Just For Laughs Festival at Metropolis
Welcome to the fifth instalment of the Montréal Bachelor(ette) Party Planning Guide. Previous posts on the series outlined the bachelor/bachelorette party scene and hotels here in Montréal, restaurants (parts one and two), and bars and clubs. A listing and links to the previous posts can be found at the end of this post.
Today’s guide focuses on the various activities that your party group can plan for your trip to Montréal. Thankfully, in addition to all the restaurants, bars, clubs, lounges, and pubs that the city has to offer, we also have a slew of city-planned events happening year round. We love the arts, culture and shamelessly sexy business so Montréal has just about something for everyone. Summers carry the bulk of the major events (and attract most tourists) since, well, Montréal is pretty cold city during most seasons. If you get here for July and August, you are almost guaranteed the hot and sticky weather many Americans and Canadians from the rest of the country experience; May and June can sometimes hold onto the regular programming. That being said, make sure you check the weather forecast for the city prior to launching on your trip, and remember that carrying an umbrella and dressing in layers can thwart the possibility of you walking around the city cold and wet (it happens to us all the time).
So here is a (non-comprehensive) list of major events in Montréal starting from the beginning of the year in January. Note that some of the events listed take place in multiple seasons, especially the festivals that start in spring and end in the fall, so check out the Spring listings if you are planning your visit for the summer or fall months. Additionally, year-round activities that you and your group can pursue regardless of the season are also listed at the end of the post. Make sure to click on the links (in bold) to find out the exact dates and more details of each event.
Igloofest in the Old Port
Considering how cold the city can get in the winter (-30°C without windchill anyone? I will go ahead and translate that to -22ºF for American readers), you would think Montréalers would be huddled away at home toasting our baguettes on an open fire. Well, if you have been living here in this city long enough, you know that the winter stinks and you cannot get away from it. So what do you do? Embrace it! Which means we even hold outdoor festivals in the dead of winter in the form of Igloofest. Igloofest — as the name implies — is an outdoor electronic music festival that is scheduled in mid-January to early February. Here you will find bars built with ice blocks, revellers bundled in parkas and snow boots (do not attempt to wear skimpy running shoes!), and DJ’s rocking away in the cold. And pick up some kitschy but cool Igloofest hats as your souvenir and proof that you braved the Montréal winter.
For an option that allows you to huddle indoors, Montréal en Lumière is a cultural and gastronomy festival scheduled for the end of February to early March. The festival’s three components — art, light, and cuisine — involves outdoor lighting displays, concerts (Robert Glasper held a very funky show a few years back), and special culinary events at select restaurants. And of course, Montréal’s version of Nuit Blanche bring the arts outdoors for a fun, late night tour throughout the city.
If you do not mind trekking a little bit outside the city limits, I strongly suggest that (carnivore) visitors make their way to the province’s sugar shacks, or Cabane à sucre. This website lists eight sugar shacks in the vicinity of Montréal, but for serious gourmands, reserve way ahead to secure one of the few limited spots at Cabane à Sucre au Pied de Cochon, the sugar shack sister restaurant to the city’s famous Au Pied de Cochon restaurant. Reservations are very limited and very difficult to come by, as you can only make reservations during specific periods during the year and after submitting your request online, you must patiently wait by the phone for confirmation. Cabane à Sucre au Pied de Cochon is typically open in mid-February to early March, but the start date for requesting reservations start around December 1st, so check the website for details and mark the date on your calendar.
Medieval Battle on Mont Royal from www.spacing.ca
Once the snow starts to melt, some funny things start to happen in the city, specifically on Mont Royal (Mount Royal). Every Sunday, starting some time in May when the weather starts to become seasonal, marijuana-, dance-, and beat-loving Tam Tams congregate at the base of the mountain around the George-Étienne Cartier Monument, with crowds growing into the afternoon. Join in with your own drums, dancing, or just as a second-hand inhaler, err, spectator.
If the Tam Tams are nothing special to you and you would like to see another form of counter-culture alive and well in Montréal, walk deeper into the mountain, going west from the George-Étienne Cartier Monument (i.e. up the hill) to watch the Medieval Battle on Mont Royal. Here you will find (mostly) males of various ages bring their homemade shields, swords, and battle gear to duke it out in semi-organized chaos. Click this link to view some incredible photos from Spacing Montréal.
Once May rolls around in the city, Parc Jean Drapeau at the south east end of the island plays host to various events including Piknic Électronik. Piknic Électronik is an outdoor electronic music festival starting in mid-May and ending mid-September, taking place every Sunday during the five months. The festival features both established and upcoming DJs including Carl Craig, Mad Professor, Mistress Barbara, and Komodo in its 2013 rolster. The lineup changes each season, so check out the website’s listings. You are encouraged to bring your own picnic though alcoholic drinks are not permitted, but are on sale on premises. Tickets are available on-site only.
The city’s amusement park, La Ronde, operated under the Six Flags franchise, is also located on Parc Jean Drapeau. The park opens in mid-May until weekends only in September and October, offering 40 rides and attractions including various roller coasters and weekend fireworks (see L’International des Feux Loto-Québec under the Summer listings). The park boasts 16 rides including Goliath, one of North America’s highest and fastest roller coasters. Check the park’s website for more details.
By early June, the city gets geared for Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada, also on Parc Drapeau. This is the time of the year where fast and expensive cars come growling through the city streets, celebrities flock to the swanky bars (previous sightings include Bradley Cooper and Michael Fassbender), and if you live within the city center you definitely can hear the roaring tires from your apartment. Things are expensive and busy during this time, but if this kind of scene is your thing, book your hotels and bottle service in advance and hope for sunny skies.
Pride Festivities in the Village
L’International des Feux Loto-Québec starts in late June until early August when La Ronde on Parc Jean Drapeau hosts the international fireworks festival every weekend and some mid-week days. Even if you are not at Parc Jean Drapeau, you can view (and hear) the spectacular explosions from various spots in the city, most notably around the Old Port. If you can, walk to the Old Port instead of driving as you will find that parking is impossible, and if you do manage to park, driving out of the neighbourhood will be utter chaos.
For a different kind of chaos, the Montreal Jazz Festival (Festival International de Jazz de Montréal) is the largest jazz festival in the world that takes place at the end of June to early July. The festival is worth visiting, even if you have not bought tickets to specific shows, as most of the festival’s concerts are held outdoors and are free. Some notable free concerts in the recent history include Leonard Cohen, Stevie Wonder, Prince, and this year, Feist. See pictures from 2013’s festival in this previous post here.
Another major music festival in the month of July include the Festival International Nuits D’Afrique, which starts in the first week of July until the end of the month. This event includes musicians of African, Caribbean, and Latin American origin, as well as local artists, in various venues around the city. Check the website for listings and more information.
On Parc Jean Drapeau, Week-ends du Monde takes place on Parc Drapeau during two weekends in July each year. The festival focuses on music, dance, and culinary events, and admission is free. Festivities start around 2 pm until around 11 pm.
Just for Laughs, on the other hand, is entertainment of a different sort, and quite a unique and fantastic event to catch if you are in town. Starting in early to late-July, the festival includes street events like the famous Twins Parade, and free busker and acrobat events in the Latin Quarter neighbourhood. Speaking of the Twins Parade — if you have never seen it before, you MUST go see this! Basically, the festival invites twins, triplets, quadruplets, and quintuplets from all over the world to march in this crazy parade wearing matching outfits and other props. It is absolutely mind-blowing; it makes me think that, if I was the mayor of Toronto smoking crack, this is how it would feel like. If watching stand up comedy is more of your thing, there are tons of various events to add to your schedule, including the popular Nasty Show (just great, raunchy humour), and famous comedians — Joel McHale from Community, Anthony Jeselnik, and Margaret Cho have had festival shows in the past. Check this year’s listings to see who is coming to town this year.
If you are a hipster, or like hipster-ish music, you probably already know about Osheaga Festival Musique et Arts in early August. The three day music takes place on Parc Jean Drapeau and includes both radio-friendly and more in-the-know musicians. This year’s line up include The Cure, Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, Frank Ocean, Beck, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Mumford & Sons, amongst others. Canadian acts include k-os, Majical Cloudz, Stars, Raine Maida, and Les Soeurs Boulay. Pray for good weather this year because last year’s festival was a wet and stormy event!
If you would like to celebrate LGBT pride, Pride Montréal is the city’s LGBT week scheduled for mid-August each year. The Dyke March occurs on the Saturday in mid-August, and the Pride Parade takes place the next day on Sunday. However, other events include free DJ events at Place Émilie-Gamelin (at metro Berri-UQAM), comedy nights, club events at Club Soda, and kid-friendly events during the day hours. The festival centers in the Village neighbourhood, so if you are in the area drop by and get sucked into the free, outdoor dance parties.
For sports fans, you can check out the Montreal Alouettes football games from June into the fall with tickets ranging from $28 to $120 CDN. Games are usually in the evenings, around 7:30 pm, and even if you are a first-timer to the game you will know where to go because of the hordes of fans walking in droves towards the Percival-Molson Stadium at McGill University.
Also check out the Tam Tams and Medieval Battle on Mont Royal, and Piknic Électronik and La Ronde amusement park on Parc Jean Drapeau listed in the Spring section that continues in the summer and fall months.
Montreal Alouettes game at Percival-Molson Stadium
The city settles down a bit once the cooler fall months rolls along, but two notable festivals occur in the autumn months including Pop Montréal. Pop Montréal is a five day indie music festival that is scheduled for the end of September each year, and includes more than 600 artists each year. Genres are wide ranging including jazz, funk, blues, electronic, rock, and R&B. Venues are correspondingly an interesting assortment including the Mile End Library, Centre Canadien d’Architecture, and Church of St. John the Evangelist. Check the festival website for the current year’s listings and details.
On the culinary side, Taste MTL is a gastronomy festival scheduled for the first week of November where various participating restaurants offer special prix fixe meals at three different prices. Each year brings something new, so check the festival website for this year’s details.
Also check out the Tam Tams and Medieval Battle on Mont Royal, and Piknic Électronik and La Ronde amusement park on Parc Jean Drapeau listed in the Spring section that continues in the summer and fall months. Additionally, Montreal Alouettes football games also run into the fall months, usually until about November.
The Luyas at Pop Montréal 2010
ACTIVITIES AVAILABLE YEAR-ROUND
Other than the many quality restaurants and drinking holes that litter the city (see previous posts listed below), Montréal has various fun and interesting activities year round. This includes the numerous music concerts by international artists that drop by the city, so check local website such as Nightlife.ca (mainly in French, some English) and Tourisme Montréal for current listings. Also, do not be surprised if Bon Jon Jovi drops by the city for two sold-out concerts because…honestly, I do not understand Montréal’s love for this man and his band, so just a warning.
For indie music lovers, Casa del Popolo is a vegetarian restaurant/café/art gallery/music venue that hosts up-and-coming musicians year round. Owned by the guys of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the place is über cool and part of a sprawling complex including La Sala Rossa (concert venue), La Sala Rosa (restaurant), Suoni Per Il Popolo (concert venue), and Pensione Popolo (hotel).
If you are not big on the music scene, Montréal has a strong performance and comedy culture even outside the Just for Laughs festival. We have two great comedy clubs worth checking out: Comedy Works and Comedy Nest. Both clubs are located downtown and are similar in terms of what they offer (Open Mic, local and international guests), and I have seen really great comedians at both venues. Prices are affordable, between $12 to $15 (cheaper if you have student ID and during open mic), and can be a great place to bring your soon-to-be wedded friend, especially if you reserve seats at the front where the comedians can crack some jokes at your friend’s expense.
If you and your group are shopaholics, Montréal has some unique fashion boutiques to visit. If you are in the mood for a friperie (second hand shops), several dot the Mile End neighbourhood of the city, so just walking along Bernard avenue, Saint-Viateur west, and Fairmont avenue will bring you to super cool boutiques such as Les Montures which sells exclusively vintage glasses.
For new clothing items, try strolling the Plateau neighbourhood along St. Denis and avenue Mont-Royal for some smaller, independent shops. I love Lolë on St-Denis, a trendy fitness clothing store based in Montréal but loved by Vogue editors (they also ship online). The Old Port also hosts some interesting and unique clothing shops, though this neighbourhood’s shops tend to be higher end. And if you want to stop and grab a coffee or meal, both neighbourhoods have plenty of cafés and restaurants where you can take your fashionable breaks.
The city is also dotted with various art galleries, most notably the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (Montréal Museum of Fine Arts), Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (Montréal Museum of Contemporary Arts), and Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). Some of the museums host free admission days during the week, so check their websites for more details. We also have Biodôme which replicates various ecosystems in North America and has a very fun penguins exhibit.
If your group is a group of gals wanting to try an interesting type of exercise, try one of the pole fitness centers in the city. I have tried Alternative Fitness located just south of the Village neighbourhood. You can reserve a private class for your girls with special bachelorette pricing from $100 (groups of 5 or less) to $150 (groups of 10 or less; check the website for current prices). Plus, your instructor will perform an incredible show for you at the end, letting you know that pole fitness is an athletic feat. Keep in mind that your leg and arm muscles will feel somewhat strained after the session, unless you are already a pro on the pole.
And for the boys: I know I have not talked about strip clubs in this post, but you will find some brief but informative information on the topic in the first post of this series found here. Yes, Montréal is super liberal and sexually curious, so if paying to see nekkid ladies not just teaching you pole fitness is your bag, this city has a lot of places to explore.
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Other posts on bachelor and bachelorette party planning: Fast food choices, brunch spots, and more.
Previous Posts in the Series:
The Montréal Bachelor(ette) Party Planning: Introduction and Hotels
The Montréal Bachelor(ette) Party Planning Guide: Restaurants, Part One
The Montréal Bachelor(ette) Party Planning Guide: Restaurants, Part Two
The Montréal Bachelor(ette) Party Planning Guide: Bars and Clubs