Home to incredible musicians, dozens of festivals (including the world’s largest jazz, and comedy festivals), a large food scene, and practically 24 hour nightlife, there is always something to do in Montreal. But Montreal is also a city with a dark and seedy past. It has been over 375 years since Montreal was colonized, and as a centre of European culture in North America, it has a coloured and cultured history. Montreal was also a hotbed for prohibition era booze smuggling, gambling, and prostitution. Our Alternative Guide to Montreal is the best way to experience that history.

If you are planning a trip to Montreal, there are plenty of ways to immerse yourself in its morbid history. Montreal is home to famous garden cemeteries, Catholic relics, the supernatural, and more. Check out our alternative guide to montreal, break open your english-to-french dictionary, put on some comfortable shoes, and experience the joie de vivre that is Montreal.

The Alternative Guide to Montreal

Picnic in a Cemetery

Alternative Guide to Montreal

Mount Royal Cemetery

For a moody drink, visit Else’s or Dominion Square Tavern. If taxidermy is more your thing, visit Bily Kun. Want to live the history of Montreal’s booze-smuggling past? Check out this new speakeasy.
Opened in 1852, Mount Royal cemetery was one of the first Garden Cemeteries in the world. The Romantic period refined notions of sentiment and respectability in the Victorian era and it is during this time that we see the Garden cemetery taking shape. Cemeteries went from morose and bleak places of exaggerated death to being public places of contemplation and beauty.

A walk through Mount Royal will introduce you to over 100 species of trees and flora, historical Chinese burial grounds, potter’s fields, mausoleums (including one belonging to the Molson family), and even a beautiful Jewish section. After visiting the cemetery, you can grab lunch on Parc Avenue, or have a picnic in Jeanne-Mance park.

Cote-des-Neiges Cemetery

Located beside Mount-Royal cemetery, but on the other side of the mountain (separated by an iron fence), is Cote-des-Neiges cemetery. Founded in 1854, Cote-des-Neiges is the Catholic counterpart to Mount-Royal cemetery. Like Mount-Royal, it is an architectural mix of garden cemetery and lawn cemetery, and is home to many famous Canadians. Of note is the war veteran section of the cemetery, which is connected to Mount Royal. Cote-des-Neiges is particularly lovely in the winter.

See the Preserved Heart of Brother André 

Saint-Joseph’s Oratory

Saint-Joseph’s Oratory is a behemoth of a church and is visible from almost any point in the city. Inside you will find multiple chapels, a cave with miraculous healing powers, and the actual preserved heart of Brother André. Two million people visit the oratory each year, many making a pilgrimage by climbing the outdoor staircase on their knees. Once at the top, you can witness one of the best views of the city. The Church is also famous for its supposed healing powers, so make sure to light a candle!

Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal

Built in the 1870s, this church is a replica of the famous Notre-Dame Basilica in Paris. One of the largest churches in Montreal, there are plenty of events that occur here. Of note are the relics of Saint Marguerite Bourgeois, Saint Marguerite d’Youville, Brother André of Saint Joseph’s Oratory, and others housed within the church. It is also located in the Old Port of Montreal, which is the must see neighbourhood whose cobble stone streets will transport you to Europe.

Dorchester Square

Most Montréalers are not aware that the bodies over 38,000 human beings were buried under Dorchester Square in the 19th century, when Place du Canada was formerly a part of the Sainte-Antoine Cemetery. The cemetery had its largest influx of burials after the cholera and typhus disease outbreaks in 1832-1854, leaving over 7500 dead. The cemetery was eventually relocated, but thousands of bodies remain buried in the downtown core.

Take a Ghost Tour

Meat eaters will want to check out Joe Beef (named after the temperance era tavern owner).
Montreal was a working class city and like other working class, industrial cities, it has had its fair share of death. A ghost tour of Montreal will let you walk the streets once populated by prostitutes, Irish immigrants, gambling houses, and a history of sin. There are a few tour companies so do your research before booking.


Mummies, Dinosaurs, & Dead Bodies

Redpath Museum

Named after the Redpath family and located on McGill's campus, this museum is a throwback to the old days of the human and hard sciences. Inside you will find sections dedicated to rocks and gems, material culture from around the world, dinosaur bones, real mummies, human skulls, and taxidermy. It houses a small but impressive collection, and is worth seeing. Best of all, it's free!


This museum of archeology and history was opened in 1992 and is currently listed as a national historic and archeological site. Pointe-à-Callière presents centuries of history from the settlements of Indigenous People to the present day. The museum lets you literally walk the path that the early settlers walked, and immerse yourself in Indigenous history. This museum doesn't always make the list of 'must-see' destinations in Montreal, but trust us, it is worth the trip.

Alternative Nightlife in Montreal

Experience Mordecai Richler's childhood by walking down St-Urbain St. & Parc Ave in the Mile End district. Leonard Cohen fans can take a break in Parc du Portugal in the Plateau district, where you can see the apartment he lived in most of his life.
Montreal is known for its nightlife, and festival scene. But if popular attractions aren't your thing, we've got you covered. For a wild night, check out Montreal's oldest punk and metal bar, Foufounes Electriques. For more metal, Katacombs is just down the street. Looking to get some new ink? The Annual Art Tattoo Convention takes place every September, featuring tattoo artists from around the world.

Finishing off our alternative guide to Montreal, those of you who want to experience Montreal's famous 'alternative' nightlife will want to visit Club Sin, or come for the annual Montreal Fetish Weekend. Pride is also a big deal in Montreal, with a week of events culminating in a huge pride march. 


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