Visiting a city for the first (or fifth) time, doesn’t have to mean tourist havens and crowded guidebook recommendations that are overhyped and underwhelming. And in Canada’s cultural capital, as Montreal has been called, it’s hard to know where exactly to start when touring the city. That’s why it’s worth consulting the experts — specifically, local experts. We went to the Renaissance Montreal Downtown Hotel in the heart of downtown and asked the Navigator — their on-site expert on everything Montreal — to give us his best-kept secrets about where to eat, drink, shop, and play throughout the city’s diverse neighborhoods.Read More
Montreal’s Hidden Gems
Montrealers love street art. Whether gazing up at walls and around corners on St. Laurent Boulevard north of Sherbrooke, or looking down at the city from the top of Mount Royal, there’s always a kaleidoscopic, magically realistic, eye-popping enormous visual to feast on. For an edgy, entertaining, and provocative 24/7 art show under open skies 365 days a year, make sure to check out the maze-like 8,000-square-foot outdoor Galerie Blanc, a large-format photography installation in the Gay Village neighborhood.
The sleek lines and contemporary design of Cadet restaurant, on the edge of the Quartier des Spectacles, offer a warm, inviting atmosphere for sharing the Portuguese-inspired plates served from lunchtime until late night. Floor-to-ceiling windows give patrons a view of street life in the old Red Light district, while inside it’s relaxed-chic and lively. Perfect for a date, a drink, or a small-group meal, the long bar and intimate tables provide an ideal setting for a tête-à-tête or business meeting alike. Cadet is the younger sibling of the highly lauded, more formal Bouillon Bilk, just up the street.
La Capital Tacos
A golden Chinese lucky cat adorned with a lucha libre mask beckons customers in from the counter at La Capital Tacos, a tongue-in-cheek nod to its location in the heart of Chinatown. This taquería doesn’t mix up its food metaphors, though: It’s authentically Mexican, with some of the best guacamole and chips in town and well-curated mezcal and tequila flights. The affordable menu includes tacos from traditional al pastor and carnitas, all manner of quesadillas, daily specials, and vegan options, served on Chinese-inspired melamine plates. Cross the street for a drink or more bites at Poincaré Chinatown, located in a former karaoke club and featuring microbrews, natural wines, and inventive cocktails.
The heart, soul, and lungs of the city, Mount Royal (the Mountain) is a must destination for every visitor to Montreal. Designed by Frederic Law Olmsted — one of the world’s original landscape architects, who designed New York’s Central Park — the Mountain has tree-lined walking, jogging, and biking paths and offers the chance to ski, snowshoe, and skate in the winter. An oasis of natural calm in the center of the city, don’t miss the view (and a photo op) at the Chalet on top of the mountain, with its spectacular view of downtown and the rivers and mountains beyond. To learn more about the ecology and conservation of the Mountain, check out Les Amis de la Montagne and their programming of tree planting and other conservation activities.
Happy hour at Furco is the ultimate vantage point for contemplating the history of Montreal’s former bustling fur trade. Tucked behind the St. James United Church on tiny Mayor Street, the former fur showroom interior has been cleverly transformed into a rustic, industrial-style bar with high ceilings, an extensive wine list, and an elaborate nibbles menu served until the wee hours. Start your experience with a bite at popular café and co-working space Café Parvis next door, owned by the same team, where a door announcing the name of the prior tenant, Paradise Furs, remains.
Dive into one of the most exceptional bars in the city at Club Pelicano, an underground swimming pool-themed speakeasy where the elegance of a bygone era is reflected in the aquatic décor. This neighborhood bar pays homage to the Art Deco pools of Paris and Montreal with ceramic tiles and swim lane-inspired signage. Club Pelicano’s creative cocktail list and bar menu change weekly, sharing inspiration with their adjacent sister restaurant, Tiradito, the only Peruvian-Japanese bar/resto in Montreal. Happy hours with interesting drink options, pop-up chefs, and a great soundtrack round out the experience in this unique space.
Right across from the Palais des Congrès at the crossroads of the Quartier des Spectacles, Chinatown, and Old Montreal, the spacious two-story Galerie MX showcases contemporary pieces from local Québec, Canadian, and international artists. Summer brings group shows to the gallery; fall and winter feature solo or duo artist exhibitions in everything from painting, sculpture, photography, and mixed media. Art lovers will appreciate each creator’s statements explaining the artist’s background and process. The airy, post-industrial space, complete with high-tech fireplaces in the winter, is also available to be rented out for parties and events — fully decorated, of course!
Renaissance Montreal Downtown Hotel
Steps away from the city’s famous Saint-Catherine Street, Bell Centre, and Underground City, the Renaissance Montreal Downtown Hotel is a balance of Montreal’s history and its design-driven future. Explore the beauty of Old Montreal by day with its trendy shops and cobblestone streets, then head back at night for cocktails atop the hotel’s rooftop terrace — the only rooftop bar in all of downtown — before an Asian-accented dinner at East. Rooms are decked out with marble-topped nightstands, original artwork, and sleek design elements like modular couches and modern desks.
The Centre Phi claims its space as a beacon for creativity and expression, from music to visual art, digital programming, and even food-centered events. Their goal is to “bring global ideas to Montreal and showcase Montreal ideas to the world” through expertly curated, thought-provoking exhibitions and installations. Recent shows have featured VR theatre about the human body, cartoons by (Canadian) actor Jim Carrey, and an exhibit focused on Yoko Ono’s work, life, and collaboration with John Lennon. Situated in three green heritage buildings in Old Montreal, a leisurely visit is artfully complemented at nearby Crew Collective Café in the spectacular Art Deco setting of the original Royal Bank building.
You have to know about City Styles to find it, and finding it is a must if you’re looking for urban streetwear, chains, or even a hip barber. To discover Montreal’s first retail and consignment streetwear shop, enter the building at 1184 Ste. Catherine West and take the elevator to the first floor (the second floor, really — it’s tricky that way). Hip-hop provides the soundtrack to peruse skateboards, bags, do-rags, jeans and T-shirts, accessories like glasses and fluffy slippers, and even armor carrier vests. Don’t worry if you’re not into bling yet — City Styles will convert you.
Airy, high-ceilinged LOV (Local, Organic, Vegan) offers a temple to all things green and growing in a white-washed row house located minutes from the bustle of Ste. Catherine Street. Open daily for lunch, dinner, and mid-afternoon snacks, LOV commits to serving only 100 percent plant-based food, complemented with organic beers, biodynamic wines, and creative botanical cocktails. Artfully presented salads, mains, and even burgers and poutine are on offer, with a two-course Express Lunch menu on weekdays and brunch on the weekends. There’s a bistro feel here, with bar seating, cozy booths, marble tables, and a landscaped terrace for the warmer months, when a burbling fountain provides a soundtrack to your meal.