How to Do Nuit Blanche the RIGHT Way
Montreal Nuit Blanche 2018: A City All-Nighter Guide
Sure, Montreal stays up til the wee hours of the morning all the time, but only one night a year features around 200 mostly free cultural, musical, culinary, and sports-oriented activities available to the public 6 p.m. through 6 a.m. It's called Montreal Nuit Blanche, it's a Montreal en Lumière festival of lights highlight, and it's a blast.
In 2018, Nuit Blanche is on Saturday, March 3, 2018, starting as early as noon and ending as late as 6 a.m. the morning of March 4, depending on the activity and event.
The thing is Nuit Blanche is almost too fun, so much so that its popularity has grown exponentially over the years, which frankly has become a bit of a problem. More on that below.
Heading to Montreal for Nuit Blanche?
Stay in these winter hotels if you want to avoid the cold as much as possible. To be in the heart of the action, book a room or suite at these festival hotels instead. And for stylish accommodations, try Montreal's top boutique hotels, Old Montreal's traveler favorites, or the city's five-star hotels.
Montreal Nuit Blanche 2018: The Problem
As mentioned before, Nuit Blanche is arguably the most popular of Montreal winter attractions outside of Christmas. The fact that about 200 activities are offered to the public, most of which are free of charge, over the course of 12 hours might have something to do with that.
So Nuit Blanche is huge. And with huge inevitably comes... a problem.
Montreal Nuit Blanche 2018: How to Fix the Problem
Nuit Blanche. It can be the night you've dreamed of for months, hours of dance workshops, art creation and contemplation, outdoor fun, underground city exploration and all-out debauchery.
Every year, Montreal comes alive in the dead of winter for one sleepless night with over 200 activities offered across the city. And most of them are FREE. But to anyone who's ever planned their Nuit Blanche outing in Montreal, that list can be a daunting one to cherry pick.
Now I could do the cherry-picking for you, dazzling you with my incredible taste and culture, sending you on an urban goose chase across the city with a list of "top picks" far removed from each other, which, admittedly, looks great on paper. Or in a blog post.
Been there, done that. Those ooh-look-tango-lessons-in-the-old-port-followed-by-ooh-tea-time-on-the-Plateau-and-then-ahh-painting-downtown happened to be my WORST Nuit Blanche experiences ever, ones plagued by wet feet from all the walking through sludge followed by heavy crowds supplemented by piss-me-off lineups when I actually made it to said locations. One Nuit Blanche consisted of me not doing anything at all other than WAIT, moving from place to place only to get discouraged by never-ending lineups.
Then there's the plague of anticipation. If you do hunker down and bear with the wait (one that may include snow, slush and bitter winds or claustrophobic crowds crammed into tiny vestibules), your expectations of what's to come inevitably rise to heights so hyped that nothing short of a Cirque du Soleil performer 3D-printed on the spot to cook you up pancakes on a tight wire rope could impress.
But what usually happens instead is, after regaining sensation in your frozen fingers, you find yourself packed like a sardine in some sort of library/art gallery/community center watching a live tribute to Marlene Dietrich in German that you can't even see because a wall of heads are blocking your view. But the event description on the official Nuit Blanche website made the experience sound so intriguing. That's because it is. Without the crowds.
So. How to fix this problem? You need a plan.
Montreal Nuit Blanche 2018: The Plan
Whatever the weather conditions this Saturday, March 3, 2018, I propose to you a PLAN, a foolproof Nuit Blanche itinerary that took me three years of fumbles to perfect, this after a slew of trial and error experiences doing the Nuit Blanche circuit. This itinerary is my baby, my salvation to a pleasant, smooth-running Nuit Blanche. If I hadn't finally cracked the code, I would have given up on the all-nighter altogether.
The beauty of my Nuit Blanche itinerary is that it keeps activities fairly central in order to 1) minimize outdoor and indoor walk times which, in turn, 2) cut down on lineups, since you're so close to alternate activities. You and yours can simply move on to the next destination should one be cursed with long, outdoor wait times which from my extensive Nuit Blanche experience, is practically a given.
Nuit Blanche Transportation: Point A to Point B
But before we even get to that, let's talk transportation. This is one night where you'll want to leave the car at home (or at your hotel). Montreal's public transit corporation keeps the subway running all night long for Nuit Blanche. If you already have a monthly or weekly transit pass, then carry on as usual. For everyone else, either get a three-day tourist card, an unlimited weekend pass OR an unlimited evening pass. Both can be used as often as you like throughout Nuit Blanche and you only have to pay once. More info on Montreal transit fares here.
There are also free shuttle buses at Nuit Blanche which travel through key areas of the all-nighter.
Montreal Nuit Blanche 2018: The Itinerary
My Nuit Blanche 2018 itinerary is pretty much identical to my previous Nuit Blanche itineraries. It took me three years of testing various Nuit Blanche circuits after my first and worst Nuit Blanche experience ever to find the winning combination that eradicated everything that can make Nuit Blanche a pain in the ass.
The sites listed below are all located five minutes or less from each other in downtown Montreal and are crawling with several activities mostly free of charge and will keep you occupied for hours.
- Free Outdoor Site
From roasting marshmallows to watching live shows, to sliding down a 110-metre-long (361-foot-long) urban ice slide to zip-lining down two city blocks above hundreds of Nuit Blanchers, just head over to the downtown core’s Place des Festivals where dozens of activities, performances and random events suitable for a variety of age groups converge in one central, outdoor spot, a fairly safe bet and meeting point for those overwhelmed by Nuit Blanche’s 200 activities.
- Musée d’art contemporain
Montreal’s contemporary art museum, which is housed smack in the middle of the free outdoor site, is a sure Nuit Blanche bet every year proposing free exhibitions, free art workshops for the little ones as well as free cocktails and homemade treats depending on the edition.
- Art Souterrain
My FAVORITE part of Nuit Blanche is the Underground Art circuit better known as Art Souterrain. Dozens of contemporary and live performance art projects are scattered throughout 7 km (44 miles) of Montreal’s underground city, the perfect anti-lineup and weather-shielding antidote. I’d recommend starting at Place des Arts and Complexe Desjardins and working your way from there, exploring a circuit that can take hours to complete.
Montreal Nuit Blanche 2018: The Itinerary Continued
Liked the first part of my Nuit Blanche itinerary? Below picks up where the previous page left off, proposing hubs offering several activities located five minutes or less from each other. One last thing. After consulting my itinerary, you'll definitely want to check out my Nuit Blanche tips further below. They could make the difference between you having the most memorable night of the season versus enduring what might feel like a total waste of time.
- Place des Arts
Also right beside Place des Festivals and the Musée d'art contemporain is Place des Arts. Every year features film screenings, street arts, circus antics and musical performances throughout the corridors of Montreal's largest performance arts center.
- Belgo Building
Barely a block west of the free outdoor site at Place des Festivals is a multi-floor cultural institution packed with galleries, art collectives and studios, the site of dozens of exhibits and eccentric freebies. Best times to drop by and catch most exhibits and performances are between 10 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. though if you get there earlier, say between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., the crowds are way less intense. But even if they are, there usually aren't any lineups here.
Montreal Nuit Blanche 2018: Some Final Tips
I've shared with you an annoyance-mitigating weather-proof Nuit Blanche itinerary. We've gone through your public transit options. And now, it's time for some final Nuit Blanche tips.
Nuit Blanche 2018: Plan It Out
If I didn't make clear already, then let me say it again: PLAN your Nuit Blanche. Your best bet for having an amazing all-nighter in Montreal, in addition to considering my personal Nuit Blanche itinerary, is to get the night started as early as possible, especially if you had your heart set on visiting the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Musée d'art contemporain. Check those guys out first before the masses pile up by 8 p.m.
If You Can Make Reservations, DO IT
On the topics of "early" and "planning," instead of waiting until the weekend itself to scope out this year's freebie offerings, take a good look at which activities require reservations. If you can book yourself a spot in different workshops avoiding both lineups and packed crowds, you're gonna love your Nuit Blanche experience. If the photo above didn't give it away already, my favorite workshops were dance classes organized by Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal. They're generally one hour long and many don't require any dance background. They're really fun but unfortunately aren't happening this year. (Sorry folks).
Beware the Wolf Pack
And finally, if you're gonna do Nuit Blanche, stick to doing it either solo, as a duo or with a very small group. The minute you're with more than four friends, things get complicated. Person A wants to go to Activity X. Person B hates Activity X and would rather hang out at Location Y. Person C has issues with Person B and is afraid Person D might be at Activity X so they push for Workshop Z. Before you know it, you're all pulling your hair out vying for alpha position in the group and poof, two hours have gone by. And you're still bickering over where to go. Or you're waiting in a lineup somewhere to check out something you don't even want to see.
Waiting until later in the evening to head out? Don't. A classic rookie mistake. My worst Nuit Blanches? They started late, easily past 10 p.m., plagued by lineups absolutely everywhere. There was no chance to experience anything without stress and annoyance. Trust me on this. Nothing is so incredible and out of this world at Nuit Blanche that it warrants waiting 45 minutes or even 20 minutes, in the cold or otherwise, to get in.
My best Nuit Blanches? They started as early as possible, timed to when my favorite events and venues first open their doors, when lines were still short and manageable if there were any at all. So by the time the clock hit 11 p.m., I had already seen several things and had a great time without the massive later-night crowds stifling me, AND I still had plenty of time to do the Art Souterrain circuit which, incidentally, is always lineup-free. I also love ending my night that way because the circuit can not only take more than two hours to complete, but it's a choice jump-off point to quickly suss out other Nuit Blanche activities since Montreal's underground city covers a huge chunk of the city core.