Free Things to Do in Montréal

Take in free festivals, park activities, museum visits in Montreal

Along with a diverse selection of urban and nature parks that offer a multitude of free activities year-round, 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 convenient site 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.

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.

The Montreal casino offers free shows, free admission and free parking in a scenic setting complete with bars and restaurants. For rainy days visit the Grand Library and the Redpath Museum on the site of McGill University. Two contemporary art museums, the DHC in Old Montreal and  L’Arsenal in Griffentown also offer free admission. 


Named for the sugar baron who generously supported the museum, The Redpath has been around since 1882. This museum on the campus of McGill University features a wide range of fossils (including dinosaurs), skeletons of rare and extinct animals, rocks and minerals, and a fine collection of Egyptian antiquities. Thanks to its close association with McGill University, courses and educational resources offered by the Redpath Museum focus on science topics for all grade levels to the university level. At the graduate level, students wanting to study biosystematics and evolutionary biology can find several supervisors working on a variety of topics with new offerings periodically.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It's a premier science museum that offers exhibitions, courses and resources for all levels of education.

Sherel's expert tip: While admission is free, a $10-dollar donation from adults is the norm.

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The Musee des Beaux Arts, founded in 1860, is Canada's oldest museum and boasts some of the finest paintings in the country. Among its permanent holdings are artworks from Canadian artists and those created by European masters. The museum also features native Canadian artifacts and a collection of period furnishings, along with drawings, engravings, silverware and works of art from ancient Asia, Egypt, Greece and South America. More contemporary exhibitions include an examination of Andy Warhol's advertising, the images of local photographers as well as a look at art as a means to social and environmental change. An on-site restaurant offers light fare. Admission to Collections and Discovery exhibits are free for all on the first Sunday of the month and those 20 and under every day. Those over 65 years visit for free every Thursday.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It's Montreal's largest art museum covering a variety of periods and art movements.

Sherel's expert tip: Admission is free for all on the first Sunday of the month and every day for those 20 and under. Seniors 65+ are admitted free on Thursdays. Major exhibitions are half-price for all on Wednesdays after 5 pm. Closed Monday.

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Mont Royal
Photo courtesy of Sherel Purcell

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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Casino de Montréal

One of three casinos in the province of Quebec, Casino de Montreal offers world-class gaming, dining and entertainment. There are more than 3200 slot machines, 115 gaming tables and a keno lounge if you're in the mood for a little gambling. When it's time to take a break and eat, options range from fine dining to casual. And if gaming isn't quite enough, four bars and a performance hall provide additional entertainment. The entire facility is open 24 hours seven days a week but only to persons 18 and older. Dress code is business to business casual (no strapless tops, tank tops or camisoles for ladies).

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The scenic park location is a tourist attraction in its own right and the restaurants and bars provide great city views.

Sherel's expert tip: Come for the many free shows and excellent views at this 24-hour gambling complex at the modernist Expo 67 site.

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BAnQ Grande Bibliothéque

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.

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This nature preserve in the northwestern section of the Island of Montreal offers visitors a peaceful look at local plants and wildlife. The parc-nature du Bois-de-Liesse, with its majestic hardwood forest, is a unique conservation park in an urban landscape. Its diverse ecosystem is home to a number of plants and animals that you can observe, including the American beaver, the map turtle and the flowering rush. In the park, the cardinal, chickadee, nuthatch and the Dark-eyed Juncos are also present in winter. Visitors will have ample opportunities to observe wood ducks floundering in Bertrand Creek and on weekdays you may have this paradise to yourself.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It's a unique conservation park with a diverse ecosystem and home to black maples.

Sherel's expert tip: Try to visit during the week for more private time and to avoid parking fees, take public transport.

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Basilique Notre-Dame
Photo courtesy of Paul Shio

Built in 1829, the neo-Gothic Basilique Notre-Dame, in the center of Old Montreal, was the site of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's funeral and Celine Dion's wedding. Basilique Notre-Dame is built in the scale and manner of Europe's great churches. Rumour has it that the protestant architect James O'Donnell, who designed the basilica, was so taken with the project that he converted to Catholicism. Fine woodwork, rose ceiling windows, blue vaulted ceilings and a massive church bell make this a great place to visit. A small, on-site museum displays various religious artifacts, paintings and vestments. It's always free to attend Mass here as well as to pray and/or meditate. At other times a small visitor fee applies for everyone over six.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Montreal's most famous and beautiful basilica is the site of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's funeral and Celine Dion's wedding.

Sherel's expert tip: Admission to the Basilica remains free for early morning prayer (Mon-Friday 7 am, Saturday 8 am, Sunday 7:30 AM).

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The Quays of the Old Port are steeped in history. The first colonists arrived here 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. An intimate, silent and non-polluting boat offers an environmentally-friendly ride along the Old Port and Lachine Canal where the cycling trails provide hours of healthy 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.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It's a short walk, a continuation of the free walking tours of Old Montreal and a good place to view free fireworks.

Sherel's expert tip: The ferries that operate from Old Port generally run from May to October. As parking is pricey, it's best to use public transportation.

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Angrignon Park sits on a 97-hectare of land in the west end of Montreal. Angrignon is the last stop westward on the Metro's green line. To get to Angrignon Park get out of the Metro and start walking. Angrignon Park is a tranquil stretch of green space with a long pond in the middle. The park has six miles of walking trails and seven miles of cross-country skiing trails and is home to a large community garden area with more than a hundred plots. There are picnic tables along des Trinitaires. The heart of the park was re-landscaped in 2000 and the overall impression that of an idyllic refuge from the stresses of the city.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Angrignon Park with its trails of varying lengths are perfect for hikers and cross-country skiers.

Sherel's expert tip: Try to avoid visiting on weekends when it gets quite busy.

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Marché Jean-Talon
Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Tourisme Montreal. Photo by Ron Stern

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.

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Meet Sherel Purcell

Sherel Purcell is a travel writer who specializes in golf, Montreal and Quebec, contemporary art, cycling and food and wine. Her articles appear on USA Today's 10Best,, Aol, Matador,...  More About Sherel