Along with a diverse selection of parks that offer a multitude of free activities year-round including Mount Royal and Jean Drapeau all Montreal museums have a free day, usually once per week. Often seniors and children are admitted free and one day a year, usually around May 24th, all Montreal museums are free for the entire day for visitors of all ages.
Take in free festivals at a Place des Arts on Ste. Catherine Street East, enjoy free outdoor movies and visit the large indoor/outdoor farmer’s markets notably Jean-Talon in the north end of the city and the Atwater Market in Montreal’s west end. Both are conveniently located near the metro stops and Atwater Market is on the must-do Lachine Canal cycling route.
Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica is located in Old Montreal, site of free walking tours and firework displays while the nearby Old port area provides great walking and cycling routes along the river. Montreal is a fantastic walking city that provides plenty of people watching particularly on St. Denis and St. Laurent streets famous for Montreal boutique shopping. Interesting neighborhoods to explore on foot include Mile End and the Plateau.
For rainy days visit the Grand Library. Two contemporary art museums, the Phi Foundation of Contemporary Art in Old Montreal and six floors of contemporary art at the Belgo Building are always free.
Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Canadian Tourism Commission. Photo by Pierre St-Jacques
Built in 1904, this is one of the world’s most popular Catholic shrines. The Renaissance-style dome was the world’s largest when completed in 1955. The shrine now holds a museum, a tomb, monuments, a 56-bell carillon and Stations of the Cross in a sculpture garden. Features summer organ recitals on Wednesday evenings.Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal is one of the world’s most visited centres of pilgrimage and underlines the significance that religion has played in the establishment of Montreal. Its founder, Saint Brother Andre, started its construction in 1904. The massive complex includes a stately building whose dome reaches 97 metres (second only in height to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome), a small original chapel, a votive chapel, a crypt church, a basilica that can accommodate over 2,200 people, and well-tended, colourful, diverse gardens.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It’s a Montreal landmark and well-loved worldwide complete with a museum, a sculpture garden and a 56-bell carillon.
Sherel’s expert tip: To avoid the crowds,try to avoid visiting during Sunday mass.
Read more about L’Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal →
The two buildings that comprise the site sit on a quiet street in Old Montreal and feature some of the works and performances by world-renowned contemporary artists. Because the sites can be a bit difficult to find, you’ll often have the place to yourself, especially on weekdays. The knowledgeable staff are happy to answer questions and to discuss the works on view that change frequently. The works are located on several floors accessible by both stairs and elevators to accommodate all. At some times, the shows are open during evening hours but best to check the PHI Foundation website before visiting.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Two separte buildings showcase the lateset in international contemporary art which are always free.
Sherel’s expert tip: Check before going as hours can change and the venue is usually only open from Wednesday to Sunday (1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
Read more about PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art →
Visible by night thanks to its well-lit cross, Mont Royal designed by Olmstead of Central Park fame is filled with hiking trails and opportunities for various outdoor activities. It is also a natural haven for local flora and fauna and rare tree species. On top of Mont Royal sits Saint Joseph’s Oratory, one of the world’s most visited pilgrimage centers. The basilica’s dome, second only in height to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, reaches 97 meters. Its founder, Saint Brother Andre, the humble doorkeeper who inspired its construction in 1904 dedicated the edifice to Saint Joseph. The shrine includes the original chapel, a votive chapel, a crypt church, and the Basilica which can accommodate over 2,200 people. The votive chapel contains personal items left behind by thankful pilgrims in memory of a claimed healing. Its pipe organs and carillon composed of 56 bells celebrate the world’s great composers.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Mont Royal provides four seasons of activities in the middle of the city.
Sherel’s expert tip: On Sunday afternoons (weather permitting) come to the tam-tam drumming sessions near the monument to Sir George-Etienne where locals gather to play music, sing, dance and hang out.
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This small chapel, Montreal’s oldest church, dates back to 1657. Margaret Bourgeoys, who founded the Notre Dame congregation of nuns, initiated construction, originally to provide sailors a refuge of peace and comfort. Legend has it that Montreal’s founder, Paul Chomedey, personally cut timbers for the small chapel. A statue, « Our Lady of Good Hope » (hence « de Bon Secours »), was donated by the French. The statue reaches out her arms to protect sailors from the treacherous seas. No less enthralling is the Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum where you can cover more than 2,000 years of religious and colonial history. The tomb of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, the tower lookout, and the archaeological site are especially interesting attractions.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The chapel, more than 350 years old is of historical significance and features beautiful artworks and classical music concerts by candlelight.
Sherel’s expert tip: The chapel visit is always free while the museum and archeological site is free for those 12 and under and a mimimal charge for students, seniors and adults.
Read more about Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours →
Photo courtesy of LWY
The Grande Bibliotheque is a contemporary-styled five-story building with over 4,000,000 works, including 1,140,000 books. There are 1300 reading armchairs, 850 study seats and carrels, and 350 computer stations and plenty of space to relax. There are also special exhibits and art shows to enjoy. A fantastic rainy-day or cold weather retreat, the national and universal collections are each housed in one of two Chambres de Bois (« wooden rooms »), a reference to Anne Hebert’s novel Les Chambres de Bois. These multi-story areas are demarcated by walls of wooden slats, either allowing indirect natural light or blocking it according to the conservation needs of the collection. The slats are made of Quebec-grown yellow birch, the official tree of Quebec. A sculpture garden to the north of the building, divided into plots of which one will be developed with sculpture and landscape art each year.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Five stories of beautiful architecture provide a perfect rainy day escape.
Sherel’s expert tip: Go to the information desk to register as an out-of-town guest for access to the computers or multimedia stations.
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Site of the former World’s fair, Expo ’67, Parc Jean Drapeau is a huge space on two islands situated in the St. Lawerence River five minutes from downtown Montreal. The park offers lots of free (and paid ) activities including an aquatic complex, multi-use cycling, and hiking trails, a beach and public art. Favorite activities here include picnicking, bird watching and touring the extensive gardens. Kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards can be rented and lessons are also available. In winter, there’s ice-skating, tobogganing and snowshoeing too. It’s home to the OSHEAGA festival and the Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It’s a huge park with lots of all-season activities for all ages, mostly free.
Sherel’s expert tip: Check daily opening times online before heading down. Best to travel by Metro to Jean Drapeau Station or by bike and there is a BIXI (bike-sharing station nearby).
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The Quays of the Old Port are steeped in history and thought-provoking installations both permanent and temporary. Divina Dali on the Grand Quay features a cleverly-designed Salvador Dali romp through Dante’s Divine Comedy from Hell to Purgatory to Paradise through 101 works of art. Montreal’s Old Port is the site of this immersive world premiere celebrating the work of two legendary artists.
The first colonists arrived at the site of the Old Port on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, and it was thanks to the port that old Ville-Marie grew into the thriving international metropolis of modern-day Montreal.
A multi-use path runs along the Old Port and Lachine Canal where the cycling trails provide hours of healthy and free entertainment. Along the water, discover the Old Port’s marine life and historical heritage. It’s a perfect spot to be on a hot summer day allowing visitors to see Montreal from a totally new perspective gazing at the city that rises up in front of them.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It’s a beautiful and informative walk or cycle along the port area of Montreal and often the scene of free concerts. art exhibits and other entertainment.
Sherel’s expert tip: As parking is pricey in this area, it’s best to use public transportation or bike.
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The McCord Museum’s Urban Forest is open and always free to the public from May through October. For the 11th year it’s been a place for Montrealers and visitors alike for contemplation on Victoria Street downtown. Bright colors and outside furniture provide a relaxing enviroment designed by Paula Meijerink of Wanted Landscape.Enjoy outdoor activities and entertainment free of charge at all times. Lunch time in the Urban Forest is a good time to enjoy suprise theatrical performances by OMNIBUS.
Inside the McCord Museum (free for children, Indigenous people and everyone Wednesday evenings after 5 pm) you’ll find historic artifacts and visual art from the 18th and 19th centuries. Evening art and cultural based activities add to the appeal of this original teaching museum that offers an impressive online collection. The museum provides information dealing with the art, culture and history of Native Canadians.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It a plaeasant and quirky contemporary parkette in the middle of downtown next to a good museum.
Sherel’s expert tip: The always free, playful and colorful Urban Forest, is a favorite of all age groups and open from May to October. It’s best experienced just before the lunch crowds arrive.
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Montreal’s Place des Arts, part of the Quartier des Spectacles is a major entertainment complex at the Places des Arts metro station. Typically, outdoor events here are free including parts of the 40 annual festivals spread over 80 performance spaces.
The largest multi-use concert hall in Canada, the Salle Wilfred Pelletier, presents rock, opera, dance and symphony concerts. Seating almost 3,000 patrons, the Salle Wilfred Pelletier is the permanent home of the Grand Ballet of Montreal, Opera Montreal and the Montreal Symphony.
Nearby, Théâtre Maisonneuve, with seating for almost 1,500 patrons, looks like a contemporary version of a classic Italian theater. It’s a popular venue for comedy productions and smaller companies where soloists appreciate the intimate setting of the hall which also hosts larger scale film presentations.
Contemporary productions of the Grand Ballet can be seen here along with the McGill Chamber Orchestra, the Metropolitan Orchestra and Pro Musica.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Place des Arts, part of the Montreal’s huge entertainment district,Quartier des Spectacles offers up to 40 festivals throughout the year with many free events.
Sherel’s expert tip: Outdoor events are free. Arrive early by taxi or the excellent public transportation as it can be tricky to find the correct venue, section and seat for your event.
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The highlight of Little Italy (Petite Italie) in the north end of Montreal is undoubtedly the Jean-Talon Market.
Since 1934 the Jean-Talon market has been supplying Montreal with fresh Quebec products and specialty items from around the world. The Jean-Talon market is open every day, year-round with the exception of December 25, December 26, January 1 and January 2nd. Fine herbs are available throughout the year.
Not only will visitors find a wide variety of produce, (including pesticide-free items) flowers, fish, meat and specialty ice cream for sale, the area is also a great destination for lunch. Delicious barbecued lamb, pork and chicken sandwiches, as well as bison on a stick, are all available for a few dollars.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It’s the oldest market in North America open every day of the year except December 25, December 26, January 1 and January 2nd.
Sherel’s expert tip: Since cars are banned in this city block-sized market, get here early to find neighborhood parking or take the subway to the Jean-Talon Metro stop nearby.
Read more about Marche Jean-Talon →