What makes Montreal such a unique city to visit? While many visitors to Montreal spend their time at highlights like the modern architecture, a tour of “old Montreal”, or the great museums that this Quebequois city has to offer, there is so much more hidden in its streets that they don’t see.
Our Spotters love this city and want to help you experience its great local eateries; the unique neighborhoods riddled with lovely quiet spots; the energetic, open feeling of the city.
They share lots of places that capture this essence on our Montreal blog, and here we have collected some of the best and most unique local spots they have found. Whether you are a visitor or a fellow local looking for new places in the city, enjoy this selection of great hidden gems!
Yoga by sunlight
Montreal is home to many locations where you can practice a range of activities. One of our locals’ favorites is Zéro Gravité, a multipurpose space just east of downtown Montreal. The first sight that greets you upon entering is (perhaps alarmingly) several rock climbers making their way up and down 11m of wall.
If you’re into rock climbing, it’s definitely worth trying it out here; but another great and less-known part of Zéro Gravité is its yoga studio upstairs. With its creaky wooden floors, greenery, high ceilings, and windows spanning across an entire wall, the space is charming and well suited to its purpose.
Green oasis in the city
For any city dwellers or visitors looking for a lovely green break, one of the nicest parks in Montreal is Jeanne-Mance Park. It’s huge, at around 14.2 hectares (1,531,600 square feet), and located at the foot of the famous mountain in Montreal, Mont-Royal.
The park features a variety of activities (including a playground for toddlers, paddling pool, tennis and soccer courts, and an outdoor skating rink all winter), or simply just an expanse of green grass and magnificent trees. It’s a place to sunbathe, read, chat with friends while enjoying a glass of rosé, or have a picnic or barbecue. In autumn it’s especially nice to gaze at the changing colors of the trees and the mountain.
Hidden cocktail magicians
A backyard door hidden away from the street. Exterior walls painted all black. Only a colorful door is the sign that something might be happening behind this brick wall. This is where you will find Atwater Cocktail Club.
Our Spotter Jeremie calls the bartenders here the “cocktail magicians”. Rather than giving you a standard drink, the magicians will ask you what you like and a few minutes later you’ll observe someone behind the bar carefully selecting bottles, spices, fruits, and other accessories to create something special for you. You can also have a look at the food section of the menu if you have an appetite – they partner with nearby restaurant Foiegwa. Overall, it makes for a tasty and special evening out.
Hidden Japanese elegance
We present you with another hidden bar in the backstreets of Montreal (what a cool city this is).
Tucked behind a secret red door with no markings or signs, patrons only find out about this place through word of mouth. While the Atwater Cocktail Club above gives off a macabre, Lynchian vibe, the atmosphere at Big in Japan goes in a completely different direction: this Japanese-inspired bar focuses on elegance and intimacy.
It offers an amazing cocktail menu, choices of sake, bourbon and wines, as well as a short list of appetizers to complement your drinks. As you walk in, the candles and music transport you to a time when elegance was the norm. There is a cozy vibe, provided by the low lighting and seating divided into pods around the room to give customers some privacy. Spotter Nadia recommends this place for a tête-à-tête with friends or for a special date.
Summer tango nights
Charming Parc Laurier in the Plateau neighborhood offers space for several activities: swimming, soccer, baseball or picnics with your buddies. This is also the place to head in summers if you are a fan of tango. Whether you are an experienced dancer wanting to participate or simply a voyeur, it will be an enchanting evening.
Every summer Tuesday evening, the “tangueros” gather here to dance. Anybody can try it out, since it’s an open event, or even get a free lesson given by Tango Libre. It’s a great way to get a taste of Argentina and meet suave people. And don’t worry if you are interested but not visiting Montreal in the summertime. Tango Libre has a studio where they give lessons all year round and you can get a free one if you’d like to try it out.
Montreal is well known for being both a very green city, and one filled with lots of street art. One particularly lovely spot to experience both of these attributes together is the Van Horne Bridge. Now, full disclosure: the bridge itself is just an ugly overpass that divides the Little Italy and Mile End neighborhoods. But there are some hidden gems to see on and around it.
We strongly recommend taking a stroll on the bridge during sunset. The view of Mile End is amazing and almost a bit poetic. Its eye-catcher is the mural “Walla Volla”, created by artist Ola Volla. Take the stairs down to Parc Linéaire du Réseau Vert, an excellent spot to read a book, chill with friends, or tone your muscles in the exercise area. Then once fully rested, you can follow the 3km-long path alongside the train tracks, winding up either at the shops and restaurants of Masson Street or Van Horne skate park.
Innovative technology and culture space
La SAT (Société des Arts Technologiques) is a fantastic multidisciplinary place, created in 1996 as a laboratory to support a new generation of creators and researchers of the digital era.
The most impressive and singular element of this site is the “satosphere”, an enormous dome dedicated to the development and presentation of 360° immersive experiences. The center also serves as a conference and electronic music venue and artists’ residence. Its top floor is home to the Foodlab, a culinary creation lab with open kitchens and a great rooftop terrace – a very pleasant spot to share some drinks with friends at sunset.
Thinking outside the box
Art is at no shortage in this city, whether presented through street art or indoors. Many of the indoor spaces, that is, the museums and galleries, are concentrated in Old Montreal. One particular gallery where, according to Spotter Lucia, “the work exhibited is usually more thought-provoking to me than others”, is the Foundation Phi.
The employees are passionate, well-informed and happy to give in-depth tours with interesting facts about the works. The exhibitions change regularly and each truly shares the messages that the artists seek to express. Sometimes you may have no idea what is being communicated, while other exhibitions may resonate with you more. Regardless, the curated works are always interesting and unique.
Love-infused sweet treats
It’s difficult not to fall in love with Reema Singh, the charming little lady who runs this home-style bakery. The passion infused in her delicacies is contagious. Spotter Jeremy writes that “when I’m asked to bring dessert at a dinner thing, I always think of her, and which cake or pie it will be this time”.
Other than the wonderful owner and cute interior, what makes Cocoa Locale stand out is its unique ingredients. You’ll find classics such as lemon and vanilla, but other things like ginger, cayenne, tea and red peppers are also part of her arsenal. Her delicious cupcakes, pies and other sweet items have attracted a strong fan base, some of whom may travel from far away to get their share. Our tip is to arrive early if you’d like a taste as she sells out quite fast.
A colorful homage
Every June Montreal plays host to great mural artists for an event called Mural Fest. The artists produce some stunning work, leaving the Plateau and Mile-End neighborhoods full of bright and colorful walls. While the festival is concentrated in those two areas, it’s not unusual to come across a beautiful mural in other neighborhoods.
You’ll find one such piece in Ville-Emard. Walking along one of its streets unsuspectingly, you might notice a pop of color our of the corner of your eye. Upon further investigation, you would then be pleasantly surprised by a mural of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, created by a street artist named Elisa Frank. Beautiful flowers in the background draw attention to the artist’s likeness.
Murals like this can be found in many residential areas when you least expect it. Be sure to check this one out, and spend some time hunting around yourself for other colorful surprises.
Tucked under the stairs of Mont-Royal Avenue in an original and stylish cubbyhole sits the cafe La Distributrice. Everything about this place is beautiful: from the wooden interior to the branding and packaging, this place has style.
In winter and summer alike, the barista serves one of three types of coffee – latte, americano or espresso (iced in the summer) – through a little window and at a very good cost. Few things can beat a coffee to go with exquisite taste, texture and warmth.
Beautiful urban decay
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the area of St-Henri near Lachine Canal was home to several industries including tanneries, textile and malting factories. Though many of the old buildings have since been destroyed and others converted into lofts and condos, one that remains is an abandoned malting factory on St-Remi street.
Empty since 1989, the factory, with its giant silos, is an eye-sore for some. For others, it’s a prime example of how urban decay can prove interesting. Visitors can exercise their imaginations as they look at the factory and try to picture what the neighborhood looked like in all of its former glory.