City Series: Get outdoors in Montreal

How to get in some good, healthy activity in La Belle Ville
Published November 11, 2015

When most Canadians think of what makes Montreal special, one word usually comes to mind: nightlife. Lively party spots like Crescent Street and Boulevard Saint-Laurent—both home to vast array of bars, clubs and restaurants—are frequently listed as main attractions of this unique city, which is ironically referred to as the City of Saints.

But for those who don’t want to base their weekends around the city’s late night delights, as well as those others who may just want to offset last night’s imbibing with some good healthy activity, La Belle Ville truly has more to offer. Montreal’s distinct urban landscape provides for a long list of entertaining and invigorating activities that make it totally worthwhile to get out during the day.

So on your next visit, cut down on your cocktail consumption and instead explore Montreal's great outdoors.

Kayak the Lachine Canal
Montreal is not a coastal town but it is situated on one of Canada’s most important waterways, the St.Lawrence River. This waterway isn’t only key to the city’s trade and economy but is also a major part of the city's beauty.

The Lachine Canal, a central man-made waterway that cuts through the Southern part of the main Island of Montreal, was initially constructed as a shortcut for passing ships but quickly became a central part of the industrial development of the city .Its leisurely qualities long ignored, the canal only opened to pleasure-boaters in 2002 and savvy locals and tour companies have been taking advantage ever since. Just a few steps away from the famed Old Port and the Atwater market, its accessibility makes it an amazing place to get an aquatic view of downtown and surrounding areas.

Those interested in the sites and their history can pay for a boat tour, but if you’re keen on being active, the best way to experience the Lachine Canal is in a rented kayak. H20 Adventures, located across the closest footbridge to the Atwater Market, is one company that gives you the chance to do just that. If you want to challenge yourself and make a full activity out of your exploration, grab a healthy picnic lunch from the market and be on your way!

Tour the city by bike
Whether you’re a visitor or a local, there is always more to see in Montreal. During the spring and summer, a two-wheel tour is one of the best ways to take in both the major sites and lesser-known neighbourhoods.When snow is not blanketing the city, the volume of cyclists commuting to and from work or school here is impressive. It’s clear that Montreal (or at least the Island of Montreal) has become a very bicycle-friendly place in recent years, meaning that even the more amateur cyclists among us should feel comfortable riding around the city for a few hours on a beautiful day.

Tour companies, such as Fitz & Follwell Co., offer a variety of rides, with something for everyone. Tourists can check out the Montreal Highlights ride, while more experienced Montrealers might find the ‘Hoods & Hidden Gems series of rides more apt. Others may want to create their own itinerary and have the option of just renting from the company’s shop. BIXI bikes, provide another even simpler way to go touring around on a whim.

Planned tours, such as those mentioned above, usually clock in at around three or four hours, guaranteeing cyclists a solid day’s exercise.

Climb Mount Royal
The focal point of the entire city and the crown jewel of Montreal parks, Mount Royal is tough to miss.The park is on 200 hectares of land, occupying a huge swath of the mountain that rises out of the middle of the Island of Montreal, and containing a lake, some picturesque cemeteries and of course, lookouts with wonderful views of the city and waterfront.Many Montrealers visit the mountain regularly to get a breath of country air, walk dogs, march off a bad day or get a close-up view of the stunning foliage in the fall season.And getting to the park can be the most fun part.

Guaranteeing an invigorating uphill walk, the mountain can be accessed from a number of places in the city, each route having a varying degree of difficulty. One lovely way to go requires getting warmed up with a walk along Parc Avenue and accessing the mountain by the Cartier monument. Anyone looking for a bit more of a challenge will enjoy a run up the mountain and throughout the park.

As one of Montreal’s premier sites, the mountain offers plenty of exercise with respites in the kind of natural setting one wouldn’t expect to find in the middle of a bustling city.

Warm up with a skate or a cross-country ski
The amazing amount of land preserved on the mountain and in its nearby parks gives Montrealers another great gift: outdoor spaces to use in the winter. Most Canadians eventually learn that the best way to get through our particularly cruel winters is to get out and enjoy some aspect of them. Within the boundaries of this city, skating and cross-country skiing are particularly accessible and enjoyable ways to do just that.

On and around the mountain, you’ll find plenty of paths to traverse the fresh snow on cross-country skis, as well as the same spectacular views of nature and city that you would get from the summer walk. Just as for the climb, starting at the monument you can wind up the mountain on a 20 km trail. Talk about serious exercise.

For those looking for something equally fun but a little less strenuous, a popular local spot for skating is Beaver Lake, located within the park at the top of the mountain. Equipment rentals are available for both skiing and skating at the beautiful Beaver Lake Pavillion on the mountain. If you’re bored of Mount Royal and looking for some variety, there are also plenty of other places in this chilly city to find Nordic skiing and skating.

Working out is always wise but instead of confining yourself to just the gym, once in a while choose to get outside and do an activity that’s healthy for your body and soul! Try to keep it up even when the weather starts to dip. Whether you’re looking to do something strenuous or just to keep it casual and fun, most of these suggestions make great half- or full-day activities that are truly rewarding.