The 10 Best Outdoor Activities in and Around Montreal, Canada
Tourists enjoying view of Montreal skyline from Kondiaronk Belvedere at Chalet du Mont-Royal | © Marc Bruxelle / Alamy Stock Photo
Whether you opt for exploring Parc Mont-Royal or biking along the Lachine Canal, you’re never far from a fun outdoor experience in Montreal.
Montrealers have a reputation for diving into the great outdoors in all kinds of weather. As a result, the city offers a cornucopia of largely free outdoor activities, including strolling historic parks, ice skating and hitting the beach.
Ice skating at the Old Port and Beaver Lake
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Once the cold season really gets going, usually in mid-December, a large section in front of the historic dome of the Marché Bonsecours will be sectioned off. This rink becomes one of the more scenic and central locations to take to the ice in the city, resulting in quite busy weekends. Skate rental is available onsite, with plenty of nearby bars and restaurants offering warm drinks for afterwards. A typical spot for beginners, would-be skaters can also visit the wood-shrouded Beaver Lake on the Mont Royal for a less urban vibe, also with skate rental available.
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Tam-tams at Mount Royal Park
A famous Sunday tradition during the warmer months, the return of blessed green grass on the slopes of Parc Mont-Royal (Mount Royal Park)
in March heralds this weekly musical activity. Crowds will bus, bike and stroll up Avenue du Parc to gather in and around the Cartier Monument, with drum circles sometimes involving dozens of musicians. Groups congregate in the surrounding acres, enjoying the rhythms and sunshine. This is a popular event to bring a picnic and a blanket to, with alcohol consumption permitted by the city if food is also being consumed. Tam-tams have been a part of Montreal summers for decades, with group cosplay taking place at the same time slightly further up the slopes.
Biking the Lachine Canal and wandering through Atwater Market
Designated as a National Historic Site, the Lachine Canal is a long stretch of interlocking waterways and parallel bike paths that connect the city’s Old Port with the westerly borough of Lachine, 14km (8.7mi) away. Kayaks, canoes, pedalos and electric boats can be rented from H20 Adventures
while, if you’d rather stay on dry land, you can cycle on the bike path that runs alongside the canal. The canal offers an easy, flat ride, is relatively well-maintained and offers fine views of Montreal’s industrial heritage, including the iconic Farine Five Roses sign and the Canada Malting site. Cyclists will find no shortage of small parks, picnic tables, ice-cream spots and even several breweries just off the canal, with the Art Deco grandeur, flower bazaar and diverse foods of the buzzing Atwater Market being especially worth a visit.
Climbing to the Mont Royal Lookout
Naturally, the summit of the (admittedly fairly small) mountain provides an unbeatable view of the city, a fact that the city embraced long ago with the construction of the Mont Royal chalet and observation area. Accessible by following Rue Peel north to the park, plus a fairly strenuous 20-minute climb up a sturdy wooden staircase, visitors will be rewarded with a panorama of the entire downtown area and the city’s major bridges. Keen-eyed visitors will make out the wind farms far out on the south shore, as well as the distant peaks of Mont St-Bruno and Mont St-Hilaire. The lookout is accessible year-round, but expect a slippery slog in winter, with colder months seeing fewer crowds at the top.
Taking in the summer fireworks from Parc de Dieppe
Getting the most out of the summer is serious business in this city, and that means using the night sky as a creative canvas. Montreal’s long-running International Fireworks Competition is one of the biggest events of its kind in the world, running on consecutive weekends throughout June and July. International teams compete to light up the sky over the La Ronde theme park, with viewers encouraged to tune in to accompanying radio stations for synchronised music. While a river boat in the Old Port or buying a seat in La Ronde provides for the best views, the northern point of Parc du Dieppe provides an excellent and free vantage point, with easy bike access.
Walking the Botanical Garden
A riot of colour and life in the city’s eastern museum district around Pie-IX metro station, the diverse Montreal Botanical Garden has an illustrious past, stretching back to the 1930s. Used as an athletic venue when the city hosted the Olympic Games, the sprawling complex maintains ornate Chinese, Japanese, Alpine and First Nations-themed sections, with winding pathways, exotic plants, huge hedge-work animals and massive sculptures. Other close-by attractions include the Olympic stadium and the Planetarium.
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Snowshoeing across the Mont
The definitive outdoor activity for the winter-minded, the Mont Royal offers several kilometres of snowshoeing trails that criss-cross the park, available once the white stuff builds up in the upper woods. The activity involves strapping racket-like shoes to your feet, allowing walkers to take to the drifts without fear of plunging into the snow. Usually an activity that can only be undertaken in the Canadian countryside, visitors can experience the frozen serenity of the woods with a 90-minute bookable excursion, all while being right in the heart of a major city. The trails begin at Beaver Lake’s pavilion, just off Remembrance Road.
Discover Parc Jean-Drapeau
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Montreal’s sprawling island park, located just a quick metro ride from downtown, Parc Jean-Drapeau
consists of two islands, Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame, the latter of which was greatly expanded using earth displaced from the construction of the city’s metro. Today, the park’s trails and woodlands make it a popular spot for hiking, picnicking and cycling. The soaring geodesic dome of the Biosphere houses a popular environmental museum, with great views of the river and huge sculptures dotting the island’s clearings. Hit the snow festival in winter months, or enjoy the electronic music weekends (Piknic Électronik) during the summer. Note that the metro permits bikes in the frontmost carriage outside rush hours.
Exploring the Oratorium Grounds and Côte-des-Neiges Cemetery
A distinctive silhouette on the western slopes of the Mont Royal, the imposing dome of the Saint Joseph’s Oratory helps it stand out as one of the impressive buildings in the entire city. Earn the fine view at the top with a bracing walk up the epic flights of exterior steps, before taking in the sweeping expanse of the western half of the island and vibrant flower gardens in summer. Nearby is the vast Côte-des-Neiges cemetery, dating from the 1850s and featuring wooded walks along ornate districts of family tombs, as well as the resting places of the city’s great and good, plus many famous national figures.
Bixi to Verdun Beach and Bird Sanctuary
Montreal’s highly-popular shared bike scheme, Bixi, operates over 600 stations around the city. Visitors can make use of this service to take the Lachine Canal bike path south from downtown, but divert south to the city beach in Verdun. This newly-opened beach has lifeguards on duty, offers a sandy, kid-friendly spot on a calm stretch of the Saint Lawrence River, and has numerous nearby playgrounds, ice-cream parlours and cafés. A few minutes further down the waterfront bike path will bring you to the greenery, birdsong and flowing rapids of the L’Île aux Hérons Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Note that on Sundays, Bixi offers free rides for up to 30 minutes.
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These recommendations were updated on June 1, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.