After such long winters, locals pour outdoors to get sun and warm air at every possible opportunity (though there’s also lots to do when there’s snow on the ground). Parc du Mont-Royal and Parc La Fontaine (both listed below) are the city’s biggest parks. The Jardin Botanique is also a beautiful oasis to spend a day strolling.
This is a walking city, and in the warm months, Montréal closes off large sections of main streets for pedestrian-only traffic, including rue Ste-Catherine both in the Village and adjacent to Quartier des Spectacles. For special events, rue St-Paul in Vieux-Montréal and rue St-Laurent in the Plateau gets shut down as well.
Parc du Mont-Royal -- Montréal is named for this 232m (761-ft.) small mountain that rises at its heart—the “Royal Mountain.” Walkers, joggers, cyclists, dog owners, and in-line skaters all use this largest of the city’s green spaces throughout the year. In summer, Lac des Castors (Beaver Lake) is surrounded by sunbathers and picnickers (no swimming allowed, however). In winter, the lake is used for skating, while cross-country skiers and snowshoers follow miles of paths and trails laid out for their use through the park’s 200 hectares (494 acres). Ice-skates, skis, poles, and snowshoes can all be rented for adults and children at the Beaver Lake Pavilion, the glass-windowed building with a rippled roof. Chalet du Mont-Royal near the crest of the hill is a popular destination, providing a sweeping view of the city from its terrace. Maison Smith, whichhouses the information center at the middle the park, includes a cafe serving light fare. Up the hill behind the chalet is the spot where, legend says, Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, erected a wooden cross after the colony sidestepped the threat of a flood in 1643. The present incarnation of the steel Croix du Mont-Royal was installed in 1924 and is lit at night.
Downtown (entrances include one at rue Peel and av. des Pins). www.lemontroyal.qc.ca. tel 514/843-8240 (the Maison Smith information center in the park’s center). Métro: Mont Royal. Bus: 11.
Parc La Fontaine -- The European-style park in Plateau Mont-Royal is one of the city’s oldest and most popular. Illustrating the traditional dual identities of the city’s populace, half the park is landscapes in the formal French manner, the other in the more casual English style. A central lake is used for ice-skating in winter, when snowshoe and cross-country trails wind through trees. In summer, these trails become bike paths, and tennis courts become active. An open amphitheater, the Théâtre de Verdure, had offered free outdoor theater, music, and tango dancing in the past, although it had no programming in 2014. Espace La Fontaine is picking up some of the slack with a bistro offering light meals, local beers, an outdoor patio, and an exhibition and entertainment space. The northern end of the park is more pleasant than the southern end (along rue Sherbrooke), which attracts a seedier crowd.
Bounded by rue Sherbrooke, rue Rachel, av. Parc LaFontaine, and av. Papineau. www.espacelafontaine.com. Métro: Sherbrooke.
Vieux-Port -- Montréal’s Old Port at the base of Vieux-Montréal was transformed in 1992 from a dreary commercial wharf area into a 2km-long (1 1/4-mile), 53-hectare (131-acre) promenade and public park with bicycle paths, benches, and lawns. The wharves house exhibition halls, summertime cafes, a wintertime ice skating rink, and a variety of other family activities, including the Centre des Sciences de Montréal. It stretches along the waterfront, parallel to rue de la Commune, from rue McGill to rue Berri.
The area is open year-round and most active from mid-May through October, when harbor cruises take to the waters and bicycles, in-line skates, and family-friendly quadricycle carts are available to rent. The summertime-only Origine Bistro (www.origine-bistro.com)is an appealing terrace/bar in front of Centre des Sciences de Montréal. In winter, things are quieter, but an outdoor ice-skating rink is a big attraction. At the port's far eastern end, in the last of the old warehouses, is a 1922 clock tower, La Tour de l’Horloge, with 192 steps leading past the exposed clockworks to observation decks overlooking the St. Lawrence River (free admission).
Quai King Edward (King Edward Pier). www.oldportofmontreal.com. tel 800/971-7678 or 514/496-7678). Métro: Champ-de-Mars, Place d’Armes, or Square Victoria.
Bicycling & In-Line Skating
Bicycling and rollerblading are hugely popular in Montréal, and the city helps people indulge these passions with an expanding network of more than 600km (373 miles) of cycling paths and bike lanes (60km, or 37 miles, are maintained year-round, even in the snow). In warm months, car lanes in heavily biked areas are blocked off with concrete barriers, creating protected bike-only lanes.
The city’s self-service bicycle rental program, BIXI, lets users pick up bikes from designated bike stands in the city and drop them off at other stands for a small fee. To rent a bike for a few hours or more, you are better off going to a bike shop.
While street biking is fairly safe, the peaceful Lachine Canal is an appealing nearly flat 11km (6 3/4-mile) bicycle path, open year-round and maintained by Parks Canada from mid-April through October. It travels alongside locks and over small bridges.
Also for rent at Vieux-Port are quadricycles (oldportofmontreal.com/quadricycle-en.html; tel 514/465-0594), or “Q-cycles”—four-wheeled bike-buggies that hold up to six people. You can ride them only along Vieux-Port; the rental booth is in the heart of the waterfront area, next to the Pavillian Jacques-Cartier. Half-hour rentals cost C$22 for a three-seater with additional spots for two small children, and C$44 for a six-seater.
If you’re serious about cycling, get in touch with the nonprofit biking organization Vélo Québec. Vélo helped spur the development of a 5,000km (3,107-mile) bike network called Route Verte (Green Route) that stretches from one end of the province of Québec to the other. Many inns and restaurants along the route accommodate the nutritional, safety, and equipment needs of cyclists. The day trip “Biking the Route Verte (Green Route)” in chapter 10 has one suggested destination. The Vélo website has up-to-date information on the annual Montréal Bike Fest, new bike lanes, and more. It also offers guided tours throughout the province.
Grand Prix Auto Racing
The Grand Prix (www.grandprixmontreal.com) international auto race attracts more than 100,000 people to the city’s track. Those visitors also pour into downtown hotels and restaurants, bringing in as much as C$100 million in tourism dollars and making it the biggest tourism event of the year. In 2014, the race took place from June 6 to 8. Tickets range from C$49 to C$139 for general admission, and C$299 to C$635 for grandstand seats.
The most popular hike is to the top of Mont Royal. There are a web of options for trekking the small mountain, from using the broad and handsome pedestrian-only chemin Olmsted (a bridle path named for Frederick Law Olmsted, the park’s landscape architect), to following smaller paths and sets of stairs. The park is well marked and small enough that you can wander without getting too lost.
There are many possibilities for running. In addition to the areas described above for biking and hiking, consider heading to Parc La Fontaine in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood, which is formally landscaped and well used for recreation and relaxation.
Kayaking & Electric Boating
It’s fun to rent kayaks, pedal boats, or small eco-friendly electric boats on the quiet Lachine Canal, just to the west of Vieux-Port. H2O Adventures (www.h2oadventures.com; tel 514/842-1306) has rentals that start at C$10 per half-hour. For a fee, they also offer 2-hour introductory kayak lessons. The season runs from about May 1 to the end of September. The company is based at the Lachine Canal Nautical Center. It’s on the opposite side of the canal from the Marché, just over a footbridge. Pick up lunch or snacks from the inside boulangerie or fromagerie, adjacent to the canal.
On Parc Jean-Drapeau (www.parcjeandrapeau.com; tel 514/872-6120), the man-made island park just across the harbor of Vieux-Port, there is an outdoor swimming pool complex (in French, complexe aquatique) and a lakeside beach (plage).The beach is small, but very popular, and open to the public from mid-June through August. Admission to the beach is C$9 for adults and children 14 and older, C$4.50 for children 3 to 13, and free for kids 2 and under. Métro: Jean-Drapeau.
Although you can’t swim there, Plage de l’Horloge (Clock Tower Beach) isa new “urban beach” at quai de l’Horloge in Vieux-Port that debuted in the summer of 2012. It has sand, sun umbrellas, lounge chairs, and a terrace with drinks, and is open June through August.
Parc du Mont-Royal has an extensive cross-country course, as do many of the other city parks, though skiers have to supply their own equipment. Just an hour from the city, north in the Laurentides and east in the Cantons de l’Est, there are numerous options for skiing and rentals.
There are no options for downhill skiing in the city, but mountains in the Laurentians and Cantons are just a couple hours drive away.
In the winter, outdoor skating rinks are set up in Vieux-Port, Lac des Castors (Beaver Lake), and other spots around the city; check tourist offices for your best options. One of the most agreeable venues for skating any time of the year is Atrium Le 1000 in the downtown skyscraper at 1000 rue de la Gauchetière ouest. It’s indoors and warm, and it’s surrounded by cafes at which to relax after twirling around the big rink. And yes, it’s even open in the summer.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.