at most metro stations. These are useful to find where you are on the island.
At each subway station, directions are not indicated by compass directions, such as westbound or eastbound. Instead, trains go in the direction of a subway line’s terminus. The green line runs from Angrignon in the west to Honoré-Beaugrand in the east. If you were to travel eastbound, for example, you would look for Honoré-Beaugrand on the platform. If you were to travel westbound, you would look for Angrignon. There are four interchange stations at which commuters can change subway lines without extra charge: Snowdon (blue/orange), Lionel-Groulx (orange/green), Berri-UQAM (green/yellow/orange), and Jean-Talon (orange/blue).
Bicycles are permitted aboard metro trains outside of the rush hours such as: 10:00am to 3:00pm and 7:00pm to end of service on weekdays and all day Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays. Bikes are only allowed in the lead car of the train up to a maximum of 6. STM staff may deny bikes aboard the metro for safety reasons such as special events that might generate a high level of ridership. Lists of such events are posted on the STM website and at the entrances to metro. During festival season in Montreal, bikes are seldom allowed at all.
Bike riding inside stations or the Underground City is strictly prohibited.
Montreal has a commuter train system run by the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) with termini at the Montreal Central Station (Gare Central) and at Lucien-L’Allier (both are accessible from the metro). Commuter trains are handy for getting to suburbs and neighbouring towns.
Commuter train stations are divided into eight zones that radiate out from downtown. Stations have automated machines from which you must purchase a ticket appropriate to the zones of the station you are traveling to or from, whichever is farther (for example, a trip from Zone 4 to Zone 3 or vice versa would require a Zone 4 ticket). In addition to the zone number, there are two types of fares: TRAIN fares (valid on commuter trains only) and TRAM fares (also valid on buses and the metro within the zone purchased). A prepurchased ticket card (SOLO) must be validated at the card scanners at the entrance to the platform. You can also purchase a six-trip ticket. As with the bus and metro, monthly passes require an OPUS card and reduced fares for students and seniors require a special OPUS card.
There are no ticket machines on the train and ticket inspections are random. Incorrect tickets sometimes go unnoticed because inspectors check only occasionally. However, it is best to avoid taking chances as if the ticket is not valid, the customer can get a fine of $400. Note that the ticket machines should now all be bilingual in English and French. The two downtown stations have staffed ticket booths Monday to Friday, but not in the evenings. Other stations may also have booths but generally only during either the morning or afternoon rush hour.
Road signs, billboards, and metro announcements are only in French. However, services can be provided in both English and French in many restaurants, hotels, museums, taxis, etc.
As French is the official language of business, you will usually be greeted in French. So even if you don’t speak French, it’s a good idea to know basic French phrases. In neighbourhoods that have many anglophones and/or tourists, you are more likely to encounter English spoken. In these neighbourhoods, even if all of the signs are written in French, you may be surprised to hear that most people are speaking in English. All signs must be in French due to language laws.
If you are caught in a situation where you cannot communicate in French, it’s often easy to find someone who is bilingual.
Quebec French is not a different language from European French. It is still standard French, and is roughly the same French that was spoken in 17th century Paris prior to the French revolution. As such, it has its own unique pronunciation, expressions, and vocabulary that differs from modern European French.
During the winter, many parks offer the possibility to do cross-country skiing with groomed paths.
An interactive map of the cycle path network is available at the Vélo Québec website. Particularly pleasant places to cycle and skate include:
Montreal has a bewildering variety of festivals, ranging from one-day ethnic fairs to huge international productions running two weeks or more. They are generally held in the summer and autumn, though increasingly they can be found throughout the year. Here are some of the larger ones:
International Festival of Film on Art – organization devoted to the promotion and presentation of the finest productions on art and media art. A ten-day competitive festival, it is the most important annual event of its kind in the world. FIFA has become a focal point for artis and artisans from the art and film communities, as well as for art and cinema enthusiast.
Montreal is a popular destination for language-immersion programs in French and English. Many schools arrange accommodations — either in dorms or with a family and provide cultural programs with trips around the city and beyond. Prices are usually higher for non-Quebecois and higher-still for non-Canadians. Most are located in Downtown and the Old City. Intensive, non-resident programs are also offered by the YMCA and Quebec government.
Montreal is home to one of Canada’s oldest and most prestigious universities, McGill University. McGill is consistenly ranked as one of the top 20 universities in the world. Concordia University is the city’s other English-language university, and has over 40,000 students. The school’s origins in and continuing emphasis on adult education make it popular for mature students, since it holds many graduate-level courses at night. Both universities are research focused.
The Université du Québec à Montreal (UQAM) and the Université de Montréal cater mainly to Francophone students. The Université de Montréal is the second largest French-language university in the world, after the Sorbonne in Paris and is one of the largest research institutions in Canada. The Université de Montréal has two affiliated schools, Polytechnique Montréal (engineering), and HEC Montréal (business school) that offer undergraduate and graduate studies.
Université Laval and Université de Sherbrooke also have campuses in the Montreal area. Every university, with the exception of Laval, lends its name to a subway stop to indicate the university’s approximate location. For example, the Guy-Concordia subway station, located at the intersection of Rue Guy and boulevard de la Maisonneuve ouest, is no more than two minutes away from its namesake university (Concordia).
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) allows skilled U.S. and Mexican professionals to obtain Canadian work visa provided they are qualified in certain professions. The American Consular Services website provides an up-to-date list of qualifying professions.
If you are an U.S. Citizen aged 18-30 and a full-time student, you can obtain a Canadian work visa valid for six months through BUNAC . Students from France, Britain, New Zealand, and Australia can also benefit from BUNAC work programs. As well, if you obtain a degree from a Canadian university, you are eligible to remain in Montreal and work for up to one year.
For anyone else, the Immigration Canada (CIC) website explains a number of ways foreigners can legally work in Canada.
Student jobs include babysitting, painting during the summer, and moving furniture in June. McGill and Montreal universities are always in search of research subjects and so are Montreal’s many biotech firms. Montreal also has many call centres, which constantly seek to hire new employees and offer flexible working hours.
Rue Ste-Catherine, between rue Guy and boulevard St-Laurent, has many of the big department and chain stores as well as a few major malls. Avenue Mont-Royal has funky consignment and gothic clothing stores from boulevard St-Laurent to rue Saint-Denis and a mixed bag of neighbourhood stores, used record shops, and gentrified boutiques heading east towards avenue Papineau. Rue St-Viateur is one of the city’s most interesting streets, with its amazingly varied range of businesses crammed into the short stretch between Boulevard St-Laurent and Avenue du Parc.
St-Laurent remains one of the city’s prime shopping streets, more or less along its whole length. Just about anything can be found there, with different blocks having different clusters of businesses (Asian groceries and housewares near de La Gauchetière, cheap electronics a little farther up, hip boutiques between Prince-Arthur and Mount Royal, anything and everything Italian between Saint-Zotique and Jean-Talon). Rue Sherbrooke ouest, west of the Autoroute Décarie, boasts an increasingly interesting concentration of largely food-oriented businesses. Jean-talon market, located near the intersection of Jean-talon and St-Laurent boasts a wide variety of local produce and food products (maple syrup, cheese, etc.) at very good prices.
Trendier boutiques can be found on rue Saint-Denis, north of rue Sherbrooke and south of avenue Mont-Royal est, as well as rue Saint-Laurent (continuing as far north as Bernard). The latter is in the process of becoming more upscale, so the range of shopping is highly variable and lower in density as one goes north of Mont-Royal. Rue Sherbrooke itself has a number of high-end stores (notably Holt Renfrew) and commercial art galleries in a short strip running approximately from McGill University west to rue Guy. Farther west, Sherbrooke intersects with Greene Avenue in Westmount, which boasts a short, but luxurious retail strip. Avenue Laurier, between St-Laurent and its western end, is one of the city’s prime spots for eating and shopping in high style, though there are still a few affordable spots here and there.
On boul. St-Laurent, a cluster of high-end home furnishing stores has grown up in recent years. It starts roughly at the corner of rue Marie-Anne and is very prominent in the block between rue Marie-Anne and avenue Mont-Royal, with sparser, but still interesting stores as far north as rue Saint Viateur. Antique buffs will find interesting stores all over the city, but they’ll want to make a special pilgrimage to rue Notre-Dame est, when you head east from avenue Atwater. Rue Amherst, in the Gay Village, also has a significant concentration of antique dealers.
Many Montreal restaurants are “apportez votre vin” (bring your own wine). This may sound like a hassle, but you end up paying much less for wine with dinner if you bring it yourself. There’s usually a SAQ (government liquor store) or a dépanneur (convenience store, with a limited selection of typically inexpensive wine) nearby; ask your waiter where it is. Your waiter will open your wine for you; corkage fees are rare, but don’t forget to factor this service into your tip so make sure to ask. If you are driving from the United States, you may find Canadian liquor prices quite frightening. Even the duty-free shops along the border are rarely cheaper than an American liquor store (although these are still cheaper than the SAQ). Visitors can bring in 40oz of hard alcohol, 1.5L of wine, or a 24-pack of beer.
Separate bills (l’addition or “facture” in French) are common and you may be asked ensemble ou séparément? (together or separately?) The standard tip for acceptable restaurant service is 15% and is not included.
Never call a waiter “garçon”! Use “monsieur” or “madame”.
To buy your own food or regional products, the public market at Jean-Talon, 7075 avenue Casgrain (metro Jean-Talon or De Castelnau), is the place to go. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m, the market is especially noteworthy for its selection of produce. Even though they’re not strictly part of the market, the many stores lining it on the north and south sides complete it wonderfully with superb selections of cheese, meat, and just about anything edible. The surrounding streets are heavily Italian-flavored and feature a number of excellent grocery stores, butchers, bakeries, and restaurants.
Across town, the Atwater Market is also superb, though quite different from (and much smaller than) Jean-Talon. Here, you’ll find the city’s best butchers, as well as good selections of cheese, fish, and produce. Located on avenue Atwater, just south of rue Notre-Dame Lionel-Groulx station
Montreal claims to have the most restaurants per capita in North America.
With delis and bakeries and diners galore, Montreal offers great budget dining. Venues are scattered all over the city, but the largest concentration of restaurants is along boul Saint-Laurent, rue Saint-Denis, ave du Mont-Royal in the Plateau. Tasty and cheap ethnic food, lots of Indian buffets, can be found around the Jean-Talon market. Notre-Dame street in the South-West (Sud-Ouest) borough also features a wide selection of restaurants.
Two Montreal classics, poutine and the smoked meat sandwich, can make a filling meal for under $10. Pizza-by-the-slice can be had for a toonie (2$), and there’s always the option of rolling your own picnic with fresh produce from Marché Atwater or Jean Talon Market.
Several kosher restaurants can be found within a few blocks of each other on Queen Mary road not far from the Snowdon Métro station in and boul Décarie near Villa-Maria-des-Neiges in Côte-des-Neiges. The other greatest concentration of kosher food in along Bernard in Outremont.
Smoked-meat and sausage poutine aside, Montreal is vegetarian-friendly with several veggie and vegan restaurants and veggie options on most menus.
Montreal has a number of excellent ice cream parlours, many of which make their own ice cream. There are also a number of restaurants dedicated to desserts.
Local restaurant chains that travelers might not be familiar with, with various locations throughout the city, include :
Quality wine and liquor (but only a small selection of imported beers) can only be purchased at SAQ shops, most of which are open until 6p.m. Sunday to Wednesdays and 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. on other days; the smaller SAQ Express outlets are open daily from 11AM to 10PM. Beer and a small selection of lower-quality wine are also sold at convenience stores (dépanneurs) and grocery stores. Some supermarkets have partnered with the SAQ to offer a few selection bottles, so if you are caught outside business hours or are in a hurry, places like IGA Extra and MÉTRO generally offer a better variety of wine than the local dépanneur.
The selection of beer to be found in grocery stores and even the humble corner store have exploded in the last decade in and around greater Montreal. Two micro-breweries in particular are world-class: McAuslan (brands include St-Ambroise and Griffon) and Unibroue (Belgian-style ales such as Blanche de Chambly, Maudite, La Fin du Monde, as well as simpler, more affordable U lagers). Boréale makes a good, if unspectacular range of brews, while Rickard’s and Alexander Keith’s domestics are gaining popularity among locals. Most stores also sell a few major imports such as Stella Artois, Sapporo, Guinness, Leffe and of course, Heineken.
Montreal has four main strips for bar-hopping. Rue Crescent, in the western part of downtown, caters mostly to Anglophones, tourists and international students largely from China, South Korea and India. It tends to be trendy and expensive. On the edge of the bar-heavy Plateau, Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Rue Mont-Royal and Rue St.Denis get extremely busy on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On Rue St. Denis between rue Sherbrooke and rue St.Catherine, you’ll find trendy clubs and bars with a strong Francophone clientele. Farther up St-Laurent, between avenue Laurier and St.Zotique, you’ll find some of the hippest spots in the city, however obnoxious tourists are often shunned from these places without restraint — it’s advised not to head to any of these spots in large groups as you’re more likely than not to be refused seating or entry. Another lesser known strip is on Rue Ontario, between Pie-IX and Rue Joliette. Rue Ontario almost exclusively caters to a francophone working-class clientele, and has a fair share of interesting but quintessentially Montreal characters. Be advised that this is quite a Quebecois nationalist part of town though, and being obnoxiously loud and English-speaking may be met with hostility, so knowing some basic French will be met with appreciation. Don’t be turned away from this fact though as more often than not you’ll be met warmly and bartenders will make every effort to speak to you in English. There are also many good bars away from the main strips too. You should never have to line up to go have a drink, because there’s virtually an unlimited choice. Depending on the day of the week, the best events vary. For example, on Tuesday you should go to Les Foufounes Électriques for cheap beer and an unique experience.
Dance clubs can be found all over the downtown area, with hotspots on boulevard Saint-Laurent and rue Crescent.
After-hours clubs, for those who aren’t tired out by 3 a.m., are open a.m.-10a.m.. Note that they do not, by law, serve alcohol at this time.
Montreal has as many gay and lesbian bars as San Francisco and every October on Canadian Thanksgiving (Columbus Day in the U.S.) hosts the “Black and Blue” circuit party, attracting thousands to enjoy the thrill of harder dance music and hordes of pretty, shirtless men. Most popular gay bars can be found in the city’s Gay Village, located on the eastern stretch of Ste-Catherine and easily accessible by the Beaudry metro, between Amherst and Papineau. Bar Renard, Unity, and Sky are the club favourites, while Cabaret Mado offers excellent drag performances. There are many popular gay club events that happen every month too such as MPUat the Belmont and LuvHausat Blockhaus in the Hochelaga neighbourhood. There are also numerous pubs such as Stud and Black Eagle, male strippers, restaurants, saunas, and karaoke in the area. The four main strippers bars are Stock, Campus, Taboo, and Adonis. The most popular sauna is Oasis. A good place to start any search is with this gay owned and operated link for Montreal, Quebec, Canada with gay travel info in easy-to-use listings as a directory.
Mid-range options include Downtown chain hotels to “gîtes”, guest houses that range from a single room in an apartment to elegant historic homes with three to five rooms. Gîtes are usually found in the more residential neighbourhoods like the Plateau.
On the upper-end, four and five-star luxury and boutique hotels are mostly concentrated in Old Montreal and Downtown.
Montreal is home to four major universities and numerous smaller schools. Students routinely sublet apartments in the summer months.
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