Navigating Montréal’s Interior City

Navigating any new city can prove a challenge, especially when there are kids in tow. Add in poor weather, and the most mundane part of any vacation can easily become the worst.

Montréal solved this problem, at least partially, long ago, with the introduction of the underground city. Locals prefer to call the underground concourse network the Interior City. If you live and grew up in Montréal, using the network is just something you know how to do. Obscure paths, dead ends and ever-expanding roads make sure anyone trying to use the interior without a map, guide or as a local will get lost. The underground thrives in giving pedestrians a way to avoid the sub-zero temperatures of the winter and the scorching summers.

The underground city spans about 20 miles of pathways and is packed to the surface with places to dine, shop and entertain. During certain times of year, there are art festivals held and there are always entertainment options, like the skating rink at the Atrium Le 1000.

Ice Skating, Montréal.

Ice Skating, Montréal. Photo: Meunierd | Dreamstime.com

The first step to navigating Montréal via the underground concourse system is finding your way into the system. As long as you are in the downtown, you will have no problem finding an entrance, as there are more than 120 access points. A few popular entrance points, especially for tourists, include Hotel Bonaventure and every single entrance to the city’s subway system. You will see your problem will not be finding an entrance to the underground city, but finding your way around it once you access it. Make sure you have a map or getting lost is guaranteed.

In the underground, your group can walk as far as their endurance can handle and never run out of shops to peruse, restaurants to eat and art to take in. There are plenty of resources online for navigating the underground without getting lost, including printed maps and guidebooks from the underground’s official website. There are also countless spaces along the way to get maps and directions from within the city itself.

Some people may suggest following signs, but this is only useful for locals and in the immediate vicinity of the hotel or other landmark. When I tried to navigate without a map, I did not get too far using only signage. French is the main language in Quebec and Montreal, so make sure you’re ready for that change if traveling from the United States.

My best advice is to take the underground as it comes. Enjoy taking in the sights and sounds of the expansive concourse while reveling in the knowledge you are avoiding the terrible weather with your family. After a full day of exploring, head back to the hotel, preferably via the underground.