Montreal is one of those cities that fascinates me. The only part of Canada I’ve seen was just across the bridge at Niagara Falls, so when Laura from She Who Wanders offered to write a guest post all about the best free things to do in Montreal, I was thrilled! Here she shares all her top tips for visiting Montreal on a budget, so you can make the most of the city without breaking the bank
Montreal is considered by many to be the cultural capital of Canada and is the second-most populous city in the country. It is also one of the most cosmopolitan, filled with a rich history of French colonialism and more recently a blend of cultures from all over the world. These are some of my favourite free things to do in Montreal, I hope you enjoy exploring the city with me!
The Best Free Things to do in Montreal
Visit Mont Royal
No trip to Montreal would be complete without visiting the place that gave Montreal its name. Mont Royal, also known as “The Mountain” is part of the Monteregie hills and is actually a large volcanic hill.
Here you’ll find what is possibly the best view in the whole city from the lookout. Montreal is especially pretty in Autumn with all the changing leaves, and the view from here is stunning! Visitors can drive up to Beaver Lake which is a gorgeous spot for a walk, a picnic or just to enjoy the views, or go skating in the winter, and walk up to the lookout.
From the Mont Royal lookout, you can also reach The Summit, which is a fantastic hike. Here is where you’ll find a massive steel cross that can be seen from most parts of the city and lights up a night.
Bike along The Lachine Canal
Stretching nearly 14km from Montreal’s Old Port this is the perfect way to see the city and still be in nature. This waterway was once used as a way for passenger ships and boats bringing furs and other goods into the city, avoiding the nearby rapids that made passage unsafe.
Now you can visit this historical site to learn more about the fur trade at the museum on the banks of the canal, as well as by bike from The Old Port. Pass through 5 separate locks on the bike trails or footpaths.
Pack a picnic and spend the afternoon watching the boats come through and enjoy the part of the city that is seemingly less crowded than downtown.
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Explore Old Montreal
Old Montreal can definitely be considered the most iconic part of Montreal and is an absolutely must-visit location. With cobbled streets, charming buildings dating back to the 17th century and such a European vibe, this area will have you feeling as if you’ve stepped into another world far from Canada.
Wander down St-Paul street to find all sorts of boutiques, art galleries and one of a kind shops. Visit Bonsecours Market to find all sorts of local produce and art, and make sure to visit any of the number of restaurant terraces to soak in the views.
The Old Port is where you’ll find La Grande Roue, a massive Ferris wheel that boasts some of the best views from Old Montreal. Stroll along the quays and take in live music performances or visit Clock Tower beach if the weather behaves. This is also where you can see the Fireworks Festival every summer for free if you bring your own chair!
Montreal Museum of Fine Art
While activities such as visiting the Dentistry Museum are some of the more unusual things to do in Montreal, a visit to the Montreal Museum of Fine Art is a great choice if you’re visiting Montreal on a budget. It is one of the largest museums in all of Canada and has the added bonus of entry being mostly free. The Montreal Museum of Fine Art is spread across 5 different pavillions all of which house different exhibits and artefacts.
The main pavilion of the museum is free, and paid entry is only for special and visiting exhibits so it’s a great opportunity to see some of the incredible art and history from Montreal and around the World.
Located in the historic Golden Square Mile of Sherbrooke street, and with tons of art installations along that street, you’ll have no trouble finding your way to its front doors either. Look out for the big red hearts and a giant stell bull which are two classic pieces that never fail to impress.
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Murals on The Main
Known for the abundance of street art, Montreal is rife with incredible murals and art on nearly almost every block. For the most concentrated amount of murals and street art, head for St-Laurent Boulevard, also known as The Main.
You’ll find everything from gigantic portraits of Jackie Robinson and Leonard Cohen to cool cartoon murals, beautiful landscape designs and so much more.
The Main has been host to MuralFest since 2013 and every year the artists create something more and more impressive. Held in July over a period of 11 days the Boulevard is transformed into a pedestrian-only area with tons of performances, art stalls and a chance to see the art being created before your eyes.
It’s worth popping down the little alleys and hidden backroads to see all the art on offer in this area.
Tour City Hall
Located in Old Montreal and housing so much of Montreal’s history is a place that very few think to visit. Montreal City Hall is a great place to learn about the city and how it came to be, and all for free!
Guided tours are offered Monday – Friday free of charge, and will give visitors a real insight not only into this beautiful Heritage-listed building but also a chance to learn more. With 5 storeys to explore, you’ll get the chance to see where the French President General De Gaulle uttered the famous words “Vive le Quebec Libre” (Long Live Free Quebec) in the late 1960s.
If you don’t make it in time for a tour, the exterior of the building longs to be photographed especially in the evening as beautiful lights shine upon it.
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House Hunt in The Plateau
Because who doesn’t love to window shop for houses when they go on vacation? If you’re looking for some of the most beautiful or most instagrammable houses in Montreal you’ll want to head straight for The Plateau.
Located in the shadow of beautiful Mont Royal, this neighbourhood in Montreal has a laidback vibe, tons of trendy and fantastic restaurants and cafes too. The homes here are some of the oldest and most beautiful in the city with Victorian-style turrets, beautiful colours and almost looking like little castles.
To find the most popular in the area head to St-Louis Square where you’ll find some in every colour of the rainbow. You’ll be sure to find a number of incredible houses to draw some inspiration for your own dream home.
Head to Parc Jean Drapeau
Connected to Montreal via the metro that goes under the river, Parc Jean Drapeau is definitely the place to be for nature lovers. While the major attractions here are the Montreal Casino and La Ronde, an amusement park the trails and nature reserve here are a huge draw for people.
In less than 20 minutes you’ll have access to 25km of walking and cycling trails, public beaches for summertime hangouts, plus snowshoe/cross country ski tracks for the winter adventures. There is no entry cost for this park so it is the perfect way to experience nature right in the middle of the city.
One of the best times, especially for photographers, is to head over just before sunset and watch the sky change with the Montreal skyline as your backdrop. Everything lights up after dark too which is such a sight to see.
Check out The Library
Seemingly an odd thing to do, but if interiors are your thing you’ll want to check out Montreal’s collection of libraries.
La Grande Biblioteque houses upwards of one million books, in a stunning glass building. Head up to the top level of the library and admire all the stacks and the incredible spiral staircase.
The Montreal Archives are a branch of Quebec National Library and can be found on Viger Avenue and looks incredibly unsuspecting from the outside.
Dating back to the 1900s this library houses tons of research materials and archives from the city, but is still an active library to be used. With beautiful wrought iron railings and a spiral staircase, the interior is absolutely stunning. It will make you wish your school’s library was half as good as this.
The largest church in all of Canada, this Roman Catholic Basilica stands tall for everyone to see. The gorgeous green dome can be seen from miles around and is one of the largest in the World and took over 60 years to build.
Whether you’re religious or not the Oratory is definitely worth a visit to learn more about history, take in the views and experience the gardens. Leading up to the oratory you’ll find 283 stairs leading the way, and devote Catholics pay homage to their religion praying on their knees all the way up.
There is a driving path on the other side as well that takes you right up to the doors. You’ll find a crypt below, and beautiful interiors to admire. Also, the views from the top level are pretty impressive as well.
I hope you enjoy exploring the city and making the most of these free things to do in Montreal! Is there anything you would add? Please let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
About the Author
Laura is a Canadian content creator who has called Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and the UK her “home”. Her travel experiences have taken her to the volcanoes of Central America, the waterfalls of Hawaii, the castles of England, and much more. In addition to creating She Who Wanders, her work can be found published on HI-Hostels Canada and Nomadasaurus. You can also follow her adventures on Instagram and Pinterest.
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