Who said budgeting has to pinch? In a city packed with parks and festivals for every season and reason, Montreal is swelling with free events, attractions, and happenings.
Filled with 5,000 or so rose bushes, over 100,000 annuals as well as perennials and my personal favorite, that weeping willow tree equipped with picnic table beside the canal, the Jardin des Floralies is 25 acres of horticultural history and one of two major Montreal gardens. Originally created by some of the world's best landscape artists who participated in the 1980 International Floralies fair, the gardens became a permanent city fixture and are now maintained by Parc Jean-Drapeau. While especially breathtaking in August, there's plenty to behold across seasons, from the Jardin des Floralies' first buds in spring to the vibrant colors of surrounding trees come fall.
Only in Montreal. Only in Montreal will you spot a crowd -- from ravers to seniors -- doing the cha cha in square formation on a man made island (actually, it was a man-expanded island, circa 1963-1967). Light drizzle or shine, from June through August, anyone can learn the basics of ballroom dancing in the outdoor comfort of our very own Parc Jean-Drapeau. Always free and offered three evenings a week, just follow the beat, dance prof and group of line dancers to your left as you exit Parc Jean-Drapeau Metro. You really can't miss it and you really must try it. At least once.
I've been here my most of my life yet I only found out in my early twenties that the world's largest underground city is -- cough -- in Montreal. My excuse is 15 years in Laval. What's yours? Explore all 33 km of Montreal's Underground City and the 1,600 to 2,000 boutiques along the way, from the edge of downtown at Westmount Square to the Bibliothèque National, near the Latin Quarter and the Gay Village. Do look out for one of my favorite stretches, that mysteriously huge yet rush hour barren hallway with skylight near Place Bonaventure. Tell me, is there some monumental purpose for it other than serving as a fantastic photo backdrop? Please email me if you know. Seriously.
The highest point of Westmount and one of Mount Royal's three peaks, Summit Park and its 57 acres of protected wildlife is an all-time favorite urban getaway of mine. Gorgeous year round and particularly revered in the spring -- birdwatchers gather early mornings to spot woodpeckers, owls, and many other bird species attracted to the summit -- you forget you're even in a city. The designer houses encircling the urban forest -- try to guess which one I dubbed "the Claw" -- offer a sharp and surreal contrast to the designated bird and wild flower sanctuary, disappearing from view within seconds of entering the park. Remember to keep the noise level down and bring a plastic bag for litter as public garbage bins are scarce in the area.
weekly fireworks June through August to freebie activities in the dead of winter.
From dinosaur bones to fossils to Egyptian mummies in the flesh, the Redpath doesn't charge a dime to the public and is one of the oldest free museums in Canada. Located at McGill University's downtown campus and doubling as an academic unit for McGill graduate students in biology, anthropology, and earth sciences, The Redpath Museum showcases permanent exhibits in geology, zoology and paleontology. The Redpath also houses a collection of over 17,000 anthropological and archaeological artifacts covering Ancient Egypt, South America, Sri Lanka and more.
Both sharing the northern slope of Mount Royal and covering a collective 500 acres, the Mount Royal and Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemeteries are anything but macabre. With an arboretum of rare tree species as well as Japanese lilacs, crab apple and chestnut trees growing on the grounds, you might even spot a hawk or one of the other 145 migrating birds that populate the area. And I didn't even get to the tombs yet! See if you can find where Montreal Canadians' legendary VIP, Maurice Richard is buried and find other famous Montreal resident resting places like those of author Mordecai Richler and our most famous mayor, Jean Drapeau. Locate them and others using touch screen kiosks on-site.
If the sweet golden sound of silence is what you seek, then visit the Centre Bouddhiste Kankala, an urban oasis of compassion and contemplation. You don't need to be a practicing Buddhist to join in. The Kankala Centre welcomes people from any religious path to join them in lunch time meditations. Offered to the public free of charge three times a week, a warm welcome and enlightening experience are on the agenda. Remember to turn off your cell phones before entering the meditation room and most importantly, thank the Center and its volunteers for their generosity. Donations welcomed. March 25, 2011 UPDATE: The Centre now charges a small fee for their guided meditations. Click here for a list of free meditation classes in Montreal.
9. I Want to Ride My Bicycle - Greater Montreal Area
Bicycling Magazine didn't dub Montreal the "best cycling city in North America" twice since 1999 for nothing. We're spoiled green with close to 500km of bike trails across the city. From biking the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit to exploring Mount Royal Park, all you need is a bicycle and some free time to explore Montreal's bike path network.
From Socrates' bust to a painting signed Renoir, save your money and spend a couple of hours getting lost in the time warps and cultural aesthetics of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Founded in 1860 and the first institution of its kind in Canada, the museum features artifacts from across the globe and covers a wide array of visual art, from sculpture and print to industrial design and textiles. Including periods from antiquity to contemporary, access to the permanent collection -- over 33,000 items -- is always free and donations are, also always, welcomed.