Opinions please: Toronto and Montreal

I’m British. In April I’ll be visiting Canada for the first time. For various reasons, my only two options are (a) to just visit Toronto, or (b) to visit both Toronto and Montreal. (I’m sure there are other places worth visiting, but for this trip these are my only choices.)

Toronto: all I know is that it’s near the big lake, and it has that magnificent CNN Tower (is it still called that?). What are the other highlights and attractions that tourists tend to enjoy? Help me with my ‘must see’ ‘must do’ list.

Montreal: I am trying to decide if whether it’s really worth adding Montreal to my itinerary, given the extra cost, distance, time and travel. I’d love to hear your views and opinions, whether pro or con. What do tourists like or enjoy about Montreal if they go there? What will I be missing if I don’t?

All feedback very gratefully received.

I’ve been to both. While Toronto is nice, I think Montreal offers more. The French culture is great, and it has some of the best restaurants in North America.* The Old Montreal area is just a great place.

Toronto is clean, but with far less charm.

*Tip on finding a great restaurant in Montreal: Throw a stone in the air. If it hit’s a restaurant, go in.


I live in Toronto. Perhaps some other Toronto Dopers, as well as matt_mcl or Mnemosyne or one of the other Montreal Dopers, will chime in.

I highly recommend both cities. Toronto and Montreal are very different, as different as New York and Paris, though both cities are on a smaller scale than New York and Paris.

Both Toronto and Montreal have large underground cities, connected mazes of shopping and access that join downtown buildings. Montreal has wonderful architecture in the Metro, for example, while Toronto’s subway can best be described as ‘utilitarian’. Toronto has a ridiculous variety of restaurants; I presume Montreal has the same.

By April, spring will be well under way, though it may still be cool. You might be able to catch the cherry blossoms in High Park.

Oh, one other thing. It’s the ‘CN Tower’. It was originally built by and named for the Canadian National (CN) Railways, and has nothing to do with the US cable network CNN.

Personally, I’d vote for seeing both cities.

Montreal is completely different from Toronto. It has a very old-world-European feel to it, with a vibrant cultural scene, lots of fantastic restaurants, and most people tend to find it “warmer” than Toronto. Don’t be put off by the francophone aspect, either, as most Montrealers speak at least some English.

Toronto, on the other hand, is a little more reserved. There’s a lot to see and do, and if you’re open to leaving the tourist district, there’s a plethora of interesting ethnic neighbourhoods well worth checking out.

Unfortunately, April will probably be a bit too early to catch the best of both cities. The summer festival season usually doesn’t kick off until June, and it might be a tad too chilly to do most of the outdoor stuff I’d recommend for visitors (renting a bike and touring the Toronto Islands, or people watching at a sidewalk cafe in Montreal). Still, it’ll probably be balmy enough to do some walking within the cities, which are both very pedestrian friendly. Both also have extensive public transit networks, which makes it even easier to get around.

PS - Assuming you can spare an evening, the Toronto Dopers would be happy to throw a little get-together to welcome you to our shores. We’re friendly like that. :slight_smile:

Thank you. Ignorance fought!

I’d vote for visiting both cities. First of all, they are extremely different from each other. But beyond that, Montreal is unique among all the major Canadian cities because of its French atmosphere.


Oh, and as for traveling Toronto to Montreal?

If you book far enough in advance, you can get a return train ticket for around $125.00. At least, you could last year. See Via Rail Canada site at www.via.ca.

Canada does not have a large passenger-rail network–distances too large in most parts of the country–but the Toronto-to-Montreal route is maybe the core of what we do have. (Well, Windsor-to-Quebec-City, actually.)

The T-to-M trip takes between four and five hours, as opposed to 7ish on the bus, five for driving, and 1h and 15 minutes by plane (but then you have to go through security, get to the airport in Toronto and from the airport in Montreal, etc, so it works out to not much different than taking the train).

Cost? I just checked the Via site, and picking two random dates in April for me a return for $138 ($144 if you include taxes).

Plane (WestJet) gives me a total cost of $267.30 for return in April between Toronto Pearson (YYZ) and Montreal. For about the same price, you can take Porter Airlines (www.flyporter.ca) out of the Island Airport in Toronto (YTZ) which would be a lot more interesting from a touristic viewpoint.

Bus (Greyhound) gives me a trip time of 8 hours at a cost of S196.80. Disadvantage: departing from the Toronto intercity bus terminal can be a truly wretched experience, as they’re still using the same building they used in 1928 and you have to line up between roaring, belching buses to board. It is not ideal for tourists. The advantage is that that price is what you get walking up to the ticket counter when you want to leave; the other prices are booked in advance.

Rental car? Might not be a bad idea, but it is a five-hour drive, and parking in both Toronto and Montreal can be awkward. And to make it a five-hour trip, you have to deal with the Evil Death Highway of Doom known as King’s Highway No. 401 in Ontario, or Autoroute 20 in Quebec. If you want to take your time, the old Highway 2 paralleling the 401 is quite interesting.

Montreal has plenty of different things to offer depending on when you visit and what you like, whether it’s architecture, culture, dining, night life, scenery, etc. If you give me some idea what you like to do when you travel I can talk a little about what Montreal has to offer, but in a lot of ways, people seem to most enjoy the feeling or flavour of the city as a whole.

I live between the two cities and love them both. I can’t imagine you coming all the way from the U.K. and not finding the time to see both cities. It will give you a much greater and broader perspective of Canada.

For the price of a train ride you’ll have opened your eyes to much of the dichotomy that is Canada. Not that either city defines Canada, but certainly from a cultural perspective they represent different ends of the Canadian perspective. Of course the entire country is diverse since Newfoundland is nothing like Vancouver, but you’ll regret not seeing Montreal if you choose not to.

You don’t need to worry about “touristy” things either. Both cities are wonderfully safe for their size, so just go out and explore. Stop at outdoor cafés, have a beer, mingle. People in both cities are quite friendly and like tourists.

And if I were you I’d try to see an NHL playoff game in Montreal in April at the Bell Centre. There won’t be NHL playoff games this year in Toronto, again. You can get scalped tickets outside the arena if you’re willing to part with a couple of hundred dollars. The closer to game time the better the price, of course.

To elaborate on the great info Sunspace has provided re: travelling:

Driving into Montreal proper with the intent of getting around by car is not recommended. Driving in downtown Montreal qualifies as an extreme sport, though it has not yet been recognized as such by the IOC.

As warm and welcoming as Montrealers can be, most of them will go batshit crazy as soon as they get behind the wheel of a car. Standard rules of the road are merely guidelines - they roll through stop signs, cut off everyone else, and ignore traffic lights. Four-way stops are treated like a game of chicken.

Of course, since taxi drivers are usually 20% more insane than the average driver, this means that travelling by cab within Montreal city limits requires a death wish.

Even when we drive to Montreal, we park the car as soon as we arrive and go everywhere either on foot or by transit.

You shold know that Toronto is known as “Toronto the good”. If that appeals to you fine. It is called Tranah, BTW.

Montreal is wonderfully supplied with restaurants, as noted and has a vibrant night life (more than any other North American city save New York). It makes a difference what part of April. Last year, there was a lot of snow up to mid-April and the city made little attempt to clear since the snow clearance season had passed. (Montreal has only two seaons and they are called “Snow Clearance” and “Road Repair”). On the other hand, it is possible to walk for an hour and a half without going above-ground and (almost) not retracing your steps. And if you add a couple short trips on the Metro, quite a bit more.

I have been to Tranah and it is not without interest, jokes aside. The Art Galery of Ontario is quite fine, for example, and I would love to get back to since its renovation designed by Toronto native Frank Gehry. The same is true of the Royal Ontario Museum and its renovation designed by Daniel Liebeskind.

You don’t mention a time line in your original post - I’m assuming you’ve got at least a week or more? I wouldn’t visit both cities if I only had, say, 3 days, but anything more than that and I’d say, definitely. I love both cities dearly.

Sadly, I’ll be in the wilds of Edmonton for all of April, so I’ll miss out on any Tronna welcoming. :frowning:

I’ve lived in both cities, and I also recommend visiting both if you have sufficient time. Neither should be done lightly, so if time is tight, I’d recommend just doing Toronto this time, and make another journey to visit Montreal when you can do it justice. Truthfully, you cannot really say that you know Canada until you’ve visited many major cities (for instance, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary or Edmonton and Vancouver), since they are so different from one another.

Things to do in Toronto: as one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet, there are lots of different neighbourhoods that have unique cultures. The downtown Chinatown is well-worth a visit (there are several major Chinese centres, but the others are less tourist-friendly), as are the many museums and galleries. Little India (Gerrard St East), Greek Town (Danforth Ave), Korea Town (Bloor/Christie area) and Queen St West are all fun places to go. It will be a bit early for The Beaches (Queen St East) or the Toronto Islands, which are must-visit places in nice weather. Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls make a nice day-trip or two from Toronto, particularly if you like wine and tour some of the wineries.

Of course, the Toronto Dopers would be happy to have an excuse to get-together and welcome you to our fair city. If you do include Montreal, I’m sure the same can be said of Dopers there.

We won’t even demand that you do card tricks for us! :smiley:

Indian food… :: yum ::

And maybe we can hit that Mauritian restaurant on Roncesvalles. Or one of the Tibetan ones on Queen in Parkdale.

One more voice saying you have to see both cities. Toronto is home and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be but Old Montreal is amazing…I could just sit there all day in a cafe staring at it. The same could be said of Old Quebec too.

Drive for 25, baby, yeah! I’m thinking, regardless of how far into the playoffs and against which team they are playing, you are not going to get Habs tickets for “a couple of hundred dollars”. A couple couple, perhaps. I know someone who bought a single ticket from a scalper for last week’s Habs-Sens game, and it set him back nearly 400$. The freaking Sens! Can you imagine if it were Boston or Philly? That said, if you can afford it, go see the Canadiens play. You will not find a more psychotic, energetic crowd anywhere (in a good way, of course!) This year is the Habs’ 100th Season, so pretty much anything that happens is a Big. Freaking. Deal.

Oh God. If you, as a Brit, showed up and started calling the city “Tranah”, I think you’d be laughed at. Yes, it does kind of come out that way when natives say it, but forcing it just won’t do. If anything, just drop the second t: Toron-no. Once you hear it said a bit, you can start trying to say it like the locals, IMHO!
I’m partial to Montreal, but then again, I chose to live here. I spent 6 years just outside Toronto, and visited the city often enough, but Montreal feels like home to me (then again, I grew up in Québec, and am bilingual).

I’d recommend seeing both if you can afford it. Via train service between the two is very convenient (especially because both train stations are right smack in the middle of the downtown cores of both cities!), with flight somewhat less so (although Porter, by all accounts, is an awesome airline). If you visit both, I wouldn’t take a round trip; fly into Toronto and out of Montreal if you can. Or vice-versa. There are more Heathrow-Toronto flights than Heathrow-Montreal, but that depends on the airlines.

Specific things to do in Montreal depends mostly on when you’ll be here. As was said, April can be either snowy or sunny, and that can change from day to day. It wouldn’t be unusual to get 10+cm of snow one day and have a nice warm day the next, with all the terraces open for business.

Mount Royal is great to explore on a spring day, and the view is pretty fantastic. Exploring the Old Port is always fun, as is the more modern downtown. I even like wandering around the McGill campus, unless it’s because I’m headed to class! The Biodome, Botanical Gardens, Insectarium, etc are fun to visit, and Montreal has a bunch of great markets, of which Atwater and Jean Talon are probably the most well-known. I have yet to have a bad meal in a restaurant here, and we eat out quite a bit.

If you’re here the first week of May, you can come to the Lachine Canal and watch us psychopaths dragon-boat… heck, my team is recruiting, if you’d like to give it a shot (community team, purely for fun, won’t cost you a penny!) Walking or biking along the canal is nice too. You might be a bit late for the Maple Syrup season, but you could still go to a sugar shack off the island and enjoy a good sugaring-off, especially if there’s still fresh snow around.

You must, must, must have a real poutine, with squeaky curd cheese (Squeak! Squeak!), none of that shredded cheddar crap you’d likely find in Toronto, and that alone is reason to come to Montreal!

I haven’t been to Toronto since I was a kid, but I spent a week in Montreal a few years ago, and absolutely loved it . . . and the driving didn’t bother me. It’s possibly the closest thing to a European city this side of the pond, and also has a thriving gay community (read: lots of culture and great restaurants).

Wow. I really would have thought that upper deck tickets in the first round would have been available for a couple hundred. I guess living near Scotiabank Corral has dimmed my perception of what tickets cost to a *real *game. :smiley:

I think the extra hype this year, what with the 100th, the supposed second-coming of St Patrick (which, depending on the win/loss streak could either be Price or Halak), and just the general insanity that surrounds the Habs at playoff time (well, any time, really), tickets are going to be harder to find, and prices will be higher on the street. I could be wrong; you could get lucky if you try.

That said, every 15th of the month, new tickets are released for sale on the Canadiens website, at the usual (over)price.

Most definitely visit both cities. As stated up-thread, the difference is comparable to the difference between New York and Paris. Seeing both is a great way to catch a glimpse of the diversity that is Canada.