Planning a visit to Montreal? No matter what your budget you can have a great time. Here are some of the best free, cheap, and fun things to do in Montreal!
We’ve been to 24 countries in the last 18 months of traveling full-time. People keep asking me about my favorite place to visit, and my answer surprises them: Montreal.
There are so many reasons I love Montreal. The European influence on architecture and culture is charming, the culture is one of the most international in the world, Montreal has some of the most iconic, delicious food I’ve ever eaten, and there are so many things to do my head spins.
Montrealers love their city. The city gets frighteningly cold in winter, so locals are passionate about enjoying the summer months. The city opens up with public swimming pools, running tracks, bike lanes, street restaurants, and festivals- all crowded with people eager to spend as much time enjoying the outdoors as possible.
If you are visiting Montreal here is our list of favorite places to see and things to do in this incredible city!
Free things to do in Montreal:
There are tons of incredible free things to do in Montreal! The city has unique architecture, natural resources, and an emphasis on public art, which makes wandering the city exciting every time you leave the house.
1. Hike Mount Royal
Montreal is, of course, named after it’s most enduring landmark: Mount Royal. The small mountain is located near the center of the city; a rising slope which can be seen from various parts of town. Metro Line 1 to Peel Station will lead you to the base of Mount Royal. Walk up Peel Street until you see Mount Royal Park. The park is a great place to hang out for a few hours or for weekend summer time concerts, but the most popular thing to do at Mount Royal Park is climb to the summit for a view of the city.
Once in Mount Royal Park it will be easy to find a walking path which leads to stairs leading up the mountain. It takes 30-45 minutes to climb the various stairs which lead to the summit, and should be taken slowly for those with any medical conditions. Though it sounds quick and easy, some stair platforms are challenging!
Once at the summit you’ll be greeted by a large platform and overlook area. There are water fountains, picnic benches, and bathrooms at the top, so hike with some essentials to spend your day overlooking Montreal!
About hiking Mount Royal:
- Take the metro to Peel Station and walk toward the park to begin your hike
- Roughly 400 stairs to reach the top, taking 30-45 minutes (on average)
- Bring plenty of water and wear durable walking shoes for the hike
2. Take a walking street art tour
The street art in Montreal is unparalleled. Full-size murals and impressive graffiti creations are found covering building walls, visible corners, and back alleys all over the city. Montreal has garnered such a reputation for beautiful street art that it even became home it’s own Mural Festival in 2012. Every summer artists from around the world participate in the mural festival, transforming the city each year. The result is incredibly works of world-renowned art jam packed into one downtown space.
Finding the many murals around Montreal becomes a game of hide and seek. Once you train your eye you’ll notice public murals in some of the strangest places! It’s an enjoyable game, and one of the most fulfilling free things to do in Montreal.
Feeling overwhelmed with all of the beautiful wall murals in Montreal? Follow this map for a Montreal street art walking tour to find all the coolest works in the city!
3. Swim at Verdun Beach
Montreal’s only sandy beach can be found on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in the neighborhood of Verdun. The beach, a small section of sand surrounded by green space and play equipment, only recently opened in June 2019. The beach features changing rooms, a lifeguard station, stairs to the upper green space, a small playground, footpath to the upper public pool, and a walking path through the woods. The beach looks across the St. Lawrence River to Nunn’s Island and is open from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm.
About Verdun Beach:
- Take Metro Line 1 to De l’Eglise Station and walk to 4110 Boulevard LaSalle
- Bring all necessary beach tools, including swim suit and towels
- The beach is only manned by lifeguards from 10-7. It is considered closed and not recommended to swim when lifeguard is not on duty.
4. Hang out in Parc Jean Drapeau
Parc Jean Drapeau deserves an entire day of your vacation in Montreal. There are many paid things to do in Parc Jean Drapeau (more on that later!), like La Ronde amusement park and the Biodome environmental museum, but the grounds are just as enjoyable for free.
A quick metro or bus ride will take you to to Park Jean Drapeau, a large public park which comprises portions of both St. Helen’s Island and Notre Dame Island. The park was the site of the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal, and many of the original structures still exist on the Park and have been re-purposed for modern day use. Not only are you able to explore the buildings of the World’s Fair and visit La Ronde and the Biodome, you can also take advantage of the free walking and biking paths and public works of art which wind around the other attractions.
About Parc Jean Drapeau
- Take Metro Line 1 to get to the St. Helen’s Island side of Parc Jean Drapeau
- Visit La Ronde, Biodome, walking paths, public art, and public green space
- Enjoy stunning views of downtown Montreal and Old Port from across the St. Lawrence River
- Spend 3-4 hours (minimum) at the park
5. Enjoy the Many Free Festivals
Montreal is considered the festival capitol of the world for good reason. Over 110 public festivals are held annually, and locals love to be involved in each of them.
If you’re visiting Montreal from June to August you’re in for a real treat. Montreal reveres warm weather to a godly level. Winters can be so harsh in Quebec that as much living has to be done in the summer months as possible! For this reason some of the most fun festivals in the world can be found in Montreal.
In short, our favorites are the International Jazz Festival, Completement Cirque (the Free Circus), Just Poure Rire (Just For Laughs), and the International Fireworks Competition. Each of these festivals is known for bringing the best talent from around the world to perform free shows to the public. The streets for each respective festival are completely closed down to traffic to ensure the safety and access of guests and performers, which transports you to the world of fun and creativity Montreal is known for.
Most events of each Montreal summer festival take place in early evening and will include shows, food, and souvenir vendors. Show locations are first come first serve, and may require early access.
Follow this guide for updated information on the Montreal Summer Festivals.
6. Walking tour of Old Montreal
As the name would suggest, Old Port Montreal is one of the most historic areas of the city. Here you’ll find the iconic cobblestone streets and European architecture that the city is known for. A walking tour of the streets near Old Port will take you from the famous Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal to the waterfront, passing iconic restaurants, shops, landmarks, and public art along the way.
Starting from the Place d’Armes public square in from of the Basilica walk east toward the water. Once at the waterfront, follow the walking street north or south to pass museums, bike rentals, shop and food vendors, parks, and the waterfront Cirque du Soleil. Following the waterfront promenade going north, take a left at Place Jacques-Cartier to walk along the Vauquelin Place, another public square in Old Montreal. This pedestrian walking square will feature vendors and passes between two additional Montreal landmarks, the courthouse and Montreal City Hall, before leading you back into downtown Montreal.
About Old Montreal:
- Accessed by many metro stops, including Place d’Armes.
- Spend 1-3 hours in the area, especially if you plan to visit the Basilica (for a small entrance fee)
- Don’t forget your camera!
Read: Going to Calgary? Here’s the best downtown walking tour
7. Hang out in Aires Libres, Montreal’s Gay Village
Montreal has an active gay community. The heart of Montreal’s gay village is the 1 km-long Aires Libres pedestrian mall on Saint Catherine St. Suspended over the mall are 180,000 balls made of recycled plastic in 3 shades of 6 different colors, an extraordinary public art piece titled 18 Shades of Gay. As vibrant below as it is above, on the ground you’ll find Aires Libres public art installations and plenty of supportive businesses sporting rainbow decor.
If you’re looking for the literal and figurative color in Montreal, then a stroll down Aires Libres in Montreal’s Gay Village is for you!
About the Aires Libres Gay District:
- 1 km pedestrian road with multiple public works of art
- Available via Metro line 1
8. See the Montreal Olympic Park
The Montreal Olympic Park is the grounds of many of the original Olympic facilities from the 1976 summer Olympics. Today the park consists of the Olympic swimming and diving facilities, the Montreal botanical garden, the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, the Montreal Insectarium, and lots of green park space.
The buildings are all incredibly interesting architecture, which makes walking the grounds a great free thing to do in Montreal. Many of the museums have free exhibits as well, which makes a visit to the Olympic Park a great way to spend an afternoon.
About the Montreal Olympic Park Complex:
- One area with multiple museums, parks, and original Olympic facilities
- Accessible via metro line 1
Cheap things to do in Montreal:
Only have a few dollars? Here are the best things to do in Montreal which are cheap, fun, and incredibly local!
1. Rent Bixi Bikes for a city tour
Although Montreal is a big city, there is a important initiative city-wide to provide safe biking lanes and respectful driving conditions for the many cyclists. You’ll find lots of Montreal residents taking to bikes or walking to get from place to place in warmer months, especially. Bixi Bikes are the public bikes available for rent throughout the city and are easy to use and convenient to drop for locals and visitors.
To rent a Bixi Bike you’ll need to first find a renting station. You can do this by first downloading the Montreal Bixi Bike app which includes a map with active bike stations. Once at a station you can use the tower to rent bikes with your credit card, or use the app for quick and easy renting. Either system will need a credit card for charging purposes and will give you a code to unlock a specific bike. Once you have your bike you’ll be charged by trip for it’s use. Enjoy taking the unencumbered scenic route through the city, and then return the bike to the station nearest your destination!
About using Montreal Bixi Bikes:
- Download the Montreal Bixi Bike app first for quick and easy use.
- Can be rented for individual rides at $3/ 30-minute ride, by day at $5.25, for 10 rides at $25, or by 3 days, 30 days, and 1 year.
- Must follow all road rules (as well as highway cycling guidelines) and wear a helmet
2. Get St. Viateur bagels
there is a rather infamous debate about whether the New York or Montreal style of bagels are better. What makes Montreal bagels so different is their method of boiling the dough in honey water (vs. salted) before baking. This gives the bagels a slightly sweet taste, which many are found to prefer. For this reason the sesame seed bagels are by far the most popular. Sesame seeds are naturally more mild and sweeter than other bagel toppings, which adds a wonderful nutty sweetness to the bagels. Since the famous bagels are not the best fit with savory toppings, nothing screams “tourist” like walking around Montreal with an everything bagel!
St. Viateur bagels are the most cherished in Montreal. If you’re interested in joining the New York vs. Montreal debate, St. Viateur Bagels is the place to try (their main competitor, Fairmount Bagles, is only a few streets away. A comparison between these two bagel bakeries makes for it’s own fun competition)! St. Viateur Bagels was established in 1957 by Myer Lewkowicz, a Holocaust survivor, who immigrated to Canada in 1953. His yearning for a delicious piece of bread during World War II influenced his bakery, and the passion for greatness continues to be baked into bagel.
About St. Viateur Bagels:
- Located at the corner of Ave du Parc and St. Viateur at 263 Rue St. Viateur O
- Expect lines, as this bagel shop is quite small. Lines do move quickly though!
- Offer plain, sesame, poppy, everything, cinnamon raisin, rosemary sea salt, and multigrain
See other top restuarants in Vieux Montreal
3. Rent Peddle boats along the Lachine Canal in Atwater
The Atwater area of Montreal is buzzing with lots of things to do. Some favorites are visiting the giant Atwater Market for light grocery shopping of fresh produce, small restaurants, and bakeries, taking a bike ride down a path along the Lachine Canal, and, of course, renting peddle boats.
H2O Adventures is the place to go to rent peddle boats and canoes. Their station can be found across the footbridge from the Atwater Market. At the station you can see a detailed list of what equipment is available for rent and the charge per hour.
About renting peddle boats in Atwater:
- Peddle boats vary from $25-$30/ hour for 1-4 people
- Open June, July, and August from 9:00 am – 9:00 pm
4. See the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
The Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal is one of the city’s most popular landmarks. The large, historic cathedral has accommodated area Catholics since 1672. The interior of the basilica is among the most dramatic in the world, and considered a paragon of Gothic Revival-style architecture. In 1982 the Notre Dame Church was raised to the level of Basilica by Pope John Paul II, and was designated a National Historic site of Canada in 1989.
Due to it’s profound significance to the area, the Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal has played host to some of the most famous Catholics in the world, including Quebec’s own Celine Dion. The site was made famous in modern culture as the site of her marriage and of the funeral of her late husband.
About the Notre-Dame Basilica:
- Closest Access is by Metro to Place d’Armes station
- Visitors are welcome to tour the inside of the Basilica for $8
- Open to the public from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Fun things to do in Montreal:
Some things are worth the higher price tag! These incredibly fun things to do in Montreal aren’t free or cheap, but will make your trip to this vibrant city much more fun and memorable.
1. Ride the Montreal Ferris Wheel
The Montreal Observation Wheel is the tallest such structure in Canada. 42 cabins made of clear, tempered glass walls allow passengers 360-degree views, including Old Port Montreal, downtown Montreal, the St. Lawrence river, and La Ronde and the Biosphere of St. Helen’s Island.
A ride on the Montreal ferris wheel lasts for 3 turns so you have plenty of time to take in every view. We suggest you take your ride at sunset to have the best views of the sky and city, after spending an evening wandering Old Port Montreal!
About the Montreal Ferris Wheel:
- Located in Old Port Montreal
- Open from 10:00 am – 11:00 pm
- Adult tickets: $25, Child/ Youth tickets: $19.50
2. See the Famous Cirque du Soleil
Most people don’t know that Cirque du Soleil is actually from Quebec. Headquartered in Montreal, their international arts facility currently trains many of the Cirque du Soleil performers around the world, which makes seeing the famous group perform in Montreal is one of the most authentic ways to experience the show.
Cirque du Soleil Montreal is held in an enormous tent along the St. Lawrence River in Old Port, making the experience even more magical. With a combination of world-class live music, costumes, acrobatics, and skits this show is multi-pleasing. It’s one of the most enjoyable, economical ways to enjoy a concert, circus, and comedy show!
About Cirque du Soleil Montreal:
- Located beside the Montreal ferris wheel in Old Port Montreal
- Performances and tickets costs vary throughout the year. Check the current offers here.
3. La Ronde Amusement Park
Adrenaline junkies visiting Montreal will love going to La Ronde amusement park! Built on St. Helen’s Island for the 1967 World’s Fair, La Ronde is currently owned by Six Flags. The park hosts attractions and rides meant to please mild to wild thrill seekers and visitors of all ages. The park is kept clean and comfortable, with helpful staff and good food.
We recommend spending 4-5 hours at La Ronde, but be prepared for more foot traffic in summer months. The park offers a season pass which locals often take advantage of, so it can get crowded in good weather!
About La Ronde Amusement Park Montreal:
- Located on St. Helen’s Island, La Ronde can be accessed by car or by bus 767
- Tickets cost $72 at the gate, or are discounted online when bought in advance
4. Biosphere Environmental Museum
The Biosphere was designed by renowned architect Buckminster Fuller for the 1967 World’s Fair on St. Helen’s Island. The island floats in the St. Lawrence river beside downtown Montreal, and has been a visible, important landmark ever since.
The Montreal Biosphere is now an incredible environmental museum. The goal of the museum is to teach visitors about the impact of our daily habits on the environment and encourage change. It’s the only environmental museum in North America, and the multi-lingual displays and information are stunning. While some may feel that the museum’s entrance fee is a bit high, the gorgeous grounds are at least worth a visit and can be accessed by a free walking or biking path!
About the Montreal Biosphere Museum:
- Located on St. Helen’s Island, the Biosphere Environmental Museum can be accessed by car or by Jean-Drapeau metro stop
- Entrance fee of $15/ adults, $10/ students, and free for children under 17
- Open from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm throughout the year. Check the website for detailed days of operation for each season.
Montreal is one of the most interesting and fun cities in the world. You’ll find some of the best restaurants and most fun things to do! Whether you’re visiting Montreal for 3 days, a week, or moving there permanently you will find lots more fun things to do than even I’ve listed. This is our best-of-the-best list of free, cheap, and fun things to do in Montreal, but I hope you find your own once you’re there!
Above all, enjoy your time in this vibrant city!
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Content was supported by Tourisme Montreal. All opinions are my own.