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December 16, 2017
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Montreal lets the good times roll

WEB EXCLUSIVE: what to see and do as the city turns 375

Every summer, Montreal’s signature joie de vivre busts out with exuberance all over town, and this year’s high-spirited 375th anniversary celebrations have dialled up the excitement even more. Montreal has always been a great getaway, but a visit this year could be a pick-me-up for even the most jaded or habitual travellers.

See the party lights

As usual, the city lights up in summer. The Montreal International Fireworks Competition (sixflags.com/larondeen/linternational-des-feux/overview) has been a summer hit since 1985 and this year, the illumination of the Jacques Cartier Bridge and the spectacular Aura show (aurabasilicamontreal.com) inside Old Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica are brilliant additions.

Party like it’s 1967

On the street level, international and provincial flags herald the fine art along La Balade pour le Paix: an open-air museum (mbam.qc.ca/en/exhibitions/on-view/balade-paix-an-open-air-museum) in a six block section of Sherbrooke Street between the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (mbam.qc.ca), corner of Mountain in the west and the McCord Museum corner of Victoria on the east. The international focus of the show is a reach-out salute to the 50th anniversary of Expo 67.

The street show is bookended in the west by La Balade, the “Revolution”(mbam.qc.ca/en/exhibitions/on-view/revolution) exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts revisits the heady days of the late sixties. This show is immersive, musical and fun, underscored by a sixties playlist in sync with the various exhibits on display.

On the east, the McCord, “Fashioning Expo 67” (musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/exhibitions/expo-67-and-fashion-in-montreal-in-the-1960s) reflects the late-sixties fashions and outlook of the hugely popular 1967 world exposition. Under the theme “Man and His World,” Expo 67 was a watershed moment. It was Montreal’s global coming-out party and 50 million people came to take part.

Around the corner, the McCord’s seasonal Urban Forest (musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/the-urban-forest) transforms neighbouring Victoria Street into a colourful chill-out space for pedestrians, with picnic tables, morning yoga and live performances during the lunch break.

Catch a festival – summer or around the year

Montreal is a stylish and fun city at any time of year, even in the cooler months of fall and winter, It has been dubbed a UNESCO City of Design and it’s a hit with guests. In any given year, the town welcomes around 10 million visitors from all over.

The city also hosts more than a hundred festivals, year in and year out, including big events like Just for Laughs (hahaha.com/en/montreal-festival) (comedy), Osheaga (osheaga.com/en) (music and art). Montreal en Lumiere (montrealenlumiere.com/en-CA) (music, art and gastronomy) -- and the granddaddy of them all, the Montreal International Jazz Festival (montrealjazzfest.com/en-CA).

The Montreal International Jazz Festival – book now for 2018

The Montreal International Jazz Festival is the biggest jazzfest in the world and has a unique formula that includes free entertainment with a diverse, only-in-Montreal mix of genres and venues that range from formal concert halls and stadiums to small and intimate venues and outdoor stages.

Hundreds of free outdoor performances are available rain or shine around the Place des Spectacles, a lively public space within the city’s cultural hub, the Quartier des Spectacles (quartierdesspectacles.com/en/). While you’re there, enjoy a meal at Le Blumenthal (leblumenthal.ca) in the Maison du Festival or Taverne F (tavernef.com/en/) facing the Place des Spectacles on the east side.

Montreal has a long history of jazz and this festival is solid gold. It’s been around for decades and still plays at the top of its game. Put it on in your calendar for June 28 – July 7, 2018.

“Montreal has always been known for its nightlife, but Prohibition really brought jazz to Montreal in the ’20s,” says Leah Blythe, one of the festival’s boosters. “Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Charlie Parker, they all played here back in the day.”

Familiar favourites and landmark standards

While Old Montreal, the Old Port, and the downtown core get most of the attention, venturing into Montreal’s lesser-known neighbourhoods is well worth the effort. New bars and restaurants are emerging throughout industrial-chic Griffintown, and old favourites like the bistro-style Restaurant L’Express (restaurantlexpress.com/en/) on St. Denis have kept it on the map since 1980. And yes, there are still lineups for smoked meat outside Schwartz’s Deli on St. Laurent Boulevard, known as the Main which is the demarcation line between east and west in Montreal. It was part of the ethnic neighbourhoods immortalized in Mordecai Richler’s novels. Leonard Cohen once lived there. Walk on and around the Main and the side streets around it now and you’ll be treated to a growing collection of fabulous wall art, much of it fashioned during the Mural Festival of international street art that happens every June.

Further north, the Jean Talon Market is a vibrant go-to spot for the freshest farmed and foraged foods. And St Viateur Bagel, off Park is now 60 years old, and still remains open 24/7 for fresh Montreal bagels made in its cavernous wood-burning oven.

What makes a Montreal bagel so different from other bagels? First of all, the dough is boiled before it’s baked. And then there’s the taste of honey in the water. In Montreal, then and now, how sweet it is.

For more information, see Montreal’s website for tourists: Tourisme Montreal (mtl.org).

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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