With over 90 festivals lighting up the seasonal calendar, Montréal is Canada's cultural juggernaut. The city’s lively events close entire city blocks to traffic, and massive stages appear across town for free concerts, improv and cinema.
The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is the year's headline event, but that's followed by parties dedicated to world cinema, comedy and gay pride. While summer is the liveliest time to visit, winter has its own enticements: dance parties erupt in the snow at the wild, all-night arts fete called Nuit Blanche.
Lonely Planet's top picks
Montréalers love to celebrate. Discover the famous joie de vivre for which its residents are so well known during one of these major events.
Festival International de Jazz de Montréal – With over 1000-plus concerts, North America’s top music fest keeps getting bigger and better, with world music, rock and pop sharing the program with jazz legends over 10 days in late June and early July.
Grand Prix du Canada (grandprixmontreal.com) – Hear the engines roar during electrifying Formula One races. It’s usually held in early or mid-June on the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. It brings huge crowds, so book accommodation well in advance. Don’t forget your earplugs.
Osheaga Festival – In early August, Parc Jean-Drapeau is transformed into a giant stage for one of the city’s grand rock festivals. Over 100,000 music fans turn up to witness the powerhouse lineup of performers, which in recent years has included heavy hitters like Jack White, Interpol, Stromae and Vampire Weekend.
L’International des Feux Loto-Québec – Thousands camp out on rooftops and on the Pont Jacques-Cartier for the planet’s hottest pyrotechnics display. The 10 shows last 30 minutes each and are held on Saturday nights and a few Wednesday nights for the entire month of July.
Best gay festivals
Pride Montréal (fiertemontrealpride.com) – Montréal’s Gay Pride parade is the event on the Village calendar, drawing more than a million people, even in slow years. The streets around Pl Émilie-Gamelin pulse with dancing, art exhibits, concerts and parades. It’s held over one week in August.
Black & Blue Festival – One of the biggest events for the gay community, with major dance parties, along with cultural and art shows, all in the second week of October.
Best film festivals
Montréal World Film Festival – One of the most prestigious film events in Canada attracts 400,000 visitors to screenings from 70 countries. The stars come out, as well as the directors, producers and writers of the big screen. It’s held over 10 days in late August and early September.
Festival du Nouveau Cinéma de Montréal – This festival highlights who is up-and-coming in feature films, documentaries, experimental shorts, videos, narrative features and electronic art forms during 10 days in October.
Best arts & music festivals
Montréal en Lumière – Created to help shake off the late-winter doldrums, Montréal en Lumière is a kind of wintry Mardi Gras with concerts, exhibitions and fireworks. Place des Arts becomes an illuminated fairground with a Ferris wheel and zipline. Most events happen downtown.
Nuit Blanche (montrealenlumiere.com/nuit-blanche) – On one Saturday night in late February, Montréal becomes one giant performance space, with all-night performances, film screenings, art installations and concerts. Hundreds of venues participate. The biggest challenge is choosing where to go.
Blue Metropolis Montréal International Literary Festival – This festival brings together 200-plus writers from all over the globe for five days of literary events in English, French, Spanish and other languages in late April. There are even events for kids.
Biennale de Montréal – One of Montréal’s most creative events showcases the best and the brashest on the Canadian art scene, including conferences and seminars on contemporary art. It happens on even numbered years.
Best festivals for outdoors lovers
Fête des Neiges – Featuring ice-sculpting contests, dogsled races, snow games and costumed characters like mascot polar bear Boule de Neige, Montréal’s Snow Festival is held over four weekends in late January and early February. A great place for sledding, ice-skating, Ziplining, curling and skiing.
Tour de l’Île (velo.qc.ca) – Also known as the Montréal Bikefest, the Tour de l’Île draws 30,000 cycling enthusiasts for a 50km spin around the island of Montréal and a big party in the city afterward (there’s also a 28km route). It’s staged in late May or early June, with preregistration required.
Gardens of Light (espacepourlavie.ca) – In autumn, Montréal's botanical gardens become the backdrop to dazzling light displays. Wandering through lush landscapes lit by colorful lanterns is a magical way to enjoy the crisp night skies. It's held from early September to early November.
Best food & drink festivals
Taste MTL (tourisme-montreal.org/mtlatable) – Montréal's restaurant week showcases the city's celebrated culinary scene with special fixed-price menus at over 140 participating restaurants. It happens in November.
Montréal Beer Festival – This festival is your chance to quaff brews from around the globe over five days in mid-June. It’s held inside the Palais des Congrès in downtown.
Best comedy festival
Just for Laughs – More than 650 artists perform in over 1000 shows at this comedy festival which runs for two weeks in mid-July. Past events have featured The Muppets, Kevin Hart, Margaret Cho, Lewis Black, Bob Saget and Bill Hader.
Best electronic dance music festivals
Igloofest (igloofest.ca) – Lovers of electronic music don’t let the -20C temperatures deter them from this fun outdoor dance party and winter fest at the Old Port. It’s held over four weekends from mid-January to early February. Dress warmly!
Piknic Électronik (piknicelectronik.com) – On Sundays from mid-May to mid-September, you can enjoy outdoor revelry out on Parc Jean-Drapeau. House-spinning DJs work the decks on two stages, while young friends gather and dance on the grass.