Discovering Affordable Montreal

Jul 19th, 2018 | By | Category: Adventure, Featured, Travel

From pop-up events to biking, this city rocks with free activities to enjoy

By Katharine Fletcher

The famous French “joie de vivre” rocks in Montreal, where there are many free things to engage our interest. Whether it’s biking alongside the St. Lawrence River or Lachine Canal National Historic Site, browsing artisan vendors and dancing to live music at a “pop-up beach” (Village au Pied-du-Courant), or taking a picnic to Mount Royal, there’s tons to do. For free.

Let’s jump right in and explore some possibilities. I’ve also offered a few “for a fee” options, because sometimes this makes a visit easier to manage.

Mont Royal Park

Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1876, Mont Royal’s woodlands, driveways and belvederes (lookouts) remain hugely popular for residents and visitors alike. There’s no better place to orient yourself to the metropolis sprawling below you, where you get good views of the St. Lawrence River, plus city sites such as the Olympic Stadium.

Bike the (gravel) roads, hike the trail network, visit Beaver Lake (including its playground and pavilion and bistro), and stroll the bird feeder circuit if you’re a bird watcher.

Want to groove to a live drumbeat? At noon, only on Sundays until Sept. 30, see the Tam Tams drumming and dancing events located at the east side of the mountain near the Sir George-Étienne Cartier monument.

Biking

Take your bikes to Montreal and explore the city’s 600+ kms of cycling trails. My husband Eric and I did just that in May, where we cycled along car-free bike paths in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood.

This route took us alongside shady neighbourhood parks (many with playgrounds for kids), then beside the industrial section of the port. Destination? We cycled to Park Belle Rive park, where there are many lovely picnic tables, lookout points over the river, as well as varied bird life to glimpse, if you’re a birder.

We opted to picnic on a rocky beach overlooking the St. Lawrence River, where the occasional ocean-going container ship passed by. The route gave us a fascinating glimpse into this working-class neighbourhood immediately east of the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Special tip? Go at dark to watch the bridge’s night-time
illuminations.

Paid options

Don’t want to take your own bike? Bixi Bikes, a bike-sharing system, are available throughout the city. Want a tour guide? Hire a tour guide from such operators as Montreal On Wheels, located in the Old Port of Montreal. Or, if you’re wanting to explore Mont Royal on rental bikes, check out Fitz & Follwell’s at the base of the mountain.

Pop-up Beach

Pop-ups are activities and events which occur spontaneously – enter “Village au Pied-du-courant”, an artificial beach immediately east of Jacques-Cartier Bridge. From Thursday evenings through Sunday nights until Sept. 1, dance to live music, learn about organic gardening, visit artist’s booths and grab a bite to eat from on-site vendors. Check website as times vary.

Watching international fireworks from the beach

Come to the Village beach scene to watch Montreal Fireworks Festival’s amazing displays over the St. Lawrence River on Aug. 1 and 8. This event, also called L’International des Feux Loto-Québec, is the largest fireworks festival in the world.

Not quite for free

City Passports

Get deep discounts on 26 Montreal attractions – where public transportation is included.

Food markets

Dotted about Montreal you’ll discover wonderful food markets where you can often ask vendors for samples prior to purchasing. My favourite? Jean Talon Market in Little Italy is a hopping place to sample fresh fruit and veggies before you purchase, then stock up on delectable picnic items. Love cheese? Then you may wish to visit Atwater Market located very near the Lachine Canal.

Special tip: Lachine Canal is a National Historic Site operated by Parks Canada. In 1803 a fur trade post was opened here – and we can visit it today, and enjoy interpretation and activities put on by Parks Canada staff. The canal is also a super cycling destination – and, want more reasons to visit? Reserve one of Parks Canada’s comfortable, hybrid tent-cabins, oTENTiks, here (fees apply). They are available until Sept. 16.

Useful websites

• Tourism Montreal: www.mtl.org;
City passports
(fee applies): passeportmtl.com/;
festival information: bit.ly/2ISLu7A; Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district:
bit.ly/2tPZ0nN

Mont Royal Map: bit.ly/2KKw07x; Tam-Tams:
bit.ly/2lOW2eV

Biking: Bike path network map from tourism Montreal: bit.ly/2K53BJc; Bixi Bikes: montreal.bixi.com/en; Montreal on Wheels:
caroulemontreal.com/en; Fitz & Follwell:
fitzandfollwell.co/; general info and bike route recommendations: bit.ly/2NjxxTI

Parc Belle Rive Park: bit.ly/2MJc5q8;
(French only: bit.ly/2t5jGoN)

Jacques Cartier Bridge illuminations: bit.ly/2rZV4At

Montreal Fireworks Festival/
L’International des Feux Loto-Québec: bit.ly/1QCqJPU

Montreal Food markets: bit.ly/2u2oI7M

Lachine Canal National Historic Site, operated by Parks Canada (with information about the oTENTik accommodations): bit.ly/2u291xB

Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer, author and visual artist. Visit her at katharinefletcher.com or facebook.com/KatharineFletcherArtist/

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