Montreal is the perfect destination for anyone living in North America looking for a significant change of scenery without having to travel to the end of the world. It is only an hour flight from New York or Toronto, yet feels a lot more like a trip to Europe.
On top of saving on plane ticket fees and jetlag ramifications, you’ll be happy to hear that Montreal is also a very affordable city.
With its vibrant cultural scene and bountiful summer festivals, Montreal has all it takes to offer you a memorable time without breaking the bank.
Here are some ideas for a sensational Montreal trip on the cheap!
WHERE TO STAY
Alternatives: The ‘Auberge Alternative’ is a budget boutique hostel. I truly like that place, because it started as a hostel for younger people, but now families and older travellers stay here as well. They also hold exhibitions which makes it a unique arts hostel for modern bohemian of all ages. Reserve early!
WHAT TO DO
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (FREE): The Museum’s permanent exhibitions, such as Sacred Africa, Napoleon and Pre-Columbian Art are always free to the public. For all other exhibitions (such as the wonderful Miles Davis expo starting this week), it’s 7.50$ on Wednesdays instead of the usual15$.
Tam-Tams (FREE): The Tam-Tams of Mont-Royal are Montreal’s Sunday ritual of dance and people watching. Hundreds of people gather at the foot of the mountain (look for the Angel statue on Parc Avenue). Many of them bring their tam-tams, while hundreds of others dance to the beat or have a chill out session in the park. Insider scoop: Kirsten Dunst is in town right now, and she’s been spotted there three weeks in a row….
Montreal Jazz Festival (FREE): From June 25 to July 6, it’s all about the Jazz Festival in Montreal. Numerous free shows take place outdoors and will ensure you have a most awesome trip. This year, look out for Lionel Richie, who’s headlining the opening show of the Festival.
Francofolies (FREE): Just like the Jazz Fest, another famous Montreal festival, Francofolies, takes place at La Place des Festivals. Only this time, French Music is honored. Check out the program to discover new artists from all over the globe, singing in the language of love.
Just For Laughs Festival (FREE): The Just For Laughs Festival is known for having launched the career of some of today’s most successful humorists (Jimmy Fallon loves Montreal). You will need tickets for certain shows, but the greatest part of the festival takes place outside, on St-Denis Street, which is closed to traffic and absolutely free of charge.
Fireworks (FREE): L’International des Feux Loto-Quebec is the largest pyrotechnics competition in the world. Every Saturday, the Montreal sky lights up, gracieuseté of one of the eight participating countries. Head to Place Jacques Cartier in Old Montreal for a great view and a vibrant evening.
Walk on Mount-Royal (FREE) Last year, I wrote a post about walking/jogging on Mont-Royal. I even did a video and I’m happy to tell you that it’s still very relevant. Going for a walk on Mont-Royal is free and good for your health. It will take you about 30 minutes to get to the top if you are walking, and the view is totally rewarding.
Village: The Village is Montreal’s gay neighborhood. In the summer, from May 26 to September 13, you can take a traffic-free stroll on Ste-Catherine East. You’ll find a multitude of art installations, shops, patios and arguably some of the sexiest people watching in the city.
Food sampling at Jean-Talon Market: Get on the metro and exit at the Jean-Talon Station. Located right next to Little Italy, the market is a very important part of Montreal culture. During the peak summer period, between June and October, its open-air arcades are occupied by about 300 vendors, mostly farmers from the countryside around Montreal. Mingle with locals and grab a piece of cheese. Or a mango, or a slice of traditional pizza, or a fresh salad, a crepe, olives, grilled corn, kebab….you get the picture!
Picnic at Jeanne Mance Park: Bring a blanket, grab some food at a nearby grocery store (PA market is just around the corner), add a nice bottle of wine in your basket, and you’re ready for a delightfully cheap Montreal picnic. Yes, you can drink in Montreal parks if you bring food! Much cheaper than spending the afternoon on a fancy patio, yet, just as much fun!
WHERE TO GRAB A CHEAP DRINK
St-Laurent Bifteck: Legendary Montreal bar located on the Main. Serves cheap pitchers of beer and free popcorn.
Divan Orange: Also on the Main, Divan Orange is a local hang out for music aficionados. The bar is a well-known stage for emerging artists, both English and French.
Saint-Elizabeth Pub: This hidden pub (right off St-Catherine Blvd) is home to a gorgeous and secluded back terrace. Perfect for taking a break after an afternoon of shopping or roaming from festival to festival. On Mondays, pints of local draught beer are only $3.
Copacabana Restaurant: A Montreal institution popular for watching hockey games, drinking cheap beer or munching on Yuca fries.
Au Pain Perdu: The perfect breakfast spot is a breakfast spot that serves mimosas (orange juice and champagne). The most perfect of all is the one that sells mimosas by the bottle….for 30$! All through the afternoon!
WHERE TO EAT
Romados: Traditional Portuguese chicken grilled right in front of your eyes. Delicious, copious, and very cheap.
Schwartz: Montreal institution known for its world-class smoked meat. A sandwich will cost you 5.50$ and will give you all the energy needed to keep on trecking.
Aux Vivres: For the vegetarians and vegans of this world, Aux Vivres is a very friendly cantine that offers healthy meals at affordable prices. Try the BLT or the salads. Awesome.
Beijing: This Chinatown goodie never goes out of style. The portions are generous which means you can share the food (and the bill). It’s open till 2am.
Lemeac: Lemeac is a fancy French bistro located in Outremont. Every night, after 10pm, the table d’hôte menu drops to 22$, which includes an appetizer and main course. 22$ is not so cheap, but definitely affordable and well worth it for the kind of experience you’ll get in return.
Orange Julep: If you’re lucky, you might spot the giant orange ball as you land in Montreal. It’s the Orange Julep! Famous for its secret orange juice recipe, head to the Julep to satisfy your love for cheap (but good) fastfood. Play it vintage on Wednesday nights as the classic cars roll in for the famous weekly showing-off.
Fushia: One of my favorite spots in the city, Fushia’s lunch menus involves a delicious vegetarian home-made meal, desert and floral tea…for 10$! Definitely worth the detour.
WHERE TO SHOP
Sidewalk Sales: Twice every summer, St-Laurent Blvd. gets taken over by hundreds of boutiques extending their marchandise unto the street for some amazing discounted shopping opportunities.
Winners: Winners is a chain of stores featuring designer clothes at discounted price. You’ll find one at the underground level of Place Montral Trust, on Ste-Catherine Blvd. PS. You have to be in the mood to look through the racks.
Jeans Jeans Jeans: The mecca of jeans (that fit). See what my colleague Daniel Baylis wrote about this Montreal institution. You need to go there, seriously.
Off -season specials: Stroll down Ste-Catherine Blvd. and Mont-Royal Avenue. You will discover that most shops always have discounted racks, especially around July and August when they start prepping for fall and getting rid of all their summer inventory.
People travelling on a budget know what BMW stands for, and that is, Bus-Metro-Walk.
In Montreal, your BMW is the STM (Society of Transport of Montreal). Check their website for fare information and maps. They are also very present on Twitter if you have any questions on how to get around.