downtown montreal

Find the hidden gems of downtown Montreal. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

Creativity and Culture Reign in This Insider’s Guide to Downtown Montreal

Montreal is one of North America’s best walkable cities. The downtown is relatively compact, enabling visitors to transfer between some of the best attractions — boutiques, bistros, museums and more — with relative ease. Still, some of the most inspiring finds are hidden gems beloved by locals.

The Renaissance Montreal Downtown Hotel lies right in the heart of the action, and the property’s Navigator will be able to share insider tips on finding tucked-away hot spots during your stay. Here are a few suggestions, all within 10 minutes of the hotel, to get you started.

Where the Locals Go

Situated on Montreal’s “Main Street” (Boulevard Saint Laurent) in a landmark 1927 building Taverne Midway offers both inventive and classic cocktails. A definitive pub menu includes chicken wings, sliders, tacos and a vegetarian platter (spinach dip, baba ghanouj and bruschetta). Classy and chill.

When It’s Date Night

Restaurant Cadet is a wine-bar-slash-bistro with artistic plate presentations and Asian accents. The dining style is small plates, so the best approach is to order several and share everything. Cadet is a sister restaurant to Bouillon Bilk — which presents an attractive alternative, should seating be limited at Cadet.

Quieter Spaces

Montreal is not a city that overwhelms. But when it is time to step away from the bustle of downtown, two options are within easy access. McGill University (considered the “Harvard of Canada”) offers a variety of green spaces. Enter through the Roddick Gates on Sherbrooke Street, and relax under a tree.

For a glimpse into religious architecture, the Mary Queen of the World Cathedral (1085 rue de la Cathédrale) is a National Historic Site of Canada and is a unique juxtaposition to the din of the city.

Enchanting Indie Coffee

downtown montreal
Grab a cuppa at Humble Lion. (Photo: Getty Images)

When it’s time for a caffeine boost, skip the generic coffee chains and head one block from the hotel to Humble Lion on McGill College Avenue. The pocket-size café offers the full gamut of espresso-based drinks, using sustainably produced beans roasted by Bows and Arrows. The staff is friendly, and the buttery croissants make a delicious start to the day.

A Pretty Spot for Lunch

Between the string lights and the dangling plant vines, Café Parvis is a slice of bohemian heaven among the downtown business vibes. Menu items evolve but typically include various types of pizzas and salads. Be forewarned: The restaurant gets busy during the lunch rush. So for a quieter time, go between 1 and 4 p.m.

The Coolest Public Art

Downtown is packed with public art. Many of these works are murals painted on the sides of buildings; some murals are over five-stories tall. You’ll also find sculpture, stained glass, ceramics and art of other mediums dotting the city’s landscape.

The closest public installation to the hotel is at the foot of Place Ville-Marie. The sculpture is called Place Monseigneur Charbonneau and includes aluminum, concrete, bronze and marble. What does the sculpture signify? See it and decide for yourself.

For a broader sense of the artscape around town, check out the city’s public art map and take yourself on a cultural scavenger hunt.

Cocktails with the Business Crowd

In the heart of the former fur trading district, Furco — a portmanteau of “fur” and “company” — is a retired warehouse refurbished into an industrial-style wine bar. The menu features a range of organic wine options along with cocktails, mocktails and an impressive list of snacks.

Where Indie Art Reigns Supreme

downtown montreal
Get your art fix at Galerie MX. (Photo: Galerie MX)

At Galerie MX, the priority is to amplify emerging artists and to help the public discover them. Whether you are searching for bold political art, whimsical cartoon art or something that simply defies categorization, this gallery highlights the best in the local scene. Bonus: It also makes a stellar event space.

Elevated Mexican Cuisine

Sure, it’s decorated with the requisite images of Frida Kahlo and Mexican lucha libre wrestlers, but Escondite Cerveceria is far more than a mere nod to Mexican culture.

The main attraction (naturally) is the ceviche, but the menu also features tacos, salads, arguably the city’s best guacamole, and house-crafted, tequila-based cocktails. Lively and legit.

Unpretentious Drinks

Don’t let the name fool you, Grumpy’s is your friendly neighborhood dive bar. Featuring one of the best trivia nights in Montreal, live jazz, bluegrass nights and cheap food and drink, it’s one of the best places to meet a local beer and a local human.

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