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Montreal: A City for Newbie Travelers

For many, the thought of traveling to a foreign country is enough to bring on a cold sweat.  “But I don’t speak the language.” “What will I eat?”  “How many hours on a plane?” “Is it safe?” 

To seasoned travelers, these thoughts may seem ridiculous.  But to newbie (and probably less adventurous) travelers they may be very real barriers to hopping on a plane.  Perhaps that’s why England and Ireland are the gateway countries for those Americans who are a little hesitant to bound all over the world to lands and languages unknown.  (And quite honestly I get it.  That’s partly why 15 years ago I chose London to study abroad, not Rome.)

To those hesitant travelers, might I suggest Montreal instead?

Montreal is like Europe light; or perhaps Paris without the pretense.  The streets are charming.  The city is rich with history and cultural activities.  The people are alarmingly friendly. It’s very easy to travel around.  The food offerings are diverse.  You need a passport to get there.  And they speak French! 

Montreal is a place where you can dive in and immerse yourself in a foreign city without feeling overwhelmed by size, safety and language concerns.  Here’s why I think it’s a great “starter” city for newbie international travelers:

Charming Architecture

The architecture of Montreal is a contrast of old and new.  The cobblestone streets of Old Montreal are infused with hints of Old Europe, while the sleek skyscrapers of downtown speak to a modern city.  The metro is filled with public artwork by famous Quebec artists that are worth the price of a metro ride.  The city is also renowned for its churches of Roman Catholic French and Protestant British influence.  Finish it all off with lush parks and greenery and you have a city that is a welcoming feast for the eyes and a departure from most American landscapes. 

Easy Travel

The metro system, designed similarly to the Paris metro, is incredibly easy to get around.  The city of Montreal is also compact and the metro has stops near all of the major cultural sites a visitor might want to see.  It’s clean.  It’s inexpensive.  And it’s simple to use.  If you plan to be in Montreal for 2 or more days, I suggest buying an unlimited travel pass at a metro service booth.  You’ll get your money’s worth out of it (be sure to have cash handy – no credit cards accepted).

Diverse Food

Montreal is a city that lovingly adopts the many food traditions of its diverse immigrant population.  And it’s a city that has recently come on to the culinary map.  You’ll find wonderful bistros with French-Canadian influences, Italian bakeries, Jewish delis and bagel shops, Lebanese and Latin eateries.  Plus the city is bountiful with markets.  A visit to Montreal will surely allow you to experience traditional Montreal cuisine while giving you ample opportunity to experiment with foods from other cultures.  And the food won’t scare you.

Passport Required

Yes, you need a passport to get in and out of Canada.  The experience of having your passport stamped is one that I still find exciting – despite sometimes long lines through immigration.  Once you have that first stamp in your passport, you start to dream about the next stamp, and the next.  And before you know it, you’re trotting around the globe.  Getting a passport and your first stamp is a simple and significant step in becoming comfortable with international travel.

They Speak French

Hearing another language spoken around you adds to the romance of being in a foreign country.  And in Montreal they speak French first.  But they speak English too.  Unlike the French (we’ve all heard the horrible tourist stories), Montréalers don’t look at you with disdain when you speak to them in English.  They are wonderfully understanding and pleasant when you politely as to speak in English.  What a huge relief for travelers who worry about language barriers!  But remember, knowing a simple phrase or two in French will always get you a long way in showing respect for the language and the country.


Have other suggestions for great starter cities for newbie international travelers?  Leave a comment.


For a preview of the beautiful sites Montreal has to offer, check out my photo album on Facebook.


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