Montreal is a melting pot of stories waiting to be told and experienced. In this city, a UNESCO-endorsed historic château stands alongside a space dedicated entirely to the captivating world of insects. There's a museum that explores Canada's Indigenous roots and others still that transport you to the avant-garde edge of contemporary art.
Here are eight standout Montreal museums that show the city is a cultural powerhouse:
Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum
Where: 400, rue Saint-Paul Est
When: Daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cost: $14/adults, $7/students
Reason to go: This Old Montreal museum offers a unique blend of history, spirituality, and architectural splendor. It pays tribute to Marguerite Bourgeoys, the city's first teacher and the founder of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame. Visitors can delve into Montreal's early history, explore the archeological remains of the city's first chapel, and even ascend the tower for panoramic views of the Old Port.
Where: 280, rue Notre-Dame Est
When: Every day, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: $13.50/adults, $10/students
Reason to go: Once the residence of Montreal's governors, this museum is among the oldest buildings in North America. Its collection boasts over 30,000 artifacts, providing a detailed narrative of Montreal's urban history, from Indigenous settlements to the modern age. One of its standout exhibits is the Governor’s Garden, a recreated 18th-century garden where visitors can discover the culinary and medicinal plants grown during the period. Interactive modules let visitors touch, hear, and smell elements from centuries gone by. Notably, the museum also commemorates the American invasion of Montreal during the Revolutionary War, making it a significant landmark for both Canadian and American history. It was even selected by a team of experts, in collaboration with UNESCO, as one of the 1001 historic sites you must see before you die.
Musée des Beaux Arts
Where: 1380, rue Sherbrooke Ouest
When: Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (open until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays)
Cost: $24/ages 31+, $16/ages 21 to 30, Free/ages 20 and under
Reason to go: As one of Montreal's premier attractions, this downtown museum offers visitors a direct encounter with the creativity and genius of artists from different eras and parts of the world. Spanning five pavilions, the MBAM houses over 43,000 works. Pieces in the vast collection, ranging from historical artifacts to contemporary, are sure to evoke all kinds of emotions, from awe to contemplation. The architecture itself, especially in the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion, plays with light and space in such a way that it becomes a living artwork. Each space invites quiet reflection, which can make every visit feel like a personal journey of discovery.
Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal
Where: Place Ville Marie (temporarily while the main location is renovated)
When: Tuesday to Sunday, varying hours
Reason to go: The downtown museum's exhibitions encompass everything from painting and sculpture to video art, performance pieces, and emerging digital art forms. Its ever-evolving displays give visitors a fresh perspective on the contemporary art world. The MAC houses work from renowned Canadian and international artists, as well as emerging talents. Beyond its visual exhibits, the museum also engages visitors with an array of public programs, artist talks, and immersive workshops. With its rotating exhibitions, you'll be introduced to the avant-garde visions, and often, you'll find yourself being an active participant rather than a passive onlooker.
Centre des Mémoires Montréalaises (formerly the Centre d'histoire de Montreal)
Where: 1210, boulevard Saint-Laurent
When: Opens at the end of summer 2023
Reason to go: This museum is as much about artifacts as stories charting the city's evolution. The downtown reincarnation of the Centre d'histoire de Montreal, it personalizes history, introducing you to the characters and communities that have shaped the metropolis, making history feel immediate and relatable. As you walk through its exhibits, you'll encounter the voices of Montreal: from tales of Indigenous peoples to the echoes of European settlers, from moments of revolutionary change to personal anecdotes of everyday life.
Where: 4581, rue Sherbrooke Est
When: Daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cost: $17/residents, $13.25/students
Reason to go: This museum in the Montreal Botanical Garden is a gateway to the often-overlooked world of insects, offering a chance to explore the diverse and intricate realm of these tiny titans. It boasts one of North America's largest insect collections. As you wander through exhibits, you'll be introduced to vibrant beetles, delicate butterflies, and curious stick insects from all corners of the globe. There's even a massive live butterfly enclosure. It's a place of discovery, where the fascinating life cycles, behaviors, and adaptations of insects are brought to the forefront. Interactive displays and live insect encounters enrich the experience, ensuring that both the young and the young-at-heart leave with a newfound appreciation for these essential members of our ecosystem.
Where: 690, rue Sherbrooke Ouest
When: Daily, hours vary
Cost: $20/adults, $15/students
Reason to go: This downtown museum is a testament to Canada's rich history and diverse culture. You can marvel at the world's largest collection of Indigenous artifacts, shedding light on the rich tapestry of First Nations cultures. The museum also offers a stunning array of photographs, costumes, and textiles, allowing you to visually journey through different eras of Canadian life. But it's not just about the past; the McCord also actively bridges history with contemporary issues, ensuring relevant and engaging exhibitions. Every exhibit ensures that your understanding of Canada is both deepened and broadened during a visit.
Where: 407, rue Saint-Pierre
When: Daily, times vary
Reason to go: You might know the PHI Centre as the host of Yayoi Kusama's memorable exhibitions. As a hub for the arts and multimedia, this Old Montreal destination pushes the boundaries of traditional exhibitions, fusing technology, art, and immersive experiences to redefine the way we engage with creativity. Virtual reality experiences are a mainstay here, allowing you to step into alternate worlds or view our own through a fresh lens. You can also interact with installations that react to your presence, creating a dance of colours and sounds unique to your movement. And it's not just about visuals. If you're keen on sensory adventures, the PHI Centre offers exhibits that play with sight, sound, and touch.