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8 Under-the-Radar Museums in Montreal

Skip the lines at the heavy hitters in favor of these fascinating, lesser-known destinations.
Hi, I'm Diane!

Based in Vancouver, B.C., Diane Selkirk enjoys writing stories where science, history, or social justice intersect with travel. Her work has appeared in BBC Travel, National Geographic Travel, and The Globe and Mail.

Montreal is one of Canada’s coolest cities, and its museums reflect its creativity, history, and unique character. While the urban center has plenty of famous cultural spots like the McCord and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, some of the city’s most interesting institutions are smaller, more intimate spots that reflect the area’s diverse communities and stunning natural landscape. So, when in Montreal, make like a local and skip the busier tourist attractions in favor of these more obscure treasures. Whether you want to explore the works of local artists or delve into the city’s archaeological history, you’re sure to find something to pique your interest.

1. Cinémathèque Québécoise

Cinémathèque Québécoise in Montreal
The Cinémathèque Québécoise is both a museum and a movie theater.Bildquelle: KLE2013 / Tripadvisor

Explore Canadian film history and take in a show.

This cozy downtown conservatory houses a huge collection of costumes, scripts, and movie-making ephemera from Canadian cinematic history. While the Cinémathèque Québécoise’s exhibits are typically small, the museum also houses a movie theater that screens under-the-radar films and TV shows ranging from documentaries to Westerns. It’s also conveniently near the bustling Rue St. Denis as well as the Place des Arts plaza—both perfect places to grab a drink and discuss the site's exhibits and films after your visit.

Don’t miss: The Guy-L.-Coté Media Library (Médiathèque Guy-L.-Coté) offers visitors free access to the museum’s extensive archives and makes onsite staff available to help with queries; visits by appointment only.

2. The Canadian Centre for Architecture

The Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal
Spend time both inside and outside the museum—its grounds include a sculpture garden.Bildquelle: John / Tripadvisor

Take time to consider the city around you.

Located in the Shaughnessy Village neighborhood (where it is surrounded by old brick walk-up apartment buildings), the Canadian Centre for Architecture (Centre Canadien d'Architecture) focuses on the role of architecture in everyday life. With multimedia exhibitions like “Visibly Iroquoian,” which examines Montreal’s indigenous context, and “File Under: Law and Policy,” which examines the “contradictions and ambiguities” in the laws surrounding building and architecture, the center offers visitors unique insight into urban planning and public policy in North America—and examines the way that built spaces impact people. A visit is sure to leave you with a deeper appreciation of the city.

Don’t miss: On a sunny day, the museum grounds—which include an architecture-themed sculpture garden—are ideal for picnicking.

3. The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site

The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site in Montreal
The warehouse that's now home to the museum once held thousands of pelts.Bildquelle: belleretraite / Tripadvisor

Learn about one of Montreal’s most impactful industries.

On the banks of the St. Lawrence River, at the end of the Lachine Canal, you’ll find a quaint stone warehouse dating back to the early 1800s. Once used to store the beaver, otter, and fox pelts brought to the city for sale, the building now houses The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site, a museum detailing the impact of the fur trade on the city and the country. Exhibits delve into the lives of the trappers, Indigenous Canadians, and voyageurs involved in the fur trade, and visitors can handle the kinds of pelts that were traded at the time. The museum is also surrounded by parkland and walking paths that you can explore after your visit.

Don’t miss: Some of the trails around the museum will take you through a nearby section of the Lachine Sculpture Garden (Jardin de sculptures de Lachine), an open-air museum with more than 50 large pieces of art.

4. Maison Saint-Gabriel

woman in period garb at Maison Saint-Gabriel in Montreal
Learn about 17th-century life in Montreal at Maison Saint-Gabriel.Bildquelle: Maison Saint-Gabriel / Tripadvisor

Step back in time and learn about settlers’ lives.

Set between two large parks, the picturesque Maison Saint-Gabriel has had a long and varied life. The property started off as part of a farm that fed members of the early congregation of Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal. The building was then converted into a preparatory school for young women, and, later, it was rebuilt as a home for the sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame. In 1966 it was converted into a museum focusing on what life was like for the area’s 17th-century settlers. Today, the house—surrounded by well-maintained gardens—recreates the living conditions of the building’s early residents and is filled with everyday objects such as spinning wheels and farm tools.

Don’t miss: During the warm months (late spring through early fall), visit the museum’s garden terrace, where you can sip herbal tea and enjoy a freshly prepared galette.

5. Montreal Insectarium

people looking at displays inside the Montreal Insectarium
The Montreal Insectarium is the largest museum dedicated to bugs in North America.Bildquelle: AdventureKA / Tripadvisor

Learn about everything from beautiful butterflies to creepy-crawlies.

As the largest insect museum in North America, the Montreal Insectarium is well-worth a visit (especially since it’s conveniently close to the Montreal Biodome as well as the fantastic Botanical Garden. Worm your way through the alcoves, an area designed to resemble human-sized insect habitats (where you can feel the ground vibrate beneath your feet), then head to the vivarium, where butterflies fly freely around you. Filled with plants and flowers, the Insectarium is a beautiful space to stop and wonder at the diversity of the insect world.

Don’t miss: Pick up an EntomoMiam box from the gift shop; it’s filled with gourmet, insect-based delicacies including truffles filled with dried blueberries, pumpkin seeds, and mealworms; and bee propolis pocky sticks served with wildflower-mealworm toppings.

6. Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal

Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal
While many people come to the Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal for the views, don't miss a visit to the crypt.Bildquelle: Koyococo97 / Tripadvisor

Visit the highest point in Montreal.

The soaring Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal was founded in 1904 by Saint André Bessette and attracts pilgrims from around the world. Full of vibrant colors and stained-glass windows, the building is one of Montreal’s most striking landmarks—and the top of its dome is the highest point in the city. You can explore the different areas of the building, including the cathedral, the church crypt, and the panoramic look-out, then visit Saint Joseph’s Oratory Museum—located on the fifth level of the basilica—which highlights religious art from Quebec and other parts of the world. It is especially noted for its collection of nativity scenes.

Don’t miss: The preserved heart of Saint André Bessette (the basilica’s founder)—which is considered a holy reliquary and draws pilgrims from around the world—is enshrined on the building’s fourth floor.

7. Pointe-à-Callière Museum

multimedia display in Pointe-à-Callière Museum in Montreal
The Pointe-à-Callière Museum is all about the history of Montreal.Bildquelle: AmarilisVos / Tripadvisor

Learn about the birth of the city.

The Old Port of Montreal is home to plenty of great attractions, and the Pointe-à-Callière Museum is one of the area’s top spots. The modern sandstone exterior of this archeology museum feels slightly out of place in the historic district, but inside the building is full of displays that focus on the history of the city and its inhabitants. Hands-on exhibits that let you pretend to board a pirate ship or take part in an archeological dig offer lots of fun for kids and adults alike.

Don’t miss: The museum often hosts conferences and visiting lecturers; check the event calendar to see what’s on offer.

8. Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal

Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal (Musée d'art Contemporain de Montréal)
See works by both Canadian and international artists at the Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal (Musée d'art Contemporain de Montréal).Bildquelle: Musée d'art Contemporain de Montréal / Tripadvisor

See works from up-and-coming artists alongside masterpieces from established icons.

The current site of the Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal—which is located in the Place Ville Marie shopping center until 2028, while its home at the Place Des Arts undergoes a multi-year renovation—offers a great way to learn about today’s art scene in a short amount of time. The museum presents multimedia exhibitions from Canadian and international artists, and exhibits are thoughtfully curated, bringing together the works of sculptors, performance artists, photographers, and others in thematic arrangements. Give yourself an hour to wander; the museum is a lovely respite from the bustle of downtown Montreal.

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