If there is one thing Montreal is famous for, it’s the hundreds of festivals it hosts every year, most of them either free or really cheap. Music, visual art, cinema, fireworks, museums, there’s something for everyone! Tourism Montreal has a pretty thorough list of festivals throughout the year, but here’s a selection of my personal favorites.
The coolest festival in town, in every sense of the word! Igloofest is set in Montreal’s Old-Port and is basically a huge outdoor party – in the middle of winter. Expect the cheesiest snow suits (one pieces and neon colors not only allowed but strongly encouraged). A musical celebration of Montreal’s harsh winter weather!
February: Nuit blanche
Yet another one of Montreal festivals that braves the weather – who said February nights were cold? This is the city’s open night, where dozens of museums, art galleries are open all night, along with many music shows and markets in Old-Montreal. Fun guaranteed no matter where you go! The festival is spread over 5 different areas, and you can go from one to another for free thanks to the city’s special transit system for the night. I particularly love Notre-Dame-du-Bonsecours’ gospel concert and the Planetarium’s shows.
May: Fringe Festival
Perhaps the city’s quirkiest festival, Fringe knows no limits, literally - artists have complete freedom over the content of their show. Mostly about dance, music and visual art, Fringe is one of the Plateau Mont-Royal’s most popular events and a paradise for underground artists.
June is without a doubt the busiest month of Montreal’s festival calendar. You can taste beers from around the world at the Beer Festival, listen to the finest French music at the Francofolies, watch delightful firework shows at La Ronde and enjoy the world’s best jazz bands at the famous International Jazz Festival. If you must come to Montreal for only a few weeks, make sure to come in June and enjoy some of the best shows of the year
Just for Laughs is a festival now known around the world, but who originated in Montreal a few decades ago. Not only do you get all the best stand up comedians lined up in the same week, but there’s also a big “street festival” side to it, with circus artists and quirky stands all around the brand new Place des Festivals downtown. Fantasia, on the other hand, is all about indie short-films and fantasy movies.
Osheaga is probably my year-round favorite of Montreal festivals – indie music meets A-list bands in Montreal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau. The main stages are taken over by Coldplay and Eminem, while the smaller stages are busy with Girl Talk and La Roux, for example. It’s the mix of eclectic genres and the overall love of music that makes Osheaga one of the most important festivals in Montreal. The Gay Pride Parade couldn’t be more frivolous and we like it that way – expect lots of gay clichés (pink feathers, anyone?) but the whole Gay District of Montreal comes to life that day, allowing people to explore the best kept secrets of the area while being entertained by its locals.
October: The Magic of Lanterns
One of the most magical events of the year! The Botanical Gardens are filled with hundreds of Chinese lanterns every October, which are lit up at night to create a wonderful setting that makes an impression both kids and adults alike. A photographer’s paradise! There are new lanterns every year, each more colorful and intricate than the year before. If you happen to be in Montreal in October, do not miss the Magic of Lanterns!
December: Salon des métiers d’art
Last but not least, the famous Salon des métiers d’art is basically a huge convention where you can find hundreds of local artists selling their best crafts – jewelry, soaps, jams, sculptures, paintings, and so on. Very popular amongst the locals for Christmas gifts, you are guaranteed to find a unique souvenir there. Plus, the beautiful Bonsecours Market is worth a visit itself, so why not kill two birds with one stone and do both at the same time?
What’s your favorite festival in Montreal? Do you prefer visual arts, music, social or films? Would you travel for a festival?