Montreal locals live for the summer months. Family picnics, spontaneous jam sessions, and peculiar smells fill the parks; bikes and BIXIs reclaim the cycle paths; the 5-à-7ers (our happy-hour folk) fill the patios of bars and cafes. A summer visitor could spend an entire long-weekend just hanging and biking, eating and drinking.

But then you would miss out on some truly spectacular events.

Montreal is renowned for its summertime festivals. For every paid show, there’s at least one free outdoor performance to match! The Quartier-des-Spectacles houses colossal stages with free acts all summer. We’re Canada’s cultural capital for a reason – and our summers cement that.

Montreal boasts the largest jazz (Festival International de Jazz de Montreal) and comedy (Just for Laughs) festivals on the planet. An international fireworks competition calls the city home and lights the skies over the Saint-Lawrence twice weekly. We just saw Canada’s Formula 1 race fans take over the city (and exit, thank god) with the yearly Grand Prix Race.

Sure, those festivals and events are noteworthy. But if you stick to those, you miss Montreal’s true bohemian spirit and creative heartbeat. If you prefer authentic and non-touristy, and you hope to rub elbows with locals, check out our list below. But be sure to embrace the bizarre, the avant-garde, the colourful, and the…French!


When is it?: June 8th – 18th

Ever wanted to see graffiti art in-progress? To watch well-known streets artists up close? Then the MURAL festival is a can’t-miss occasion. In five years, the event has helped raise Montreal’s urban art scene to new heights (literally).

For over 10 days, Saint-Laurent Boulevard is completely closed to traffic. As you peruse the murals, be sure to stop-by outdoor patios for drinks, grab some delicious paella or Portuguese chicken, and enjoy the people watching. That’s an art-form in itself.

If you want to learn more about Montreal’s murals, we collaborate with the fest and offer walking tours – check us out!

Duluth / Saint-Laurent, MURAL by Jason Wasserman in progress.
Duluth / Saint-Laurent, MURAL by Jason Wasserman in progress.

Les Francofolies de Montréal

When is it?: June 8th – 18th

A short walk from the MURAL festivities, this celebration of Francophone music and culture is the first huge stage and free performance event at the Quartier-des-Spectacles. French speaking artists from all over the world have performed at this event.

Heading into its 29th season, Les Francofolies de Montréal‘s programming is stronger than ever. The year’s must-see event is the 9-hour closing ceremonies on June 18th. Prepare to see INSANE crowds for Les Cowboys Fringants, French rap troupe IAM and LOUVE (Ariane Moffatt and her pack, including Safia Nolin, Salomé Leclerc and Marie-Pier Arthur).

Photo credit: Francofolies de Montréal
Photo credit: Francofolies de Montréal

Montréal Complètement Cirque

When is it?: July 6th – 16th

Even if you don’t know this event, you’re bound to stumble into it. And stumble is something Complètement Cirque’s impressive performers rarely do.

In early July, the area surrounding Berri-UQAM metro becomes a more flexible, acrobatic, and balanced place. There are free shows on street corners with everything you can imagine: gymnasts, tightrope walkers, contortionists, along with more bizarre and unorthodox performances.

The festival also counts a presence outside the main hub. Various neighborhoods host circus-themed events. And people bend over backwards to see them.

La Grande Tournée

When is it?: All Summer

Montreal is undeniably a city of boroughs and neighbourhoods. Each quartier counts a distinct flair and history. To celebrate that diversity and the city’s 375th birthday, we have La Grande Tournée.   

Every weekend from May to September (19 times, in 19 boroughs), each arrondissement hosts an outdoor party. There will be circus performers, installations about local history, modern art exhibits (placed in the windows of local homes!), and a nearby alleyway party. You can also send a postcard to a future Montrealer.

This event is a staple of Montreal’s 375 festivities. Check it out and participate in our summer-long birthday party.

Aires Libres

When is it?: All Summer

Sainte-Catherine Street is known for shopping and bars and everything in between. But a few blocks stand out from the rest. Beginning at Saint-Hubert Street, in Montreal’s Gay Village, Saint-Catherine becomes a brilliant and bright-hued work of art.

Photo credit: Claude Cormier - 18 Shades of Gay
Claude Cormier – 18 Shades of Gay

This year’s edition is the 10th anniversary of Aires Libres, a public art event that takes places in the Village from May to September. This year the pink suspended balls, les Boules Roses, were replaced by 180 000 rainbow-color resin beads: an installation entitled 18 Shades of Gay.  The view from below and above are equally inspiring. Pro tip: Check it out from the Jacques Cartier bridge.

The street is closed to vehicles all summer, and people from all walks of life stroll through the most colorful and open-minded neighbourhood our city had to offer.

Don’t miss: our friends at LSTW collaborate once again with Aires Libres in the programming of open-air movie nights. Every Tuesday night from June to August. See the full schedule.

Join us on a pink bike tour in Montreal, we cover the area on our Beyond the Bike Lanes route.

Pink Bike tour with Spade & Palacio


When is it?: All Summer

Montreal transforms historic spaces in innovative ways. For an example, look no further than the AURA and AVUDO shows taking place in Old Montreal and the Old Port. Beautiful projections, lights, and lasers transform the Notre-Dame Basilica and the banks of the Saint-Lawrence into makeshift theatres.

While AURA charges admission, the price is reasonable and worthwhile. AVUDO is completely free and a major part of the 375 festivities. AURA projects images onto the walls of Notre-Dame, while AVUDO does the same on impressive walls of water and shipping containers.

You won’t be disappointed.

Piknic Électronik

When is it?: All Summer (Sundays)

Looking to keep the party going on Sunday? Are you into electronic music? Then this weekly outdoor get-together should call your name.

Located across the Saint-Lawrence on Ile-Sainte-Helene where the drinks flow and people dance the last hours of the weekend away. The DJs change every week, and the party goes until Midnight. Monday morning regrets abound.

Photo credit: Piknic Electronik
Photo credit: Piknic Electronik

So there you have it – our non-touristy guide to Montreal’s festival scene.

There’s nothing wrong with jazz and comedy and fireworks and F1 races. Be curious and check out the other big events that we locals love. Support our hidden gems. When you do summertime like a local, you won’t regret it!