Montreal’s amalgam of languages, cultures, and styles makes it one of the most unique and exciting cities to visit in North America. From the terasses to the Tam-tams (an impromptu drum circle that gathers on Mont-Royal every weekend in the summer), an artistic, offbeat spirit defines the city.
The world’s 2nd largest French-speaking city is also a design lover’s paradise where modern design flourishes and Brutalist architecture never got a bad name. Montreal takes design so seriously the city even has a Design Commissioner whose job is to promote the development and awareness of good design.
The next time you’re in Montreal, follow our guide to discover some of its most surprising architecture and design hotspots:
Art and design in conversation
A visit to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is worth it for the building alone, a modernist palace designed by Moshe Safdie housed across the street from a more classic Beaux-Arts building. Luckily, the museum’s contents are just as striking as its exterior, boasting a world-class collection of antiquities and contemporary art. Design lovers should proceed straight to the Decorative Arts and Design gallery, which houses an astonishing collection of postwar design including furniture designed by mid-century favorites Isamu Noguchi, Charles and Ray Eames, and Frank Gehry, as well as Ettore Sottsass, whose cartoonish, humorous aesthetic helped establish the memorable style of the Memphis Group.
1380 Sherbrooke St W, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1J5
Lécher les vitrines
Griffintown may be Montreal’s official design district, but Le Plateau is its spiritual heart. Walk down the stretch of Saint-Laurent Boulevard between rue Saint-Joseph and rue Bernard you’ll find a preponderance of indie boutiques worth popping into. Boutique Jamais Assez sells jaw-droppingly sleek furniture as well as smaller design items such as minimalist tea kettles, tapered candles, and perfect ceramic cups. Further down the street, there’s Empire Exchange, a half-vintage-store half-souvenir-shop hawking splatterware dishes and trinkets from a number of independent Canadian designers. Nearby is the flagship of Maguire, a Montreal-based shoe brand where the bright, minimalist design of the store highlights the brand’s elegant-yet-practical footwear. Should all this window-shopping make you hungry, pop into Lawrence for a glass of pét-nat wine, one of Montreal’s best restaurants that just happen to resemble the cozy living room of a 19th-century aristocrat.
A haven for architecture
Located on a pastoral property in the center of downtown, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) could be viewed as a metaphor for the entire city: a strikingly austere concrete oasis is conjoined with a well-preserved Victorian house creating an exciting conversation between old and new. The CCA translates the rarefied aesthetic of an art book into a physical space. It’s neither a museum nor a gallery, rather a site that explores how architecture plays a role in shaping society. You might leave with as many questions as you entered with, but they’ll be good ones.
1920 rue Baile, Montreal, Quebec H3H 2S6
A pleasant playhouse
It’s impossible to walk past Pastel Rita and not feel compelled to step inside. The colorful café feels a bit like a millennial playhouse, decked out in charming shades of soft pink, creamy yellow, and turquoise, with a neon light that reads “Artsy Fartsy” in the bathroom. It’s the perfect place to order a coffee—or glass of natural wine — and bang out work emails. The task will be far less begrudging when surrounded by such cheerful, upbeat design.
5761 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, Quebec H2T 1S9
Blast from the past
Used as a colonial fur trading post as early as the 1600s, Old Montreal is one of the oldest urban areas in North America. The cobblestone streets and historic façades make the neighborhood one of Montreal’s most notable tourist attractions, but it’s still worth a gander. Many of the archaic buildings have been transformed into hip cafes and art galleries, like Fondation Phi, where the audacious programming is always thought-provoking and shock value in equal measure. Amidst the cobblestone streets is SSENSE, the physical outpost of the e-commerce behemoth, which houses a Brutalist concrete interior designed by David Chipperfield inside the original building. Skip the three floors of clothes and head to the fifth floor, where you can order small bites at the café and sit amongst rows of Montreal’s cool kids.
451 Rue Saint Jean, Montreal, QC H2Y 2R5
18 St Sulpice St, Montreal, Quebec H2Y 2V5
Visiting Montreal? Celebrate design by staying in one of our spaces.