Are you dreaming of going to Europe but maybe haven’t saved up enough or want something a little closer to home (for Canadians and east coast Americans)? Look no further than Montreal! From the cobbled streets of Old Montreal to the beautiful architecture, you’ll think you’ve stepped foot off the plane in a European dream destination when in fact you’re still in Canada. Whether you’re looking to save a little cash while travelling across Canada or looking for a long weekend city break with some great things to do, here are 10 Free Things to do in Montreal
top 10 free things to do in montreal
1. Mount Royal and Beaver Lake
While this part of Canada doesn’t have the scenic mountain ranges of the West Coast cities, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any great spots for taking in a view. Mount Royal is where the city of Montreal takes its name from and is one of the highest points in the heart of downtown. Take a leisurely stroll or cycle from Beaver lake, named after its shape and now the cute woodland creatures unfortunately, up to the Chalet where you’ll be gifted with some pretty spectacular views over the city. If you continue onwards from the Chalet to the summit you’ll get a chance to see the giant cross which can also be spotted from the streets of Downtown and at night is illuminated with over 150 LED lights to be seen for miles.
2. Murals on The Main
Stretching over 10km, Boulevard St-Laurent aka The Main is one of the longest streets in the city and has some of the city’s best of everything! From amazing restaurants, cafes, bars and independent shops you’ll be able to spend hours exploring this part of downtown, but one of the best things about The Main? The street art! Some of the World’s most talented artists flock to Montreal for the annual MuralFest held every summer where they take to the walls, building and alleyways to create incredible works of art. Not visiting during the festival? No problem, the art is there year round for everyone to see. Scoot down every side street and behind every building to make sure you don’t miss any of it.
3. St. Joseph’s Oratory
Near to Mount Royal is the iconic St-Joseph’s Oratory, founded by Saint Brother Andre. A minor Roman Catholic Basilica, with some seriously major views and all for free (or a donation if you can spare it). A national historic site of Canada and the largest church in the country, the first thing you’ll notice is the over 300 steps from the street leading up to the Oratory itself where you’ll see local and visiting patrons paying respect by praying on each step to the top. A visit here will allow you to learn more about the city itself and not just the historic part of religion and Montreal. This is also a great place to catch sunset depending on the time of year of your visit.
4. Explore Old Montreal and The Old Port
One of the most popular spots for locals and visitors to really get a good sense of the city. The cobbled streets, European style architecture all leading down to the waterfront and The Old Port. Come down a few hours before sunset to stroll around, window shop and take in all the sights and then watch the sunset over the water with views of La Grande Roue (The Big Wheel) and enjoy the buskers and live musicians that take to the streets. This is also a great spot to take in the fireworks that the city puts on every summer from the amusement park La Ronde which is across the river.
5. Notre Dame Basilica
While gaining entry inside one of North America’s most visited monuments is not free (but is only $8 CAD/person), the outside is seriously impressive too. Located in the heart of Old Montreal, the cobbled streets will lead you to this incredibly ornate gothic revival style basilica that looks out onto Place D’Armes Square. At night the square and the Basilica are lit up giving it a magical feel, and if you can spare the $8 entry fee the interior is well worth it too.
6. Visit the Most Instagrammable Houses
Montreal is home to some pretty incredible architecture, including some gorgeous houses. You could spend days wandering around the city stumbling onto the prettiest and most Instagram-worthy houses, but if you’re short on time and want to make the most out of your visit, head to The Plateau. This neighbourhood is one of the trendiest in the city with lots of great shops, cafes, bars & restaurants, but what you want is located at St-Louis Square. The park itself is lovely and sits in the middle of some of the city’s most beautiful Victorian row houses in all colours of the rainbow. Stroll the blocks surrounding these homes and you’ll find so many more photo worthy spots too.
7. Explore Parc Jean Drapeau
Home to the the grounds of Expo 67 these two islands in the St-Lawrence river that comprise Parc Jean Drapeau are only a quick metro ride away from downtown. You’ll feel as if you’ve travelled miles outside the city but one look back across the water and you’ll see the magical city skyline on the horizon. With over 25km of trails to explore on foot,by bike and even on snowshoes or cross country skis in the winter you’ll find yourself immersed in one of the most gorgeous parts of the city that you wouldn’t think to find in such an urban setting.
8. Visit the Library
Okay so this might be the strangest thing to hear when it comes to what places you should visit in Montreal, but even the non-bookworms out there will appreciate the libraries that Montreal has to offer. La Grande Bibliotheque (The Big Library) houses over 1 million books and is part of Quebec’s National Library, something truly impressive. Also part of the province’s national library is the Montreal Archives. Dating back to the 1900’s, the exterior of the building looks like any other but it’s what’s inside that’s truly magical. High ceilings, white wrought iron spiral staircases and dozens of beautiful details to be discovered all for free!
9. Discover the Markets
There is no better way to get a sense of a city and it’s food culture than by visiting the local markets, even if you’re on a budget. While you may not be in the market to buy anything on your trip, the atmosphere alone is intoxicating and surely you can spare a few bucks to indulge in a treat or a coffee right? Montreal has dozens all around the city but a few can’t miss ones include: Atwater Market, Jean Talon Market & the quaint Kisoque Mont-Royal.
10. Go for a Walk Along the Lachine Canal
Stretching nearly 15 km, the Lachine Canal passes through the South-Western part of Montreal. From the Old Port you can walk or cycle all the way through the boroughs of Lachine and Lasalle. The canal itself is a Canadian national historic site due to the heavy history in the fur trade back in the 1800’s. Take a blanket and sit out along the grassy pathways overlooking the locks, be on the look out for tons of birdlife and boats too.