Montréal and its surroundings: Making the most of your expat life
Oh, Canada! So many places to see and so many things to do! Whether you’re in the city or out in the countryside, there’s lots to keep you busy.
Montréal, the Greatest
When I first set foot in Montréal, I felt small surrounded by all the skyscrapers but, surprisingly, I was calm because I already felt at home. As a French student visiting the island city for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised. I had doubted my decision to leave everything behind, but as my feet hit the ground and my lungs filled with the Québecois air, all my doubts disappeared.
I had never really had the opportunity to travel and see the world— I think I started living the year I turned 30, when I booked my first trip. With my three-year plan to go back to school and study 3D animation, I knew it would be difficult to do anything besides work, work, work. Today, I can confidently say that you don’t get much time for R&R in this field. As I put together my three-year plan, I contemplated studying abroad so I could “travel” every day while completing my degree, without leaving my home base.
Which is something you can actually do in Montréal because there’s so much to explore in and around the city. Looking for different things to try out? Look no further.
Feeling like a kid again
How could I talk about things to do in the heart of Montréal without mentioning the city’s iconic amusement park? As my cab took me from the airport to my apartment, my heart skipped a beat when I saw La Ronde below the bridge we were driving on. I’ve never really stopped being a kid, so the first thing I planned to do was ride all the roller coasters in the park. Needless to say, La Ronde lived up to my expectations. I had the time of my life!
When I arrived in Montréal, I became friends with the person who’d helped me find an apartment while I was still in France. She asked me to join her and her family for a boat outing. We toured the Quinn farm, located 20 minutes outside of Montréal in Notre-Dame-de-l’Île-Perrot village, and then lowered the anchor and set off for a dip in the Deux Montagnes Lake. I had my first Québec bagel amid roars of laughter. We ended the day with a walk along the Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue Canal while enjoying a sweet creation from the Crème de la crème ice cream shop. I loved every minute I spent with those wonderful people.
Having fun apple picking
If you feel like picking your own apples, check out Gibouleau orchard in Laval. Whether you decide to come with your partner, your family, your friends or on your own, you’re guaranteed to have a lot of fun. It’s definitely worth the trip. I loved making my way through the trees, reaching up or climbing the colourful ladders that dotted the orchard to pick the apples I wanted. After you bag as many apples as you can carry, be sure to head to the barn and sample delicious products made on the farm, including apple juice, cider, apple pies, and more.
Getting a little taste of Halloween in CitrouilleVille
Located on a farm in Saint-Zotique, 70 km outside of Montréal, CitrouilleVille is an enchanting world set amid a display of vibrant fall colours. I came across it by chance and, let me tell you, they pull out all the stops. From pumpkin huts to scarecrows and a huge corn maze, not to mention a spooky show come nightfall, there’s nothing the villagers and their king haven’t thought of to keep visitors entertained.
Activities for bad weather
As the cold weather starts to bite and end-of-term fatigue sets in, you know it’s time to pamper yourself. New life, new adventures—right? I felt like trying out a sensory deprivation tank to see how buoyancy works and, at the same time, let go of all the stress of the past few months. I settled on Spa Ovarium on the Plateau and found myself in a lightproof, soundproof chamber, suspended in a salt-water solution warmed to body temperature. It’s hard to relax at first because it’s unusual to be able to float for an hour without having to move, but after a few minutes, your body relaxes and you can fully enjoy the experience.
If you’re into science and astronomy, a visit to the Planetarium is a must. No matter how old you are or how much you know, the Planetarium will always surprise you with new, exciting things. I watched the Celestial Chronicles: Space Explorers show and it was really interesting to see what life aboard the ISS is like. The first part focused on the Milky Way and everything was explained in terms that were easy for everyone to understand. The guide kept encouraging us to interact with him. I had a really good time, lounging in a comfortable armchair under shining stars. After the show, we got to see an impressive collection of meteorites, tiny fragments of celestial bodies that have survived their journey through space. I left the place with twinkles in my eyes—and I don’t only mean metaphorically.
Going to the movies and savouring a perfectly salty treat
Coming from France and not knowing much about the world, I figured the Canadian movie-going experience was no different from the French one. You sit down to watch a good movie with a bag of popcorn in your lap and good company by your side. Imagine my surprise when, looking at my shiny fingers, I realized that popcorn here is not sweet but salty, and topped with heaps of butter to boot. But, oh, so yummy! Well, my surprise didn’t last long. And neither did the popcorn.
Heading over to the arena for a hockey game
Hockey, Canada’s national sport— Where should I start? I had only seen hockey games in movies and shows. Never an actual game. And I had no intention to, either. Then I met my partner, who is a hockey player. He took me to the finals, where his team was playing another team for the cup. Little did he know, I grew to really love the game. And I can’t even skate! But I plan to learn. In the meantime, I go to his games whenever I can take a break from studying.
I’ve also had the chance to watch the Canadiens play from the Club Desjardins section at the Bell Centre. What an experience! The space was huge, the crowd was wild with excitement, and the food kept coming. I really flipped out, like my fellow students would say. It was wonderful and I can’t wait to do it again.
The pandemic has definitely made it harder to find things to do in Montréal, especially with all the restrictions. Even so, there are many options making it impossible not to find something you like if you decide to venture off the beaten path. You can stroll down the cobblestone streets in the Old Port and admire the architecture of the buildings, or eat a “beaver tail” as you head over to the skating rink under La Grande Roue. You can also drive to Rawdon and enjoy the spectacular Dorwin Falls or explore the hiking trails around Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci. I had so much fun going to all those places with my friends! I’m sure you’ll also find activities to try if you look around. We can still keep those twinkles in our eyes despite everything going on right now. It’s up to us to get creative.
Wishing you all a great year. Take care!
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Montréal International.