11 Entirely Free Things to do in Montreal, Canada
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I have traveled a lot around our little world and some cities felt very comfortable, like a favorite cuddle up sweater. But I always make my way back to Montreal, my home. In my opinion, it is a vibrant city filled with Joie de Vivre and so much culture. Festivals abound, great shows, fine food. There is always something going on. So leave your wallet at home – well bring it in case you want to buy a bagel or a smoked meat sandwich – and enjoy all the free activities the city has to offer. Here are my 11 favorite awesome free things to do in Montreal, Canada!
Wander around the Old Port of Montreal
Nothing beat spending a beautiful day just exploring the Old Port of Montreal. Walking along the waterfront is magical. Check out the urban beach, admire the boats in the marina, see the cruise ships about to set sail and admire the magnificent Jacques Cartier Bridge from the clock tower. Then meander back through the narrow streets, it is the closest to being in Europe in all of the Americas.
Discover Montreal’s past at night with Cité Mémoire’s light show
Download the app and turn on your wifi once the sun has set in Old Montreal. Follow a chosen walking trail that will lead you to outdoor video installations and read about the famous moments the shaped the city’s history.
Notre-Dame Basilica, of a higher caliber than Europe’s basilicas?
You will be in amazed by the sheer size of the Notre-Dame Basilica from the outside and your jaw will drop when you see the stunning architecture and religious art inside the basilica. Although it is not free during normal visiting hours, you can get a free glimpse by attending Sunday mass instead.
Dance your Sundays away at the Tam Tams
You can explore Mont-Royal park any day of the week of course and explore all the trails and belvederes. But my favorite time to go is on summer Sundays by the George-Étienne Cartier Monument where hundreds of drummers and crafters gather for an all-day drum session.
Visit Oratoire St-Joseph, Canada’s largest church
Even if you are not religious, a pilgrimage to the Oratoire St-Joseph is a must. Claiming to have one of the biggest domes in the world, the basilica is the largest shrine in the world dedicated to Saint Joseph and is visited by pilgrims to pay respect to its founder, Saint Brother André.
The view of the city atop the tall staircase (which some pilgrims climb on their knees) is breathtaking.
Urban art at it’s best in the Plateau
The Plateau is a gentrified bohemian neighborhood filled with fun shops, café, and restaurants. But it is also home to over 100 full-scale murals.
You will find them on Saint-Laurent street, in the web of local streets adjacent, as well as in the hidden back alleys. Try to visit during the Festival Mural and watch the artist at work for the year’s new urban art crop. While you are there, grab a Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich.
Montreal, the city of festivals
I think during the summer there is at any given time at least two festivals going one at the same time. Many of them include lots of free outdoor programming.
Check out the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival, Les FrancoFolies, the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, the FestiBlues International de Montréal, the Montreal First Peoples’ Festival, and Montreal Pride Festival, just to name a few.
The sky alight at the Montreal International Fireworks Competition
Montreal hosts every summer the International Fireworks Competition over several weeks. To get the prime seats you will have to shell out some bucks.
Or be savvy like a local and admire the light show for free from either the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, under the bridge on de Lorimier at Viger and Notre Dame, by the Clock Tower in Old Montreal, or at the summit of Mont-Royal park.
Sample local specialities at the Jean-Talon market
Montreal is home to several farmer’s markets but the queen bee of them all is Jean-Talon Market. One will find stores open year round and close to 300 farmer’s stands in late spring, summer, and fall.
Many stalls offer samples but if you are looking to splurge on your foodie’s tooth, this should be your main destination. If you can’t go to the Plateau for a Montreal bagel, you’ll find some here as well.
Playing art critic at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Some of the best art exhibitions come through the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and they do come with a price, but the permanent exhibitions, which are just as fantastic, are always free.
Delving into Montreal’s history at the McCord Museum
Home to 1.4 million objects and artefacts related to Montreal and Quebec’s history, the McCord Museum offers free admission on Wednesday nights from 5 to 9 pm to its permanent exhibitions.
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