Do you know that feeling you get when you wake up from a long and restful sleep? When you’re full of energy and ready to take over the world? Imagine if an entire city felt that same feeling, all at once. That’s what Montreal feels like in Spring. There is no denying it, this city has long and harsh winters, so when the snow melts and the warm sun of Spring kisses everyone’s skin (skin, by the way, that has spent months under layers and layers of clothing), people here get energized and ready to have a good time.
From where to see the coolest festivals, and unique cultural activities, finding the sweetest maple syrup sugar shacks or drinking on a terrasse, here is a list of the top things to do in Montreal in Spring!
1. EXPERIENCE A CULTURAL OVERDOSE
Cirque du Soleil (April 18th to July 21s) is one of Montreal’s biggest cultural exports and certainly one of the most loved. Because the company has its HQ here, they usually premiere their new productions in Montreal before they set off to tour the world. As of mid April of this year, instead of a new production, they are doing a reboot of Alegria, one of their most famous shows. Above all, their famous big top tent in the Old Port is a symbol of the cultural and creative DNA of this city.
Aires libres (May 2nd to September 21st ) turns rue Sainte-Catherine, the main drag in Montreal’s gay village, into an open air juggernaut of arts & culture. The restaurants, bars, and shops spill out onto the street (which is closed to car traffic from May to September) as they line it with art installations and our beloved terrasses (Don’t you dare call them patios! Even in English, locals use the french term because, well, c’est plus cool comme ça). And above all, quite literally, they’ve installed an overhead canopy of 180 000 resin balls inspired by the colours of the rainbow flag. Probably the most Instagram worthy spot in town is the footbridge built over the canopy to snap that perfect selfie.
First Fridays (May 3, June 7, July 5, Aug 2, Sep 6 and Oct 4, 2019, 4 p.m.) are a great way to take the pulse of Montreal’s varied food truck scene. Once a month, all the trucks gather under the shadow of the impressive Olympic stadium. Consequently, thousands of hungry people gather to taste what makes our food truck scene so different from other cities.
2.ENJOY AN UNFORGETTABLE MONTREAL BIKE TOUR
The Fitz & Follwell bike tours are the best way to get the pulse of the city. These carefully crafted 3-hour tours take you through varied neighbourhoods where you’ll visit some of the city’s main attractions as well as off the beaten path spots that allow you to discover what makes this city unique. The local guides leading the tours are all passionate about their city and full of interesting and fun information. Let them be your reference and tell you about their favourite restaurants and bars. Choose among the different tour options.
The South Tour (aka “The Essentials”) will give you a good understanding of Montreal’s rich history, its status as an arts & culture capital and epicentre of higher education. You’ll see, first hand, the European influence and get a solid overview of what Montreal is all about.
The North Tour (aka “The Hidden Gems”) dives head first into residential neighbourhoods out of the city centre. This is the best way to check out how locals live, play, eat and drink. You’ll check out stunning urban parks, various cultural communities and a massive farmer’s market. Can’t decide which tour to do? Good news, you don’t have to! Choose the combo option and ride them both to get the full experience.
Let’s not forget about the newly added Bike & Spa Wellness tour that takes you on a 3-hour ride through some of Montreal’s more interesting neighbourhoods. You’ll grab a healthy lunch at the Atwater Market and follow the shores of the St-Lawrence river. Then, cap it off with a visit to Bota Bota nordic style spa where you can spend the rest of the day unwinding as you relax in their jacuzzis, saunas, pools and steam rooms.
3. UNDERSTAND WHY MONTREAL IS A FESTIVAL CITY
Digital Spring (March 20 to June 21) is a unique festival that combines two of Montreal’s loves: Tech and art. This is a city that has always celebrated the arts and now due to the fact that so many tech firms call Montreal home, it was inevitable that these two worlds would collide. As a result, for nearly 10 weeks per year, from mid April until Late June, this festivals features artistic projections, immersive experiences, performances, conferences and more. Don’t miss it!
The Beer Festival (Mondial de la Bière, May 22 to 25) is as much a sure sign of spring as blossoming tulips, only just a tad livelier. This festival which bills itself as North America’s most important international beer festival allows you to enjoy 500 products from 100 breweries over a 4 day period from May 22nd to 25th. The festival turns historic Windsor train station into the biggest beer garden on the continent, and admission is free!
Probably one of the most anticipated seasonal events in town is the Piknic Electronik, (Every Sunday from May 19 to September 21) an eclectic daytime outdoor dance party located in Parc Jean Drapeau, on a beautiful island in the St-Lawrence river. You can dance your butt off to music by local and international DJs. Above all, this weekly festival is about inclusiveness, so you can bring the whole family!
Also not to be missed, the FTA (Festival TransAmériques, May 22nd to June 4th) presents contemporary dance and theatre productions in various venues across town. In contrast to similar festivals in other cities, the FTA presents plays in English and French…. As a result, you can take a trip through the linguistic and cultural crossroads that is Montreal.
Mural Festival, A wild exploration of all things related to urban art, is an 11 day extravaganza that invites local and international artists to come paint on the city’s walls resulting in the feeling that the streets are like an open air museum. Centred around boulevard St-Laurent, which shuts down to traffic and turns into a massive street fair with food, drinks, music, shopping and almost anything else you can imagine, visitors can chat with the artists and share stories about why Montreal is so freakin’ awesome.
4. TASTE SOME MAPLE PRODUCTS, THE NECTAR OF THE GODS
If you think maple is just a syrup to pour on your pancakes, boy are you wrong! Make your way to one of Montreal’s awesome public markets such as Atwater or Jean-Talon and scope out the inevitable maple toffee stand. A local hero will pour a condensed version of the sweet stuff directly on a bed of snow where it cools and as a result, crystallizes. Then you grab a plain old popsicle stick, twirl it around the sticky deliciousness and eat it like a lollipop. Warning: Your life will never be the same. For real. You’re going to dream about this stuff. The markets are also full of all sorts of different maple based products. There are delicious spreads, BBQ sauces, mustards, jellies, butters and most notably, pure maple water. This is the sap that runs from the sugar maple tree and turns into syrup when it gets boiled down. It is actually super healthy because it contains antioxidants and minerals that are good for you.
If you can manage to take a little day trip to a nearby Cabane à Sucre (sugar shack), do it! You don’t need to go far outside of the city because Montreal is really right smack in the middle of the world’s most important maple producing region. Locals make it a rite of Spring. First of all, you gather all your BFFs, your family, your neighbours and your neighbours’ BFFs. Then you all sit down at a ridiculously long table and eat until you simply cannot take one more bite. By the way, you put maple syrup on everything. Finally, after a seemingly endless meal, everyone gathers for a walk through the forest. It’s a Quebecois custom that will make you taste the true flavour of the place. Head to Sucrerie de la Montagne, where they still produce all their delicious maple products the old fashioned way. Because of their love for authenticity and tradition, they do it all the same way its been done for centuries. They are also open year-round! If you want something a little more hip and current, maybe la Cabane à sucre au pied de cochon* is more your style. Get ready for a gastronomical and sensory overload. Part genius, part madman, Chef Martin Picard assures you’ll have a dining experience that you’ll never forget.
*reserve in advance
5. HIKE MONT ROYAL
No visit to Montreal is complete without a pilgrimage to Mont Royal park, the highest point in the city. Due to a local by-law, buildings can’t be taller than the mountain and so therefore the views are just amazing! On a clear Spring day you’ll be able to see the whole city spread out and even gaze beyond the U.S. border. The park was designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who is perhaps most noteworthy for also designing N.Y.’s Central Park. A stroll up the trails to the various lookout points will make you feel like you’re connecting with the city.
No matter how you spend your Spring time in Montreal, you’re sure to feel the awakening of the city’s vitality. Think of the locals like maple trees. They spend their winters standing strong, confronting the harsh elements. Then in Spring they breathe and bud and start to flourish. Come be part of this annual tradition and check out all the things to do in Montreal in Spring.