15 Montreal Museums You Have to See
Montreal's Top 15 Museums
According to the Institut de la statistique du Québec, close to seven million people pass through Montreal's museums annually, no surprise for a city often dubbed Canada's cultural capital.
Among its fleet of close to 50 institutions, the following 15 Montreal museums are especially popular with both locals and travelers. Some feature the art of master painters and sculptors, others recreate ecosystems originating from halfway around the globe, and yet others retell the stories of generations long gone, be they an Egyptian mummy in the flesh or a wooden statue inexplicably unscathed by fire.
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
The second-most visited art museum in Canada after Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum in 2015, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was prior to that the most frequented art museum in Canada for two consecutive years, according to The Art Newspaper.
And with the unveiling of its brand new Pavilion for Peace last November 2016 the MMFA risks jumping to first place yet again with over 750 new works on display by masters exemplifying a slew of periods and styles, from Andy Warhol's pop art to the emotive virtues of Romanticism in addition to sections devoted to Impressionism, Italian Renaissance art, and Baroque, notably Caravaggism and Snyders' visceral interpretation of still life.
Exploring both contemporary art and ancient cultures, the MMFA's permanent collection features over 41,000 pieces covering art and archaeology from the four corners of the globe, from ancient Egypt and Greece to ancient Near and Far East, South America, and more.
Montreal Science Centre IMAX
The Montreal Science Centre IMAX is a hot draw at the Old Port, attracting over 700,000 visitors every year with its interactive, family-friendly exhibits centering on science and technnology, some of the most entertaining and accessible of their kind in the city.
Previous exhibits include Body Worlds, Dinosaurs Unearthed, Indiana Jones and the Adventures of Archaeology, and Star Wars: Identities.
The Montreal Science Centre also houses an IMAX theatre screening the latest all-ages nature, travel, and science documentaries.
Montreal Botanical Garden
With 30 thematic gardens open May through October and ten greenhouses accessible year-round and attracting up to 900,000 visitors annually, you could spend the day relaxing on Montreal Botanical Garden grounds in warmer months, particular during terrace season when the Garden serves happy hour cocktails to the tune of live music.
In the winter and early spring when gardens freeze over, locals cross country ski on the land as staff release thousands of butterflies in the greenhouses. The annual event is called Butterflies Go Free and it rivals the dazzle of the Garden's annual fall draw, Gardens of Light, when hundreds of Chinese lanterns handcrafted in Shanghai are spread out across the grounds.
Attracting well over 800,000 visitors a year, the Montreal Biodome proposes live exhibits of flora and fauna across its five ecosystems recreating living conditions as varied as that of a tropical forest and the South Pole. Over 500 plant species and 4,500 animals from 250 different species are housed in the nature museum.
And they're all native to the Americas, from the red-bellied piranhas and yellow anacondas to the American beaver and Canadian lynx.
Located right on Montreal Botanical Garden grounds is the Montreal Insectarium, the largest bug museum in North America. Roughly 300,000 visitors step through its doors every year to check out 150,000 arthropod specimens including 100 live species on site. Tarantulas, scorpions, and centipedes are part of the mix as are edible insects. Try them if you dare.
See Also: Montreal Zoos
In the same neighborhood as the Montreal Biodome, the Insectarium, and the Montreal Botanical Garden, sci-fi and astronomy buffs will feel at home at the Montreal Planetarium, a science museum which attracts somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 visitors a year primed to examine the 300 meteorites it's gathered on location.
Visitors can watch astronomy shows in its two domed theatres, some of which give audience members the sensation they are gazing "out at the Universe from the perspective of planet Earth." In the words of management, its Milky Way Theatre hybrid projection system, "can create a pitch-black sky making for a more intense experience and more realistic simulation."
Montreal Contemporary Art Museum
The museum's focus is strictly contemporary art, with an accent on Quebec works as well as the showcasing of international artists via its permanent collection and temporary exhibits.
Montreal has had its own wax museum since 2013, named after and in association with the infamous Musée Grévin in Paris. Located on the 5th floor of downtown Montreal shopping mall the Eaton Centre, one hundred twenty celebrities, both local and international, alive and dead, are primed to pose.
Consider grabbing a bite at Café Grévin while you're there. The pastries are signed Christian Faure, one of the city's finest pastry chefs whose previous mandates include working at Maison Dalloyau Pâtisserie in Paris and heading a team of 65 pastry artists at the Prince of Monaco Palace.
A natural science gem tucked away in McGill University's downtown campus, the Redpath Museum is like a cabinet of curiosities. Dinosaurs bones here, a shrunken head there, keep your eyes peeled for its ancient Egyptian mummies on the second floor.
And when you're done at the free admission museum, go shopping. Five downtown Montreal shopping malls are less than five minutes away by foot.
A Montreal history museum a quick walk from the Redpath Museum, the McCord Museum features well over one million objects exploring Canadian history dating as far back as the 11th century.
An all-ages environment museum housed in a geodesic dome at Parc Jean-Drapeau, the Montreal Biosphere was originally the USA Pavilion for Expo 67 but was eventually redesigned and repurposed to serve as a museum hub for exploring pressing environmental concerns via its hands-on interactive exhibits that delight kids of all ages (see photo).
Some rooms are so kid-friendly, they seem like playground extensions. Another bonus is admission is free for ages 17 and under.
Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum
If you're taken by the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel's and Maguerite Bourgeoys Museum's exterior, wait until you see inside.
The chapel lies on the site of the oldest one ever built on Montreal soil. It houses the body of a saint and is rich with historical and archaeological significance dating back 2,400 years.
Ultimately, the most interesting aspect of the chapel and adjacent museum lay in their subject, Marguerite Bourgeoys, the nun and saint behind the chapel's 1771 incarnation, a bonafide feminist before her time, a force of nature who turned the then harsh colony into a sustainable community.
One of the miracles associated with Bourgeoys was how decades after her death, when her original chapel burned in a fire circa 1754, a wooden statuette of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours which she had brought back from France in 1672 to eventually adorn her 1675 chapel was found intact among the ashes.
Pointe-à-Callière is Old Montreal's instantly recognizable museum of history and archaeology.
It sits on the actual birthplace of Montreal and features not only urban archaeological digs and a crypt but also international exhibits covering subjects as varied as Ancient Greece, the Aztecs, Ancient China, biblical archaeology, and more.
Montreal's only outdoor wildlife park, the Ecomuseum Zoo features 115 species native to Quebec, from the black bear to the bald eagle and arctic fox.
The Ecomuseum proposes several special events a year including opportunities to meet the animals up close with a trained zoologist.
Canadian Centre for Architecture
Urban planners and architects converge at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, a downtown museum known for its technical exhibits that, at times, go above the heads of the average layperson.
If you're not sure if this is your proverbial cup of tea, head down to the Centre on Thursdays after 5 p.m. to scope out the exhibits when it's free admission.