Approaching Montréal's Auberge de Jeunesse on foot, turning off of the Boulevard René-Lévesque on a face-freezing winter night, twenty pounds of baggage in tow, finally, at the end of Rue Mackay, there it is, unexpectedly smiling at you. The quickest way there is to take the métro Orange Line to Station Lucien-L'Allier and turn left on Rue Overdale where the hostel forms one of Montréal's maddening dead ends.
The staff welcomes you in French, but readily switches to English if necessary. It is advisable, though not obligatory, to pre-book your reservation. If lucky, your room is located on the first floor. The one outstanding flaw of this place is that it is three steep stories high with no elevator.
Once bagless, socialize in the cozy basement, equipped with a pool table, TV, vending machines, and a café that sells beer in the evenings to hostellers 18 and over. There is a corner room with comfortable couches and inexpensive Internet access.
The reliable staff knows where you will find a good pub, restaurant (often open past 10) or club. Nearby Rue Crescent is well-known for its night life, and there are many clubs and restaurants on Rue Sainte Catherine, only two blocks up. There is a pub crawl at least once a week that leaves from the hostel, and often a special event in the city. Downtown Montréal by night is safe and crowded. Return whenever your night ends (the hostel offers 24-hour access).
The 10-bed dorms ($22.75, November-April) are the most affordable, but single rooms ($75 & $65 for Hostelling International members) and smaller dorms ($25.75) are also available. At breakfast, visit the basement and pay $5 for a cup of hot coffee or tea and a buffet of fruit, cereal, yogurt and pastries. Request a map at the front desk and you're on your way. Language won't be a problem for English-speakers in Montréal because 55% of Montréalers are bilingual, but French is always an advantage.
Northwest of the hostel, past Réne Lévesque features the long shopping strips of Sainte Catherine, de Maisonneuve and Sherbrooke. To the east, lie Chinatown and Old Montreal, accessible via the Champ-de-Mars metro station (a ticket costs $2.75) or a walk along Saint-Antoine. Chinatown is a trilingual area with crammed gift shops and predictable but warm and satisfying restaurants.
The many delights of Old Montréal include winding cobblestone streets, the majestic Notre-Dame Basilica, Pointe-à-Calliêre archaeology museum, and the Château Ramezay history museum. There are many good restaurants and bars including the French brewpub, Les Trois Brasseurs, and the boìte à chansons, Les Deux Pierrots, which hosts live, contemporary, French-Canadian music on Friday and Saturday nights.
Walking in Old Montréal in winter is to be avoided, as the wind off the St. Lawrence River chills to the bone and businesses near the Rue de La Commune adjacent to the river temporarily move inland. During winter, there is an ice rink by the river with brightly lit public skating parties at night and inexpensive public skating during the day, if you can handle the cold. You may want to spend time in the Souterrain (underground pedestrian network), the heated network of tunnels which links major buildings, métro stations and shopping malls in downtown.
It is not in Montréal every summer, but if lucky, you might discover the blue and yellow Big Top of Cirque du Soleil, which originated in Montréal. However, be warned that walk-up tickets are almost impossible to purchase.
From September to late April, you can check out Montréal Canadiens NHL hockey games at the Bell Centre; tickets are available at the hostel at a discount and the arena is within walking distance.
In summer, Montréal transforms into a city of festivals. Between La Fête Nationale du Québec (June 24) and at the end of October, Montréal hosts the Montréal International Jazz Festival, the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, the Montreal Reggae Festival, Les FrancoFolies de Montréal (francophone music festival), the Dragon Boat Race, Otakuthon (anime festival) and Divers/Cité (gay pride days).
In August, the sky is filled with hot air balloons as part of the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu hot air balloon festival, and the Montreal World Film Festival at the end of August attracts film enthusiasts. For a comprehensive list of festivals and dates, please visit
www.tourisme-montreal.org. If you are a guest at the hostel, you can purchase tickets to some events at the front desk at a discount.
There are attractions in Montreal for every interest and age group, including La Ronde, a world-class amusement park, and Parc du Mont-Royal, the 764-foot hill from which the entire city can be seen. Whether you come to Montreal to experience the frigid yet exciting winter or the vibrant summer festivals, the Auberge Jeunesse is home away from home.
Ruby Pratka (Journalism, Carleton University) is originally from the US, but moved to Canada at the age of 17 "for the adventure." Her favorite destinations include Ljubljana, Paris, Boston and Ville-de-Québec; she is looking forward to going to Russia this fall! She speaks English, Russian, French, some Dutch and some Slovene. Her articles have appeared in Potomac Area Council of Youth Hostels' Voyager, Ottawa Capital Xtra, Carleton Charlatan and Carleton Rostrum Newsjournal.
Sailing in front of the Casino de Montréal (Bernard Brault)
Downtown and St. Lawrence River viewed from parc Jean-Drapeau (Pierre Jacques)
Terrace on Place Jacques-Cartier (Stéphan Poulin)
Mary Queen of the World Cathedral and 1000 de La Gauchetière Buildings(Stéphan Poulin)
Auberge de Jeunesse
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/