Montreal Summer Weekend
Montreal is a friendlier-version of Paris, especially for an American who is not fluent in French. Embrace everything the city has to offer. Visit this metro-accessible city in the summertime, when it comes alive with dozens of fun festivals and Rue Sainte-Catherine in the city’s gay neighborhood, The Village, transforms into a pedestrian thoroughfare.
Here are some of my gay-friendly recommendations for things to do if you’re planning your first summer trip to Montreal.
Stay at the Hotel Gouverneur Place Dupris Montreal
Located on the corner of Rue Saint-Hubert and Rue Saint-Catherine in The Village, Hotel Gouverneur Place Dupris is a place to rest your head when you’re not sightseeing or venturing out to grab a drink or a bite to eat at one of the area's many bars or restaurants. In addition to a great concierge service, enjoy the amazing $15 continental breakfast that includes fresh pastries, fruit and morning fare like scrambled eggs and French toast. Don’t let the understated and sometimes dingy décor scare you from making a reservation here. The hotel’s moderate rates, package deals and close proximity to the Metro make it a perfect location for tourists.
Indulge in a Decadent Brunch at Cacao 70
Stroll or Jog Through Mont Royal/Parc du Mont-Royal
Enjoy the beautiful summer weather and head to Parc du Mont-Royal, one of Montreal’s largest green spaces. Frederick Law Olmstead -- who also co-designed New York’s Central Park -- designed this park that sits on a hill west of downtown Montreal. Relax and commune with nature as well as dozens of bikers, joggers, birdwatchers and tourists along a few multi-purpose paths. Walk to Chalet du Mont Royal and pass the semicircle plaza -- usually occupied by skateboarders -- to get an amazing panoramic view of downtown Montreal from the Kondiaronk Belvedere Lookout. Explore the trails, grab a bite to eat at Maison Smith, and on Sundays, experience Tam Tams, a fun hand drum jam session. It’s not uncommon to catch the smell of marijuana wafting in the air.
Explore Historic Old Montreal
Walk the cobblestone streets and appreciate the distinctive architecture of Old Montreal. In addition to City Hall, the Basilica of Notre Dame and a few museums, tourists can also explore dozens of small shops, restaurants and vendors including more than half dozen local artists willing to draw a caricature in your likeness in Place Jacques-Cartier. Summer is the perfect time to stroll along Montreal’s Old Port, a historic waterfront that stretches over a mile along the St. Lawrence River. Head to Parc du Bassin Bonsecours for a fun picnic with family and or friends, pick a park bench for a prime spot for people watching, sip on a cocktail under palm trees at Scena restaurant’s large terrace or rent a paddle boat to see Old Port by water.
Brave Adrenaline-Pumping Fun at La Ronde
Bring out your inner child and spend a fun-filled day at Six Flags Theme Park, La Ronde, the largest amusement park in Quebec. Located on the eastern tip of Saint Helen’s Island, the 146-acre park has 40 rides, including the water ride Aqua Twist, a top-spin ride called Demon and 10 roller coasters. Ride Le Monstre, a 131-foot wooden, double-tracked roller coaster. Open from mid-May to late October, La Ronde has hosted L’International des Feux Loto-Quebec (Montreal Fireworks Festival) over Dolphin Lake since 1985. Each summer, 8 or 9 pyrotechnical companies from different countries present a 30-minute pyro-musical show to compete for gold, silver and bronze Jupiters or trophies. And even if you don’t make it to see the fireworks at La Ronde, you can catch a glimpse of the show from key vantage points around the city, like Jacques Cartier Bridge.
Party at Piknic Electronik
Pack your cooler with food, grab your friends and end every weekend on Parc Jean-Drapeau for Piknic Electronik. This weekly electronic music festival -- featuring local and international DJs and producers -- takes place every Sunday on Île Notre-Dame from mid-May to late September. This summer dance party for all ages runs from 2 pm to 9:30 pm and costs $15 per person, but if you get there early (between 2 – 3 pm) you pay only $10. Entry is free for kids 12 and under. Cocktails and buckets of beer (straight from the tap) are served in designated areas. No outside alcohol is permitted.
Attend a Summer Festival
Summer in Montreal also marks the start of festival season for the city. From the Montreal Chamber Music Festival in May to the Montreal International Jazz Festival in July to Diverse/Cite (Gay & Lesbian Pride Days) in August and the International Black Film Festival in September, there’s always something going on in Quebec’s Metropolis. One festival I’d recommend is the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, the largest international comedy festival in the world. See some of the biggest comedians on stage like Seth Rogan, Andy Samberg, Chevy Chase, Nick Offerman and Don Rickles. This festival is usually scheduled in mid-July for about 2 weeks, and located just a few blocks from Hotel Gouverneur. If comedy isn’t your thing, try something like the Festival International Nuits d'Afrique, a festival that features music and popular musicians from Africa, South America and the Caribbean.
Sample the Cuisine at Le Steak Frites Village
Go Shopping at the Montreal Eaton Centre
Montreal is a very pedestrian-friendly city; if the weather is nice, take a 20-minute walk down Rue Sainte-Catherine to get your shopping on at the Montreal Eaton Centre (MEC), located downtown. Designed by renowned architect Peter Rose, this shopping complex has 5 floors of 175 trendy boutiques, food courts and free Wi-Fi available. The MEC is connected to Montreal’s Underground City, an indoor city that includes 21 miles of interconnected tunnels linking shopping malls, museums, 7 metro stations, universities, banks, condominiums and more. The Eaton Centre is also connected to the McGill Metro Station. Plans are underway to combine Eaton Centre with the neighboring Complexe Les Ailes Mall.