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.
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.
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.
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.
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.