Like most truly cool cities, Montréal is understated but brimming with style. Rarely flashy but never predictable, this is a bohemian, culture-loving city with an artistic flair and a fascinating medley of neighborhoods where artists, writers and musicians have helped cement the city’s reputation as a great arts center.
Montréal locals dance to the beat of their city and are more than happy to show off its dynamic, avant-garde edge. For travelers, just a little time investigating the city’s festivals, live music scene and Sunday sessions will tune you in to cool Montréal.
Festivals…and all that jazz
Montréal boasts one of the most vibrant festival calendars in the world. Year-round you’ll find something going on, often with entire city blocks closed to traffic, and stages appearing across town for free concerts, improv and cinema.
The most famous annual event is the Montréal International Jazz Festival from late June to mid-July. With over 400 concerts and nearly two million visitors every year, this mother of all music fests - world music, rock and even pop music share the program with jazz legends and upstarts - just gets bigger and better.
North America’s biggest comedy festival, Just for Laughs, draws more than 650 artists to perform in over 1000 side-splitting shows for two weeks in mid-July. Past events have featured Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame, Craig Ferguson, John Cleese and Margaret Cho.
Every Saturday night from late June to the end of July, thousands camp out on rooftops and on the Pont Jacques-Cartier for the Loto-Québec International Fireworks Competition, the planet’s hottest pyrotechnics contest accompanied by dramatic musical scores.
Montréal nightlife is the stuff of legends. It’s a vibrant, exciting and ever-evolving scene on the cutting edge of international trends. That’s why touring bands and DJs rave about Montréal audiences; crowds here aren’t afraid to let loose and really get into the musical experience whether at monster live shows or cooler-than-thou clubs. From French hip-hop to breakbeat, comedy shows to supper clubs and the still-exciting Anglo indie rock, Montréal after dark holds something for everyone. You just have to know where to look. Hip clubs include:
La Sala Rossa - Lovely old performance hall known for the touring bands and everything from punk to world music.
SAT - Slick warehouse and new media space where DJs and performance artists push the envelope with banks of multimedia installations; cult party brands like NEON throw parties here.
House of Jazz - Formerly known as Biddle’s, Southern-style cuisine and live jazz are on the menu daily.
Le Social - Join the bohemian crowd inside this converted 19th-century mansion with chandeliers, stained-glass windows and wild locally crafted artwork adding to the eclectic ambience.
Sunday afternoons are a thumping time to be in Montréal with two big music events held each week in spring and summer. Huge crowds of alternative-loving free spirits gather every Sunday afternoon for the legendary Tam Tam concerts at the edge of Parc du Mont-Royal where the pounding rhythms and whirling dancers melt everyone into a trance. The percussionists are tireless in their dedication; some riffs go on for an hour or more. Vendors along the grass sell handicrafts and sarongs plus percussion instruments if you left your tambourine and conga drum at home.
Next, head over to Île Ste-Hélène, among the gardens and old pavilions from the World’s Fair, to the fabulous Piknic Électronik where DJs spin techno and electronic music while you dance or lounge on the grass.
In other words, sit back and let Montréal entertain you.
This article was updated in June 2012.