Famous for its vast stretches of uninhabited land, mesmerizing scenery, and exceptionally kind people, a visit to Canada owns a prime spot on most bucket lists!
One of the safest and most beautiful places to visit in the world, Canada is also home to sprawling metropolises like Montreal and Vancouver, both known for their vibrant nightlife, excellent eats, as well as a thriving student and ex-pat population.
Both cities attract heaps of travelers each year but if you’re short on time, you’ll probably need to narrow it down to either Montreal or Vancouver. The good news is that each city is packed with interesting attractions.
With an excellent party scene, Montreal is reputed for its street circus acts and eye-catching architecture. It also has a lower cost of living by Canadian standards – perfect for budget travelers! Vancouver’s prices may be higher, but its striking scenery offers the ideal setting for various types of outdoor activities.
So, let’s check out what makes these cities different, yet well worth a visit in their own right!
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Montreal vs Vancouver
Because of their vast differences in terms of experiences and attractions, pitting Montreal and Vancouver can be something of a challenge. But we’re not afraid to try to ready you for your next trip to Canada!
The size of Montreal is 431.5 km². With a population of over 4 million, Montreal stands as the second most populous city in Canada, after Toronto.
- The birthplace of the Cirque du Soleil, Montreal is famous for its circus schools, architecture, and of course, poutine. It’s culturally different from the rest of Canada since the official language is French.
- Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport is Montreal’s main airport and the headquarters for Air Canada.
- The easiest way of getting around is on foot. The city also has a great public transportation network that includes bus lines and underground rail.
- Montreal is packed with accommodation options from swanky hotels to hostels and B&Bs.
With a population of over 2 million, Vancouver covers an expanse of 115 km².
- Vancouver is famous for its abundance of outdoor activities. The city has a spectacular backdrop of lush rainforests and coastal mountains.
- The main airport, Vancouver International, is served by a plethora of other international flights.
- Walking and cycling are the easiest ways of getting around. The city’s eco-friendly Translink system also includes the SkyTrain light rail, the SeaBus ferry, and buses.
- You’ll find plenty of international hotel chains, hostels, and B&Bs in the city. It’s also possible to book studios, apartments, houses, and rooms via Airbnb.
Is Montreal or Vancouver Better?
Montreal and Vancouver each have their own charm and personality. Deciding which one to visit ultimately depends on the type of experience you’d like to have, so let’s check out what makes each city special!
For Things to Do
Wondering whether you should visit Montreal or Vancouver? Well, the main difference between these two cities lies in the activities on offer.
While both cities have an abundance of green spaces and parks, outdoor aficionados will feel right at home visiting Vancouver. The city’s landscape is second to known with water views and jaw-droppingly gorgeous scenery.
A popular thing to do in Vancouver is to drive the Sea-to-Sky corridor, considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world. If hiking is your thing, be sure to check out the Grouse Grind, locally known as ‘Mother Nature’s Staircase’.
On the flip side, Montreal has a more cosmopolitan vibe with plenty of culture and history on offer. While the city does have its own share of outdoor activities, like skiing and ice skating, it’s especially known for its top-notch restaurants featuring all types of cuisine.
Historians and architecture fans will no doubt relish in Montreal’s unique buildings, most of which date back to French and British colonial times. The Notre Dame Basilica and St. Joseph’s Oratory are some of the most iconic buildings in the city.
A quintessentially touristic thing to do in Montreal is to hop on the iconic Ferris Wheel, located on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, just a short distance from Old Montreal. From there, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the city skyline.
For Budget Travelers
Canada isn’t exactly known for its affordability, but it’s definitely not the most expensive country in North America. Rest assured that it’s still possible to find budget-friendly accommodation in both Montreal and Vancouver – if you know where to look!
Now, if comparing Montreal and Vancouver, there’s no denying that Montreal is the better choice for budget travelers. In fact, the cost of living in Vancouver is at least 21% more expensive than in Montreal.
Montreal is predominately urban, with plenty of hostels, Airbnbs, and hotels for various budgets. Vancouver offers a mix of urban and rural with numerous waterfront spots. A centrally located hotel in Montreal can set you back $70 per night while a sea-facing cottage in Vancouver costs around $130 per night.
With three routes covering Vancouver, the rapid-transit SkyTrain costs $3 to $6 for a single-fare ticket. Cycling is popular in Montreal with most rentals costing around $0.10/minute. A single fare on the Montreal metro costs around $3.50.
A meal at a mid-range Montreal restaurant may cost around $20 to $25 per person compared to $30-$35 in Vancouver.
A pint of domestic beer will set you back $6 in Montreal and $5 in Vancouver.
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Where to Stay in Monreal: Beautiful Apartment in Montreal
Located smack dab in the heart of Montreal, this beautiful apartment costs $37 per night. With two bedrooms for 5 guests, this space offers classic home comforts like a kitchen.
Vancouver is often said to be the most beautiful city in Canada – perfect for couples looking for a romantic retreat!
There’s no denying that Vancouver is better for adventurous couples or those looking to relax by the water’s edge. When it comes to gorgeous settings, Vancouver’s scenery is second to none, with over 200 parks, sandy beaches bordered by the Pacific Ocean, thick rainforests, and a mild year-round climate, at least by Canadian standards!
Whether you want to enjoy a romantic ride on the Sea to Sky Gondola, trek the scenic route to Quarry Rock, or enjoy the sunset from Prospect Point, Vancouver’s certainly got you covered.
When deciding whether you should head to Montreal or Vancouver for a romantic break, bear in mind that Montreal is better for couples looking for a more upscale pampering experience. The city is packed with luxury hotels and wellness centers where you can treat yourself to soothing couple massages and other body treatments.
Montreal also has a refined and diverse dining scene for enjoying candlelit dinners. Some of the city’s most popular date activities include taking a sunset cruise down the Saint-Lawrence River, enjoying a picnic in Little Italy, sipping on a cocktail from a rooftop bar, or even tango dancing under the stars in the park.
Where to Stay in Vancouver: Capilano Lux Hot Tub Cottage
With an indoor electric fireplace and private hot tub, this cozy cottage is all set to deliver a romantic time! Because it’s close to the ocean and the North Shore Mountains, guests will have plenty of opportunities for hiking and swimming.
For Getting Around
As two of Canada’s major cities, both Montreal and Vancouver are highly walkable cities, with several attractions located near the center.
Montreal offers over 900km of bike lanes managed by the Express Bike Network. As such, cycling is one of the easiest ways of traveling all over Montreal- including the riverbanks and the parks.
During the colder winter months, you can always opt for the Montreal Metro. In addition, the city is served by a public shuttle bus (number 747) that runs 24/7 between the main airport and the downtown area. One of the two public shuttle routes makes 11 stops on the way to the downtown area while the second offers a direct connection to the Lionel-Groulx station. Rides cost around $7.50 per person.
Because of its compact downtown area, Vancouver makes it very easy to check out major attractions on foot or by bicycle. The city’s Translink System includes the SkyTrain (light rail) and the ferry. They both operate from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.
Some hiking sites and national parks lie a long drive from the city center so you’ll definitely need to rent a car to visit these places. Car rentals usually cost around $19 per day for Vancouver versus $11 for Montreal. Taxis and rideshares are also available in both cities.
For a Weekend Trip
If you’ve only got a weekend to spend in Canada, I recommend spending it in Montreal. While the city does offer plenty to keep you entertained for longer, it’s entirely possible to take in all the best sights in just a couple of days.
When comparing Montreal and Vancouver, it’s important to know that while Montreal is geographically larger, most of its top activities are centrally located, so you’re not going to waste precious vacation time on the road.
For example, you won’t even need a vehicle to explore Old Montreal, one of the city’s most charming neighborhoods. Nestled by the Saint Lawrence River, Old Montreal features plenty of historical sites related to the city’s colonial and indigenous past. It’s also an excellent area for exploring Montreal’s popular dishes like poutine, Pizzaghetti, smoked meat sandwiches, and Pouding Chomeur, a dessert that was created back in the Great Depression.
On the flip side, while Vancouver is bordered by plenty of scenic sights, parks, and hiking opportunities, these aren’t the kind of places that you can quickly navigate or squeeze into a weekend – at the risk of missing out on some of the best things to do in and around the city!
For a Week-Long Trip
Now, if you’ve got an entire week to spare, I would totally recommend that you drop anchor in Vancouver!
In the mood for something thrilling? Be sure to check out the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, located in North Vancouver. This family-friendly destination is especially known for its suspension bridge that towers over 200 feet above the Capilano River.
Nature enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy a visit to the popular Stanley Park. Located at the heart of the city, this park features 1000 acres of lush land filled with history and national beauty. If you don’t mind a long drive, I can also recommend a visit to the Gulf Island National Park. While it’s found over three hours from the city center, this site is packed with outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, wildlife viewing, and camping.
For the best views, head over to Grouse Mountain, located around half an hour from the Fairmont. This site is known for its amazing sunsets which you can experience from a chairlift that’ll take you to the apex of the mountain, 4,100 feet above sea level.
Rest assured that Vancouver does have plenty of indoor activities as well, including shopping on Granville Island, touring the Museum of Anthropology, and soaking up some history at the Museum of Vancouver.
Visiting Montreal and Vancouver
Wondering if you should visit Montreal or Vancouver? Well, why choose when you can visit both cities?
It’s no secret that Canada’s a huge country (we’re talking over 9 million km²!) so you’ll need around five to six days to cover the distance by car. If you’ve got time to spare though, this will be a pretty epic Canadian road trip with plenty of sights, quirky eateries, and small towns to visit along the way.
A quicker, cheaper, and more efficient way of getting from Montreal to Vancouver is to fly from Montréal-Trudeau International Airport to Vancouver International Airport. With a duration of five hours and 35 minutes, this flight costs around $51 for a one-way ticket. Round-trip tickets cost around $122. Air Transat and Flair Airlines usually fly this route once a day while Air Canada has multiple flights per day.
Feeling adventurous? Then you can always hop on a VIA Rail trail that connects Montreal to Vancouver in four days. This trip usually includes a long layover in Toronto (11 + hours), giving you the chance to explore Canada’s vibrant metropolis. As fun as it is, this journey is quite expensive with tickets priced around $550.
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FAQs About Montreal vs Vancouver
Since each city has its fair share of amazing attractions, pitting Montreal and Vancouver can be quite challenging. At the end of the day, it depends on your budget and the kind of activities you’d like to indulge in during your stay.
If skiing’s your thing, Montreal definitely is the better choice since it usually has plenty of snow in the winter. The city is also excellent for travelers interested in the local nightlife, museums, and restaurants. The circus is an integral part of Montreal’s culture so there’s always a new and exciting show to catch!
In comparison, Vancouver is an absolute dream come true for nature enthusiasts, with parks and nautical adventures galore. Hiking and trekking are abundant and if you’re feeling particularly daring, you can always venture through canyons and waterfalls on the North Shore.
The best thing about Vancouver is that it offers an ideal blend of the urban and rural, so you’ll also find several fun things to do indoors, including museums, indoor bouldering, glow-in-the-dark mini golf, and quirky cafes.
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