Festival de Jazz de Montreal, Quebec, Canada

10 free things to do in Montréal, Canada

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By AnneLise Sorensen
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As the largest city in Québec province, there’s plenty to do in Montréal. Fill up on complimentary samples at the Jean-Talon food market and then take advantage of the city’s huge variety of free cultural and outdoor activities, from festivals to art exhibits to tango. Here’s our roundup of the best free things to do in Montréal:

Head to one of the free festivals

In many cities, festivals are a special occasion; in Montréal, they’re a way of life. And, the bonus is that most of Montréal’s festivals feature free shows and performances, from stand-up comedy at Juste pour Rire to cool cats jamming on stage at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal to the blazing lights of the International Fireworks Competition.

Learn to tango

It may take two to tango, but in Montréal it also takes no money. The perennially popular Tango Libre offers free introductory classes, in various parks in the summer and in the studio in winter. Parc Jean-Drapeau also occasionally hosts free ballroom dancing lessons.

Fill up your belly and your bags at a market

Munch on stinky wedges of Québécois cheese, olives, warm bread rolls and other local samples at Jean-Talon Market and Atwater Market.

Jean Talon Market, Montreal, Canada

Go back to school and study the arts

Stroll through a Neoclassical stone gate to enter McGill, Montréal’s most prestigious university, which abounds with free arts and culture. The Musée Redpath showcases a top-notch anthropological collection of Egyptian mummies and coffins, dinosaur bones and marine vertebrates, as well as ancient musical instruments. Also, the campus is peppered with sculptures, most notably Raymond Mason’s The Illuminated Crowd, portraying a mass of larger-than-life people – generally faced by an equally large crowd of tourists. You can often catch free performances at McGill’s Schulich School of Music.

Partake in an art crawl

The art itself may be pricey – but to view it? Free. Numerous art museums and galleries offer free admission, including Canada’s oldest museum, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, with the country’s most impressive Canadian art collection. On Wednesday nights, entry is free at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Canada’s first museum devoted to contemporary art.

Step into Canadian and Québécois past

Delve into Canadian and Québécois history at the Musée McCord d’Histoire Canadienne (free Wed night and first Sat of month), with First Nations items like furs, ivory carvings and beadwork; the Hôtel de Ville, where General de Gaulle stood on the second-floor balcony to make his “Vive le Québec libre!” speech; and the Musée de la Banque de Montréal, the city’s oldest bank building, with an exhibit that offers a voyeuristic glimpse into counterfeit bills.

Take a hike

Walk or pedal the leafy banks of the Lachine Canal, along a well-tended path that hugs its entire length. Our favorite trip: saunter 1km west of Vieux-Montréal to Griffintown, a revitalized industrial neighborhood with antiques, art and relaxed pubs with nicely priced beers.

Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, Canada

Go to church

As Mark Twain once noted about Montréal: “You couldn’t throw a brick without hitting a church.” He was right – and many are free. Celebrate Sunday mass at 11am at Notre-Dame Basilica, to the sounds of a choir. Also, pop in to the eye-catching Victorian St George’s Anglican Church and the Basilique-Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, where you can pay your respects to the wax-encased remains of St Zoticus, a patron saint of the poor – an appropriate icon on this free tour of Montréal.

Head underground

Scurry below Montréal’s surface in the Underground City (officially called RÉSO – a homophone of “réseau”, the French word for “network”), with 33km of passages that provide access to the Métro, hotels, shopping malls, offices, apartments and restaurants, plus a good smattering of cinemas and theatres. Everything is signposted, but it’s worth picking up a map of the ever-expanding system from the tourist office. Refuel at the inexpensive food courts on the lowest floor of most of the malls (also handy for public toilets).

Watch street performers

Cirque du Soleil somersaulted from the soil of Québec so it’s no surprise that Montréal’s performers and buskers are top-class. Walk through the old town and the sloping, cobbled Place Jacques-Cartier, originally built as a market in 1804, and check out musicians, mimes, caricaturists along the way. Also, many of the city’s theatres offer free performances, including the Théâtre de Verdure Parc Lafontaine in the summer.

Explore more of Montréal with the Rough Guide to Canada.