The city of Montreal is a cultural hotspot and popular tourist destination. It is well known for its food, music and hockey, and in fact, they were the first Canadian city to host the Olympic games back in 1976. It is the second biggest city in the country and offers a lot for you to enjoy. Montreal is listed as a UNESCO City of Design so it is a great place to visit if you are interested in architecture.
If you are traveling on a budget then you are in luck. Montreal has so many fun activities and many of them are offered for free too, so you can see the city while not breaking the bank. Follow this guide of free things to do in the city – you'll be kept busy! A full day on the town means carrying large bags and backpacks can soon be tiring. Drop them at a luggage storage locker in Montreal and pick them back up once the day is done.
This chapel is small but important because it is the oldest church in all of Montreal. Construction was initiated by Marguerite Bourgeoys back in 1657, who is the same person who created the congregation of nuns in Notre-Dame.
Inside the chapel, you will see a statue called the "Our Lady of Good Hope" which was donated by the French, as well as the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum. This establishment showcases artifacts and relics dating from over 2,000 years ago and is a great place to learn about the history of the city and its religion. You can visit the chapel for free, although the museum requires tickets to enter.
BAnQ Grande Bibliothéque
There is much to explore in the five-story library known as the Grande Bibliothéque. Out of the 4,000,000 works found inside, about 1,140,000 of them are books and you can spend a whole afternoon reading and relaxing inside the building.
There are thousands of places for you to sit and delve into some of the novels from the national and universal collections. The library is worth checking out even if you don't like to read. The building was made out of yellow birch wood from Quebec and either lets in or blocks natural light depending on the collection and its conservation needs.
Parc Jean Drapeau
Parc Jean Drapeau is the former site of Montreal's Expo '67 and the current location for many festivals and events. If you have a spare day on your itinerary, check out the park since you can definitely find something fun and free to do here.
Some of the paid events that go on here include the Formula 1 races and the OSHEAGA music festival. In terms of free activities, this area is perfect for picnics, spending time by the beach and hikes in the summer, as well as ice skating, snowshoeing, or sledding in the winter.
Musée McCord d'Histoire Canadienna
This Montreal museum, commonly known as the McCord Museum, can be visited on Victoria Street downtown. You can spend time in their Urban Forest outdoors free of charge and it is a nice place to meet with friends or spend time with the family in the city. Sometimes free performances are put on outside of the museum by OMNIBUS.
Inside, you can find art pieces and artifacts dating from between the 18th and 19th centuries. Free entry is offered for kids or people of Indigenous heritage, and it is open to everyone at no cost at 5 pm every Wednesday.
L'Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal
L'Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, which in English translates to Saint Joseph's Oratory, was built back in 1904 by Saint Brother Andre and is a popular spot in the city as well as a Catholic monument that is known around the world.
When the large domed roof of the building was completed in 1955 it was famous for being the biggest of its kind with a span of 97 meters. Inside of the building, you will find a tomb, some monuments, and a museum, and outside of the building is a beautiful garden. Entrance to see the museum and the building is free so make sure to stop by.
Marché Jean Talon
The Jean Talon Market is found in Montreal's Little Italy and has been open to the public since 1934. Here you can find fresh local products from inside Quebec as well as items coming from different places around the world.
The things that you can buy here include fish, meats, fruits and vegetables, ice cream, flowers and more. The market is open every day and you can browse the many stalls free of charge. It is also a great place to go for a delicious lunchtime meal and to try some fresh local food.
Mount Royal Park
Do you like to walk and hike? If you are looking to spend some time outdoors then you should take a walk to the top of Mount Royal Park near McGill University. This is a public space that is open year round so you can enjoy the green spaces and amazing view of the downtown area of Montreal in both the winter and summer months.
There are lots of outdoor activities going on here as well as walking and biking paths up the side of the hill. It is on top of this small mountain that you will find Saint Joseph's Oratory, and the whole park is free to visit.
La Cinémathèque Québécoise
A great free place to visit in Montreal is La Cinémathèque Québécoise, whose goal is to preserve and document different media footage like film and television videos. They have thousands of videos to watch and you can see the performances and screenings at no cost.
It is one of the top access points in the city for all things to do with national and international cinematography. You will get the opportunity to see books, scripts, photographs and clips related to the visual entertainment scene in Montreal and around the world.
Foundation Phi pour l'Art Contemporain
This place is perfect for contemporary art lovers and there is a great collection of artwork and performances that are available to see for free. The Phi Foundation for Contemporary Art is housed within two buildings found in Old Montreal and is usually pretty quiet so you can explore at your own pace.
The artwork shown here changes often so you never know what you might find. There are several floors for you to check out and shows are often put on in the evenings. If you want to see one of the performances you should check their schedule to find out exactly when they are happening.
If you are visiting during the cold winter season of Montreal then try to book your vacation during the Nuit Blanche festival. This celebration is made up of over 200 different events scattered around the city which are all free and aim to bring the city together during its coldest and toughest season.
One of the events is the Montréal en Lumière where the area is lit up and outdoor activities are offered. You can see the city from on top of the Ferris wheel, ride on an outdoor zipline and watch free shows. To make things even better, access to the metro is free for the night too.
Vieux Port de Montreal
The historic Old Port of Montreal is one of its most popular spots and there are lots of things to do here. It is where the first colonizers settled and the development of this area is what allowed Montreal to become the powerful and loved city that it is today.
You can find free entertainment on the pathways leading from the Old Port to the Lachine Canal which is a great place to take a walk or bike around. There are sometimes free concerts and events put on during the summer so chances are you will find something exciting to do, and if not you can still relax and enjoy the day by the water. The Old Port is a place for terrific street food too.
Lac aux Castors
Found on Mount Royal, this artificial basin in Montreal is also known as Beaver Lake and is a good spot to have fun in all seasons. During the summer you can rent paddle boats to go out on the water or go ice skating in the winter when the water freezes. Sledding on the nearby hills, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing is also a common activity here in the colder months.
If you don't have your own equipment you can rent skis, skates or boats from nearby vendors. If you don't want to spend any money Beaver Lake is still worth visiting and is a nice place to sit and have a picnic on the grass or by the water.
Quartier des Spectacles
The Quartier des Spectacles is an area in the downtown city of Montreal that hosts most of the events and festivals that are put on annually. In the Place des Arts area you will find the Salle Wilfred Pelletier which is the largest concert hall in Canada and is often the venue for rock concerts, opera or dance performances, as well as the Théâtre Maisonneuve which hosts small shows and comedies.
This part of the city is where the International Jazz Festival happens as well as other musical events like Pop Montreal. Other celebrations include Les Nuits d'Afrique and Les Francofolies which are all worth visiting if you are in town during the time of the festivals.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal
If you have an interest in art then you should stop by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts found in the downtown part of the city. This is where you can see some great installments of paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings and more.
Certain parts of the museum do cost money but if you are visiting at the beginning of the month then you are in luck. They offer free admission for everyone on the first Sunday of every month, and the same goes for the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art so you can visit both on the same day. If you happen to be here in May, there is an annual free museums day. You can spend the entire day visiting all of the museums around the city at no cost.
Le Village au Pied-des-Courants
This public space found in the East End along the Saint Lawrence River is a place that is free to visit in Montreal. In this locale, you can find places to eat and activities to participate in, as well as a nice area to take a stroll and relax.
On site there are food trucks, a beach with places to suntan or for kids to play as well as regular events and live music. The goal of the place is to bring the community together so everyone can appreciate this great city.
Finding the Best Free Options in Montreal
Visitors of Montreal will have no problem enjoying their time in the city even if they don't have much money to spend. Montreal is the Canadian center for tourism and festivals happen here year round. You can have a blast exploring the most popular neighborhoods in the city like Old Montréal, the Mile End, St Henri or Ville Marie, but if you want to be close to most of the special events then you should spend most of your time in Downtown Montreal.
This is where the underground metro station can take you to some impressive landmarks like the contemporary art museums, the Olympic Stadium, or places to shop and eat like the Atwater market. If you want to explore the city aboveground you are sure to come by some impressive street art. Visit some of the local parks and greenspaces like the scenic Westmount Park or Mount Royal which offers the best views in the city.