15 Free Things You Can Do in Montreal

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Photo of the Biosphere museum in Montreal, North America's only museum dedicated entirely to the environment.

Montreal offers the charm of a Euro trip just north of the U.S. border.

There’s a beautiful, walkable Old Town. It’s a hub for all sorts of interesting and unusual festivals, from the Cirque Festival in July, to the High Lights festival in February. In truth, the city is a treat in any season, from the summer views atop Mount Royal to wintertime ice skating at the Old Port of Montreal

Montreal also has unique intrigue as a primarily French-speaking destination, giving Quebec’s largest city a more upscale, sophisticated feel than many of its Central Canada counterparts. 

And sometimes upscale can mean pricey. That’s why it pays to save on travel — which is where Wanderu can help. Whether you’re headed to MTL from Boston, New York City, Philly or elsewhere, you can compare prices on buses, trains and flights, all in the same search. Consider traveling in fall, and you could even be treated to some of the most scenic fall-foliage views Amtrak has to offer on their Adirondack service.

At about 1.8 million people strong, Montreal is also a big enough city that you can avoid the more costly entertainment options entirely, with a host of activities for virtually zero cost. So, whether you pack your weekend with an architecture museum, a fireworks show or an underground exploration, plan to do so without ever reaching for your wallet. 

The activities below have been broken down by category. Simply click on the one that most appeals, or scroll through to see the full list.

MUSEUMS & GALLERIES

Photo of the Redpath natural history museum in Montreal.
(Viola Ng / Flickr)

1. Redpath Museum

690 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal, QC H3A 1E9
11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Wed, Fri – Sun)
11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. (Thurs)
Closed Monday & Tuesday
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: With a gorgosaurus skeleton proudly displayed in the entrance hall, the Redpath is a quintessential museum of natural history. Exhibits include Canada-specific collections, like minerals from Québec and fossils from Newfoundland, as well as more worldly pieces like Egyptian mummies and original letters by Charles Darwin. Located on McGill University’s campus, Redpath is free with a suggested donation.

2. McCord Museum

859 Sherbrooke St W
Montreal, QC H3A 0C4
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Sat – Sun)
10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. (Wed)
10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Tues, Thurs – Fri)
Closed Monday
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The McCord Social History Museum is dedicated to the preservation and education of Canadian history. With more than 1.5 million artifacts, these collections are the perfect place to gain a better understanding of the Great White North, from its early days through to the foundation of today’s Montreal. Exhibits are always free to indigenous peoples, free to Québec residents on Sundays and free to the wider public on Wednesday evenings.

3. Museum de Lachine

1 Chemin Du Musée
Lachine, QC H8S 4L9
12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Wed – Fri)
Closed Saturday to Tuesday
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Tucked away in Montreal’s suburbs, the Lachine is an outstanding off-the-beaten-path attraction. Always free, this museum offers up a mix of fascinating cultural artifacts and archeological items from across Québec. One of the more captivating exhibits is an exploration of old objects and advertisements from Dawes Black Horse, which brewed Canada’s storied Black Horse Ale. A bonus? The Lachine has a 50-piece sculpture garden on its grounds, with views overlooking the St. Lawrence River.

4. Canadian Centre for Architecture

372 Sainte-Catherine St W
Montreal, QC H3B 1A2
7:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. (Mon-Fri)
7:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. (Sat-Sun)
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: With a mission to show the important role that buildings play in contemporary society, the Canadian Centre for Architecture is a can’t-miss spot for art and design geeks alike. Whether you’re truly obsessed with architecture or only really have a vague understanding of what appears on a blueprint, the CCA illuminates at every level. Here, you can learn how planning, physics, design and proper execution cohere to make a masterpiece. The museum is free every Thursday after 5:30 p.m., and on the first Sunday of every month.

5. Belgo Building

372 Sainte-Catherine St W
Montreal, QC H3B 1A2
7:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. (Mon – Fri)
7:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Sat, Sun)
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The Belgo Building is a fixture in the Quartier des spectacles district of Montreal, filled with art galleries and artists’ workshops. Built in 1912, the Belgo was originally home to a luxury department store called Scroggie’s. Today, almost 30 free exhibits are scattered throughout its six floors. A secret hidden in plain sight on an unassuming block, many Montreal residents don’t even realize what wonders lie inside. Exhibitions change often, but you’ll always find contemporary and envelope-pushing art. 

6. La Guilde

1356 Sherbrooke St W
Montreal, QC H3G 1J1
10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Tues, Thurs, Fri)
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Sat, Sun)
10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. (Wed)
Closed Monday
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Located right in downtown Montreal, La Guilde has a vast collection of indigenous works, most of which are for sale. (Though we recommend just browsing.) More focused on art than the McCord, there are pieces from both canonical artists and contemporary creators, offering a vibrant and culturally rich mix for you to soak up.

7. Centre de Design

490 Guy St
Montreal, QC H3J 1S6
9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Mon – Sat)
10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (Sun)
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Fashion, photography, graphics: All things design can be found at the aptly named Centre de Design. Part of the University of Québec in Montreal, this free and open to the public 400-square-foot gallery is situated squarely downtown, with a rotating collection of innovative work by both Canadian and international designers that’s curated by one of the school’s professors.

SCIENCE

8. The Biosphere

160 Chemin du Tour de l'isle
Montreal, QC H3C 4G8
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Wed – Sun)
Closed Monday & Tuesday
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Visually, The Biosphere can be likened to Epcot in Disneyworld: It’s a huge, strange, golf ball-esque installation that commands attention. Within, you’ll find the likes of a blown-up terrarium dedicated to educating visitors on nature’s wonders and the importance of conservancy. In fact, The Biosphere is the only museum solely dedicated to the environment in all of North America. Go for the ‘gram, stay for the educational experience. Entry is free for those aged 17 and under, and $10 for students 18 and over. 

OUTDOORS

9. Mount Royal

Just West of Downtown
6:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m. (Mon – Thurs)
10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. (Fri – Sun)
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Visually, The Biosphere can be likened to Epcot in Disneyworld: It’s a huge, strange, golf ball-esque installation that commands attention. Within, you’ll find the likes of a blown-up terrarium dedicated to educating visitors on nature’s wonders and the importance of conservancy. In fact, The Biosphere is the only museum solely dedicated to the environment in all of North America. Go for the ‘gram, stay for the educational experience. Entry is free for those aged 17 and under, and $10 for students 18 and over. 

10. Self-Guided Bike Tours

All Across the City
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Yes, your own bike would technically be required to make this completely free. Even so, the city is riddled with bike rental shops like Ma Bicyclette, and many of Montreal’s bike trails are equally great for walking or jogging — you just won’t get around quite as fast. 

But once you’re ready, there are more than 500 kilometers of wide bike lanes all around the island. This is a great way to get your bearings (steer clear of bridges and you’ll make sure to not get lost outside of the city) and explore Old Montreal, various parks and the St. Lawrence River.

11. Montreal Parks

Parc La Fontaine
819 Avenue Calixa-Lavallée
Montreal, QC H2L 3A7

Parc Jeanne-Mance
Av du Parc, Avenue du Mont-Royal O
Montreal, QC H2W 2N4

Parc Sir-Wilfried-Laurier
5200 Brebeuf St
Montreal, QC H2J 3L8

Westmount Park
329, 327 Avenue Melville
Westmount, QC H3Z 2J7
5 a.m. – 12 p.m. (La Fontaine, Jeanne-Mance, Sir-Wilfried-Laurier)
6 a.m. – 12 p.m. (Westmount)
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The parks in Montreal are idyllic — the city really feels like a comfortable mix of urban and natural landscapes. Parc La Fontaine and Parc Jeanne-Mance are perfect for laying out under the summer sun, and Parc Sir-Wilfred-Laurier has public ping-pong tables if you’re looking to swing a paddle. Westmount Park, meanwhile, features a duck pond and gorgeous, leafy maples.

12. The Pool at Parc Jarry

285 Gary-Carter St
Montreal, QC H2R 2W1
11:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m. (Summer)
Open Daily
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Parc Jarry gets its own unique callout, primarily because its pool access sets it apart from the greater group. The biggest (and best, arguably) public pool in all of Montreal is located on the grounds of Parc Jarry, and entry is completely free throughout the summer months. So when you’re packing, don’t forget the suit and towel!

13. Underground City

Entryways All Over the City
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: When the weather becomes too biting in winter, you can quite literally go underground in Montreal, down into the Underground City. A series of interconnected pathways between office buildings, shopping malls and other venues, this extensive network of subterranean passageways is no secret — about half a million people are estimated to use it on a daily basis throughout the colder months. In total, the network spans more than 30 kilometers and has over 100 entry points, so it shouldn’t take much to find your way in.

FESTIVALS & SHOWS

Photo of the Montreal International Fireworks Festival from the Jacques-Courtier Bridge.

14. Montreal International Fireworks Festival

134 Jacques-Cartier Bridge
Montreal, QC H2K 4M2
10:00 p.m.
Takes place on intermittent Wednesdays and Saturdays in June and July
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: End your trip with a bang — literally! The Montreal International Fireworks Competition is, after all, the biggest fireworks competition in the world. While you could certainly pay for premium seats, spots like Old Port, Parc Jean-Drapeau and Clock Tower Beach offer free, unencumbered views. The pyrotechnics last 30 minutes, and will be some of the most stunning you’ve ever seen.

15. Nuit Blanche (Montreal en Lumiere)

All Over Downtown Montreal
Night of February 29
Website

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The most well-attended single-day (single-night?) event in the city, Nuit Blanche is an annual tradition like no other. Imagine an eccentric arts festival lasting from dawn till dusk woven throughout Montreal’s downtown grid, then add lots of colorful lights. Some 200 activities, from live music and dance to art exhibitions, fill the streets the night of February 29 — most of which are free!

Now that you know how to live it up in the City of Saints without spending a loonie, you can save your cash for more important investments — namely, poutine. That’s right, Montreal is also famous for greasy gravy-and-cheese-curd covered French fries, an indulgence you most definitely won’t forget. 

And if you’re looking to get there on the cheap, Wanderu is the way to go — book crazy-cheap bus, train and plane tickets on Wanderu.com or the free Wanderu app

If finding even more free activities in other cities across the continent is something that appeals to you, then review some of our other “on a budget” guides to spots like New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston and Philadelphia.

Travel Safely

At Wanderu, we want to make sure you are equipped with all the information you need to plan a safe trip. Please visit our COVID-19 Travel Guide for the latest tips & advisories.

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About the author
Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl studied abroad in Stockholm, Sweden, where he became infatuated with meatballs and fika (though he didn't care for the sun setting before 4pm). He's down to go on a trip at a moment's notice, and he has previously written for travel guide website iExplore.

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