Igloofest
Photograph: Charles Prot

The best cheap things to do in Montreal

Maximize your dime and time with the best cheap things to do in Montreal, from arts and culture to food and drink.

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Montreal is an incredibly accessible and affordable city, with some of its best things (hello, best sandwich shops of Montreal!) to do doubling down as its cheapest (or even free). All year long you’ll find amazing and fun stuff to discover that won’t break the bank, like discovering the city's best cheap eats or seeing free performances at the best festivals. You could even fall in love at (or with) the city's most romantic café. Here’s our list of highly-rated (and budget-friendly) ways to spend time in Montreal.

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Amazing cheap things to do in Montreal

The winter months don’t mean any less outside time for us die-hard (read: insane) Canadians, and the heart of the city lights up for the occasion. On and around Place des Festivals there’s free skating and firepits thanks to the Montréal en Lumière Festival, plus Luminothérapie curates all sorts of very TikTokable light installations to interact with. You can skate at Esplanade Tranquille, then stroll down to Old Montréal’s Place Jacques-Cartier to sit around the fires there—all for gratis.

Price: Free

Art grows on trees in this town, and paying for it is a luxury. There’s art everywhere, free to see on the city walls with murals, a huge public art program and app-led activities like Cité Mémoire, but beyond that there are organized events like Nuit Blanche (an all-nighter that sees galleries and museum alike stay open for free and put on a show) and Art Souterrain (a curated art installation strewn along the Underground City). Galleries free to tour anytime include those in the Belgo Building, as well as Centre Clark, Yves Laroche, Galerie Simon Blais, Ellephant, Oboro, Optica, Bradley Ertaskiran, Galerie C.O.A., Galerie Hugues Charbonneau and Art Mûr, to name a few of our faves.

Price: Free

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Montreal is definitely a hot dog kind of town, but unlike other cities, we like out dogs smaller than your average American variety and either steamed (soft and warm) or toasted (buttery and crispy). The best place to experience the real deal Quebec dog is at one of our many casse-croûtes (diners) throughout the city, whether it’s at chains like Lafleur’s or La Belle Province, or at institutions like the Montreal Pool Room. Cheap, fun to eat and definitely not good for you, it’s one of life’s dirty pleasures worth experiencing at least once.

Price: Under $5

4. Enjoy the free days at Igloofest

This year, Igloofest invites you to party for free every Saturday from January 20 to February 10. Head to Quai Jacques-Cartier in Old Montreal, where you can not only dance to the rhythm of the guest DJs but also go on the Sapporo Slide, play volley-pong, and enjoy free marshmallows.

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Poutine’s one of Quebec’s greatest creations, an edible cultural icon that people from all over the world now identify the province with. The mix of French fries, gravy and cheese curds might not be what everyone wants to eat for (or with) dinner, but if and when they do, La Banquise is the city’s ambassador for the dish; not only for having so many different options, but also for being open 24 hours a day, serving them nonstop. And hey, if it's too busy, there's always another restaurant with delicious poutine nearby.

Price: Approximately $15

6. Take a $5 yoga class at the top of the Eaton Centre

It's the new 5 à 7 : Try an immersive yoga class on the second floor of the Eaton Centre in collaboration wit Lululemon. Classes are every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. and 100% of the $5 fee goes to the organization Dans la Rue.

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7. Make the most of winter on Mount Royal

Mount Royal mountain is a true white wonderland in the winter with plenty of activities going on in and around the Belvédère chalet in front of Beaver Lake. For some seriously low-stakes family fun, you can rent an inner tube for around $5 and rip down the hill reserved for slipping and sliding. Alternatively, you can rent skates, cross-country skis, snowshoes or sleds for under $20 and make the most out of the season.

Price: Approximately $5

Located in the gorgeous marble and brass space that once housed the Royal Bank of Canada’s headquarters in Old Montreal, this public café took the idea of a collective work space and made it accessible to anyone who might need a private meeting room, individual work space for the day, or a more long term co-working space. It’s good for catching up on your work, but it’s also good for catching up in general; if you want to admire the breathtaking room while grabbing a bite to eat and a coffee, you can definitely do that, too.

Price: Under $10

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9. Laugh it up at The Comedy Nest

Love to laugh? Check out The Comedy Nest, a longstanding Montreal comedy club often voted the best in the city for local talent, and maybe you’ll get to see the next big up-and-coming star perform. Keep it cheap if you head down there on a Monday or Tuesday night when show admission is under $10. A hilarious night out, and money left over for a drink? Win-win.

Price: Under $10

In order to experience one of the city’s tell-tale connections to its French motherland, Automne bakery has some of the best bread in town and arguably one of the best examples of baguettes and croissants. The shelves there speak for themselves: Get there too late in the day and you won’t have that baguette with dinner tonight, those croissants with brunch tomorrow morning, or that snack intended for when you’re lounging in a park. If you’re a fan of carbs, trust in their crust. If they’re fresh out, check out the city’s best bakeries for more options.

Price: Prices vary

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Anyone fresh to Montreal needs to eat the city’s best bagels, and lucky them, two of the heaviest hitters in town are just a couple minutes’ walk from each other. Then there’s the fun part: Decide where to align yourself on the Great Bagel Debate. Hot out of the oven, soft, chewy and delicious—don’t waste your time with anything but sesame or poppy seed or you’ll look like a tourist—you can decide for yourself what’s the better bagel in town.

Price: Approximately $2 per bagel

12. Take in the sights at Basilique Notre-Dame de MontrĂ©al

Notre-Dame Basilica is a beautiful church in the heart of Old Montreal that’s nearly two centuries old with beautiful architecture, a majestic interior and gilded gold leaves. Admission fees here, with or without a 20-minute guided tour, run for approximately $15 for adults. And if you’re not one for religious tourism, who wouldn’t want to marvel at the very spot where Celine Dion—one of our biggest sources of provincial pride and the unofficial queen of Quebec—got married and held the funeral for her beloved husband, René Angélil? (RIP René)  

Price: Approximately $15

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To be sure, there’s a lot worth digging into in Chinatown; some of the best cheap eats are found there. Among them, one of our favourites comes from the amazing banh mi sandwich shop on Saint-Laurent Boulevard called Hoang Oanh. For under $10, you can grab a really good sandwich made on the spot, take that snack for a stroll on the pedestrian street De La Gauchetière. Hey, maybe wash it all down with bubble tea, because why not? You can afford it.

Price: Approximately $10

Montreal has excellent microbreweries and Quebec as a whole is full of delicious producers. If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to spend an afternoon, why not enjoy some of Montreal’s finest suds at one of the cities many delightful establishments? There’s a rich selection at Vices & Versa that’s perpetually reliable, but checking out other bars like Harricana, Isle de La Garde and L’Espace Public will definitely yield something up your alley. Check out all of Montreal’s best craft beer bars here.

Price: Under $10 for a pint

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15. Buy it second-hand at The Word

There are few places that feel more like an escape in terms of atmosphere and attitude than in a bookstore, but large full-price retail shops are little more than window shopping for the average cheapskate. Rest assured, the second-hand bookshops of this city provide the perfect alternative. Our heart belongs to The Word in the Milton Park neighbourhood near McGill University: Its collection leans a little more towards literature, but there’s something worth reading in every category of their curated shelves. Honourable mention goes to Cheap Thrills, located less than 10 blocks away.

Price: Under $10

16. Shakespeare in the Park in Parc La Fontaine

Presented by Repercussion Theatre, Shakespeare in the Park is an annual summer show that sets up in various Montreal parks throughout the month of July, our favourites taking place in Parc La Fontaine's public amphitheatre. While the shows are technically free, people are asked to donate if they can, making this a perfect entertaining evening activity that costs as much as you’d like. Don’t expect the conventional Shakespearean offerings, as the company puts on adaptations that use contemporary settings.

Price: Pay-what-you-can

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17. Support the arts at Papier Art Fair

Since 2007, Papier Art Fair has been giving Montrealers the opportunity to admire and purchase works of art on paper every April. From collage and drawings to photographs and sculptures, galleries from all over the country come to show off the work of very talented artists. .

Price: Under $10

18. Party it up at Village au Pied-du-Courant

Along the banks of the Saint-Lawrence River at the foot of the Jacques Cartier lies the cool, community-driven and beachy public space for people of all ages and from all corners of the city to gather, share and enjoy the views of the water. Steadily growing every year, the Village is now bigger than ever, with places to drink and eat (at a cost), playgrounds for the kids, art installations and a boardwalk. The best times are when bands play on their open-air stage.

Price: Free

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19. Watch live music acts around the Plateau

Montreal’s got a good show worth checking out on any given night. You’re sure to find all sorts of live music at bars and venues throughout the city, and most shows don’t cost much. Most cheap venues are located in the Plateau, but there are excellent spots downtown as well: Bar Le Ritz P.D.B always has a solid line up of interesting shows and awesome dance parties to access on the cheap, as does Théâtre Fairmount, Casa del Popolo, Sala Rosa, Petit Campus, L’Escogriffe, Quai de Brumes, O Patro Vys, or Foufounes Électriques. Take your pick and see who’s playing.

Price: $10 and under

This Vietnamese ice cream shop’s one of the best places in the city to cool off with a delicious cone. Its Mile End location is notorious for its line-ups, so keep in mind that waiting just makes the reward sweeter. Owners Ngoc Phan and Vincent Beck’s two-toned soft serve specialties and scoops in ever-changing mouth-watering flavours are definitely worth a taste for cheap.

Price: $5

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When good weather rolls into town, Montrealers head outside to eat and drink for cheap in our many public spaces and parks. One of the best parks for this—for its proximity to the city centre, mountain, Plateau and Mile End neighbourhoods—is Jeanne-Mance park. With tennis courts, a soccer field, bike paths, picnic tables, plenty of benches and a playground, it’s a short stroll away from Portuguese chicken sandwiches from Coco Rico or hitting up a dépanneur for cold beers. Just remember you need a snack in order to legally drink in a park.

Price: Under $10

22. Walk through a street party

In the summer Montréal’s streets open up to pedestrians all over the city. Wellington, Mont-Royal, and Ste-Catherine Streets in the Village close off to cars completely for the length of the warmer months, and feature all sorts of free entertainment. St. Lawrence Boulevard does the same during the MURAL festival beyond, and puts on a massive street sale and a ton of free live music. Crescent closes off to cars during F1 Grand Prix (ironically) white Ste-Catherine near the Place des Festivals closes off through all the summer fests. During Just For Laughs especially, when acrobats take to the streets, there’s never a dull moment.

Price: Free

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23. Eat something from a truck

From April on, the First Fridays food truck gathering happens at the Olympic Plaza on—you guessed it—every first Friday of the month. It’s a veritable cornucopia where the only difficulty is running out of appetite before you’ve tasted everything you want to. From po’ boys to pad Thai to fried gnocchi, you’ll find it all here, plus lots of activities for kids to run amok. The activities are free, while the average full meal will set you back about $20. 

Price: Under $20

24. Ride a Bixi along Lachine Canal

Montreal’s bicycle sharing system is not only a great way to get from point A to B, but also makes for a fun way to see the city and make your way along the city’s many scenic bike paths—if you’re not sure where to start, go the whole length of the Lachine Canal. There are several payment options including one-way, 30-minutes and a day pass. Just remember to bring a credit card to pay.

Price: Approx. $5 for a day pass

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Ever wanted to swim like an Olympian, or maybe feel like an incredibly small fish in a gigantic, chlorinated pond? To experience the knee buckling fear from the very top of crazy-high diving boards? Take a trip to the Olympic swimming pool right next to the Olympic Stadium and spend the day splashing about in Montreal’s biggest indoor pool, maybe even take a leap from the high board. Depending on the day, free swims are available for adults and children alike.

Price: Free

26. Shop for finds at Expozine

Whether it’s zines, tchotchkes, handmade crafts, custom jewellery, handbags, clothes or fine food products, this city has a pop-up for it. Expozine, an annual print fair that happens in November, brings together more than 50 publishers and authors selling books, zines and printed works. If you’re looking for more than a printed product, the Pop Montreal music festival’s Puces Pop craft fair which takes place a couple of times a year and is an opportunity for local artists, designers and crafters to come together and sell their products and goods under one roof.

Price: Under $10

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27. Explore through snacking at Jean-Talon Market

People in this city love everything about food, so it’s no surprise that a highlight is our markets with fresh produce and boutique restaurants. The two main markets are Jean-Talon Market in Little Italy and Atwater Market in Saint-Henri. Both have their own charm, but they do have one thing in common: They’re both great places to go to shop, snack, grab a coffee or just hang out and enjoy the sights, sounds and amazing smells.

Price: Under $10

On a tighter budget?

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