Although few visitors are brave enough to plan a visit to Montreal in the wintertime, the lazy hazy crazy days of summer are another thing entirely. With temperatures varying between 80 and 100 degrees and incredible sunshine from 6am to 9pm, there’s no denying that Montreal is indeed a reasonably exciting summer destination. And one of the best ways to enjoy this glorious weather is to stay outdoors for as long as possible, enjoying one of the city’s many terraces, yes, but also lively festivals.
Below is a selection of my personal favourites, but you can also have a look at the complete list of music festival planned for 2016 in Montreal, as well as world events inspired from the various communities settled in Montreal.
* This post is an updated version of an article initially published here.
My Favourite Summer Festivals in Montreal
Montreal Fireworks Competition
While summer in Montreal is definitely the busiest time of the year in terms of music festivals, fireworks amateurs are not left behind thanks to the Montreal Fireworks Festival, the largest and most prestigious fireworks festival in the world. Going strong since 1985 and remains, to this day, one of this city’s top summer attractions with both locals and visitors. Technically based in the La Ronde amusement park but enjoyable from all over the city, this succession of world-class displays occurs yearly between July and August on Saturday and Wednesday nights. Indeed, Montreal’s sky lights up twice weekly with outstanding 30-minute long fireworks shows created by some of the world’s greatest pyrotechnic artists. Approximately 6,000 fireworks set off during each show! Moreover, the fireworks are synchronised to music, which makes the already awe-inspiring experience a multi-sensorial one.
When: Saturdays and Wednesdays between July 2-30
Montreal Fringe Festival
Like any of the other Fringe events around the world, anything can happen at the Montreal Fringe Festival. Daring to say the least, provocative for some, forward-thinking for others, the performance festival is particular in the sense that the program is not selected by a jury but by a lottery system in order to keep things fresh and creative. Visitors should expect anything from burlesque to dark comedy, and from off-Broadway dancing to drag-queen acts.
When: May 30 to June 19
Food Truck Festival
It’s a safe bet to assume that at least a handful of food trucks will be present at any given festival or park (over 30 pre-set locations spanning 15 boroughs) but if you really wish to sample them all in a single night, then you need to head to the monthly “First Fridays” over at the Olympic Stadium. The event, which is complemented by live DJs, gathers all 50 food trucks, making it the largest gathering of its kind in North America.
When: Every first Friday of the month at the Esplanade Financière Sun Life at the Olympic Park from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Gay Pride Parade
Montreal’s Gay Pride Parade is definitely flamboyant and absolutely not reserved to the LGBTQ community; everyone is welcome, here! The colourful event features dozens of floats which celebrate local LGBTQ-friendly businesses and noteworthy contributions in the community as well as Montreal’s legendary joie de vivre. This year’s theme is “Our Flag, Our Nature: GREEN”.
When: Sunday, August 14, starting at the corner of Guy Street and René-Lévesque Boulevard
Welcome to the largest French music festival in the world! Attracting over a million festival-goers over just ten days, the FrancoFolies de Montréal are the perfect place to brush up on your French and mingle with French-speaking locals while discovering new artists. The setting itself is also quite spectacular, right smack in the heart of downtown, by the Place des festivals, with free outdoor events every night.
Fantasia Film Festival
A staple of the Montreal movie scene since 1996, Fantasia is a horror meets sci-fi meets fantasy meets anime film festival, a leader on the genre film scene and is famous for its eclectic line-up and devoted fanbase. It features movies from over 30 countries, most of which Asian, and attracts over 125,000 movie lovers from across Canada and the United States.
When: July 14 – August 2
Montreal Jazz Festival
In addition to the largest French music festival, Montreal is also home to the most significant jazz music festival in the world; indeed, two million people will participate in some form or another over the course of two weeks. The Jazz Fest has a mix of both indoor/paid shows as well as daily grand scale, outdoor, free shows by the Place des festivals featuring some of the hottest names in the industry, from household classics to respected up-and-comers.
When: June 29 – July 9
Just for Laughs
Is Montreal the funniest city in the world? Not just about comedy (although there is certainly a lot of that), the legendary Just For Laughs festival in Montreal features plenty of entertaining events including free outdoor performances of everything from circus to street theatre and even a Twins Pride parade. The indoor paid shows gather a dozen accomplished comedians every year and some of the biggest names in comedy, including Jim Gaffigan, Louis CK, and Sarah Silverman.
When: July 13 – August 1
This weekly, entirely free, waterfront outdoor music event is almost exclusively dedicated to electronic with the Montreal skyline as a backdrop. Piknik electronik welcomes international DJs as well as local sensations in order to keep the program exciting and refreshing, and always a little bit surprising. The perfect excuse to dance the summer away with friends and family at this laid-back and fun festival.
When: Sundays from May 22 to October 2 between 2pm and 9:30pm at Parc Jean-Drapeau
Montréal Complètement Cirque
What, with Cirque du Soleil’s headquarters being located in Montreal, along with the National Circus School and a handful of acclaimed dance studios, one could easily jump to the conclusion that Montreal is somewhat of a circus capital; they wouldn’t be wrong. The Circus Festival honours that reputation by presenting both free outdoor and paid indoor shows featuring all kinds of death-defying acts.
When: July 7-17
Osheaga is a massive festival dedicated to music and arts taking place every year at the Jean-Drapeau park. It’s one of Montreal’s largest, with roughly 40,000 daily festivalgoers; in short, Osheaga is Montreal’s answer to Coachella. Flower crowns included. The program is a mix of headliners (this year, for example, will welcome Radiohead, Lana Del Ray, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers) and both local and international up-and-comers. It’s crowded, it’s loud, but it’s a lot of fun.
Check out my photos from the legendary (ahem, Arctic Monkeys, that is all) 2014 Osheaga.
When: late July and/or early August
YUL EAT is a unique culinary event set in the bucolic and historic Old Port of Montreal that welcomes dozens of innovative local chefs and food trucks, thus highlighting the best of what’s currently being done on the Montreal food scene. The festival is a mix of free events and paid culinary classes
When: September 3-5
Street art aficionados, this one’s for you: Mural is a festival that aims to democratise street art by inviting some of North America’s most promising and creative artists. Visitors are encouraged to witness murals being painted in real time and to participate in guided art walks around the city, punctuated by various installations and exhibitions. Most of the murals are located on either side of boulevard Saint-Laurent on Plateau Mont-Royal, and change every year.
When: June 9-19
For even more things to do in Montreal as well as restaurant suggestions, local photography tips, pre-set itineraries, and exclusive discounts, get the Montreal city guide for just $9. It contains everything I know and love about Montreal!