Five under $50: Best things to see and do in Montreal on a budget

·4 min read
La Grande roue de Montreal Ferris wheel and downtown skyline in summer dusk. Quebec, Canada.
La Grande roue de Montreal Ferris wheel makes for a scenic view of the city. (Getty Images)

Montreal is one of the great cities of the world; a cosmopolitan destination with a remarkable history, amazing neighbourhoods to explore and a wonderful waterfront.

As with any beautiful destination, there are plenty of activities to keep you occupied on your visit. However, if you're looking to travel while sticking to a budget, it can sometimes feel like a challenge to keep your spending to a minimum while on vacation.

Luckily, we've gathered some of our favourite affordable activities in Montreal to add to your itinerary. Here are five things to do in the city for less than $50.

Bike rental and a great market

Bike along the St. Lawrence for stunning Montreal views. Photo courtesy of Jim Byers.
Bike along the St. Lawrence for stunning Montreal views. Photo courtesy of Jim Byers.

Atwater Market is a marvellous spot just west of downtown. You’ll find fun shops that sell everything from fine Quebec and world cheeses to brilliantly-coloured macarons in shades of vivid pink and lime green — not to mention sushi, fresh flowers and tasty sausages. Try Boulangerie Premiere Moisson for great bread and sandwiches.

The market is located on the edge of both Little Burgundy and Saint-Henri, two of the city’s trendiest neighbourhoods, and is directly alongside the Lachine Canal, which is a destination in and of itself. You could drive from downtown or take transit, but the best option from downtown in good weather is to ride a BIXI bike, which you can rent for $1, plus 15 cents a minute (an hour works out to around $10, or they also have electric bikes for a higher rate.) You can ride along the canal for much of the ride to Atwater Market, which is only a few kilometers from downtown Montreal.

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The Old Port

The Old Port of Montreal. Photo courtesy of Jim Byers.
The Old Port of Montreal. Photo courtesy of Jim Byers.

Montreal’s Old Port is a wonderful destination along the St. Lawrence River. There’s no charge to wander about and enjoy the scenery, but some activities cost a few dollars. The Big Wheel Ferris wheel offers amazing views of the St. Lawrence and the city of Montreal and costs $28.74 for adults, including tax. When I went recently I had four trips around the wheel, a ride lasting roughly 18-20 minutes. There’s also a cool zipline at the Old Port. ($24.99 plus tax).

The great bagel debate, and tasty sandwiches

Schwartz's Deli. Photo courtesy of Tourism Montreal.
Schwartz's Deli. Photo courtesy of Tourism Montreal.

Montreal bagels might be the world’s best; a slightly sweet bagel that’s dipped in honey and water before being cooked in a wood-burning oven. The two best-known spots are only a few blocks apart in the Mile End District; Fairmount Bagel and St.-Viateur Bagel. Ah, but which is best?

“Honestly, if you closed your eyes you probably couldn’t tell them apart,” one Montreal tour guide told me a couple years ago. “You basically make your choice as a kid and from then on it’s ‘Until death do us part.’”

Wilensky’s is another fun, old-time lunch spot near Fairmount Bagels that was made famous by Montreal author Mordecai Richler. Ask for the Wilensky Special ($4.39), which is all-beef bologna and all-beef salami on a roll with mustard. Montreal smoked meat fans will also want to stop by Schwartz’s Deli for fabulous sandwiches.

Museum of Fine Arts

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Photo courtesy of Jim Byers.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Photo courtesy of Jim Byers.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is a huge complex that features several buildings connected via underground tunnels, which is quite useful for winter or a rainy day. There’s a vast array of thought-provoking art of all varieties from all over the world, as well as a fine sculpture garden. You’ll also find amazing, 13th century carvings from Iran and lovely works from Canada’s renowned Group of Seven. Entry is $24 for adults 31 and up and $16 for folks from 21 to 30. Those 20 and under get in for free.

Old Montreal

AURA, the immersive experience by Moment Factory (photo credit: Moment Factory) (CNW Group/Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal)
AURA, the immersive experience by Moment Factory (photo credit: Moment Factory) (CNW Group/Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal)

There’s no charge to wander about the old part of the city, which is one of the great treasures in Canada. You’ll find trendy clothing stores and other shops, great galleries and dozens of restaurants. Olive et Gourmando makes amazing granola and good coffee. Pointe-a-Calliere is a cool museum focused on the city’s history and archaeology. You’ll find amazing ruins that date back centuries to the city’s very beginnings, as well as historic artefacts and ongoing exhibitions. There’s currently an exhibition about Vikings (on until Oct. 10, 2022.) Entry is $25 for adults, with discounts for seniors and children.

There’s no charge to enter the wonderful Notre Dame Basilica, but there is a charge ($34 for adults, with discounts for students, seniors and children) for the wondrous Aura light show, which beams magical scenes and wild, pulsing lights onto the walls and ceiling.

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