Find your way in the City
The streets of Montréal, like most North American cities, are organized like a checkboard. The streets are straight, oriented north-south or east-west and intersect at a right angle forming square or rectancle blocks. If you ask for directions, your interlocutor might answer "It's three blocks away".
The Montreal architecture is eclectic. If you walk in the Old Port, you will discover historical buildings made of stone that have an old France flair to them. Downtown, it's modernity emerging with business offices in skyscrapers. If you go to Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, you will be charmed by the triplex with exterior iron staircases. Finally, you will be impressed by the magnificent English style manors in Westmount.
Between the streets can be found alleyways which give access to the back of houses. They are not named and are identified through the streets surrounding them. Pleasant to discover, those narrow streets are often green and a meeting spot for children to play and for barbecues between neighbours. A network of green alleyways exist in the city, areas planted with trees and vegetations grown by the citizens in partnership with eco-neighborhouds.
The Main Streets
The Saint-Laurent Boulevard, nicknamed « La Main », divides the city into two, from the Saint-Laurent river in the south to the Rivière des Prairies in the north. Going up the boulevard from the river, you can see revealed to you the cosmopolitan face of Montréal with its Chinese, Jewish, Portuguese and Italian boroughs.
Sainte-Catherine Street (la « Sainte-Cath ») is the most important commercial street of Montréal. It stretches on more than 10 km (6.2 miles) from East to West and counts nearly 750 shops, like the Eaton Center, The Hudson Bay, Ogilvy and Simons and international names like H&M, Zara, Mango, Forever21 and more. The skyscrapers of Montréal - the offices of the business center - appear on or around the street where one can find the Place Ville-Marie. The Place Ville-Marie, whose cruciate tower of 42 floors, is easily identifiable and was inaugurated in 1962. The tower is the epicentre of the Montréal Underground network which ensure the connection between the different business offices.
During lunchtime, this underground network is frequented by the office employees who come to eat in one of the food courts, which are big restauration areas filled with fast food restaurants.
Saint-Denis Street is another renown merchant street where you can find cafés, restaurants, fashion boutiques and bookshops. The street goes through the Latin Quarter where the presence of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) gives it its estudiantin life air. At the level of the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, the street is the host of many furniture and decoration boutiques.
Mont-Royal Avenue is a commercial street which goes through the borough of Plateau-Mont-Royal. This borough was formely a working class district (Its story wonderfully told by Michel Tremblay) and is now a very trendy area of the city. The French found their ancor point in this neighborhood to such an extend than for some years the Plateau has been called « la Petite France » (Small France). Mont-Royal avenue is very well liked for its stylish bars, thrift shops, attractive bookstores and small convenient groceries stores.
Regrouping nearly 400 retail and service businesses, the Saint-Hubert Street is especially recognized for the Plaza St-Hubert. Between the streets Bellechasse and Jean-Talon, the Plaza offers to shopping aficionados affordable fashion boutiques and a high concentration of ball gowns and wedding dresses shops.
Parc Avenue is another central street of Montréal, with 4 lanes, it goes through the Jeanne-Mance park, at the bottom of the Mont-Royal, then through the Greek quarter and the boroughs of Plateau-Mont-Royal and Mile-End.
The RÉSO (RÉseau SOuterrain) is the biggest pedestrian network of underground galeries in the world. It covers more than 30 km (18.64 miles) of underground tunnels, serves 2000 commerces and 8 metro stations. It extends primarily in the Downtown area of Montréal, between Atwater metro station in the west to Berri-UQAM in the east. 500 000 people travel inside it every day. During the winter especially, the network is used by thousands of pedestrians who can go directly from the métro or the indoor parking lots to their office, then go eat during lunch in one of the numerous undergrounds restaurants. You can spend your whole day without going outdoors !
East or West ?
One of the particularities of Montréal is its orientation. The streets perpendicular to the Saint-Laurent boulevard are separated into two segments: east or west. Their numbers start on both sides of the boulevard, thus you can find a 312 Laurier Est (East) and a 312 Laurier Ouest (West). If you have a business appointment or other, ask if the adress given is on the east or west side of the street or you could find yourself very far away from where you're supposed to go. Also, the address numbers match from one street to the other: the 600 Laurier Ouest will be parallel to the 600 Sherbrooke Ouest. Be careful then, if people talk about East and West, they do not talk about the cardinal points but their position related to the Saint-Laurent boulevard. As for the north-south street numbers, they begin at the Saint-Laurent river.