What are some unusual things to see and do in Montreal?
July 26, 2015 6:19 PM   Subscribe

My friend and I are headed to Montreal for 4 days in August and would like some tips on what to see and do. We've got the usual stuff down but are looking to add some more (less touristy) things to add to the list.

So far we have the following things planned:

1. Notre Dame Basilica
2. Botanical gardens
3. Mont Royal
4. Old Montreal
5. Maison du Jazz

We'd like to add some restaurants/bars into the mix but really have no idea where is worthwhile. Also, are there any other interesting and unusual things to do that most tourists overlook?

Thank you!
posted by figaro to Travel & Transportation around Montreal, QC (25 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
You said Mont Royal but go on a Sunday for the Tam Tams. It's this crazeballs drum circle under a cloud of weed.
posted by asockpuppet at 6:23 PM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

What is your age and price range?
posted by winterportage at 6:42 PM on July 26, 2015

Cafe Olimpico turned me into a cafe au lait snob for life.

You can see it from Old Montreal, but Habitat 67 is pretty special.
posted by rhizome at 6:46 PM on July 26, 2015

Also: bagels
posted by rhizome at 6:47 PM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We're 34 and price is no concern for us when travelling! carpe fricking diem.
posted by figaro at 7:10 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I haven't been to any of these, but I love Atlas Obscura for unusual travel tips. There are a bunch in Montreal:

posted by mermaidcafe at 7:29 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would strongly recommend Parc Drapeau, with the 67 sites, the biodome, the gardens, and the Steward Musuem. Also, people don't tend to go to the McCord, but it is first rate. Also, I will buy you a beer, if I am not in TO.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:30 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are you interested in natural history at all? I've never been, but have always meant to check out the Redpath Museum at McGill.

I really enjoyed Big In Japan, a bar, when I was in Montreal last time. Unless you know the bar is there, you will walk right by it: the only thing that tells you that a bar is there is a tiny little "BAR" sign on an otherwise completely black door. Once you go in, though, oh boy -- it's an upscale bar, with servers dressed better than you are. Their tuna tataki is the best I've ever had anywhere -- and I'm from Vancouver, so I know what I'm talking about.
posted by tickingclock at 7:37 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're there next weekend (I sure will be!), Osheaga Festival is a great time.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:42 PM on July 26, 2015

Do you have dates? Our Pride Parade is the 16th. You can watch it go by, or grab a table at one of the restaurants in the gay village for after. There's an electronica festival coming up if you are into that. If you like biking pick up Bixis and ride from the Old Port to Lachine. Hit the Atwater Market for lunch, check out the sculptures at Parc Rene Levesque and then ride back. There's a good (small) museum at the park as well.

Grab coffee and bagels on St. Viateur St, and walk over to Outremont for ice cream at Bilboquet afterwards. Keep going to the Mount Royal Cemetery if you like.

Get good, cheap Indian food on Jean Talon near Blvd. de L'Acadie. Or go to Marché Jean Talon for an afternoon of snacking.

If you want to go somewhere with less tourists you could head down the river to Lasalle. You can do some rafting down the rapids, grab some artery hardening poutine at the Lasalle Drive-in (a diner really), rent some paddle boards or just walk into Parc des rapides.

Keep your eye on MTL blog and and Montreal Rampage for other ideas.
posted by Cuke at 7:48 PM on July 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Seconding Big in Japan. I loved their ramen bowl.
St Ambroise Brewery has a nice Terrace on the canal. I love just walking along the canal, or stopping at the Atwater market to grab some things for a picnic.
Definitely hit up the Tam Tams on Sunday.
If you're in Old Montreal, try Dolcetto for Italian tapas.
You might want to try Schwartz' smoked meat on St Laurent, if you're into that sort of thing.
If you like jazz, try Upstairs Jazz Bar downtown.
Another good bar that has a lot of local micro brew beer is Benelux on Sherbrooke.
posted by winterportage at 7:58 PM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Cafe Le Chat, IFF you like cats. (I'm somewhat allergic and it didn't bother me to spend an hour there 3 days in a row.)
posted by maniabug at 8:06 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Notre Dame is in Old Montreal so that doesn't count as two separate excursions.

There are now three cat cafés in Montreal: Café Venosa (4433 St-Denis), Café des chats (3435 St-Denis) and Café Chat l'heureux, at 172 Duluth East. All within a ten or fifteen-minute stroll, between Sherbrooke and Mont-Royal metros. This is one of the main streets in the Plateau, lots of restos, bars, boutiques.

Montreal's got complicated and cranky parking regulations. You don't mention how you're coming here, but it's a good idea to stash your car if you have one, and get bus tickets or passes. Here's a list of the fare formats you can get. On your list, able-bodied people can easily walk to all but the Botanical Garden, which is some distance east of downtown at Pie-IX metro station.

The area with the garden also has a relatively new planetarium, an indoor zoo-type thing called the Biodome, and of course the massive hulk of the Olympic stadium. Details here on ticketing and so on. What that area doesn't have is restos and bars, so if you're going off to walk through the gardens and look around the area, best to show up fed.

(PinkMoose says the Biodome is on the islands. The structure on the islands is actually the Biosphere, originally the US pavilion from Expo 67, and is a weird trip to get up inside. The Biodome is next to the Olympic stadium and was originally a velodrome.)
posted by zadcat at 8:19 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Zadcat is completely correct. I would like to apologize. The biodome has SLOTHS, btw, but the Biosphere is gorgeous!
posted by PinkMoose at 8:31 PM on July 26, 2015

St. Joseph's Oratory: huge iconic church known to Montrealers and pilgrims, often overlooked by tourists. Totally unique and has been a hit with everyone I've taken there.

Tam tams: Big drum circle hippie fest in Mont-Royal park on summer Sundays.

Schwartz's Delicatessen: Montreal smoked meat sandwiches. Crowded with locals and tourists alike, but worth the experience.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 3:13 AM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

We love Montreal and usually go once a year. I have a head like a sieve sometimes, so I often document our visits for just these sorts of times when someone asks me what I did or for recommendations for places to go. So, sorry for the self-links but here are 2 of the more recent trips documented:

Our 2014 wedding anniversary trip: http://www.gagehillcrafts.com/montreal-october-2014/
Our 2013 trip primarily for Mondial de la Biere but with other restaurants and activities: http://www.gagehillcrafts.com/mondial-de-la-biere-et-montreal/

I can get a bit verbose, so apologies. Please hit me up with a MeMail if you have any questions.
posted by terrapin at 4:54 AM on July 27, 2015

A handful of food recommendations:

There is a new éclair place a few blocks from our apartment. It is my new obsession. It's called Un café en un éclair, on Amherst just north of Ste-Catherine. It's owned by a really attentive, friendly French couple and the éclairs are out of this world. They also have a handful of other pastries (and coffee, of course.) The décor is well done too. It's a nice place to sit a while.

La Diperie (68 Ave des Pins E) is well worth trying for unconventional ice cream. It's all vanilla soft serve but the toppings are what make it (e.g., vanilla soft serve with dark chocolate shell, crushed pretzels, and caramel drizzle.) A handful of seats here, but not really someplace to linger.

Arhoma makes excellent pastries. They have two locations, though the location at Papineau and Ontario is probably the most easily accessible. Highly recommended: abricotine, chocolatine, danoise aux framboises. They also have a good selection of sandwiches. There are a handful of tables -- it's usually possible to find a place to sit.

Lawrence is not exactly a secret at this point for lunch/brunch or dinner, but it's the real deal. Excellent food. They have a butcher shop a few doors down that focuses on local and sustainably/humanely raised meats that is fantastic. (You're probably not going to pick up some pork chops if you're staying at a hotel, but they do have sandwiches and cured meats if you want a quick bite.)

[As you can probably guess from this list, I tend to travel on my stomach...]
posted by veggieboy at 6:06 AM on July 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Used to travel there for work all the time.

For food, you could do worse than the Dominion Square Tavern, which does upscale fancy pub fare.

If you want dirt cheap food court lunch that's surprisingly delicious, hit up the Faubourg (which is this almost-dead mall thing at Ste Catherine and... Um... Guy?) and go to the Thai place in the southeast corner. It probably has a name but I don't know what it is.

Café Myriade is right by there and is damn tasty.

I don't know how booking works, but I had the best meal of my life at 400 Coups. Get the tasting menu with wine pairings.

Also, see what's going on at the Belgo building, which is several stories of artist studios and galleries. I've only ever been for big events, so I don't know what the day to day is like there, but it might be worth investigating, if that sort of thing interests you.
posted by rhooke at 7:07 AM on July 27, 2015

Do you like macarons? Because PointG have The Best macarons I've ever tried. Yes even better than Laduree.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:57 AM on July 27, 2015

I think the place across the street from Schwartz is better.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:00 AM on July 27, 2015

Don't go to the Faubourg. It has a terrible reputation now for roaches and other uncleanliness. Around Concordia if you want to eat cheap, go to Al-Taïb or Qing Hua Dumpling, or eat at Thali on St-Marc, or go to Boustan or the Nilufar.

If you're at all interested in architecture, the CCA is a step away from Guy-Concordia metro, and they also have a fantastic bookshop with titles on photography, design and architecture you won't see elsewhere.
posted by zadcat at 11:09 AM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just to tag on to zadcat, in the Guy-concordia area there is also Burritoville. It's a cheapish place for good eats. Seconding Thali. I also really like Sesame. There are a couple locations (one at Atwater Market, another near Square Victoria) maybe more. They bill themselves as asian fusion and sell things like general tao chicken poutine. A strange, delightful treat.

If you like poutine (fries cheese and gravy) there's a 24h poutine place called La Banquise (near Mont Royal metro) that is kinda like the Baskin Robins of poutine. Something like 30 different kinds.

Montreal City Weblog is a straightforward news and upcoming events site that could be helpful.
posted by eisforcool at 8:31 PM on July 27, 2015

Notre Dame = Lovely but touristy in a touristy part of town
St-Joseph's Oratory = Surreal and in a less touristy part of town
posted by furtive at 8:47 PM on July 27, 2015

Our favourite date-night place is Le P'tit Plateau. Two seatings each night, and no uncorking fees. So stop by the local SAQ and get a nice bottle of wine, and make a reservation. AWESOME!
posted by terrapin at 7:09 AM on July 28, 2015

If you do the Oratory, there are a couple of "exit routes" that may interest you. You can walk north on Côte-des-Neiges, the main street that intersects Queen Mary Road, where the Oratory is. CDN is a microcosm of the multicultural side of the city, because it's a sort of frontier between the academic worlds of the Université de Montréal and the HEC (big business school) on one side, and a neighbourhood that typically hosts immigrant families on the other. And if you decide on a change of scene you can always hop on the metro, although you can also take the 165/435 bus downtown.

The other thing to do is walk into the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery here. It's a good place to walk – a lot of the paths are shaded by trees and there are always interesting things to look at in a big graveyard. From there you can cross over into Mount Royal park and do the lookout, or you can step through a gate into Mount Royal cemetery via the miilitary memorial area and then make your way down through Outremont to Park Avenue, which will show you some nice streets and houses and lead you back to the Mile End.

Any or all of these ideas will give you some views of the city from Mount Royal which, although not high, is the highest thing on the island and a legitimate part of the Monteregian Hills.
posted by zadcat at 7:14 AM on July 28, 2015

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