Montréal is a cultural hotbed offering activities for any visitor. As a major cosmopolitan city with a distinct joie de vivre, there are many ways to blissfully spend one’s life savings. But this historic town also knows the value of public space and community events, offering a complete calendar of free options. Here’s an insider’s guide to some of the best free things to do in Montréal.

Wander around Old Montréal

Begin with one of the city’s main tourist attractions and loveliest neighborhoods. Old Montréal is one of the oldest city-centers in North America, a quaint time machine with touches of Europe. Walk the cobblestone streets, stroll along the St-Lawrence River waterfront, and enjoy the many free festivities.

Visit the markets

Stroll through colorful stalls of local produce and other tasty displays at Montréal’s many markets. Marché Jean Talon is one of Canada’s biggest, located near lovely Little Italy, while the Marché Atwater is nestled along the shores of the Lachine Canal. The sights, sounds and smells alone are some of the best free things to do in Montréal.

People canoe along a calm canal in Montréal; free things to do in Montréal
The Lachine Canal is a picturesque place to spend some lazy time in Montréal © Jason Najum / Lonely Planet

Stroll along the Lachine Canal

This waterway cuts through the island of Montréal, passing just below the downtown core. With portions restored as Canadian national parks, the Lachine Canal borders some great residential neighborhoods and offers picnics, bike paths, and many chilling-out options.

See Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours

Montréal’s oldest chapel, Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, is often overlooked when Notre-Dame and St. Joseph’s Oratory are just around the corner in their imposing glory. The current chapel was constructed in 1771, but it stands on the remains of the previously burned down chapel that was built in 1655. The chapel is free to visit; however, the associated museum has an entry fee.

Visit a free museum

Montréal has some of the country’s best museums and many offer free entry. The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts permanent collection is free for the general public on the first Sunday of every month, as is the McCord Museum, an institution that celebrates Montréal with a focus on its Indigenous history. On Thursday nights the Centre Canadien d'Architecture is free, with the addition of live music events in their outdoor space. The Redpath Museum, one of Canada’s oldest venues, is donation-based but technically free to the public.

People walk across a street toward a park with a large statue in the middle topped by a winged figure; free things to do in Montréal
Mount Royal Park is the centerpiece of the city, with great views of the whole area © Jason Najum / Lonely Planet

Get outdoors at Parc de Mont-Royal

Smack-dab in the middle of the city you’ll find Parc du Mont-Royal. This landmark of rolling green hills is the city’s focal point, offering parks, walking paths, and a taste of nature in the middle of downtown. There are several lookout points, and Lac aux Castors near the summit is an open green space with a lake and various outdoor activities.

Discover the Westmount Suburbs

This glorious suburb in Montréal is your Gilmore Girls fantasy life come true. Especially gorgeous in the autumn with all the mature gardens and trees in full flourish, strolling around the Westmount mansions can occupy an entire day. Not to be overshadowed by La Grande Bibliothèque, the historic Westmount Public Library which opened in 1899 is the perfect place to relax after “house hunting” with bay windows, big arches, and opulent reading rooms, free to the public. Westmount also has many green spaces, Westmount Summit and Westmount park are great for outdoorsy activities like hiking and reading.

Take in a festival

The Montréal International Jazz Festival, the Montréal Just for Laughs Festival, Francofolies, and the Montréal Folk Fest – these are just some of the city’s major festivals. Keep an eye out for these when in town, as they offer many free things to do in Montréal. Visitors from all over the world come to experience these festivals.

People walk, cycle and drive along a quaint street in Montréal
Many buildings in Montréal are covered in vivid murals © Jason Najum / Lonely Planet

Go mural hunting

With an almost endless number of century-old brick buildings, Montréal streets are a veritable canvas of color. The city is littered with street art, so much so there’s an annual MURAL Festival highlighting the city’s best. Stroll through neighborhoods like the Plateau Mont-Royal and keep an eye out, you can even download a free map to guide you across Montréal’s free public art scene.

Party down in the winter

The Montréal en Lumière (Montréal in Lights) festival at the end of February is a celebration of the city in the middle of winter. Despite the frigid weather, the downtown Place des Arts is turned into a carnival-like space; there are food and drink events throughout the city, and a closing Saturday party with more than 200 free activities goes all night, until dawn.

People dance and enjoy the outdoor concert at Place des Arts in Montreal; free things to do in Montréal
Dancing in the streets, squares and parks is not just tolerated, it's encouraged © Vincent JIANG / Shutterstock

Dance in the street

During the summer months, Montréal offers a wide range of free outdoor dancing options. Downtown has salsa nights at the Jardins Gamelin public space, and in the urban suburb of Verdun there are salsa and tango evenings along the river. Quick internet searches will reveal many other free dance nights from the city’s swing, salsa and tango schools.

Tour the Great Library

La Grande Bibliothèque is the city’s biggest library. This impressive modern building offers hours of free exploring and information. Plus, it’s conveniently located downtown, a short walk from the popular Rue Ste-Catherine.

A large group of people play TamTams and other drums as other people dance and revel in the nice weather around a statue; free things to do in Montréal
Drumming sessions take place on Sundays in Mount Royal Park © Marc Bruxelle / Shutterstock

Find your rhythm at the Sunday TamTam

On Sundays the green space surrounding the Parc du Mont-Royal fills with hundreds of revelers. The main attraction is the TamTam drum jam-session around the impressive main statue. Throughout the park you’ll find hungover sunbathers, jugglers, acro-yoga and even Game of Thrones-style mock battles – a must-see on a lazy Sunday.

Visit Le Village au Pied-du-Courant

Le Village au Pied-du-Courant is a public space along the St-Lawrence river. Located in the more industrial east-end of the city, this waterfront event space is designed with empty shipping containers, sandy areas for kids to play in, and offers food trucks, a bar, and nightly music events on the weekend.

People ice skate on an outdoor rink in the Old Port of Montréal
Even when the frigid winter rolls in, there's plenty of outdoor options for visitors to Montréal © Photos.com / Getty Images

Go ice skating

Enjoy the outdoors with free ice skating options. Parc La Fontaine is a big beautiful space in the Plateau Mont-Royal – there’s Lac aux Castors at the top of the mountain, Parc Jean Drapeau on the city’s main island, and Parc Jarry near Little Italy.

Wander local neighborhoods

Montréal is an old city with plenty of history. Its neighborhoods ooze with character and simply walking the streets is like a stroll through a museum. Le Plateau Mont-Royal is a former working-class area brimming with quaint streets and character, where you’ll find landmarks like Schwartz’s deli. The Mile End is similarly compelling – a mix of hipster cafes and famous old bagel shops like St-Viateur Bagel. Walk around and enjoy the many free things to do in Montréal.

Fireworks explode in the sky over a bridge and iconic clock tower. The International Fireworks Festival is one of the best free things to do in Montréal
The International Fireworks Festival lights up the Old Port in Montréal © brianglobal / Getty Images

Watch the fireworks

Each summer Montréal plays host to some of the world’s best displays of fireworks. There’s an international competition featuring shows from various nations, with colorful explosions lighting the night sky. A popular tradition with Montréalers is to hang out in Old Montréal or anywhere east along the waterfront. You’ll always find locals pulling up lawn chairs and enjoying the show. Le Village au Pied-du-Courant offers some of the best viewing.

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This article was originally published on August 13, 2019.

This article was first published August 2019 and updated September 2021

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