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A local's guide to hidden Montreal

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29 January 2013 by Luke McCormick

Montreal is a very popular destination with visitors and here we get a local's take on five must-see hidden highlights. Each year, thousands of people from around the world come over to Quebec's largest and most vibrant city. Groups of visitors can be seen walking in the streets of Old Montreal, lining-up to visit the Olympic stadium's tower, climbing the Mont-Royal and taking pictures of themselves on the Belvedere.

If you care to wander away from the crowds, get off the beaten path and discover another face of Montreal, here are five ‘hidden' spots to help you do just that.

The Plaza St-Hubert

Located in the heart of the young, lively residential neighborhood of Rosemont-La Petite Patrie, the Plaza St-Hubert is totally interesting. This outdoor mall stretches across four blocks and is a unique combination of kitsch and oddities of all kinds. You'll find all sorts of things here, from glittery gowns, to fake snow-covered garden gnomes and shiny platform shoes. Don't miss the infamous display of worn out baby dolls in a children's store window. These little guys will chill you to the bone.

The Jean-Talon market

The Jean-Talon market, located in the heart of Little Italy, is the largest open-air market in North America. Take time to really wander in this huge display of fresh foods and fine products. While you're at it, why not make a reservation at one of the many restaurants that are established near the market? A lot of them, like Kitchen Gallery change their menu according to the daily arrivals at the market.

The ‘Mile-Ex'

Squeezed between the neighborhoods of Mile-End and Parc Extension (hence the name), the Mile-Ex is an old industrial neighborhood. A few years ago, a bunch of architects showed interest in this tiny, isolated part of Montreal. They obtained the city's permission to transform and completely modify some of the buildings - something that is forbidden in most other Montreal neighborhoods. The result? The Mile-Ex is now a unique blend of avant-garde architecture, old industrial garages and traditional Montreal buildings. Since most of its streets are dead-ends and one-ways, the Mile-Ex is remarkably quiet, generally car-free and perfect for an afternoon walk.

The Flea Market St-Michel (Marché Aux Puces St-Michel)

The ultimate spot to make unique finds. This flea market, open Friday to Sunday each week, will remind you of Ali Baba's cave, with furniture, artwork, antiques, clothes and more piling up in the alleys of this labyrinth. Going through the whole market can be dizzying, but also amazing. Chances are you'll finally find the item you've been looking for all this time, and you'll most likely get it at a pretty decent price.

Big in Japan bar

This spot is so hidden even some Montrealers don't know it exists. The Big in Japan bar is located on St-Laurent Boulevard, the epicentre of Montreal's nightlife. But chances are you'll walk right passed it without even noticing it. The only sign of its existence are three little letters spelling ‘BAR' and a few Japanese signs written on the blurry window of an industrial-looking door. Inside, candlelight and vintage music creates a mysterious, one-of-a-kind ambiance.

Mireille is a travel, music and theatre enthusiast. She has written for the stage and television, and is now working as a freelance blogger for SkySpa, one of Quebec City's best spas.

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