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Downtown Montreal
Photograph: Henry MacDonald (@night.shotz)

Everything's waiting for you: The best things to do in Downtown Montreal

Amazing things to do in Downtown Montreal are found on every corner, each bursting with arts, culture, food and drink

JP Karwacki
Written by
Gregory Vodden
JP Karwacki

Don’t write off Downtown, people! Besides Time Out Market Montréal, Montreal’s downtown core is full to overflowing with some of the best things to do in Montreal all year round. The tightly packed streets of the downtown core are home to world famous festivals, cutting-edge venues, three universities, a pair of major sports stadiums, some of the best restaurants the city has to offer, irresistible underground shopping options, gorgeous parks, world class bars, scandalous strip clubs, a ballet company, an opera house, a symphony orchestra. All that, and it will soon be home to the brand new Time Out Market Montreal. Let’s get started: We’ve got a lot of ground to cover with no time to waste.

How to get to Downtown Montreal

Take the Montreal Metro to any station between Guy-Concordia and Saint-Laurent on the Green Line, or any station between Lucien L’Allier and Champ-de-Mars on the Orange Line.

Best of the city under one roof

 Time Out Market Montréal
JF Galipeau

Time Out Market Montréal

Our local editors have spent their time handpicking and gathering the best of the best restaurants and chefs together onto one central stage, Time Out Market Montréal. It's a 40,000-square-foot culinary and cultural destination that's centrally located downtown in the Centre Eaton de Montréal—the biggest in the city of its kind—stocked with 16 eateries, three bars for beer, wine and cocktails (plus non-alcoholic options), a demonstration kitchen to both see and taste some culinary action, a cooking school to learn new tricks and techniques, a retail space, and cultural spaces devoted to art, music and more. Our mission is simple (but spelled out here): If we discover something in the city that's great, it goes in our magazine and all of our coverage; if it's unmissable, it goes in Time Out Market Montréal—open now.

Things to do in Downtown Montreal

Watch high-wire acts in a church
Photograph: Caroline Thibault

1. Watch high-wire acts in a church

Le Monastère is spreading the good word about the circus at its new digs inside St. Jax Montréal, a repurposed Anglican church. Featuring artists who have earned their big-top stripes from performing with troupes like Cirque du Soleil and earning medals from France’s World Circus Festival, these events are fantastical places for spectators to watch dazzling feats of acrobatics after grabbing a drink at the on-site bar.

Party in an enchanted-forest nightclub
Photograph: Karel Chladek

2. Party in an enchanted-forest nightclub

Venturing below street level to enjoy massive seafood platters and seasonal menus by chef Guillaume Daly (plus cocktails!) is just the start of the night during Soubois’ supper-club hours. Once the lights dim, the jet-setting international DJs crank up the music and the guests get grooving, you’ll want to stick around until last call as you party under the dance floor’s giant central tree. Psst: There’s also a hidden bar behind a bookcase.

Enjoy skyline views from a rooftop hot tub
Photograph: Courtesy Hôtel Le Crystal Montréal

3. Enjoy skyline views from a rooftop hot tub

The truth is, it’s hard to find somewhere Downtown where you can be truly alone, take a breath and relax far away from the crowded streets. So, heads up: You can soak in gorgeous views from the secluded 12th floor of Hôtel le Crystal, where a spa pass grants you access to massages, facials and other indulgences—for example, a heated terrasse featuring a large hot tub. In winter, it’s an ace place to bask in bubbly, luxurious seclusion.

Puff away
Photograph: Étienne Beauregard-Riverin

4. Puff away

Ever long for those smoke-filled bars of yore? Want to embrace your inner Tony Soprano? Take a load off at Stogies Cigar Lounge or Chez Alexandre. Hiding in plain sight, they both have private-club vibes, plenty of old-school décor, and a range of cigars and Scotch.

Feel like “royal-tea” at the Ritz-Carlton
Photograph: Ritz-Carlton Montréal/Franois LeClair

5. Feel like “royal-tea” at the Ritz-Carlton

When you’re about to hit that dreaded wall of midday fatigue, pop in to the Ritz-Carlton to rest and refresh. In the opulent Palm Court, the afternoon tea (2:30–3:30pm) includes all the fixings for a chic cuppa ($36 per person), as well as mountains of dainty, house-made canapés, scones and pastries from chef Claude Guérin. You’ve earned feeling fancy AF—at least for one day.

Duck and cover in a speakeasy
Photograph: Pim Myten

6. Duck and cover in a speakeasy

One of the newest nightclubs to hit Montréal this year, NewHaūs is fashioned after a bomb shelter, and you can only get inside if you have the Instagrammed password (@newhausbar). Once admitted, you’ll walk down a secret passage behind a wall of Campbell’s soup tins to a dark, intimate dance floor with house beats on deck. Expect to hear from up-and-coming local techno and dancehall acts into the wee hours.

Bliss out under a green canopy
Photograph: Logan Mackay

7. Bliss out under a green canopy

Located atop the Hall Building is the student-run Concordia Greenhouse. But you don’t have to be enrolled to step into this beautiful oasis, which is open to the public during the academic term. Urban gardeners should peruse the green space’s houseplant sales, plant-themed music parties, and workshops on everything from vermi-composting to permaculture design. If you lack a green thumb, it’s still worth checking out one of the city’s best-kept hideaways for unwinding with a book.

Feed your head
Photograph: Marc Cramer

8. Feed your head

Somehow Montreal has managed to squeeze in half-dozen museums downtown and there’s something for everyone. The Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal holds shows boasting some of the biggest names in art history including recent expositions on Otto Dix, Toulouse Lautrec, Calder, and Chagall. Conversely, the Musée d'art contemporain focuses on the art and artists of our present day while the Canadian Center for Architecture holds talks and mounts expositions on the history of architecture and its star architects. The McCord Museum celebrates and explores Montreal history, and if you’re looking for something a little lighter, there’s the Grévin Wax Museum or the Barbie Expo which holds the world’s largest permanent exhibit of barbie dolls.

Be yourself
Photograph: Susan Moss

9. Be yourself

Montreal’s Gay Village is lively and welcoming, and no matter what flag you fly, you’re invited. Home to cabarets, clubs, karaoke bars, eateries and an antique furniture shop row on Rue Amherst, there’s always something going on. In the summer months, Sainte-Catherine Street is closed to car traffic and endless streams of rainbowed decorations are strung across the street, but there’s plenty of eye candy besides.

Shop ‘til you drop
Photograph: Tourisme Montréal/Daniel Choinière

10. Shop ‘til you drop

In Montreal’s central business district, Sainte-Catherine Street is host to some legendary shopping, but if you haven’t ventured to Underground City, you’ve literally only scratched the surface. Just under the sidewalks are connected segments of the downtown core that have been strung together by an almost unending warren of passages. You’ll find these are lined with shops, boutiques, outlets, restaurants, jewelers, salons, bakeries and more. It’s especially helpful in the winter when going outside can get downright unpleasant.

Follow the light
Photograph: Stéphan Poulin

11. Follow the light

The cruciform international style skyscraper of Place Ville Marie—built in 1962 by star architect I.M. Pei—has become a renowned architectural landmark of Montreal, acting as the de facto center of the city and nexus for the Underground City below. The upper decks of the tower host observation decks and a restaurant offering unparalleled views of the city. The building is crowned with a rotating spotlight that lights up the night and can be seen all over town.

Experience some majesty
Photograph: Marie Deschene

12. Experience some majesty

Montreal’s religious history is undeniably part of its very fabric and there are a handful of prominent churches in the downtown core that shouldn’t be overlooked. Of the most notable are the Christ Church Cathedral, a gothic revival Anglican church that incredibly hasn’t renovated its interior since 1859; Mary Queen of the World Cathedral which is seat of the Roman Catholic archdiocese (and scale model of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome); and the St. James United Church. These and other downtown churches regularly hold masses and host performances of both religious and secular music including hymns and organ recitals.

Hit the books
Photograph: Marie Deschene

13. Hit the books

There are three venerable institutions of higher learning downtown: McGill University, Concordia University and Université du Québec à Montréal. All three of these universities regularly hold events that are open to the public at large including lectures, seminars, workshops, discussions, job fairs, conferences, book fairs, open-house tours, art gallery exhibitions, musical and theater performances, and even astronomy nights!

Take a breather
Photograph: Alphonse Tran

14. Take a breather

You might not think a city’s downtown core would be home to a lot of greenery, but Montreal’s made space for quite a few lovely parks and urban squares, each bringing something interesting to the table. For history lovers, be sure to check out Square Dorchester, full of monuments and statues documenting Montreal’s past. Place de la Paix is dedicated to the victims of nuclear weapons, has become internationally popular among skateboarders for its unique layout, and is occasionally the site of public movie screenings by Société des arts technologiques. Lastly, Place Jean-Paul Riopelle’s highlight is undoubtedly a sculpture called La Joute which features alternating water jets and a circle of fire on summer nights.

Enjoy the show
Photograph: Centre Bell

15. Enjoy the show

Recently ranked among the busiest arenas in the world, a major part of the Bell Center’s fame is it being home to the Montreal Canadians. Don’t forget however that the Bell Center also puts on basketball games, MMA matches and pro wrestling exhibitions alongside huge international musical acts with the likes of Celine Dion, Coldplay, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Barbara Streisand and countless more.

Root for the home team
Photograph: Tourisme Québec / André Rider

16. Root for the home team

Percival Molson Memorial Stadium is an outdoor football stadium that sits right on the foot of Mont Royal on the northern edge of downtown, named in memory of star athlete and soldier Percival Molson. Today, the stadium is home to the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League as well as American Ultimate Disc League, the Canadian Corporate Soccer League and McGill University’s various student sports teams.

Join the party
Photograph: Benoit Rousseau

17. Join the party

The Quartier des Spectacles is Montreal’s top arts and entertainment district with a total area of almost a square kilometer. Featuring a combination of 30 performance halls, concert spaces, cultural complexes, broadcasting facilities, museums and art galleries, the district is the nerve center for Montreal’s cultural output. The area is also the main site of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Francofolies and the Just for Laughs comedy festival, all resulting in an almost nonstop stream of festivals during the summer. Year round, you can catch shows by world-class Montreal Symphony Orchestra which is pushing, innovating and exploring the likes of Berlioz, Mahler, Verdi and Shostakovich at the 2100-seat Montreal Symphony Orchestra House.

Experience a night at the Opera
Photograph: Atelier lyrique / Opéra de Montréal

18. Experience a night at the Opera

L’Opéra de Montréal is based in the Salle Wilfred Pelletier on the Place-des-Arts Esplanade in Quartier des Spectacles and has mounted 1000+ performances of over a hundred separate operas since its beginnings in the 1980s. That includes four completely novel homegrown productions, the most recent of which being Another Brick in the Wall, an operatic adaptation of the eponymous Pink Floyd album composed in conjunction with Roger Waters.

Witness a graceful performance
Photograph: Serguei Endinian

19. Witness a graceful performance

Les Grandes Ballets Canadiens is a Canadian ballet company based in the newly constructed Wilder building on the Place des Arts esplanade alongside neighbors L’Opéra de Montréal and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. The company is both a creative and repertoire company, performing beloved standards such as the holiday seasonal classic The Nutcracker as well as avant-garde productions at the boundaries of contemporary ballet.

Tour a cultural powerhouse
Photograph: Jeangagnon

20. Tour a cultural powerhouse

The Belgo Building, an otherwise unassuming six-storey brick and limestone building on Sainte-Catherine Street began its life as a department store for the garment industry and today happens to house 27 art galleries, a handful of artist workshops and number of dance studios. It is the largest concentration of contemporary art galleries in Canada and there is no better place in town to put your finger on the pulse of the contemporary art world. Consider paying a visit during the hubbub of Nuit Blanche as well when galleries throw open their doors for visits late into the night.

Go hunting for living art
Photograph: McCord Museum

21. Go hunting for living art

Montreal can barely contain its artworks indoors and you’re likely stumble across art spilling out onto the streets. Certain works are seasonal, including Urban Forest in a space adjacent to the McCord Museum with public pianos and yoga classes to accompany colourful arboreal sculptures. There’s also the local favorite 21 Balançoires which features a long set of musical swings. Other works include sculptures by the likes of Henry Moore near the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal as well as hundreds of public murals, light installations and more.

Immerse yourself in a digital tapestry
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Societé des arts technologiques

22. Immerse yourself in a digital tapestry

A relative newcomer to the Montreal family of cultural institutions, La Société des arts technologiques (SAT) is an organization dedicated to the promotion and conservation of digital and technological art. The building is home to numerous event and research spaces in addition to a restaurant, rooftop terrace and most notably the Satosphere, an immense futuristic dome visible from the exterior that hosts unique immersive 360-degree projections for up to 400 people.

Take a walk on the wild side
Photograph: Yan Bellerose/Secret Montréal

23. Take a walk on the wild side

Montreal has a reputation for being a sin city and Montreal’s numerous strip clubs have played a large part in building that reputation. Venerable clubs include Wanda’s, Chez Parée, Club Downtown and Le Cabaret Kingdom. Each establishment has its own style and code of conduct, but the guaranteed recipe for a good time is always the following: Be respectful, always tip both bouncers and dancers and, of course, have a good time.

Go for a stroll
Photograph: Marie Deschene

24. Go for a stroll

Since the 19th century, Montreal’s Golden Square Mile neighborhood has been synonymous with wealth and opulence. The area is easily toured on foot and is brimming with palatial mountainside residences, high-end department stores, university pavilions and luxury hotels. Notable examples include Ravenscrag Manor, the James Ross House, the J.H. Birks house, and the monumental Ritz-Carlton hotel. If you’d rather a more curated experience, Montreal’s McCord Museum offers guided tours from April to November.

Wine and dine
Photograph: Dominique Lafond

25. Wine and dine

Montreal is full of excellent restaurants, and although it might be a tight squeeze amongst all of the office buildings and commerical strips, some of Montreal’s best are right downtown. The offerings range from the elevated traditional steakhouse fare of Queue de Cheval to the cutting edge creations of Bouillon Bilk or the playful Japanese dishes of Kazu. It’s not all fancy, as the authentic Montreal hot dogs at the Montreal Pool Room and just as good for a nosh. For whatever you’re craving, there’s a spot to satisfy downtown.

Have a drink on us
Photograph: Canadian Tourism Commission

26. Have a drink on us

Montreal has a staggering number of bars and the downtown core has an excellent cross section of the myriad options for whatever imbibing mood you might be in. For classy cocktails there are hotel bars in the Golden Square Mile. When you’ve got to let loose, there’s Crescent Street, Montreal’s renowned nightlife strip. Otherwise there are craft cocktail spots, seedy taverns, sports bars, college pubs and more to wet your whistle.

Get lost in a book
Photograph: Marie Deschene

27. Get lost in a book

Downtown can wear you down and even the most jet-set need to unwind. Montrealers flock in droves to the Grande Bibliotheque, an impressive library complex with loads of natural light, helpful staff, a massive collection of books in multiple languages, audio and visual stations, comic books, microfiche, public computer terminals, electronic music facilities and more. Additionally, the library hosts regular events in its language laboratory, exhibition spaces, theater, conference rooms and auditoriums.

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