The Montreal Guide
Everything You Need to Know About Downtown Montreal
Simply put, Montreal’s downtown, or Centre-Ville in french, offers something for everyone. It’s big enough that you’ll always have things to see and do, but small enough to be easily explored on foot. Here, we offer up a list of highlights you won’t want to miss during your downtown Montreal odyssey!
Table of Contents
A nostalgic and affectionate name for a northwest corner of downtown, the Golden Square Mile (Le Mille Carré Doré) is bordered by Sherbrooke Street to the south and the foot of Mount Royal to the north. Between 1850 and 1930, this neighbourhood represented the highest concentration of the country’s wealth. In fact, between 1870 and 1900, it’s estimated that 70% of all the wealth in Canada was held by a group of about fifty men who lived here.
By the ‘30s, due to a number of events including the Great Depression and the rise of the automobile, demand for housing in the Golden Square Mile dropped. During the 1960s, in the midst of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, the neighbourhood witnessed another steep decline in residents, who moved their families and their wealth away from uncertainty to the newly prosperous (and anglophone) city of Toronto.
Today, a mere 5%-30% of these heritage homes have survived urbanization. Nevertheless, a stroll through what was once Canada’s cultural and financial capital is a fascinating experience — if not just to gasp at all the pretty houses.
Built in the late-19th century, this cathedral is considered a minor basilica and is the third largest in the entire province. Conveniently located on René-Lévesque Boulevard West, the cathedral is in close proximity to the MegaBus station, the train station, and Bonaventure metro. Admission is free.
Formerly Dominion Square, Place du Canada is a tranquil park in the heart of downtown. And, if you’ve ever watched Just for Laughs Gags, you may recognize this quaint little park as the backdrop for some side-splitting pranks. Cross the street to discover the neighbouring Dorchester Square park. Both of these Victorian-era green-spaces are a wonderful place to stop, recharge, and enjoy an ice cream or two.
The infamous St. Catherine Street runs the entire length of downtown; it’s lined with hundreds of retail options, from boutiques to box stores. As if that weren’t enough, downtown also boasts a 33 km network of underground tunnels. True, the tunnels aren’t the most beautiful but they’re loaded with shopping, dining, and transportation options. To be exact, the tunnels connect some 2,000 shops, 1,600 apartments, 1,200 offices, 10 metro stations, and two bus terminals, making it the world’s largest shopping centre in the world. Plus, if you’re visiting in winter, traveling through the Underground City is the best way to avoid the bitter cold.
With over 175 stores and a newly renovated food court, the Eaton Centre stands out as Montreal’s largest shopping mall — and it’s right in the heart of downtown!
705 Saint-Catherine St W,
Montreal, QC, H3B 4G5
Just east of the Eaton Centre is Place Montreal Trust, which boasts over 14 million visitors each year. The malls are connected through the underground city for easy access.
1500 McGill College Ave,
Montreal, QC H3A 3J5
From furniture and home appliances to beauty brands and all the latest trends, The Bay is a definite must-stop on your Montreal shopping itinerary. And yes, it’s also connected to the Underground City.
585 Saint-Catherine St W,
Montreal, QC, H3B 3Y5
Looking for a tranquil day of reverie and inspiration? How about a wild and unforgettable concert? Or maybe something a little more formal? Why not a bit of everything! Whatever your cup of tea, Montreal’s Centre-Ville has something for everyone when it comes to entertainment.
Museums: Montreal boasts a myriad of museums, many of which are centrally located in the downtown core.
The MMFA features of large permanent collection in addition to an array of exhibitions year round, from Andy Warhol to Egyptian Mummies.
1380 Sherbrooke St W,
Montreal, QC, H3G 1J5
Thought-provoking and beautiful, the CCA is an awesome place to explore the junction of architecture and society. The focus is on the relationship between buildings and culture, and how each works to shape the other.
1920 Baile St,
Montreal, QC, H3H 2S6
(514) 939 7026
For a lesson in natural history, visit McGill University’s famous Redpath Museum. From dinosaurs to Egyptian mummies, feast your eyes on their extraordinary collection housed in a gorgeous Victorian mansion (part of the Golden Square Mile).
859 Sherbrooke St W,
Montreal, QC, H3A 0C4
Performance: Downtown’s Place-des-Arts is a big draw for those with a more classical taste in music and performance art.
For a modern twist on traditional ballet, Les Grands Ballets offers spectators a chance to witness world-class productions that deliver high levels of creativity and refined technique. Visually stunning and captivating.
Founded in 1980, the company boasts a roster of local and international talents, from singers and conductors to stage directors. Get your dose of Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky with the Montréal Opera.
Festivals: Festivals and events are equally aplenty in the heart of this great city.
Officially founded in 1980, the Jazz Fest is an annual music festival that takes place between June 27th and July 6th at the Quartier des Spectacles. It features free outdoor shows as well as paid indoor concerts, and boasts an attendance of over 2 million people per year. In the past it has featured such prominent names like Anderson Pak, Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles.
Literally a must-see for film-buffs. Catch an early screening of one of the year’s most anticipated films, get nostalgic with a genre classics, or be transported by a highly acclaimed foreign feature. Located at and around Concordia University’s downtown campus at Guy Metro.
If you’re looking for a good laugh, this may be just what the doctor ordered. Every year, from July 10th to the 28th, Montreal becomes the world’s funniest city. Headliners like Jerry Seinfeld, Gad Elmaleh, Norm Macdonald, Kevin Hart, and Louis C.K. have all done the rounds at this acclaimed comedy festival.
Cinemas: Of course, you can always just keep it simple and catch a flick. From Hollywood blockbusters, to foreign films and cult classics, Downtown’s three main cinemas have got every cinephile covered.
Formerly an indoor hockey arena dubbed, “the most storied building in hockey history,” the renovated Forum offers guests 22 modern theatres. Choose from a selection of blockbusters, newly released indie titles, and foreign movie. The cinema features UltraAVX, IMAX, IMAX-3D, and more.
2313 Sainte-Catherine W,
Montréal, QC, H3H 1N2
You’ll find all the year’s biggest box office hits under one roof at Scotiabank Cinema. Located in the heart of downtown on St. Catherine Street between Metcalfe and Mansfield, this is also a great option for those looking to catch dinner and a drink after the showing, thanks to its central location. Features Ultra-AVX, IMAX, IMAX 3-D, an arcade, and much more.
977 Saint-Catherine W,
Montreal, QC, H3B 4W3
A Montreal landmark, Cinéma du Parc is located in the easternmost part of downtown, just beyond the McGill Ghetto at the edge of the Plateau. Come here to re-experience cult classics and an array of newly released independent films.
3575 Park Avenue
Montreal, QC, H2X 3P9
Palettes at every point on the spectrum have something to lick their lips about. Of course, you can’t really say you’ve visited Montreal until you taste the city’s most historic and iconic dish: Poutine! That’s right — fries drowned in a sea of gravy and cheese curds! What could be healthier? Don’t worry, you’ll have earned it after a day spent walking the streets of downtown.
OK, I know — Schwartz’s Deli technically belongs to the Plateau neighbourhood, but this Montreal establishment has been serving its delicious and world-famous smoked meat since 1928 and deserves a mention on any list!
3895 St. Laurent Blvd,
Montreal, QC, H2W 1X9
Hands-down the best hole-in-the-wall burger joint in town. This mom ‘n pop restaurant is a pick-your-own-toppings experience. Like their website says, “you are the chef and we are your hands.” Don’t forget their signature kimchi! And, of course, a side of poutine.
Montréal, QC, H3H 2G4
For authentic and affordable Japanese cuisine, Kazu tops the list. Head there early to beat the line and get a taste of their stellar menu. Choose from homemade tofu and shrimp burgers, to the fresh meat of the day. The space is cozy with an open-kitchen and classic Japanese decor.
1862 Saint-Catherine W,
Montreal, QC, H3H 1M1
You’ll find nightlife on every block, but the two major downtown hubs are a good place to start (and possibly end) your night. While it’s certainly worth exploring both, each area caters to different crowds. Keep in mind, the law requires that bars close at 3:00 AM. Not tired yet? Find yourself an after-hours clubs and keep the party going.
Located in the west end of downtown between Guy and Peel metros, Crescent Street is your run-of-mill strip of classic bars and clubs (some quaint, some massive). Visit the legendary Sir Winston Churchill’s Pub before grabbing a chicken shawarma pita at Boustan. Montreal’s Formula-1 Racing event is also hosted on the street.
Located at the edge of downtown, St. Laurent Boulevard—which divides the city’s east from its west—is a hip pastiche of eclectic pubs, unique clubs, awesome street-art, and trendy breweries. Staples like Big in Japan and Bifteck are local favourites. Several street fairs take place on the Boulevard during the summer, closing it to car traffic for 2.5 km.
Located between Metro stations Place-des-Arts and St. Laurent, this is the city’s major district for arts and culture. Choose from indoor or outdoor events, free or paid. There’s always something going on at the Quartier des Spectacles!
ALCOHOL & THE LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA
Let’s face it — people have always flocked to Montreal for its legal drinking age. And, as of October last year, a nation-wide legalization of recreational marijuana has compelled even more people to enjoy the lifestyle of this notoriously chill city. While purchasing and consuming pot is indeed legal, you might want to brush up on a few guidelines before partaking in the fun.
For all your joints, edibles, and oils, be sure to check out downtown’s SQDC weed dispensary. Just be sure to arrive early, as lines can literally circle the block. Enjoy responsibly.
970 Saint-Catherine W,
Montréal, QC, H3B 1E3
A Note on Alcohol in Quebec
Alcohol of all types can be purchased at a licensed SAQ, a government-operated liquor store franchise. You’ll find several SAQs along St. Catherine Street. Must be 18 years or older to purchase alcohol.
If you’re not looking for hard liquor, beer and wine (admittedly low-end wine) is sold at convenience stores, known locally as dépanneurs. In recent years, craft beer has become especially popular in Montreal, so “deps” usually stock a good selection of low-key brews.
GETTING THERE & AROUND
Walking is the easiest way to get around Centre-Ville — it’s free, healthy, and won’t leave you circling the block in search of parking.
Strapped for time? Montreal’s BIXI bike rental service is available widely throughout downtown, in addition to plenty of other neighbourhoods across the island. It’s a fast, healthy, and efficient way to get from Point A to Point B. Plus, Boulevard De Maisonneuve, which parallels Saint Catherine Street, has a designated bike path. If you’re not comfortable riding on two wheels, you can always call an UBER or hail a cab instead.
To soak up the local vibes, hop on the underground subway system, known as the Metro. Montreal’s downtown is connected along the Green Line for seven stops, between Atwater station in the west and Berri-Uqam station in the east. A one-way ticket costs $3.50, while a day-pass will set you back $10.00. You can find more information about fares and prices on the STM’s official website.
With thousands of options, this list hardly scratches the surface of things to see and do in downtown Montreal. Best advice? Put yourself out there and go with the flow! It’s a city of friendly people, beautiful parks, and eye-catching street art. Whatever you decide to do in Montreal, you’re sure to make lasting memories.