Montreal on a budget: 7 travel hacks to save on your trip
Combining French sophistication and charm with Canadian culture and ingenuity, Montreal is one of the most dynamic places in Canada. The largest city in French Canada, downtown Montreal is widely regarded as having some of the best nightlife in the entire country. Plus, the historic district of Old Montreal and the beautiful views from Mont Royal make this incredible city a place for history buffs and nature lovers as well as night owls. That's to say nothing of the food, like the city's famous smoked meat sandwiches and Canada's national dish, poutine, which consists of French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy.
There are tons of reasons to visit Montreal. After all, this manages to be not only one of the most historic cities in the country, but also one of the most culturally rich. Famous for the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, one of the biggest in the world, Montreal is a great place to enjoy live music, comedy, theater, and everything else. And budget-savvy travelers will be pleased to know there are plenty of free concerts and free performances offered as part of the city's many festivals throughout the year.
However, visiting Montreal isn't always cheap. With so many things to do in the city and such a desirable location, the cost of living here just keeps on climbing, and so does the cost of visiting Montreal. But don't let that put you off. There are plenty of ways to save money here, and visiting Montreal on a budget doesn't have to mean missing out.
The first thing to do when you visit Montreal is drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage in the city. Traveling light is essential to get the most out of what downtown Montreal offers. And by making good choices on where you stay, where you eat, and how you spend your time in the city, you can get the very best out of Montreal on a budget.
Cheap places to stay in Montreal
As with most cities, you'll pay a pretty healthy premium to stay in downtown Montreal. But the city has a great public transportation network that makes it easy to reach the city centre from just about anywhere. So our first money-saving tip for visiting Montreal on a budget is to think carefully about where you want to stay. Yes, it's tempting to want to be downtown close to attractions like the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Mont Royal Park. But you can find much better bargains on budget hotels in outlying areas, and it's not hard to get anywhere you want to go in the city from just about anywhere else. For more info on where to stay in Montreal, check out our neighborhood guide.
Another great way to save money on your trip is to consider renting a short-term apartment rental instead of a hotel. These rentals often come with cooking facilities so you can make your own meals, which can save you quite a few dollars.
If you're looking for cheap places to stay, here are a few good options for Montreal accommodation:
Affordable hotels don't come much better than this. Located just steps away from the beautiful Notre Dame Basilica, this basic hotel is a good option if you want to be within walking distance of the city's top art museums and art galleries and close to Vieux Montreal. There's no need to worry about car rentals when you stay as centrally as this since you can explore all of the city on foot or by using public transit.
If you're open to new experiences, you might actually get a kick out of this unusual hotel. Modeled after the famous Japanese pod hotels, the beds here are enclosed in their own tiny cabin, complete with TV and Wi-Fi access. Ideal for solo travelers, these pods don't give you a lot of space to stretch out, but they are an affordable option to stay close to Old Montreal, right in the heart of everything. And really, how much space do you need? Especially when you consider that a pod for a night, even in the height of summer, is only around $80.
The Grey Nuns Residence by Concordia University
Right in the heart of downtown Montreal just a few blocks from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and well within walking distance of Notre Dame Basilica, this is another unusual place to stay that nevertheless offers a good bargain in a highly desirable location. Located on the grounds of Concordia University, this residence is within a short walk of multiple subway stations, so you can easily get around. There are communal lounges with TVs where you can hang out with other travelers and kitchen facilities so you can try your hand at making a smoked meat sandwich or delicious poutine for yourself.
The basic but comfortable rooms come with a single bed, a desk, and a refrigerator. You'll have to share a bathroom with fellow guests, but there is free Wi-Fi available. For $60 a night in August for a single room or $105, if you want a double room with a private bathroom, it's a great deal in a highly desirable part of the city.
Hôtel Château de l'Argoat
If you prefer to escape the hustle and bustle of the city while still being close to its top attractions, you should definitely consider the neighborhood of Le Plateau-Mont Royal. Close to beautiful Parc la Fontaine as well as the massive Mont Royal Park, this upscale neighborhood can give you a taste of the Canadian wilderness without leaving the heart of the city.
The charming boutique hotel of Château de l'Argoat is a great example of what this neighborhood has to offer and one of the most affordable places to stay in this district. Just a two-minute walk from St. Denis subway station and less than two blocks to Rue Saint-Denis, one of the best nightlife districts in the city, you can still escape the noise and crowds of downtown Montreal here. Plus, this boutique hotel oozes traditional charm with its polished wood floors and original staircases that will whisk you back to the glamour of old Montreal.
Even in the middle of the busy summer tourist season, you can get a double room with a private bathroom here for around $85. More expensive rooms offer larger beds and even whirlpool tubs, making this a luxurious place to stay in the city.
Cheap things to do in Montreal
There are almost limitless things to enjoy in Montreal, from the city's historic charm to its vibrant and cutting-edge cultural life. Whatever you like to do on vacation, you'll be able to do here, whether it's enjoying great shopping or chowing down on delicious local food. But you can save some money on your trip by taking advantage of free and cheap activities. These things to do compare favorably with anything Montreal has to offer, but they don't cost much money to enjoy.
Located in Little Italy, one of the best culinary neighborhoods in this food-loving city, Jean-Talon Market is a great place to come to soak up the local atmosphere and rub shoulders with giants of the Montreal culinary scene. It doesn't cost anything to visit the market, but as you browse the stalls and smell the delicious aromas of local delicacies being cooked at the many cafés and restaurants in the area, you might find it difficult to keep your money in your wallet.
Shakespeare in the Park
Every summer, the beautiful setting of Parc la Fontaine comes alive with the works of the world's best-loved playwright. Montreal's premier Shakespeare Festival is held in July, and admission is by donation, so you can pay whatever you like to keep this worthy cause operating. The inventive stagings breathe new life into the works of the Bard, making this one of the most popular performances on Montreal's packed cultural calendar.
Montreal has always been one of Canada's most musical cities, and the city is a haven for artists creating everything from folk music to indie rock to hip-hop. You can find free performances going on in bars around Montreal on any night of the week, especially around le Plateau. Sometimes, there's a small admission charge, while other times, you can see the latest up-and-coming acts for no more than the price of a few drinks and any tip you want to throw into the hat to reward them for their efforts.
Cheap places to eat in Montreal
Perhaps it's the legacy of the French settlement of the area, but food is serious business in Montreal. Traditional French technique meets Canadian produce and game, and influences from around the world continue to contribute to the ever-changing face of Quebecois food.
The good news is you don't have to spend a fortune to eat well in Montreal. As well as the best street food in Montreal, there are some great restaurants where you can have a good meal on the cheap. Check out some of these budget eateries to make your Canadian dollars stretch further.
Middle Eastern flavors are on the menu at this restaurant run by a Lebanese-Canadian couple. And don't let the sleek and polished environment fool you; the restaurant's menu offers some incredible bargains close to downtown Montreal. Shawarma sandwiches cost between $9 and $11, making this a great place for lunch while exploring Old Montreal.
There's something to be said for specialization. Based in Le Plateau-Mile End, this restaurant markets itself as Canada's first croqueteria and serves Spanish-style croquettes for two to three dollars each. There's a minimum order of six, but they get cheaper as you order more, so don't be afraid to try something new at this unique restaurant.
You can't visit Montreal without trying poutine at least once. And this deceptively simple dish can be made in an astonishing variety of different ways. Try the vegetable-topped patatine here for a slightly lighter take on this ordinarily heavy dish, and you'll be putting a fresh spin on a Montreal classic. At only $8 CAD, it's a great bargain, they also serve burgers that start at less than four dollars.
Cheap bars in Montreal
Montreal's nightlife is legendary, and this may well be the best city in Canada to go for a drink. The city has tons of upscale cocktail lounges, but it has just as many dive bars where you can enjoy cheap drinks in low light and have a great time on a budget.
It's hard to miss this popular dive on Saint Laurent Boulevard, with its façade decorated with vibrant street art. Inside, you'll find the same anarchic vibe on display, featuring frequent live music, cheap beer, and a free pool table. Happy hour runs from 4 to 9 PM every day when the already cheap drinks become even cheaper and the bar becomes a favorite neighborhood hangout.
It's not the free popcorn that draws crowds here, although it doesn't hurt, either. Instead, it's the five-dollar pints of beer, eight-dollar cocktails, and cheap pitchers that make this a favorite. A great place to catch a hockey game, this bar is cool without trying too hard. It's cash only, so bring some money with you.
Another mainstay of St Laurent Boulevard, this kitschy bar embraces the tacky. With 1980s arcade games and throwback movies, it's a fun place to spend a lively evening. Beers start at $4 CAD, with cocktails starting at $10.
Bonus budget tips for Montreal
Walk or bike: Montreal is a very walkable city, and walking is a great way to explore the city's neighborhoods and architecture. You can also rent a bike through the city's bike-sharing program, BIXI, which offers affordable rates for short-term rentals.
Museum pass: With access to more than 40 exciting museums in the city, a Montreal museum pass is a great option if you plan to visit a bunch of these types of attractions. A three-day pass is around $75. Plus, if you want to add unlimited free public transportation, it's just $5 more.
Take advantage of free attractions: Montreal has many free attractions, including the Notre-Dame Basilica and Mount Royal Park. Additionally, the city hosts many free concerts and other performances throughout the year. Research these options ahead of time to plan your itinerary.
There are so many great free things to do in Montreal that you'll be able to have a great time on a budget. Leave your bags behind at a convenient luggage storage and take advantage of affordable accommodation and cheap things to eat and drink while you explore this marvelous city.