7 things you can only do in Montréal

Jamie O'Meara

Jamie O'Meara is Editor-in-Chief at C2 Montréal and the former Editor-in-Chief of alt-weekly newspaper HOUR Magazine.

This article was updated on September 15, 2020.

Anyone who’s ever been to Montréal knows it’s in a category all its own when it comes to the incredible range of things one can do, whether it’s related to the arts, entertainment, sports, food, leisure… the list goes on and on. That said, there are certain (awesome) things you can only do in Montréal. Here are seven of them…

1. Hang 10, urban-surfing style

The only thing that could make Montréal any more fun is if you could surf here. Too bad it’s not even remotely close to an ocean. Wait… what’s that you say? Yes, urban surfing in Montréal is a thing, and a very popular thing at that. The fast-flowing St. Lawrence River, which wraps around the Island of Montréal, has a number of white-water rapids along its course, and several of these have what are called standing waves. These are permanent waves — you go to them; they don’t come to you. Many of them, like Guy’s Wave and Big Joe (not for the faint of heart), are located just minutes from downtown and are ideal for river surfing. And if river surfing isn’t in your bag of tricks yet, not to worry: one-of-a-kind Montréal nautical centre KSF — specialists in SUP (stand up paddleboard), river surfing, recreational kayaking, white-water kayaking and even SUP yoga — offers river surfing packages that include instruction.

2. Chow down at a 100-metre-long storybook table

Prenez Place! has the wonderful, whimsical feel of a setting straight out of Alice In Wonderland: a bright yellow, meandering, 100-metre-long (328-foot) outdoor table that is equal parts art installation, tea party fantasy and amazing, shady place to sit and read or share a meal safely with family and friends. Situated at the corner of Sainte-Catherine and Clark Streets in the Quartier des Spectacles, Prenez Place! — or Take a Seat!, designed by Adhoc Architectes — is one of several outdoor public spaces, or TULIPs (Terrasses urbaines libres au public), that are part of the reimagining of downtown Montréal this summer. The undulating table, featuring artistic renderings of wine glasses, lamps, candle sticks, candelabras and more, is covered in a “forest” canopy and is a must when it comes to the many things to see and do downtown before summer’s end.

3. Feel like you’re in an alien world at Frédéric-Back Park

Sprawling out in front of you is a vast, slightly wild expanse, dotted with white orbs that glow phosphorescently at dusk; intriguing, futuristic constructions emerge from the landscape. There’s only one place you can be, and it’s not on another planet: Frédéric-Back Park. Located in the heart of the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex, this enormous former quarry has for the last 25 years been transformed into one of Montréal’s largest green spaces with a surface area similar to that of Mount Royal Park. The park features walking and biking trails, picnic areas, works of art and lookouts with views of downtown, Mount Royal and the Olympic Stadium. And those glowing orbs? They’re specially designed spheres covering the biogas capture wells. Cool.

4. Explore five distinct ecosystems in one place

Scratch your travel itch with an adventurous trip that takes you through the wilds of Canada to the lushness of the tropics to remote islands in Subantarctic seas — all in one day and under one vast roof. The hugely popular Biodôme de Montréal — located in the sprawling and spectacular Space for Life, the largest natural sciences museum complex in Canada — offers an immersive, multisensory walking tour through five ecosystems of the Americas: Tropical RainforestGulf of St. Lawrence, Laurentian Maple Forest, Labrador Coast and Sub-Antarctic Islands. Reopened in 2020 after an extensive two-year reinvention and renovation, the Biodôme is home to 2,500 animals representing 200 different species as well as more than 800 plant species. So, go see penguins, piranhas, tamarin monkeys, sloths, lynx, sturgeon, otters and so much more in meticulously recreated natural environments.

5. Climb a mountain in the middle of the city

Okay, so it’s not exactly K2, but Mount Royal (known simply as “the mountain” to Montrealers) is the city’s big, green crown jewel and we happen to be quite proud of it. Standing 233 metres (or almost 765 feet), the tree-covered mountain is an iconic symbol of the city piled high with other iconic symbols of the city: Saint Joseph’s Oratory, the mountaintop Mount Royal Chalet, the stately former Royal Victoria Hospital, Percival Molson Memorial Stadium (where Montréal’s pro football team, the Alouettes, play) and, of course, most iconic of all, the Mount Royal Cross. There are numerous hiking and biking paths ascending to the mountain’s “belvederes,” where truly incredible views of the city may be found, while the more ambitious among us can climb the stairs leading up from des Pins Avenue.

6. Visit an open-air gallery — across the street from a drag bar

Free art, all day and all night, 365 days a year, rain or shine? Sign us up! Situated outdoors in the heart of Montréal’s Village, in a lot at the corner of Sainte-Catherine Street East and Wolfe Street, Galerie blanc’s goal is to make creativity accessible to the general public while encouraging contemplation. Visitors can currently contemplate the colourful Village Motel exhibition, an examination of 60 years of pop culture, or hop across the street and contemplate the city’s top drag performers at the legendary Cabaret Mado, founded by Montréal drag icon Mado Lamotte. Shows nightly.

7. Grab a steamie and poutine at a giant orange

You can’t miss it: a humungous, four-storey orange right next to one of Montréal’s major thoroughfares, the Décarie Expressway. And an orange that serves food at that. Generations of Montrealers have indulged cravings for steamies (hot dogs with steamed buns), burgers, fries and poutine served by roller-skating waitresses at the iconic Gibeau Orange Julep diner, built in 1966 and now an obvious fave of Instagrammers. Though the skating waitresses have long since rolled off into history, patrons can still avail themselves of the landmark’s signature frothy, orange-based beverage, the recipe for which remains a Gibeau family secret.

Jamie O'Meara

Jamie O'Meara is Editor-in-Chief at C2 Montréal and the former Editor-in-Chief of alt-weekly newspaper HOUR Magazine.

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