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Montreal has long been recognized as one of the most creative cities in North America, a reputation that extends through the tremendous output of music, visual arts, dance, and literature that emerges from the city. From galleries and museums to street art and artsy cafés, here are some of Montreal’s creative highlights that you won’t want to miss—even if you’ve only got a limited amount of time in the city.
Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal
The Musée d’art contemporain (MAC), which lies in the Quartier des Spectacles, has been exhibiting some of the best international contemporary art since opening in 1964. MAC offers a variety of digital and sound pieces, installations, ephemeral works, paintings, sculptures, and more. Visitors will also find performances and other festive events throughout the year at MAC.
Insider Tip: If you can, plan your trip around one of MAC’s popular Nocturne events—you won’t regret it! The concept of the Nocturnes is to open the museum’s doors past midnight so that visitors can explore the exhibitions, watch live performances, enjoy some drinks with friends, and more—well into the night.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts) is often referred to as the city’s most prestigious museum. A group of local art collectors and patrons created it in 1860, and today, the museum holds over 41,000 works that range from antiquity to the present day, including paintings, graphic arts, sculptures, photographs, and decorative art.
Insider Tip: To avoid potentially long entrance lines (especially for new visiting exhibitions), be sure to order your tickets online through the museum’s website.
Café des Arts / Galerie MAM
Located in the Bonsecours Market in the Old Port, Café des Arts offers different fresh and often local menu items, baked goods, and seasonal treats such as ice cream, in addition to strong, artisanal and fair-trade coffee. The café blends seamlessly with the gallery space, which presents contemporary creative work by local artists, especially young and emerging artists.
Café des Arts, 350 St Paul St E, Montreal, QC, Canada, +1 514 439 5353
Arts Café in the Mile End is probably best known for its brunch offerings, in addition to its coffee. With vintage décor details and a trendy vibe, this space is also used to host arts-related events throughout the year. It’s a great place to stop by during a long day of exploring Montreal’s artistic hot spots.
Arts Café, 201 Avenue Fairmount O, Montreal, QC, Canada, +1 514 274 0919
Montreal Art Centre
The Montreal Art Centre is a hub of the visual arts located in Griffintown, offering a space for up to 100 resident artists who work there in 65 studio spaces. The artists create and exhibit their work from these open personal studios, as well as in the Centre’s two public galleries: the Griffintown Gallery on the second floor and the William Street Gallery on the first floor.
Montreal Art Centre, 1844 William St, Montreal, QC, Canada, +1 514 667 2270
La Guilde is a non-profit historical gallery and museum of Canadian art that has been preserving, promoting, and encouraging the creation of fine crafts for over a century. With an emphasis on contemporary art, the Guilde specializes in Inuit, Métis, and First Nations creations that will give you insight into the diversity of Canadian crafts and artwork.
La Guilde, 1356 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, QC, Canada, +1 514 849 6091
Visit the Mural Festival
Montreal is celebrated for the diversity of its street art, which visitors can admire through many of its neighbourhoods—from downtown through the Plateau, Mile End, Rosemont, and beyond. The city hosts an annual international public art festival that focuses on murals and mural-making. During this week-long celebration, Boulevard Saint-Laurent becomes an open-air gallery where local and international artists can showcase their creative talents. In 2016, the festival drew over one million visitors.
Take a street art tour
Even if you don’t visit Montreal during the Mural Festival, you can enjoy the city’s impressive displays of street art through a street art tour that will take you through the trendy Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood with a professional guide. Gaining insight into the process and stories behind each mural will lend depth to the vivid colors and designs of these enormous works of public art.
Located in Outremont, Rumi is a Middle Eastern restaurant with a creative edge. This cozy spot is tucked away from the main routes and features an interior layout that is similar to Turkish restaurants (namely low tables with cushioned seating). Its décor is a combination of Arabic, Persian and Turkish influences, reflecting the intricacies of pattern and design in traditional Islamic art.
After dinner, consider heading just across the street to La Croissanterie Figaro, a café/bakery that also has a creative Art Deco interior and cheesecake that can’t be missed.
Rumi, 5198 Hutchison St, Outremont, QC, Canada, +1 514 490 1999
La Croissanterie Figaro, 5200 Hutchison St, Outremont, QC, Canada, +1 514 278 6567
Haitian-themed restaurant Agrikol marks Montreal band Arcade Fire’s foray into the restaurant world, a project jointly created with top Toronto restaurateurs Jen Agg and Roland Jean. With its colorful décor, which includes sculptures and art pieces brought from Haiti by the owners, this two-story space serves delicious rum-based cocktails and Haitian plates such as rice and plantains, griot or oxtail. This vivid restaurant is a great place to have a meal at after a long day of exploring Montreal’s art scene, adding color and drawing from the city’s diversity.
Agrikol, 1844 Amherst St, Montreal, QC, Canada, +1 514 903 6575