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Montréal Science Centre
Photograph: Courtesy Montréal Science Centre

The 31 best museums in Montreal to discover all year round

From Ancient Egyptian mummies to cutting edge contemporary art, these are the best museums and cultural centres in Montreal.

Written by
Katherine Sehl
JP Karwacki
Gregory Vodden
Isa Tousignant

UPDATE: Fall, 2022: Whether you're visiting Montreal for the first time, or revisiting a favourite work of art, a trip to one of Montreal's best museums should be at the top of your to do list. It’s one of the most popular things to do with kids in Montreal, and of all this city’s best attractions, a museum visit gives you an inclusive taste of the local culture. With over 30 museums on this list, Montreal's basically got a museum for eveything. Time to get out there and discover!

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Best museums in Montreal

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts / Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal
Photograph: Eva Blue

1. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts / Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal

Experience fine arts in all forms at the city’s largest and the country’s most visited museum, where an encyclopaedic collection of tens of thousands of works spanning centuries is spread out over five pavilions. Founded in 1860, the museum has since grown to include its own cinema, concert hall and outdoor installations. Check out Dale Chihuly’s 1,347-piece glass sculpture of the sun on its front steps or Jim Dine’s red-bronze Twin 6’ Hearts across the street for a photo op.

Photograph: Commission canadienne du tourisme

2. Biodôme

Originally constructed as a velodrome for the 1976 Olympics, the Montreal Biodome is now a museum made up of four distinct ecosystems found in North America: A tropical forest, a Laurentian forest, a St. Lawrence marine ecosystem and a subpolar region. In addition to plant species, the museum is also home to a wide variety of animals, including macaws, frogs, penguins, and even a  pack of capybaras. See if you can spot the sloth when you’re in the jungle. 

Musée d'art Contemporain de Montréal /  Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art
Photograph: © Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Architecture John Londono

3. Musée d'art Contemporain de Montréal / Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art

For more than fifty years, the MAC has been Canada’s premier institution dedicated to contemporary art. The museum’s collection of nearly 8,000 permanent works which feature prolific Québécois artists such as Geneviève Cadieux and Jean-Paul Riopelle in addition to international talent like Lorna Simpson and Wangechi Mutu. Between now and the grand unveiling of a $44 million renovation that will see the museum double in size by 2023, the MAC has relocated to a temporary site in Place Ville-Marie and organize ephemeral exhibitions at other various locations throughout the city.

Canadian Centre for Architecture
Photograph: Centre canadien d'architecture

4. Canadian Centre for Architecture

Located in and around the Shaughnessy House, a 19th-century mansion that was once home to a railway baron in Shaughnessy Village (home of the famous corgi parade), this architecture and urban-planning museum is home to exhibitions, events and a state-of-the-art research centre that surrounds that historic house in a way that blends both past and present together. After attending an event or scanning blueprints, photographs and 3D mock-ups in the exhibition space, drop by the postmodern sculpture garden across the boulevard which overlooks Little Burgundy and Saint-Henri.

McCord Museum
Photograph: Courtesy of McCord Museum

5. McCord Museum

A treasure trove of Montreal and Canadian history, this archival museum conserves more than one million pieces of artwork, fashion, photography, documents and more, including the Redpath Museum collection. While there are plans to expand, its current limited showroom space means only a fraction of its mammoth collection is curated and presented around historical themes. Keeners can dig deeper into the archives, both in person or online, or take part in one of its three historic walking tours. Check out the activities in its Urban Forest outside, running from May to September.

Photograph: © Insectarium de Montréal, André Payette

6. Insectarium

Montreal’s Insectarium is—hands down—one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions and features a wide variety of insects from across the globe. Its massive collection of both dead and live insects features butterflies and beetles, ants and fleas—and everything in between. It’s the largest museum devoted to insects in North America and one of the largest insectariums in the entire world. 

Société des Arts Technologiques /  Society for Arts and Technology
Photograph: Bruno Destombes

7. Société des Arts Technologiques / Society for Arts and Technology

Capped with a futuristic dome that forms a 360° spherical theatre, the SAT is an experimental hub for creative immersive technologies such as virtual reality and 3-D design. After checking out the projections in the Satosphere, head up to the Food Lab’s rooftop terrace where the dome looms large in the background. Make sure to check the event calendar, which often includes open-air cinema nights at Place de la Paix, festival-themed after-parties and hackathon-style workshops.

Fondation Phi pour l'art contemporain
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/SarahNAME

8. Fondation Phi pour l'art contemporain

Founded in 2007 by theatre producer and businesswoman Phoebe Greenberg, the Phi Foundation for Contemporary Art (formerly known as DHC/ART) is a non-profit organization housed in a pair of beautifully restored heritage buildings in Montreal’s historic Old Port. Once there, you’ll find all kinds of exhibitions, public events and collaborative projects that showcase contemporary artwork. A visit to the Fondation Phi pour l'art contemporain is a great way to experience recent developments in the international contemporary art community, and happily, to keep the space accessible, the foundation’s programming is completely free of charge.

Musée du Montréal Juif / Museum of Jewish Montreal
Photograph: Gabriela Opas

9. Musée du Montréal Juif / Museum of Jewish Montreal

From its beautiful space in the heart of Mile End, the MJM explores the traditions of Montreal’s Jewish community in a non-traditional format. In addition to its space on Saint-Laurent used to hold exhibits and workshops, there are also online galleries, virtual exhibitions, oral history archives and pop-ups. Watch their Facebook page for news on their famous walking tours.

Botanical Gardens
Photograph: Eva Blue

10. Botanical Gardens

Montreal’s Botanical Gardens are a collection of 75 hectares (190 acres) of lovingly tended thematic gardens and enchanting greenhouses that feature bonsai trees, koi ponds, medicinal herb gardens, totem poles, tea ceremonies, a yearly tropical butterfly exhibit and more. The gardens were designated a National Historic Site in 2008, and their collection of over 22,000 different plant species is praised as one of the most significant collections of its kind in the entire world.

La Guilde
Photograph: La Guilde

11. La Guilde

Blink and you might mistake this Golden Square Mile museum for another upscale store. An institution that highlights the work of Inuit and First Nations artists with a large permanent collection and archival material, its space also functions as a gallery that promotes the craftsmanship of contemporary artists in six-month intervals. This is the premier address to be exposed to the work of Canada’s indigenous peoples in an expertly curated setting.

Montréal Science Centre
Photograph: Courtesy Montréal Science Centre

12. Montréal Science Centre

Like every good science museum, Montreal’s is a veritable educational playground. Located in the Old Port, their permanent exhibits’ main demographic skews towards kids, but really, there’s something for everyone: Past interactive exhibitions have included dinosaurs, Star Wars, sex education and music’s effects on emotion. There’s also an IMAX theatre where you’ll don 3D glasses to watch specials about anything from volcanoes to pandas. It’s also a good place to couple with a visit to the city’s docks.

Pointe-à-Callière Museum
Photograph: © Pointe-à-Callière, Caroline Bergeron

13. Pointe-à-Callière Museum

Built atop Fort Ville-Marie, this museum is first and foremost about the first Montrealers who founded Montreal in 1642. This cultural complex showcases those archaeological roots and celebrates history, as well as hosting a cosmopolitan range of exhibitions ranging from the Beatles’ visit to the city in 1964 to different forms of Montreal bread. After roaming the underground archaeological crypt, you’ll find answers to questions about Montreal’s iconic characteristics here, like why does such a winter-weathered city have so many winding outdoor staircases?

Musée Marguerite-Bourgeoys and Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours
Photograph: © Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum and Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel

14. Musée Marguerite-Bourgeoys and Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours

Often overlooked in favour of the nearby Notre-Dame Basilica, this hidden gem features a nautically themed chapel, historical crypt and homage to one of the city’s founding saints and traces of an Indigenous campsite dating back more than 2,400 years. Another secret this museum keeps is that the chapel tower boasts one of the city’s best views of Old Montreal and the St. Lawrence River. Leonard Cohen devotees may also be interested to know that the statue atop the chapel is referenced in his song “Suzanne.”

Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
Photograph: Raymond Jalbert

15. Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium

The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium operates as a member of the Space for Life museum district alongside the Biodôme, The Botanical Gardens and the Montreal Insectarium. The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium features a pair of state-of-the-art theatres as well as exhibition spaces that explore the science of the cosmos and astronomy with immersive animations, projections, and multimedia games suitable for kids and adults alike.

Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec
Photograph: Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec

16. Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec

The Musée des métiers d’art du Québec is a little off the beaten path compared to some of the more prestigious museums downtown, but it’s well worth the detour. The museum’s mission is to collect and showcase handmade objects that highlight the creative prowess of the artisans and craftspeople of Quebec, both historically and in the present day. The building itself (a magnificent example of Neo-Gothic church construction) has been meticulously taken apart piece by piece at its original downtown location, relocated and repurposed to now serve as both the centrepiece of the museum’s inspiring collection.

The Canadian Railway Museum (Exporail)
Photograph: Exporail / Le Musée ferroviaire canadien

17. The Canadian Railway Museum (Exporail)

The Canadian Railway Museum in nearby Saint-Constant, Quebec is well worth the trek for any true rail enthusiast. Established in 1961, this museum has the largest collection of railway equipment in the entire country, featuring tools, artefacts, objects and over 1200 locomotives, carriages, wagons and other rolling stock. The museum even operates a heritage streetcar on the museum grounds and a heritage railway line to nearby Montée des Bouleaux.

Château Ramezay
Photograph: © Société des musées du Québec, Robert Baronet

18. Château Ramezay

A museum and historic building in Old Montreal, this New France house has seen a lot of action since its foundation was laid in 1705. First sold to fur companies before becoming army headquarters, then a governor’s house and university outpost for medicine before finally being made a museum, there’s a lot going on here for only four walls. Its collection comes largely from private donors, artefacts here range from currency and printed material to furniture and art. Make sure to visit its garden terrasse in the summer too.

Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner
Photograph: Courtesy Emile Berliner Musée des Ondes

19. Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner

Audiophiles love this oddity in Saint-Henri. Located in the former RCA Victor factory, the museum’s aim is to maintain, research and exhibit a collection of audio artefacts like gramophone and turntables to radios, televisions and recording equipment. There’s also a whole lot of vinyl to spin since they made their sound and image archive available to the public in 2018. Be sure to see whether the day you choose to visit includes a guided tour or conference with different specialists.

Écomusée du fier monde
Photograph: Courtesy Écomusée du fier monde

20. Écomusée du fier monde

Few museums are as beautiful as they are inspiring. This is the place you go to learn all about Montreal’s strong culture and history in political action with a primary focus on the daily life of the working class in the city’s southwestern side. The area was once Canada’s financial and industrial heart, an area that saw a lot of manufacturing—building that have since been reclaimed—and the painful trials and tribulations that came with that. Its building also a prime example of Parisian Art Deco design, having originally been an indoor public bathhouse.

Château Dufresne
Photograph: Dufresne-Nincheri Museum

21. Château Dufresne

This sumptuous historic residence in Montreal’s east end (right across from the Olympic Stadium) will zoom you back to the beginning of the 20th century, and into the lap of luxury, at least for the duration of your visit. The architecture and décor of this ex-home of the influential Dufresne brothers (avant-garde architects in the Beaux-Arts style) speak to the life and times of Montreal’s French bourgeoisie. Take in the temporary exhibition or just go to relish the extravagant drapery.

Biosphere Environmental Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Patrick S.

22. Biosphere Environmental Museum

Originally constructed in 1967 as the pavilion for the United States for Montreal’s World Fair that year, it’s a unique structure on the skyline around the St. Lawrence River with its geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller. The building saw a fire in the 1970s that kept it closed until 1990, when it was turned into the museum it is today in Parc Jean-Drapeau. There are interactive science activities and exhibitions that focus on Canadian environments, temperature, energy and space, plus a free biokit geocache activity for the kids.

Cinémathèque québécoise
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Matias Garabedian

23. Cinémathèque québécoise

Tap into the rich history of Québécois and Canadian audiovisual history by viewing the collections of this film conservatory; it’s where you go to see film, television and scripts both national and international, numbering in the tens of thousands. Along with a stream of engaging projections and exhibitions on display, locals like to visit the Médiathèque Guy-L.-Coté where a huge amount of material can be accessed. The best thing about that last attraction? It’s free to all.

Photograph: Mathieu Letourneau

24. TOHU

If the Cirque du Soleil isn’t in town, Tohu is the year-round address for all things circus that can scratch that itch. Their 360-degree hall is host to many live performances of acrobatics as annual shows, improv performances or exhibitions, but there’s also a contemplative component too: Their Jacob-William Collection is a huge private collection of circus artefacts, tens of thousands of pieces and a permanent exhibition of 80 core pieces spanning the 1760s to present day with a focus on clowns, animals and acrobats.

Maison Saint-Gabriel
Photograph: Robert Baronet

25. Maison Saint-Gabriel

Sure, people dressed in period garb feels a little like a night at Medieval Times, but there’s something deeply entertaining about watching reenactments of 17th century life at this Pointe-Saint-Charles museum. Kids in particular will love watching the staff weave rope, blow glass or carve clogs. Watch the website for the packed schedule of seasonal activities, otherwise just go explore an interesting (and quickly gentrifying) neighbourhood and wander through the oldest example of rural architecture in Montreal. 

Musée des Hospitalières de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal
Photograph: Gilbert Langlois | Musée des Hospitalières de l'Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal

26. Musée des Hospitalières de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal

Located on the Plateau close to the foot of Mount Royal, in a section of the Hôtel-Dieu (the city's first hospital), this medical history museum tells the nearly four centuries-old history of medical practice in Montreal. The exhibitions are extremely well researched and interesting, reaching beyond the topic into areas of religious history and culture at large, since in this town it’s all intertwined. Your ticket also gives you access to the splendid private gardens.

Montreal Holocaust Museum
Photograph: Pierre St-Jacques | Montreal Holocaust Museum

27. Montreal Holocaust Museum

This museum in the Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood explores Jewish life before, during and after the Holocaust. After World War II, Montreal became home to the third largest community of Holocaust survivors in the world, making this an intimate story for many local families. The museum displays its objects and collected testimonies with a deft touch that inspires reflection about the implications of prejudice. After your visit, clear your head with a stroll through Mackenzine-King park across the street.

28. Afromusée

Soak up some local African history at this living museum, which programs both virtual exhibitions all year and occasional IRL ones in roving spaces across the city. It’s a welcoming space that aims at accessibility, open sharing and exploration of Africanity in all its forms. The presence of Africans and persons of African descent in Quebec goes back more than 300 years, to the inception of the city’s colonial heritage.

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29. Montreal Signs Project

All the way in the westernmost reaches of Sherbrooke Street, on the Loyola campus of Concordia University, lives the Montreal Sign Project: an ever-growing archive of preserved commercial or civic signage. It’s such a great way to visualize the city’s design history, as well as get a stroll down memory lane for anyone who’s lived or loved Montreal in the last century. They’ve got signs from Ben’s smoked meat, Steinberg’s, Boîte Noire, Silver Dragon, Warshaw—the list goes on. Most of the collection is on permanent display in the CJ building on campus, but contact them ahead of time and you may get access to the archives.

30. Barbie Expo

Barbie’s mansion? Try Barbie’s museum, which happens to be right in the heart of Montreal’s downtown. This 5,000 square foot Barbie Expo in Cours Mont-Royal holds the world’s largest permanent exhibition of Barbie dolls—over 1,000—as well as accoutrements and outfits designed by designers including Christian Dior, Versace, Givenchy and Bob Mackie (who created no less than 28 outfits).

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Centre des mémoires montréalaises
Photograph: Sokhan Sim Photographe

31. Centre des mémoires montréalaises

This interesting space on Boul. St-Laurent (unveiling their brand new space in 2023) has dubbed itself a memory repository, and that’s really what it is: The creatively curated exhibitions mine the city’s public and oral histories to speak to real-life experiences lived in Montreal, with their finger right on the people’s pulse. As they await their permanent abode they take to the streets with projects like walking tours and provide fascinating free podcasts about Montreal’s lost neighbourhoods on their website.

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