Free things to do this spring in Montréal
This article was updated on March 19, 2019.
There’s always something going on in Montréal in spring, whether the snow is falling or melting under the sun. Outdoor shows, festivals, art, history and more, we’ve got you covered for things to do in Montréal for free with friends, kids or on your own – from the first day of spring to the last.
Free outdoor activities
Swing and create music together with friends, family and strangers alike on the colourful 21 Balançoires (21 Swings) musical art installation outside Place des Arts starting April 8. Go for a scenic walk along the Old Port of Montréal boardwalk next to the St. Lawrence River with views of the city, iconic Habitat 67 and the Biosphère. Continue on through Old Montréal, where you can check a map or restaurant reviews online via free MTLWiFi network and see some of Montréal's public art, high-tech wonders and flagship legacy 375th anniversary projects. By night, look for the history-illuminating tableaux projections of Cité Mémoire. Or walk the landscaped Promenade Fleuve-Montagne, stretching from the St. Lawrence River to Mount Royal Park. A stroll up Saint-Laurent Boulevard any time is colourful, but even more so during MURAL Festival in mid-June, when you can watch artists paint new works on buildings’ walls – and don't miss spotting Montréal's murals of Leonard Cohen on Crescent Street near the Sir Winston Churchill Pub and on Saint-Laurent Boulevard at Napoleon Street not far from Schwartz's. Go to the top of Mount Royal for one of the best views of downtown, stroll around the fountain and picnickers in Parc La Fontaine, and escape the city entirely in beautiful Parc Jean-Drapeau. And Go Bike Montréal Festival's massive public bike rides across the city, Tour de l'Île de Montréal (on June 2) and Tour la Nuit (on May 31) are free for kids 12 and under – and as free to watch as any parade.
Free museums and more
If you’re here on Sunday, May 26, Montréal Museums Day means that almost all museums and galleries are free for everyone! Delve into Québec’s history, art and culture at a discount any time with the Passeport MTL – families can take advantage of the fact that kids 12 and under get in for free at many of the city’s major museums and galleries, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (where admission to the permanent collections is also free on the last Sunday of every month and always free for people 30 and under), local history troves the McCord Museum, the Stewart Museum and the Centre d'histoire de Montréal, McGill’s Redpath Museum (see whale and dinosaur bones!), the Canadian Centre for Architecture and more. Explore the natural world at the Space for Life Montréal Botanical Garden (hosting the Butterflies Go Free event this spring) and Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium – kids 4 and under can go for free. Barbie fans of all ages can see her through the decades and dressed in hundreds of high-fashion names at the free Barbie Expo. The Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival literature festival features several free readings, discussions and storytelling events for all ages from May 2 to 5. And the science-centred Eureka! Festival engages curious minds of all ages with over 100 thought-provoking demonstrations, workshops and performances from June 7 to 9.
Starting on May 30, watch for live performances, music, karaoke, yoga and more entertainment plus great food and drink at the Jardins Gamelin outside Berri-UQAM metro station downtown. See world-class dance and theatre at Festival TransAmériques, including open-air art installations and performances from May 22 to June 4, while more boundary-pushing emerging artists perform at OFFTA - Live Art Festival. Watch the outdoor stage downtown at the Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada not only for appearances by drivers but for live music too, from June 7 to 9. Also in early June, take in all kinds of DIY shows at the St-Ambroise Montréal Fringe Festival, including several free performances – theatre, live music and drag queens to name a few – on the outdoor stage at the corner of Saint-Laurent Boulevard and Rachel Street.
The biggest urban lumberjack party around, Cabane Panache et Bois rond, kicks off spring with live Québécois music, dancing, maple syrup and more from March 21 to 24 along Wellington Street in Verdun. Community-minded punk rock festival Pouzza Fest takes over in the Quartier des Spectacles May 17 to 19 with outdoor shows, food trucks and barbecues. Hear classical music and jazz recitals for free as the school year winds down at McGill’s Schulich School of Music, while Christ Church Cathedral holds a variety of by-donation concerts every week, Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal hosts sacred music concerts for organ and more events, and the Montréal Chamber Music Festival presents several free concerts from June 7 to 16. Festival Accès Asie features several free performances and events exploring the cultural richness of Canadians of Asian origin, May 1 to 30. Place des Festivals starts hopping with free outdoor concerts during one of the world's biggest Francophone music festivals, the Francos de Montréal, from June 14 to 22. And spread out a picnic blanket along the historic Lachine Canal while talented local and visiting musicians play outdoors in the sun as the Montreal Folk Festival on the Canal from June 13 to 16.
Citywide arts event Montréal Digital Spring showcases technological creativity in its many forms, from March 21 to June 21. The International Festival of Films on Art welcomes art lovers of all stripes to see art-focused feature films and shorts from around the world, from March 19 to 31. Papier Contemporary Art Fair gathers dozens of the city’s art galleries in a massive exhibition and sale of contemporary art on paper, at the Grand Quai in the Old Port of Montréal from April 25 to 28. Chromatic Festival celebrates local art and creativity with exhibitions, kids’ activities and late-night parties from May 10 to 17 at Usine C. The Festival BD de Montréal brings Québec artists and their art to Parc La Fontaine along with free activities for all ages from May 24 to 26. And you'll also know that spring has officially sprung when public art event Aires Libres turns Sainte-Catherine Street in the Village into a vibrant pedestrian-only zone.
Make a visit to the Fondation Phi pour l’art contemporain (formerly known as DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art) a priority when in Old Montréal – see the foundation's spring-summer exhibition Yoko Ono : Liberté Conquérante/Growing Freedom starting April 25. Nearby, step into new worlds of creative art and virtual reality at the Phi Centre. Discover more galleries and artist-run centres throughout the city, including five floors of art in downtown’s Belgo Building (home to SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art, Galerie Donald Browne, SKOL, Galerie Dominique Bouffard, Projet Pangée, Les Territoires, Visual Voice Gallery and more), and at downtown's Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Galerie de l'UQAM, VOX and Fresh Paint Gallery, as well as at Saint-Henri’s Parisian Laundry, Griffintown's Arsenal and Galerie Division, Old Montréal's Galerie MX, Bloom Galerie d'art, Matthew Namour Gallery, Darling Foundry (by donation) and L'Affichiste, Mile End’s Galerie Simon Blais, Centre Clark, Dazibao, Optica and Monastiraki, and Little Italy/Mile-Ex’s Never Apart, Yves Laroche Galerie d'art and Eastern Bloc. Wherever you look, there’s something entertaining and easy on the wallet in Montréal.
Robyn Fadden, blogger
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.