Montréal has long been known as Canada’s most affordable big city – locals tend to go slowly and enjoy life rather than hustle for more money and more stuff.
While that’s started to change, especially when it comes to hotel prices and rent since the pandemic, there are still deals for travelers on a budget and plenty of free concerts and events. Here are the best ways to save money in Montréal.
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- Hostel room $50–80
- Basic room for two $150–350
- Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb) $130–350
- Public transport ticket $3.75
- Coffee $3–5
- Sandwich $10–15
- Dinner for two $40+
- Pint of beer at the bar $8–10
1.Brave the brr in winter
Montréal is busiest and most expensive in summer, but if you can handle the cold, the city is really special in the winter. In January and February, snow blankets the city, perfect for cross-country skiing on Mont-Royal or in Parc Maisonneuve. Winter is also great for cozying up with a coffee or a comforting hot chocolate. Do your best impression of Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard (a famed Montreal Canadiens hockey player) and rent ice skates to glide around at Lac-aux-Castors, or Esplanade Tranquille in the arts-and-entertainment district Quartier des Spectacles.
2. Take the airport bus
A taxi or Uber from the airport is expensive – and the closest metro station is a five-minute shuttle bus away – so take the bus instead. STM bus 747 goes from the airport toLionel-Groulx metro station and the main downtown bus station, Gare d’Autocars de Montréal. A single-fare ticket (a Zone A ticket is all you need) is good for travel on buses or metros.
Wandering around the Old Port in Montreal is always a pleasure ©BakerJarvis/Shutterstock
3. Stroll around the city
The best way to explore Montréal is on foot, and it doesn’t cost a thing. Wander around Le Plateau neighborhood and let your eyes take in the sights. Behind Le Plateau’s charming homes are ruelles vertes, pedestrian-friendly alleys with lush plantlife that are a great, somewhat-secret way to explore the city.
There are plenty of other terrific neighbourhoods to walk around as well, including the Old Port, Petite-Italie, St-Henri and along the Lachine Canal. And no visit to Montréal is complete without walking up “the mountain” Mont-Royal, for the best views over the city.
4. Ride a Bixi
Montréal is as bike-friendly as it gets in North America and a ticket with local bikeshare program Bixi is a very affordable way to get around. Simple one-way trips cost $1.25 plus $0.15 per minute ($0.30 for a blue electric bike). A $20 monthly membership with unlimited rides up to 45 minutes could be worth it if you plan to stay a while.
5. Take the metro
Montreál’s metro (subway) system has been Canada’s best since it opened in the 1960s, with three lines that cover much of the island. A one-way ticket on Zone A is $3.75, or you can save money by getting a 10-ride pass. Unlimited 24-hour, 3-day, evening, weekend, and weekly passes are sold too. A $6 Opus card will make life easier if you’re topping it up with money, but it’s not required.
Montreal blows its own trumpet when it comes to free gigs ©Alina Reynbakh/Shutterstock
6. Go to a free festival
Not only does Montréal have festival after festival all summer long (as well as at other times throughout the year), but many are free to enter. This could mean a live concert at Festival International de Jazz (Aretha Franklin and Anderson Paak have performed for free in years past) or an amazing circus performance with acrobats swinging from giants at Montréal Complètement Cirque.
Throughout the summer, Village au Pied-du-Courant is a fun weekend festival on a man-made beach that showcases different cultures’ music and food.
7. See a show in the park
Every summer, the beautiful, recently-constructed Théâtre de Verdure shows free concerts, film screenings and performances like orchestras and ballet, withParc La Fontaine as its backdrop. Local theater group Repercussion Theatre also performs Shakespeare in the Park in various parks around the city.
8. Do a free walking tour
As in many major cities, Montréal has free walking tours where visitors pay the guides with tips at the end rather than with a ticket in advance. Free Tours Montréal is a good option.
Montreal has some amazing museums like the Biosphere Environmental Museum ©Vladone/Getty Images
9. Consider a tourist or museum pass
Passeport Montréal lets you choose from five different attractions or tours for just one price. Or if you’re a culture lover, it might be worth getting a three-day Carte Excursion pass from Musées de Montréal, which allows entry to all member museums.
10. Avoid staying and eating in the Old Port
Montréal’s historic Vieux-Port (Old Port) is more than 400 years old and a must-see when visiting. But heritage doesn’t come cheap: Accommodation and restaurants in the Old Port are pricey, and the food isn’t usually that great. Stay and eat elsewhere to save money. Le Plateau, Mile End, St-Henri are all good alternatives, though hotels are harder to find here. If you go for an Airbnb, ensure they have a CITQ city registration number.
11. Eat for less than $5
Prices have shot up in Montréal lately, but there are still some inflation-busting bites for budget-savvy travelers. Drogheria Fine in the Mile End sells boxes of ooey-gooey gnocchi in tomato sauce for $5, and Patati Patata has burgers and poutine portions that are smaller than the competition but will save you a few bucks. If you’re partying late on Blvd St-Laurent, join the students and chow down on $2 peanut butter-coated noodles at Chez Mein. The city’s food trucks are also a good alternative for a cheap bite.
If money gets tight, head to the market for a cheap Montreal meal ©EQRoy/Shutterstock
12. Procure your own picnic
Save money and eat delicious food by procuring a picnic from Montréal’s food markets, Marché Atwater and Marché Jean-Talon. Once your tote bags are full of fresh fruit, baguettes, cheeses and a bottle of wine, join locals at one of Montréal’s many picturesque public parks. Drinking is allowed in parks only if you’re seated at a picnic table and eating a meal.
13. Shop second-hand
As you’ll undoubtedly see, Montréalers are very stylish, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily wearing expensive designer clothes. Locals will spend hours sifting through the finds at local thrift shops like Renaissance or Eva B. Do the same and find a new vacation outfit. Vintage shops will have a better selection but are pricier.
14. Look for a 5 à 7
Montréal’s version of Happy Hour is a 5 à 7, referring to after-work drinks from 5pm to 7pm. Look out for bars with signs advertising deals during that time, or grab beers at Helm’s Bar de Courcelle or $2 oysters at Le Majestique.
Take a self guided tour of Montreal, you’ll never know where you might end up ©Richard Cavalleri/Shutterstock
15. Learn about the city’s history on an app-led self-guided tour
One of the coolest, most innovative ways to experience Montréal is with the free Cité Memoire app. You scan QR codes and projections telling the city’s story are cast onto buildings and trees.
16. Stroll around Parc Jean-Drapeau
Cross the St Lawrence River by metro or bike to Parc Jean-Drapeau, where the Expo 67 (1967) World Fair took place. The partially man-made islands are perfect for strolling along the water, biking around the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix racetrack and having a dip at the beach. The view of downtown from this side of the water is breathtaking.
17. Take your wheels on a road trip
If you’ve got your own wheels, go for a scenic drive up to the Laurentians, a forested region of hills filled with dozens of lakes and waterways. Alternatively, drive east to the Eastern Townships for a winery, brewery and gourmet food crawl.