2 million people arrive in Montreal for the Montreal Jazz Festival. Whether you are a jazz fan or not, everyone in their lifetime should make a pilgrimage to the Montreal Jazz Festival.
‘It’s first and foremost a big party. 10 days of partying. People forget that Jazz music is the music of the party people. This festival is all about letting your hair loose and having fun,’ when Vincent, comms director of the Montreal Jazz Festival was asked as to why 2 million people descend upon Montreal to make it the biggest Jazz Festival in the world.
Headline acts in the past who have rocked the show include Oscar Peterson, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles , Bob Dylan and the legendary B.B King (who died earlier this year )who was a longtime friend of the festival. It was fitting that this year’s festival, 36th year in existence was dedicated to BB King with a free concert in his memory on the final night which featured Bob Walsh, Kim Richardson and Jimmy James, amongst others.
Not just Jazz acts. There is something to suit everyone’s musical taste at this festival. The festival launches every year with a big free, show at the Place des Festivals and this year the honour went to the indie sensation, Beirut. Other household names that performed this year included Erykah Badu, Huey Lewis and the News and Jamie Cullum.
Tips and Insights
Montreal in a few words? Alive, historic, food heaven and yes, they sure know to party here.
Montreal is festival city. On the last weekend of the Jazz Festival when I visited, there was several other festivals and events taking place: Carifiesta, Montreal Cirque Festival, Poutinefest, Percussion festival, Piknic Electronik and also Comic Con. The good news is that even on the rare weekend when there are no festivals, the party continues here. The nightlife hotspots are on Rue Crescent, boulevard St-Laurent, and rue St-Denis, as well as Old Montréal.
The Vieux Montréal has lovely historic core, that is very Victorian English in style (English elites ran Montreal’s show in the inner city mid 19th century ) with cobblestone streets and a bustling waterfront. Waterfront is home to a few stationary food trucks such as Muvbox, Porchetta and Mister Felix and Mr Norton that are definitely worth checking out.
Montreal is a foodies paradise. The rich ethnicity of the city means that you can savour a diverse range of food : from Haitian food to Italian, the best bagels, smoke meat and then you have the heart stopping poutine. This Quebec dish made out of French fries with melted cheese on top, topped up with lots of a brown sauce is a must try for foodies. With over 20 different types of poutine to try and open 24 hours, the place to go to Poutine is La Banquise on 994 Rue Rachel E. Take time to explore Marché Atwater (chill rin Premiere Moisson with a bowl of their cafe au lait) one of the city’s oldest public markets and the fabulous bustling Marché Jean-Talon, the largest open air market in North America.
Talking about food, do take time to explore Mile End in Montreal which amongst many things is home to the legendary Fairmont and St. Viateur bagel shops and the Dieu du Ciel brewery.
If all this food is making you thirsty, back in town pop into Benelux and choose from their wide selection of top-quality homemade beers. It has a very cheerful vibe, nice staff, lots of outdoor seating make this the ideal summer setting plus do visit during their happy hour between 5 and 7 for discounted beers.
To get a sense of your bearings and perspective hike upto Mont Royal and the Kondiaronk lookout from where you’ll get cracking views of downtown Montreal. Sunsets , as you can see are pretty epic from here too.
Montreal has a fabulous live music scene. My pick is ‘Quai des Brumes’ in the hip neighbourhood of Le Plateau. Quaint D shaped bar, stained glass and thick deco wood , high white ceilings and cosy corner booths. Great atmosphere & live bands every night.
Top Festival Tip
If you are on a budget and can’t afford the big ticket shows, the good news is that there
are dozens of free outdoor concerts every day. The free concerts take place in the Place des Arts. Accommodating upto 60000 people, this square is jampacked in the evenings but still never feels too crowded and suffocating. With seven easily accessible outdoor stages, you could spend an entire day (or an entire week) wandering from one fantastic show to another. To help plan your schedule pick up the 200 page long free program which has an easy-to-read schedule of events and a map. You’ll find a copy of the programme at any tourist information centre or simply download the free iPhone application. Also, the opening and closing concerts are free but usually crowded so my tip is to get early to get a good view.
Keep an eye on the festival website to see what they have up their sleeves for 2016.
Money Saving Tip
Montreal is a city best explored on foot and all the neighbourhoods like Plateau, Mile End and Vieux Port are very walkable. If you need to jump from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, the city has a clean, cheap and efficient metro system. A single journey on bus or Métro, costs just C$3.
Visiting Kem CoBa in Mile End. Choose their Mango Sorbet and Dulce de Leche soft ice cream. It is the taste of summer in Montreal.
Top Tip: Where to Stay
I stayed in the HI hostel in downtown Montreal. It’s clean, comfortable with the choice of dormitory style and private rooms, staff are friendly and helpful plus the free Wifi is excellent: what more could you want? Hostel offers a filling, free breakfast till 11am, they organise a bunch of daily activities from walking tours to pub crawls plus they have their very own cafe/bar/bistro in the basement where you can sip on craft beers from local Quebecian microbreweries. Personal lockers are available (padlocks not included), as well as towels on request. Kids 5 and under stay at no extra charge.