About town

A student’s take on things to do in Montreal when it’s time for a break from studying

While academics are certainly enough to keep McGill students busy, the city of Montreal is bursting with extracurricular activities for students from every background and of every inclination. Whether you’re a lifelong city dweller looking to café-hop, a countryside native looking to find some nature in a big city, or anything in between, Montreal is the place to be!

Staying active

If you’re looking to break a sweat, there are plenty of options beyond just a jog (although Montreal has plenty of beautiful parks and streets for that).

For a scenic and low-impact workout, grab a BIXI and take a meander down the Lachine Canal. Montreal’s bike infrastructure is incredible, and BIXIthe city’s bike share service—allows anyone to enjoy it even if they don’t have their own bicycle. When it’s nice out, my friends and I have been known to load up our BIXI baskets with bread and cheese at Atwater Market and bike down the canal in search of the perfect picnic spot.

As of this year, BIXI will be operating year-round, much to the excitement of any McGill student who lives more than a five-minute walk from campus.

Shakti Rock Gym, about a 45-minute walk (or 20-minute BIXI ride) from campus in the Mile End neighborhood, offers old-school bouldering and a robust community of all ages for those interested in rock climbing. McGill also has a climbing club for those of that inclination.

For on-campus recreation, the outdoor courts, beside Upper Residence and Forbes Field, can be reserved by McGill students during the fall semester, weather permitting. The indoor tennis courts in Tomlinson Fieldhouse can be booked throughout the fall and winter. Pick up a cheap tennis racket on Facebook Marketplace or borrow one from the McGill Sports Complex, and you’re set.

Louisa and her dodgeball team

Although my dodgeball and volleyball teams have consistently finished either last or second to last in the lowest tier for the past two years, intramurals are incredibly fun as well as a good opportunity to get moving while exploring new sports with friends. Take it from me: you do not need to be good at the sport to have fun!

Exploring vintage and consignment

For those of us more inclined to retail therapy, Montreal has a ton of shopping that’s slightly off the beaten path—and so worth it.

Empire Exchange, a consignment store with locations in Mile End and Little Italy, isn’t just an ordinary secondhand store: you can make an appointment to sell clothes there for cash or store credit. Personally, I love to clean out my closet and sell to them for store credit, then buy clothes there with the credit – it's a sustainable and financially responsible way to maintain my shopping addiction!

For vintage clothes, Marché Floh on rue Saint-Denis in the Plateau Mont-Royal borough has something for everyone. On a recent trip there, I was able to pick up both a vintage Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirt (go Birds!) and a professional dress for my internship this summer.

And for souvenirs for the extended family members who call every month or two asking about poutine and how your French is coming along, Magasin Général in Old Montreal carries a range of home goods and kitschy-cute Montreal-themed decorations. I’ve personally papered my walls with their Montreal neighborhood themed posters!

Letting off steam with friends

Montreal’s nightlife is world famous for a reason—any day of the week, any time of night, you’re almost guaranteed to find an incredible time. While I could write an entire article just on nightclubs (and many people have), I like to highlight lesser-known activities.

For Sundays when you’re in the mood to let go of academic obligations for a night, Société jazz de Saint-Henri welcomes local musicians to jam in an intimate basement space in an incredible neighborhood that has been home to some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.

Barbossa, a bar and jazz club on boulevard Saint-Laurent in the Plateau, offers $5 live jazz every Monday night with a rotating cast of characters, many of whom are McGill music students. They also make a great Dark and Stormy. Get there early enough, and you might be able to snag one of their vintage-style red vinyl booths!

Moving on from music (can you tell I was raised by a jazz club owner?), there are plenty of local spots to do more than just sit and drink. Fitzroy, on Mont-Royal Avenue in the Plateau, has pool tables as far as the eye can see, as well as other games like foosball and darts, to go head-to-head for bragging rights with friends.

If you’re looking for a classic dive bar (or to get schooled by an older Montrealer in pool), Bar Bifteck on boulevard Saint-Laurent, only 15 minutes from campus, is somewhat of a Montreal institution. Grab a pitcher of Moosehead and some quarters, and you’re set for a great night (and a lot of trash talking, if your friends are anything like mine). Ping Pong Club, on Saint-Laurent in Mile End, offers free access to ping pong tables in a lively atmosphere.

While I won’t take a stance on the great bagel debate, I will say that Fairmount Bagel is the only one open 24 hours for a post-bar bagel fix!

Getting outdoors

Students sleeping on a picnic blanket Last but not least, while Montreal may be a dense and cosmopolitan city, the outdoors are never too far away. Invest in a picnic blanket and a hammock, and you’ll be set for years of park hangouts with friends in Parc Jeanne-Mance, Parc La Fontaine, or even Lower Field on campus. Go outside on the first warm day of spring, and you’ll run into everyone you’ve ever met at McGill (I recently ran into my first-ever TA!).

If you’re more inclined to get out of the city, the McGill Outdoors Club operates a house in Prévost in the Laurentians cottage country north of Montreal. For a day trip, rent a car or grab a Communauto carshare vehicle and head to one of the numerous national and provincial parks within an hour of the city.

Montreal ranks consistently as one of the top student cities in the world. Cosmopolitan but still neighborhood-based, with beautiful summers and snowy winters, it offers activities for everyone from shopaholics to outdoors enthusiasts.

Beautiful as campus is, one of the most rewarding things to do during your undergraduate experience is explore Montreal. Your step-counter will thank you, and you’ll make lasting memories with incredible friends in one of the most unique cities in the world!

Louisa Hanson, an Honours Sociology student from Philadelphia, completed her third year at McGill this spring

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