Hidden Gems of the YUL (Montreal)

Canada’s second City has recently become my second home, thanks to my wifey (Happy Valentine’s day babe).  When my parents first immigrated to Canada, Montreal was the first port of call and was certainly more well-known than Toronto or any other City.  After all they had the Expo and the Olympics.  But the more I go there (and more so after I married a Montrealer) the more I realise the amount of hidden gems in this great City.  Here are some off beat things that are worth seeing in the City – especially after you see the main tourist sites of Old Montreal and the Museums.

  1. Cite Des Arts Du Cirque (aka Tohu). It sits in the north end of the city in what used to be a former cement quarry, later a dump. Here you will find the headquarters of the world renowned Cirque du Soleil.  The circus campus includes  the National Circus School.  The Circus school is open a few times per year (check their calendar) and it has it’s own circus memorabilia collection. You can also ask for specific tours of the building.  If you have the time, you could also stay for a show in June at night which features graduates of the school.
  2. The Native American garden within the Leslie Hancock garden inside the Botanical Gardens.The Leslie Hancock garden of azaleas and related plants is totally hidden so as to make for a micro-climate and is in flower only for a few weeks in June. The Native American garden is really informative about the environment of the first nations around Montreal, the Alpine garden, the shade garden, the garden of the senses for the blind, etc. Even go at the extreme end of the arboretum to visit the tree house. Plus the fact that the Garden’s collection of Bonsai trees is the largest in the Western Hemisphere.  This is great for those muggy summers and although botanical gardens are not seen as the most “wow” destinations” – once you’re there the natural beauty will leave you in awe.
  3. See a film in the dome of the Stratosphere, the Society for Arts and Technology’s semi-circular projection room, and your mind will be thoroughly blown. The immersive experience is truly a unique and goes beyond what you find in an IMAX – more akin to a VR experience.  Make sure to check out the schedule of showings to make sure you find something you like.
  4. Pointe a Callière museumis often overlooked but the museums architecture alone should make this a destination. Inside you can find an archaeological crypt and see the only remnants of the 1744 fortifications that used to stand there. This permanent exhibition about Montreal’s history delves into everything from the First Nations communities to the present.  A great synopsis of the City in a very coles-note to the point museum format.
  5. Try the Marché Jean-Talon, it is one of the oldest and largest public markets in North America. Accessible in both summer and winter months you can find colourful fruits, vegetables, cheeses, oils spices, flowers, baked goods, and more local artisanal products.
  6. Café Chat L’Heureux is proud to be North America’s first ever cat café. It is open to anyone who wants to cuddle up with a cat and a warm cup of coffee. The bistro offers hot and cold drinks, pastries, cakes, sandwiches, and salads, along with vegan and gluten-free options. This is truly an original place that gathers many travellers, but also many locals who love to hang out while enjoying the benefits of cat-therapy. More of a dog person? Le Doggy Café on Papineau could be your cup of tea!
  7. Bota Bota is a spa that floats on the Saint Lawrence River located at the Old Port, meaning you’ll get great views of Montreal. This floating spa experience offers a water circuit, massages and several other relaxing treatments.

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