01 of 07
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.
BUT as your humble Montreal expert, I must warn you. 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 stay 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.Continue to 2 of 7 below.
02 of 07
Montreal Nuit Blanche 2018: The Problem
As I was saying 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.
The problem of problems? Lineups. They can ruin the whole experience. Then there's the possibility of totally awful weather. What can I say? It's February in Montreal (or in the case of the 2017 and 2018 editions, March, which can be unpredictable at the best of times). But I've got a viable solution to counter all of this potential crap.Continue to 3 of 7 below.
03 of 07
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 vestibules), your expectations of what's to come inevitably rise to heights so hyped in your psyche 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 and you can't even see what the hell is going on because a sea 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.Continue to 4 of 7 below.
04 of 07
Montreal Nuit Blanche 2017: 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. More of a subway user myself, I tend not to use the free shuttles because I get impatient waiting idly in the cold. But maybe they can work for you.
Continue to 5 of 7 below.
- Next: Discover my Headache-Free Nuit Blanche Itinerary
05 of 07
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.
MONTREAL NUIT BLANCHE 2018 ACTIVITIES WILL BE CONFIRMED AS WE CLOSE IN ON THE DATE. BELOW FEATURES LAST YEAR'S ITINERARY.
- 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. The site opens as early as noon on March 4, 2017, wrapping things up by 3 a.m. the morning of March 5.
- 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. Most activities are from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. but if I were you, I'd get there between 5:45 p.m. and 6 p.m. I've waited over 30 minutes to get in at previous editions and yet arrived barely 30 minutes after the doors opened.
Continue to 6 of 7 below.
- 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. View a map of the circuit.
- Free Outdoor Site
06 of 07
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. Most activities are from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. At Place des Arts (map).
- 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. At the Belgo Building (map).
As part of Montreal's 375th year anniversary celebrations, a 3.6 kilometre outdoor route covering Montreal entertainment district Quartier des Spectacles featuring 25 innovative light installations is open for public perusal until March 11, 2017. And it's the perfect lineup-free experience that might end up leading to a few fun detours along the way. Here's the route.
Next: Some Final Tips to Make Nuit Blanche 2017 One to RememberContinue to 7 of 7 below.
- Place des Arts
07 of 07
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.