When the weather warms, join the locals at Village au Pied-du-Courant. (Photo: Courtesy of Village au Pied-du-Courant)
Montreal has its fair share of must-see spots every tourist checks out, but what if you’ve already walked to the top of Mount Royal or wolfed down a giant poutine? What then?
Fortunately, Montreal has tons of nooks and crannies waiting to be explored as best-kept secrets of locals. The city has been around for nearly four centuries, so a lot of history and many cultural curiosities are tucked away off the beaten path. With so many neighborhoods to explore by foot, you never know what you might find. Here are six ideas of what to do in Montreal to see the city in a unique way.
Village au Pied-du-Courant
Like many big cities, Montreal is always looking to find original ways to make old spaces feel new and revitalized. In the shadow of the mammoth Jacques Cartier Bridge, on a patch of land along the St. Lawrence River, lies a temporary boardwalk and artificial sandy beach surrounded by shipping crates that’s constructed every summer.
As the weather warms, the place is transformed into Village au Pied-du-Courant. It’s a place to shop locally, grab a bite from a food truck, dance to a DJ set, watch a movie or fireworks under the stars, or just sit back and observe the shipping boats along the river.
Leonard Cohen’s House
At 28 Vallières Street, across from Portugal Park in the Plateau neighborhood, there’s a gray stone house (the only one on the tiny block) that was the longtime home of legendary Montreal songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen.
When he passed away in 2016, the front stoop of the house was turned into a makeshift memorial where fans could come and pay tribute by lighting candles or leaving behind artwork. There’s no plaque yet, and the temporary memorial is gone, but feel free to leave a note or snap a photo in front of the home. To get the full experience, grab breakfast at Bagel Etc. across the street — it was one of his regular haunts.
St. Michel Flea Market
Open Friday through Sunday, this giant flea market is heaven for bargain and antique hunters and a must for off-the-beaten path Montreal shopping. It offers two floors of goods, from furniture to hockey cards to all sorts of kitschy artifacts like old VCR tapes. Some vendors have been around for decades and have boxes of junk; others are fresh-faced and offer new, handcrafted items.
With so much stuff crammed in here, you might actually feel like there’s hidden treasure just waiting to be found. Located at 3250 Cremazie Boulevard East, it’s best accessed by hopping off the metro at the Saint-Michel station.
Jacques-De-Lesseps Observatory Park
Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport isn’t all that far from the downtown core — it’s just a quick bus or car ride away in suburban Dorval. As such, there’s a unique park nearby made just for people who want to see airplane takeoffs and landings from up close.
With benches for sitting and observing, it’s a great spot for aviation enthusiasts and curious novices alike. It’s actually pretty renowned among plane buffs, and it’s located on Jenkins Avenue in Dorval.
Alley Cat Gallery NDG
If you’re walking quickly, you might not even notice anything different about this small alley tucked away on Sherbrooke Street West in the family-friendly Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighborhood in the west part of Montreal.
But on this little path leading to a few apartment entrances between Wilson and Harvard avenues, intrepid visitors will find a quirky and uplifting outdoor art gallery featuring cat-centric street art.
Originally founded by local John Jordan to deter graffiti, today a photo of Humbert the Tabby keeps watch over the alley’s feline masterpieces (some portraits, some cartoons, plus one heroic cat fighting a robot Godzilla-style), all donated by people in the community.
St. Leonard Cavern
During the summer months, it’s possible to enter a 10,000-year-old cave hidden away in the otherwise normal-looking Pie XII children’s park in the St. Leonard neighborhood. It’s a tight fit but a window into a time long before civilization. Some of the fossils inside the cave are estimated to be more than 450 million years old.
Guided tours are free, but they need to be reserved in advance through the Société québécoise de spéléologie (link in French only, but call the number for service in English). The cavern is an unexpected living archaeological lesson in the middle of a modern city.