By Mithusha Sellathurai
Starting off your first semester at McGill, whether you’ve been raised 500 meters from the campus, just moved halfway across the world, or anything in between can be quite overwhelming. Many of the students you will encounter in your classes will be in the same position as you because it’s a new environment for everyone. University life is very different from your high school or Cegep experience and, sometimes, the stress can get to your head. During those moments, the best thing to do is get out of your dorm room and explore the city you’ll be calling home for the next few years (at least).
For the Instagrammers
If, during the semester, you feel the need to escape from the reality that is university, all you need to do is to head a few steps from campus to Mont Royal. Montrealers who are in search for greenery and beautiful sceneries will, without a doubt, go to this “mountain” (more like a large hill if we are being real here). No matter the season, the landscape will be astonishing and will make all your dreams for the perfect photo shoot come true.
The park at the base of Mont Royal also hosts many organized activities at different times during the year such as sunrise or sunset discovery walks, ice skating during the winter season, and even boating in the Beaver Lake. There is a small fee to participate in these events, but Mont Royal itself is free of charge. Considering its accessibility and peacefulness, you should definitely plan to visit “the mountain” of Montreal.
One of the beautiful touristic spots in Montreal are the Botanical Gardens. They are known for the large number of plant species and flowers present in the gardens and the breathtaking way they are all arranged. The Botanical Gardens are astonishing on both sunny and rainy days since they have many outdoor and indoor gardens as well as greenhouses. Thus, during your visit, you can take cute Instagram pictures and breathe in some fresh air while you’re at it. Located 8 km from the campus, you can spend hours simply observing and smelling the flowers for only 15$.
The Botanical Gardens host many events throughout the year, one of which is the “Garden of Light”. From September 6th to October 31st, 2019, the park will be – figuratively – set ablaze by lights in the form of lanterns. It is truly a sight to behold and it should be experienced by everyone at least once in their life.
Another one of Montreal’s jewels is the Old Port. There is nothing more soothing than taking a walk down the Promenade du Vieux-Port, watching the boats dock at the ports or leave to go down the Saint Lawrence River.
There are numerous restaurants and activities to partake in at the Old Port of Montreal, one of them being “La Grande Roue de Montréal”. For 20$ with your student ID, you can admire the city from the height of 60 meters as Canada’s biggest observation Ferris wheel rotates, providing you picture-worthy views, especially at nighttime. Since Old Port is only a 30-minute walk or a 10-minute bus ride away from the McGill campus, it is the perfect spot to unwind after a long day and enjoy the fresh breeze.
For the artist in you
The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal is the ideal destination for those of you who are passionate about the arts and history. This museum holds more than 43,000 canvas, pictures, sculptures, and other works of art, some of which date back to the Age of Antiquity.
It is also well-known for the different types of exhibitions it presents throughout the year. At the moment, the main display is showcasing the popular Thierry Mugler: Couturissime exhibit, where most of the couturier’s fashion designs are displayed. Also, starting in September 2019 for five months, there will be the Egyptian Mummies exhibition which will show the lives of different members of society at the time and many artifacts that have been recovered from the archaeological remains.
As the expositions are not very expensive and it is only a 9-minute walk from the university, an evening spent at the museum could be very interesting and eye-opening.
As for the theatre enthusiasts, you don’t have to search far from the McGill campus. Near the Old Port of Montreal, you’ll find the Centaur Theatre, known for the various kinds of plays it puts on. Whether it be a thriller or a romantic comedy play, you can find what you are searching for at this theatre.
While ticket fees vary according to the day of the week, you can obtain a reduced price of 30$ for most productions by presenting your student ID card. Watching a play unwind in front of your own eyes is something quite magical and, if you ever get the opportunity, you should take advantage of it.
When you don’t feel like watching Netflix for the whole night
If your group of friends are searching for something casual to do that doesn’t involve being stuck in your residence the whole day, there is a unique café a few minutes by bus from McGill. La Récréation, a very aesthetically pleasing coffee shop, is mostly known for the entertainment they provide in the form of board games. They offer a large variety of games, ranging from those relying on bluffing to good-old party games. For a low price, you’ll be able to try out as many board games as you want, eat some delicious snacks and get some nice laughs in with your friends. While La Récréation offers beer and sangria for those over 18, Randolph Pub Ludique on Saint Denis Street is known for its larger selection of alcoholic drinks and board games. It’s the ideal spot to hang out with friends and laugh at their clumsiness during a game of Jenga because of their inebriated state. However, only those older than 18 are allowed to enter, so make sure to have your ID on you if you plan on going .
Another spot for a casual hangout with friends on Saint Denis Street where you can show off your creativity would be Céramic Café. The concept behind this place is to have the freedom to let your imagination run wild and create something unique. They provide mugs, plates, picture frames, and so many more fun accessories, all made out of ceramic, on which you can paint your favourite inspirational quote or even draw up a meme you feel passionate about. As the name indicates, the café also offers coffee and a wide range of food to munch on while you create your ceramic designs.
Once you have completed the artistic process, your product will need to be finalized through baking and glazing and, thus, you will be able to pick up your item about a week later. As for the cost, it varies from object to object and there is also a studio fee, ranging from $9 to $15 depending on the time you spend painting. While it might be a little pricey, you’ll be able to decorate your dorm room with an object that will always bring up happy, fun memories.
For the times you feel like spending that paycheck money
If you have some cash on the side that you want to invest on a day full of exhilaration, then La Ronde is definitely the place for you. La Ronde is an amusement park located on an island of its own, 40 minutes away from the McGill campus by public transport. For the adrenaline junkies, this is the perfect spot for you to scream at the top of your lungs because the park holds more than 40 rides of all kinds. The most popular attraction is the “Goliath”, as it reaches 110 km/h in speed and 170 feet in height.
One of the most thrilling times at La Ronde would be during the month of October when the park goes all out in the hopes of scaring the living daylights out of you, especially with their haunted house. However, as mentioned earlier, the tickets can be expensive as they are priced at $71.99, but you can get very good deals online and save more than $20 at times. Nonetheless, a day spent at this amusement park is worth every penny.
Montreal is truly a beautiful city, both in its scenery and its people, so use every minute (even if they are sparse) of your free time to explore it and learn about its culture. As one last parting tip for you all, I would suggest that you carry your student ID everywhere you go because many places offer reduced fares for students. So, take advantage of that and save some money that you can use to invest in all the cups of coffee you’ll probably be needing throughout the semester.
 “About the Jardin botanique.” Internet:http://m.espacepourlavie.ca/en/about-jardin-botanique, [Jul. 19, 2019].
 “Centaur Theatre Company.” Internet: https://centaurtheatre.com/, 2019 [Jul. 20, 2019].
 “Garden of Light.” Internet: http://calendrier.espacepourlavie.ca/gardens-of-light-864367, [Jul. 19, 2019].
 “La Grande Roue de Montréal.” Internet: https://www.lagranderouedemontreal.com/en, 2017 [Jul. 20, 2019].
“La Récréation: Café culturel + ludique.” Internet: https://larecreation.ca/en/la-recreation-en/, 2018 [Jul. 15, 2019].
 “La Ronde.” Internet: https://www.sixflags.com/larondeen, [Jul. 19, 2019].
 “Le Céramic Café Studio.” Internet: https://leccs.com/en/, 2016 [Jul. 18, 2019].
 “Mount Royal: A Mountain to Protect and Discover.” Internet: https://www.lemontroyal.qc.ca/en, 2019 [Jul. 19, 2019].
 “Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal.” Internet: https://www.mbam.qc.ca/, 2019 [Jul. 20, 2019].
 “Old Port of Montréal.” Internet: https://www.oldportofmontreal.com/, [Jul. 20, 2019].
“Randolph: Pub Ludique.” Internet: https://www.randolph.ca/, [Jul. 15, 2019] . ♦