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Free Things to Do in Montreal

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The secret to Montreal’s success is found in the pavement at Place Royale, the heart of the old quarter.  It’s a copy of an 18th century peace treaty between the First Nations and the French settlers.  Dancing, feasting and trading customs followed the talks - and Montreal’s reputation for multicultural festivals was launched. Since then, waves of immigrants have added their own color to this layered city. Visitors can travel around the world to 80 countries and 4000 restaurants with a simple transit pass.  Although some tourist spots are pricey, it is possible to get a taste of Montreal for free.

The Big Picture

Montreal’s jagged skyline is studded with church spires, skyscrapers and a constellation of night lights.  For an aerial view, the Clock Tower at The Old Port serves as a lighthouse, a museum and a memorial to The Merchant Fleet who fell in World War 1. The 192-step climb leads to a breathtaking view of the city and the Saint Lawrence River. 

Mount Royal, the highest spot in the city, offers belvederes overlooking the downtown core, the Olympic Stadium and the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.

Underground City

Shoppers can avoid winter winds by using tunnels linking metro (subway) stations and downtown malls.  The stations provide entertainment as well as safe passage; some are decorated with artwork and others are equipped with screens flashing local news. During the February 2009 Montreal Highlights Festival, Art Souterrain will present photographs, films, and artistic performances in this underground network.

History

Visitors can step into the past without paying admission just by strolling the cobblestones near the Old Port.  Rough stone buildings of the 1700’s rub shoulders with the neatly-cut blocks of the Victorian era. Ghostly outlines of earlier buildings linger in the sides of larger structures built over them. The 17th century Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel or “Sailors Church”, is a museum in itself. Model ships, tokens of gratitude for safe journeys, hang from the frescoed ceiling.

For history that reaches further back, Redpath Museum, on McGill University campus, boasts extensive collections in paleontology, zoology, minerology and ethnology. Every Sunday, vistors can tour the Mummy exhibit for free.

Tours

Guides lead tourists around City Hall's stained-glass-lined council chamber and its hall of honor.

During the summer, many of the ships docked at the Old Port, which often include Canadian Forces vessels, are open to the public.

Music

Beyond subway station performances by hopeful musicians, Montreal pulses with festivals all year long.  During the summer, the International Jazz Festival, features over 350 free shows, and the Campbell Concerts  rock world, pop and classical music in the city’s parks.

The Montreal Highlights Festival warms up the winter with cultural and culinary extravaganzas. Revelers can enjoy everything from South American music to swing dancing until dawn. Events sprout all over town, including the Quays of the old Port, where DJs spin their magic amidst fireworks and braziers that light up the night.

Art

Sculptures and photographs grace downtown streets, and the recently refurbished Quartier international showcases elegant public squares and artistic fountains. It’s also home to The World Trade Center, where visitors can photograph a slab of the Berlin wall, donated to Montreal for its 350th anniversary.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts permanent collection, which takes visitors from Antiquity to the present, is free every day. TheMusée d'art contemporain de Montréal ::: and its sculpture garden are free Wednesday evenings. Purchase is not a prerequisite to visit Montreal’s many galleries, such as Le Chariot, Canada’s largest gallery specializing in Inuit art.

Theatre

During the spring, Lafontaine Park’s Théâtre de Verdure presents outdoor performances in music, dance and film.

Repercussion Theatre tours various parks in the summer, performing updates on classical plays under the evening stars.

International travel

Some of Montreal’s neighborhoods are spiced with a distinct ethnic flavor. In the northeast end, the ornate Madonna della Difesa Church and vegetable gardens of Little Italy provided backdrop for the movie Mambo Italiano. Buy fresh produce at the sprawling Jean Talon Market and enjoy a picnic in Dante Park while watching a game of bocce ball.

Pagoda gates lead to Chinatown’s maze of pedestrian streets, where visitors can purchase exotic food, consult with herbalists and acupuncturists or dine in cozy restaurants.

Looking for a sari, castanets or rare books? Browse the boutiques and bookshops along Saint Denis Street, the Latin Quarter’s bohemian thoroughfare.

Sports

During our four to five month winter, many parks, such as Lafontaine and Maisonneuve, offer outdoor skating rinks and cross-country trails. 

Montreal’s largest outdoor winter event, however, is La Fête des Neiges, featuring offbeat sports and games on Notre Dame Island, accessible by ferry from the Old Port. Later in February, the Island hosts La Coupe des Glaces, an ice-cycling race developed by the Montreal bike messenger community

During the summer, hikers, cyclists and in-line skaters can cruise the paths in Parc Jean Drapeau, beside the Old Port or along the historic, tree-lined Lachine Canal. During the spring of 2009, Montreal will launch a bike rental program. Once customers have signed up, the first half-hour of each use is free, and the next 30 minutes cost $1.50 CAD.

Dance lessons

Not ready for bed yet? Montreal is a tango hot spot, smoking with festivals, milongas and free introductory lessons in certain schools. There’s also ballroom dancing under the stars on St. Helen's Island. It’s the Canadian city that never sleeps!


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