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Free Things to Do in Montreal

Yet MORE Free Things to Do in Montreal

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My first Free Things to Do in Montreal list barely covered all the amazing freebies this city has to offer! Behold, your new Top 10, a must-read, especially for those of you having a hard time making ends meet. Don't let your tight budget hold you back from enjoying life. Read on.

1. Orange Julep Muscle Cars - Decarie/Namur

orange julep cars montreal gibeau quebec canada
Photo © Evelyn Reid
As soon as the weather warms up, a time warp gears up as locals showcase their hottest rides at Montreal's giant orange beacon -- the Orange Julep -- three nights a week. Wednesdays are the official go-to night for muscles and classics: owners compete as onlookers vote for their favorites of the evening -- when I went, this 1929 Mercedes Gazelle made the cut. Thursdays attract modified, pimped-up cars and Tuesdays are nondescript. But what these nights share in common is they attract muscle cars -- think Panteras, TransAms, Cobras -- so if you're craving the sight of '60s Corvettes over the latest concept Ferrari, you're at the right place. All nights are free. However, the Julep's no-longer-mystery-drink and satisfying poutine are not.

2. Montreal Botanical Gardens - Rosemont

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Photo © Evelyn Reid
You didn't know about the Montreal Botanical Garden freebie?! You're not alone, barely anyone knew, until your humble guide yanked the cat out of the bag April 19, 2010. It was after a fair summer's day spent in the gardens that I got wind of the deal as a group walked through the gates without paying. Lo and behold, admission to the outdoor grounds is FREE as of 6 p.m. (sometimes 5 p.m.) until sundown, from mid-May through Labor Day. But this hush policy doesn't apply to lantern season, from post-Labor Day through October. Another thing, the outdoor grounds are free during opening hours from November through early May but there isn't much in bloom, save tulips and maybe a few azaleas, magnolias and lilacs in the Arboretum come May. May 2013 UPDATE: Sadly, management has removed its free access policy for the 2013 season. Whether it's reinstated for 2014 remains to be seen. Upset about this? Sign this petition demanding the Montreal Botanical Gardens reinstate its original policy.

3. St. Joseph's Oratory - Snowdon/Côte-des-Neiges

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Photo © Evelyn Reid
Ranked as one Montreal's most beloved landmarks, St. Joseph's Oratory is a place of miracles and unexplained phenomena that just a few years ago, was home to a saint. A pilgrimage site for Catholics in search of healing and support, it's also an architectural sight for sore eyes, a holy place that welcomes anyone of any faith, attracting two million visitors every year.

4. Tam Tams - Plateau Mont-Royal

tam tams montreal jam mount royal mont quebec evelyn reid
Photo © Evelyn Reid
It's a challenge to find someone in these parts who doesn't know about Tam Tams' drum circle on Mount Royal. I've known about it since I was 14, but I hadn't bothered to check it out until a decade later. What a shame it took me 40 seasons and how many moons to get off my arse and experience one of the most inclusive, peaceful and fun freebies in town: Montreal's tribal tradition in the park, running roughly May through October.

5. Free Concerts - Downtown Montreal

montreal free concerts
Graeme Robertson / Getty Images
Enjoy several free recitals every week, often every day, courtesy of McGill University's Schulich School of Music. Offering a nice mix of musical solos, opera, chamber ensembles, orchestra concerts and child wonders covering classical, experimental and jazz, the season is hopping October through June ever year. Concerts wind down in the summer, but there are still a couple of offerings in July and August.

6. Free Workouts - Throughout Montreal

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Photo © Evelyn Reid
Can't afford a gym membership? Join the club. Fitness centers can be anything but cheap. YMCA is well aware of that, so much so that the community organization proposes free membership in exchange for your time: volunteer roughly seven hours a week as either welcome staff, front desk clerk, trainer, tutor, etc. and some branches, including the Hampton and Westmount YMCAs, will give you free access to their facilities. Simply show up in person and find out if your local branch offers a volunteering with free membership program. If accepted, you'll be placed under a three-month probation period and if staff is happy with your contribution and commitment to helping the community, the trial will extend to one year, subject to renewal.

7. Place des Festivals - Downtown Montreal

places des festivals montreal evelyn reid
Photo © Evelyn Reid
The epicentre of free summer concerts signed Montreal Jazz Festival and Les Francofolies as well as a gag destination during Just for Laughs, this lovely patch of concrete adjacent the Montreal Contemporary Art Museum and Place des Arts is a great people-watching/urban sunbathing destination from April through October, a kid-approved one at the that, courtesy of its gushy, unpredictable fountains, a programmable set of 232 water jets. Pack a lunch, drop by on a warm sunny afternoon and take in a few whiffs of one of the city's more interesting pit stops.

8. McCord Museum - Downtown Montreal

mccord museum montreal quebec canada
Photo by Flickr user duluoz cats
The first Saturday of every month, visitors can enjoy the fruits of founder David Ross McCord's labor, free of charge, between 10 a.m. and noon, as well as every Wednesday from 5 p.m. till closing time, at 9 p.m. Never been to the McCord Museum? Then you've never seen the second most important period costume collection in Canada nor the museum's over one million objects, images and manuscripts depicting life in Canada, with artifacts dating as far back as the 11th century.

9. Canadian Centre for Architecture - Downtown Montreal

canadian cenrte for architecture cca montreal quebec canada
Image courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Architecture
Strapped for cash but aching for a dose of architectural culture? Mark Thursdays after 5:30 p.m. on your budget-conscious calendar, a longstanding freebie tradition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, one that includes access to its current exhibits and outdoor grounds (weather-permitting). And for a curry-based pick-me-up prior to or after your visit, consider dropping by the Montreal Curry House's new location, just blocks from the CCA (and tell Ben I said hi!).

10. Tour St. Michel Environmental Complex & Cirque du Soleil - St. Michel

Ever wonder what a stinky city dump would look like if it was turned into a multi-acre park? Stop wondering and start sightseeing with a guided tour of the St. Michel Environmental Complex, an award-winning ecological program that will effectively turn one of North America's largest landfills into 192 hectares (474 acres) of green space. The tour is free if you're a Montreal resident, otherwise, a nominal fee ($6 for adults, $4 seniors, $4 students and kids ages 8 and up) is charged. While you're there, drop by the Complexe's neighbor and partner, the Cirque du Soleil, where its international headquarters are located. Cirque visits are free of charge for everyone who's content to visit without a live guide. Reservations required.

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