No team in the NHL has enjoyed as much success as the Montréal Canadiens, and few cities embrace their team as much as Montréal does with their NHL franchise. Since moving from one of hockey's great temples, the Forum, the team has turned their new home into a palace of Canadiens' history. Watching a hockey game at the Bell Centre is a showcase of cultural heroes throughout hockey history, and is one of many highlights for visitors to the wonderful city of Montréal.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
For a pre-game meal, Restaurant La Mise au Jeu is the upscale dining club for season seat holders, as is Restaurant 9-4-10 (honouring legends Richard, Beliveau, and LaFleur). For the general public, pub fare can be had at the in-arena location of La Cage aux Sports, which is a local chain. This location is open to ticketholders on game evenings and can be accessed from outside the arena as well as from the concourse. La Cage has 70 TV screens and the chicken wings are famous throughout the city.
Montréal is an amazing food city, and its contributions to Canadian cuisine are numerous and tasty. Many of the local food options were created with the frigid winter temperatures in mind and are hearty and filling. In addition to the usual arena staples, the smoked meat at Centre Bell is very good, and a great choice in a city famous for this delicacy.
Another popular option is Montréal's 'steamé' hot dog, which is very soft and tender. These can be had at the concession stands of Québec chain Resto Lafleur. Whilst in Montréal, trying poutine is also a good idea. This can be had as a side dish at just about any concession stand, or as a full meal with different varieties.
Aside from these interesting options, however, the rest of the concession offerings at Centre Bell are fairly plain and expensive. Other NHL arenas now offer more interesting foods then what can be had here if the long wait fans endure for the aforementioned favourites are too much.
Centre Bell's beer options are from Molson and Coors and offerings at your seat are either Molson Export or Coors Light. Young fans, especially Americans, should know that the drinking age in Québec is 18, and that is often seen as merely a recommendation.
The Centre Bell provides a sense of really being somewhere in the hockey world. The arena is also one of a small number in today's NHL which only hosts one professional team. Because of this, the arena unabashedly supports the Canadiens and pays incredible homage to their history.
Throughout the 100-level concourse, fans are presented with a museum's-worth of Habs history. In addition to the hall of fame the team has set up, there are busts of Habs greats. Team photos from throughout the club's long and storied history are lined up along the walls. Old logos are painted on the ceiling, and the numerous Stanley Cup victories are trumpeted throughout. The Centre Bell is truly the home of the Canadiens, and only the Canadiens.
Also, of note, is a banner hung next to some of the many retired numbers of the team commemorating the MLB's Expos, who played in town from 1969-2004 and who many fans hope may return at some point in the future.
In the rafters, among the record 24 Stanley Cup banners are the Canadian and American flags, as well as Québec's blue flag.
The scoreboard is huge and clear, and consists of four large screens with smaller advertising screens on each corner. It can sometimes be hard, however, to get the depth of information fans sometimes want, as only shots and goals are displayed. The LCD rings around the seating bowl do not display a running count of hits, blocked shots, and other statistics, though they are occasionally highlighted during the game on the main scoreboard.
In terms of music, the team has done a good job of reintegrating the organ and replacing a lot of the recorded rock and electronic music.
Unfortunately for many fans, only those with lower bowl tickets are allowed to enter that bowl to observe the warm-up. Nevertheless, there is so much history on display in the concourse that one cannot be bored before the game starts.
Where the Centre Bell loses points is for those who purchase cheaper (a relative term) seats higher up. This is the largest arena in the NHL and the highest tier was not well designed. A word of warning; sections 415-423 have views obstructed by the press gondola and fans there are likely to end up watching the game on TV screens mounted above their seats. For the over $80 it costs for these seats, it is not worth it to feel so disconnected from the atmosphere of the arena below.
Interestingly, the Centre Bell is also a train station; the AMT commuter trains have their central terminal on the west end of the arena. During non-game days, part of the concourse is open and part of the train station, with all references to the team removed or covered-up. Even during game nights, entering the arena from the Metro station entails fans to go through the waiting area of the station. This does lead to some confusion but once in the arena, the train station is forgotten in place of the vast display of team history.
Located right in the centre of town, there is plenty to eat and do within minutes of the arena. Rue Ste. Catherine, just north of the arena, is a great street of restaurants, pubs, and shopping. Nearby is the Place-D'armes, a beautiful public square. Mont Royal is just a short walk north of the arena, and upon climbing the good trails to its summit, one can take in a magnificent view of the city. Rue Crescent is the place to go for nightlife and is also very near the arena. Locals will tell you that the best parts of the city are further east however, and the Plateau neighbourhood is an absolute must for visitors to the city. It is best reached by the Saint-Laurent Metro station on the green line.
Within the Plateau are the city's famous restaurants; Schwartz's smoked meat, La Banquise poutinerie, La Binerie Mont-Royal for Québecois meat pie (tourtiére) and pea soup, as well as pubs and lots of shopping.
Before checking this out, head just a little further east to the '1000 de la Gauchetiére' office tower for a skate at the arena in the lobby. Rentals are $7 and there is a food court surrounding the ice surface. I'd recommend trying another Québec staple, the hot chicken sandwich, at popular chain restaurant Valentine, which has an outlet here.
Simply put, hockey is a religion in Canada, and nowhere is this truer than in Montréal. The team has been at the centre of the 1970's separatism movement and even though that is no longer the case, 'Les Glorieux' are a beloved symbol of French-Canadian identity. Fans are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about their team. During the game they are well-known for singing 'olé, olé' and are very loud throughout the game.
To see these fans at their best, attend the derby match when the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town. This rivalry is one of the best in sports, and has taken on the deeper symbolism of British Canada and French Canada, and it has been immortalized in the famous short story, The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier. Fans on either side of this rivalry have a love for their own team and a hatred for the other and when the Leafs come to play in Montréal, expect Canadiens fans to be even louder and more passionate than usual.
A good idea is to learn a little bit of French when traveling to Quebec. One can get by in Montréal without any French, and announcements are bilingual at the game, but French-speakers will appreciate any effort you make in their native language. "Parlez-vous anglais?" is the way to ask someone if they speak english. In Montréal the answer will almost always be "oui."
Getting to the arena is a breeze when taking public transit. The Lucien-L'allier Metro station on the orange line is connected to the arena, with individual fares for $3. AMT trains from the suburbs pull right up to the concourse. The Bixi bike rental network is a good option in warmer months, but it gets very cold and snowy during the winter, and going outside for prolonged periods of time can be a challenge. The underground RÉSO network is a good way to walk about downtown Montréal without having to go outside.
If you are bringing your car to the game, parking is available nearby, but it is very expensive. DO NOT park your car outside during the cold winter evenings, where the temperature can easily drop below -20C.
Inside the Bell Centre, crowds can be a problem. The washrooms tend to back up well into the concourses during intermissions and getting around can be a problem. Leaving the game is particularly bad, and it can take a long time to exit the arena. Longer still is the time it takes to get on to a train in the Metro, as the majority of fans do.
Attending a hockey game in Montréal is not cheap. Although better than Toronto, tickets generally range from $70 to $500, although family discounts can sometimes be had for the very good price of $26 in the Future Shop Family Zone. Food also tends to be on the expensive side, and parking is too.
For the price, there is the chance to see a storied team in an excellent arena, and hockey fans should definitely try to see an iconic team like the Canadiens play in a hockey-mad city like Montréal.
The Canadiens have a magnificent Hall of Fame at their lower level near the quadrangle area on the north side of the building near the main train station. You enter from this side and down some steps. Allow 45 minutes to see it all. You enter with a display of the franchise's finest players and personnel. Artifacts include the front concrete sign with crossed sticks from the historic Forum, the predecessor to the Bell Centre, various jerseys, sticks and pucks from important games, the ultimate hockey card display, and a replica train car like the team travelled on to games in the Original Six years.
When Major League Baseball's Montreal Expos left town for Washington DC, the Canadiens embraced the team's mascot, Youppi, and he roams the arena in search of fun and excitement. Additionally, and this is very cool, up in the rafters with all of the Stanley Cup banners and retired numbers hangs a single, solitary banner honoring the pro baseball team that called Montreal home from 1969 through 2004.
A further extra must be awarded for the history displayed throughout the arena. It is impossible not to get a sense of the glorious history of this team throughout the years.
An extra point for showing pictures of the United States on the scoreboard, as well as lyrics, during the playing of the American national anthem.
Finally, an extra point for the ubiquity of Canadiens atmosphere in the city. The logo is commonly seen all over town and the city embraces this team as its lifeblood throughout the cold winter.
Montréal is a city that truly knows how to embrace the joie de vivre; the joy of living. It is a city that has so much to do, and for hockey fans, seeing the Canadiens play should be high on the list. Don't be put off by fans who lament the new arena in comparison to the old Forum. The Centre Bell is a rarity in the modern world of sport in that it is truly home to the Canadiens and to no other team. This is an arena that has worn off its new-arena smell and has worked its way into the magnificent history it does so well to showcase.
After seventy-two years of play in The Forum, the Montreal Canadiens moved into a new building in March of 1996. The Bell Centre (or Le Centre Bell in French) does its' best to transfer the tradition and history of hockey's most famous and successful franchise, but there are a few things it falls short on.
In many respects, carefully applying all the finer touches of preserving the franchise's storied past is a daunting task. In so many ways, you take in these visual elements and think to yourself how the work was so well-done. In other ways, however, you wonder what the planners were thinking. Sadly, despite so many good things experienced at the game, I am left with a feeling of being cheated out of my visit to the Bell Centre. If you take away one thing from this review, take note of where not to sit at a Canadiens game.
While it did take some years, the Montreal Canadiens organization has managed the seemingly impossible feat of transporting the heart and soul of the Montreal Forum and implanting that aura into a modern day building. The Bell Centre in Montreal is an atmospheric hockey temple, replete with the excitement of the present day games as well as being enwrapped in the club's glorious past everywhere one looks. Visiting the Bell Centre for the first time becomes a day long experience, and there is an abundance to take in before game time.
Prior to entering the building, the history of the team necessitates a visit to the outdoor concourse, which features tributes to the team's iconic stars and glorious past. On the northwest corner of the lot, photo ops await in the form of statues of hockey greats Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur and Howie Morenz.
There are also monuments to players whose numbers have been retired by the team as well as a seven foot square marble block listing every single player to don the Canadiens uniform in 100 seasons. The outdoor concourse is but a tease in terms of what awaits inside the building's wall. First time visitors are highly encouraged to plan a visit to the newly created Canadiens Hall Of Fame in the building's lower level as well as taking the Bell Centre tour, which brings fans high enough to have eye to eye views with Stanley Cups banners and retired numbers as well as going behind the scenes of arena, into the press and media rooms, past the team's dressing room and into the former Canadiens lounge.
Nearing game time, the building explodes to life, as fans donning the colors of each era in the team's history roam the halls gazing at the plentitude of memorabilia on its walls. Fans are encouraged to visit all levels of the building before puck drop, as each of the arena's four levels offer vivid glimpses into the team's 24 Stanley Cup championships. Canadiens history is alive and plastered everywhere one looks, and a visitor cannot help but be captivated by the sights.
A large part of the atmosphere inside the building involves the pre-game buildup. It is an incredible crescendo of sight and sound that must be felt to be truly experienced. Arriving at one's seat early is strongly advised. Between the team's pre-game warmup and the start of the game, video montages are played on the league's biggest overhead high definition screen as well as being splashed across the width of the ice surface. It is a riveting feeling, placing every first time visitor in a seventh game Stanley Cup final atmosphere, despite the consequence of the particular game at hand.
The lead-in to game time plays off a similar anticipation to that of a rock concert. Not to be missed are the starting lineup intros, the minor league players donning Habs colors and flags skating laps around the rink before the announcement of the Canadiens players follow, and the singing of the national anthems. In short, missing the pre-game buildup to a match at the Bell robs the overall experience of much of the emotional momentum.
If you are over 5'9", your going to have a bad time. your legs literally hit the seat back and you can't move them. one of the most painful experiences ever. but getting to the game is so easy. I actually ran in to the refs and had a nice conversation with them before the game. the stadium is very historic and makes any hockey fan go crazy for the history. even if you don't speak french, you can still do well.
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