Free things to do this summer in Montréal

Robyn Fadden

Robyn Fadden is a Montréal-based writer and editor who searches out city secrets, new bands, life-changing art and things to do with her perpetually active kid. Robyn has covered major events for HOUR, MUTEK, ARTINFO, CKUT 90.3FM and more.

This article was updated on July 14, 2020.

Make the most of Montréal's glorious sunny days and warm nights with all kinds of free things to do this summer. Explore Montréal's outdoor spaces and markets, rediscover different neighbourhoods by bike, happen upon music performances, experience bold new art and more free activities across the city and online.

Open-air urban activities

In a summer like no other before, expect more than a few surprises on Montréal's streets and parks, from pop-up markets to free outdoor performances in the Quartier des Spectacles, the Village and across the city. Spot artists in mid-creation during MURAL Festival, this year from June 21 to September 20 along Saint-Laurent Boulevard and its side streets, as well as online. Catch classical ensembles performing in the open air for Orchestre symphonique de Montréal's Summer Neighbourhoods series, while Montréal Pride's 360 Edition, from August 10 to 16, mixes online events with surprise performances.

Look up at night to see projection artwork Homage to Our Humanity illuminating the facades of the Grande Bibliothèque, UQAM's Pavillon President-Kennedy and the Saint-Laurent metro station in July – also at the Saint-Laurent metro, look for MAPP_MTL's Messengers of Hope projections. And along the Promenade des Artistes in the Quartier des spectacles, don't miss Un coeur nomade, opening August 20, an exhibition honouring Dany Laferrière’s literary career and retracing the artist’s life in words, images and sounds.

Rediscover the city

Whether you're visiting or a Montrealer, now's the time to experience Montréal in a new light. Explore the history and beauty of Old Montréal, where newly pedestrianized streets accommodate more visitors and the area's popular restaurants and airy terrasses are open again. Stroll the Old Port of Montréal boardwalk and take a musical soundwalk using the Portrait Sonore app, featuring modern architecture, public art, Expo 67 and more. Walk through the McCord Museum's Urban Forest, an outdoor art installation and quiet rest stop downtown.

Every summer, Sainte-Catherine Street is transformed into a pedestrian corridor for festivals, artwork and socializing – this year may look a little different, but you can still spot art installations and more surprises along the main thoroughfare all season. Meanwhile, in the Plateau, Mont-Royal Avenue becomes a pedestrian-only street all summer too, with open-air terrasses, art and more. While you're exploring, stop for take-out at a favourite restaurant or a new discovery, or pick up locally-grown and made food at the city’s public markets. And cool off with ice cream, iced coffee or an ice-cold locally brewed beer.

Explore Montréal's green spaces

With plants and trees from across North America, Asia and the world, the Montréal Botanical Garden is an expansive natural oasis currently in full bloom – one of many of Montréal fun summer family activities, the garden is free this summer for anyone 17 and under. The leafy forest paths and views of the city from Mount Royal Park never get old – go at sunset or sunrise for a truly stunning sight. Have a picnic in Parc La Fontaine and other Montréal parks and green spaces.

Ride your bike (or rent one) to explore even further afield – try Frédéric-Back Park near La TOHU circus complex or ride over to Parc Jean-Drapeau to see views of the St. Lawrence River and Old Montréal (and challenge yourself on Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve). Hop in the water there and at many other city parks where pools and beaches are now open for the season, with new health measures in place. For more outdoor adventures, spend time at Montréal's large nature parks.

Art for everyone

Public art is abundant in Montréal and there's no time like this summer to see it. Wait until nightfall to watch the Living Connections light show on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. Go on your own self-guided tour of Montréal's hundreds of public art works throughout the city. And follow our guide to Montréal's most famous icons to see more of the city's major sights and architecture. 

Among the many must-see summer exhibitions in Montréal, see Paris in the Days of Post-Impressionism: Signac and the Indépendants at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, free for ages 20 and under. The Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, free for ages 12 and under, reopens with exhibitions Painting Nature with a Mirror, Points of Light and two video works by Jon Rafman. The Fondation PHI pour l'art contemporain explores the complex meanings of diaspora in painting exhibition Relations: Diaspora and Painting. The nearby Phi Centre reopens with Emergence & Convergence, showcasing digital works and innovative installations (free for ages 13 and under). And the Fonderie Darling's Place Publique turns the street in front of the gallery into an art space from July 2 to October 31. More Montréal galleries open throughout the summer: see our guide to gallery hopping for info.

Virtual entertainment, art and culture

Summer-long electronic music festival Piknic Électronik brings the party into our homes with online live performances – stay tuned to Piknic's social sites for upcoming Sunday shows. The Phi Centre's virtual Parallel Lines presents the stunning work of 10 local artists, the result of a 60-day intensive residency on the theme of being "alone together.” Meanwhile, tune into the Phi Centre's summer concert series Sonication, filmed on the centre's roof on July 23, August 22, September 2 and September 29.

The Écomusée du fier monde and UQAM's Faculty of Arts present virtual exhibition Wild Flowers, an immersive urban landscape of local flowers and plants. Festival Haiti on Fire! presents its gala concerts and more online from July 24 to 26. And the 27th Montreal's Italian Week Festival goes online from August 7 to 23, with live concerts, performances and more cultural activities for all ages.

Robyn Fadden

Robyn Fadden is a Montréal-based writer and editor who searches out city secrets, new bands, life-changing art and things to do with her perpetually active kid. Robyn has covered major events for HOUR, MUTEK, ARTINFO, CKUT 90.3FM and more.

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