With dozens of festivals going on over summer in Montreal, there is never a dull moment in this vibrant city. The festival calendar is destined to give you a serious sense of FOMO (fear of missing out). You couldn’t possibly see and do everything which is on offer – but it is certainly fun trying!
Someone once said to me, “Some of the best nights I can’t remember, happened in Montreal!”
The largest city in Canada’s Quebec, Montreal is known to have a lively nightlife but it is also gaining a reputation as the festival capital of North America.
Montreal’s festivals cater for virtually every taste, or interest in music, arts, culture and performance. One of the most intriguing and appealing aspects is that many of these festivals are free and held outdoors.
Snow or sun, festivals are common all year around and there are literally hundreds scattered throughout the months. Even in winter sub-zero temperatures, there are events like IGOOFEST, a dance festival held each weekend in mid January to early February.
Yet the festival vibe really kicks into a higher gear when the weather starts getting warmer around early June.
One of the first big festivals of the season celebrates French music, Les FrancoFolies. While the performance schedule primarily features artists from Quebec, it also includes Francophone musicians from all over the world. Place Des Arts, downtown, becomes a stage for a week, with some 180 free outdoor concerts ranging from low key to hard core in the genre of blues, jazz, world music, pop and rock.
Mondial de la Bière, or the World of Beer Festival, happens in June. As well as sampling a range of international beers you can also taste the local Quebecois brews. Beer is the most popular alcoholic drink in Canada and almost half of the top 100 Canadian beers are brewed in Quebec.
Montreal is also well known for its street art. Festival Mural is a public art festival held early June where international artists paint murals around the city, primarily on one of Montreal’s most famous streets, Avenue Saint Laurent.
One of the main highlights of the year is the International Jazz Festival, usually held in late June, early July.
Performers such as Diana Krall, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Michael Bublé, Sting, Bob Dylan, Prince and Norah Jones are just some of the artists who have played at this event. The festival consists of around 1000 concerts with over half of them free! These are held on eight outdoor stages and fifteen concert halls, primarily around the Quartier Des Spectacles. With thousands of musicians from over 30 countries, it is truly one of the most comprehensive and internationally renowned music festivals in the world.
Early July you can catch circus performances in parks at the International Festival of Circus Arts. Many shows offer the ‘wow’ factor of a Cirque Du Soleil but without the price tag. Since circus students perform some of the outdoor events, many are free.
Just For Laughs or Juste Pour Rire goes for several weeks from mid July and consists of a range of A-list comedy performances at venues around Avenue Saint Laurent. Meanwhile, downtown transforms into a mini theme park including family friendly free games. Famous comedians who featured on this year’s festival’s lineup included Seth Rogan, Louis CK, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Alan Carr, Russell Peters and Tom Green.
Festival International Nuits d’Afrique is a world music event held mid July which showcases African and African influenced artists at a number of outdoor venues, mostly downtown. Angelique Kidjo and Youssou N’Dour are some of previous performers.
One of Montreal’s most popular music festivals, Osheaga, is usually held in late July over three days from Friday to Sunday in Montreal’s island park, Parc Jean Drapeau.
This year’s headlines were - Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Radiohead and Lana Del Rey. General admission tickets usually get sold out in advance, so this is one festival that you are wise to book ahead of time.
Throughout July, every Wednesday and Saturday night you can see fireworks during L’International des Feux Loto-Quebec. The world’s leading pyro-technicians showcase their country’s firework ingenuity in competition for the winning display and the best vantage point to watch is from La Ronde.
If you still have energy left in August – this month is another big one for festivals with dozens taking place such as Italian Week, HeavyMTL (heavy metal festival), Montreal Pride, the International Tango Festival, Montreal World Film Festival and Montreal Reggae Festival.
For electronic music fans, every Sunday from May to October, you can head to Parc Drapeau for Picnik Electronique, a weekly mini-festival showcasing international DJ’s playing dance and electro music. You can soak up the tunes whilst enjoying the scenery of the park and skyline views of Montreal.
By September and October, whilst there are still many events happening, there are not as many things to keep your FOMO in overdrive. In fact, by the time the cooler weather comes along, many locals are simply ready for a bit of a rest after a summer of non-stop activity.
One thing is for sure - if you visit Montreal during summer you will have no shortage of events to entertain you. Just bring with you an enormous amount of energy - you will certainly need it!
- Bag checks – you are not permitted to bring alcohol or glass into festival sites but drinks (including alcohol) can easily be bought inside.
- Closed shoes are a good idea as in crowds you might get open toes unintentionally stepped on once or twice!
- Bring sunscreen and a hat for daytime events and mosquito repellent for night-time festivals.
Sally Watson is an Australian freelance travel writer, journalist, photographer and editor of Wing Woman Adventures. Instagram: @wingwomanadventures Twitter: @wingwomanADV Facebook: Wing Woman Adventures
The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.