MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE is one of the largest winter festivals in the world. The annual celebration, now entering its 18th edition, brings together thousands of Montrealers and out-of-towners who choose to defy the snow and cold by taking part in a big blow-out of a party. The three-week festival (Feb. 23 – March 11) combines performing arts, gastronomy, free outdoor family activities, and a full night of original and quirky offerings.
That full night is called Nuit blanche and it’s taking place this Saturday, March 4th. It’s the event that draws the most people in a single day all year on the Montreal event calendar. We’re talking 350,000 visits through the evening hours, and more than 200 activities —most of them free— connected by a free shuttle service. The Montreal Metro will also be running all night long to accommodate everyone.
As a long-time participant (and survivor) of this event, I have a few pointers that may help make your evening much more memorable and enjoyable.
Check the schedule as thoroughly as you can beforehand
I mean this. Don’t randomly wander out there on Saturday and hope to somehow stumble upon stuff happening. I mean, you will stumble upon stuff happening everywhere, but only in an accidental, haphazard way that will make you miss other happenings a few metres away or across town that you will regret not seeing later. You need a plan to weed out the events you’re just not that into and focus on the ones that you’ll most enjoy. The complete schedule is here.
To thy own self be true
If you know you don’t handle crowds well or don’t have the patience to wait in line for long, don’t try and convince yourself that this will be the night that your personality miraculously changes. It won’t. Limit your events and plan accordingly. Prioritize and pick your must-sees. Be willing to walk away if the scene is stressing you out.
Nuit blanche is an all-nighter. You won’t survive it if you’re running around at breakneck speed, trying to do and see it all. Scour the itinerary and highlight the events you want to experience that have a specific or very limited availability time schedule. For example, Total Crap à la Nuit blanche runs from 7-11 p.m. at Club Soda, while La Nuit blanche de la poésie is at the MAC only from midnight to 2 a.m. Pencil those in if you want to see them.
In sharp contrast, the Big O’s Village Mammouth activities will be going on from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., the Ferris Wheel and the Urban Slides are open all day and until 3 a.m., Teresa Margolles’ exhibition at the MAC will be open to the public from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., while Ten Hours of Spoken Word at Quai des Brumes is exactly that… ten hours of spoken word from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. You feel like you need a break from the cold and a drink? You simply insert an indoor event at the appropriate time in your schedule.
Choose your friends wisely
Nothing puts more of a damper on the best-laid plans than lugging around a grumpy, easily annoyed, always flustered, already tired companion. Just like in your social life and love connections, make sure you’re compatible. If your idea of Nuit blanche is a frantic, fun-filled all-nighter where you run from event to event and check things off your list, and you’ve decided to roll with someone who just wants to catch a couple of events and sit down for beers in a cozy bar, you’re setting each other up for failure and frustration. Both are legitimate action plans, but they simply don’t mesh well together. Be sure to thoroughly ensure that the people you’re embarking on a Nuit blanche adventure have the same idea of fun as you do – or at the very least, can easily compromise without resentment.
Plan your itinerary strategically
Plan accordingly so you can avoid most of the crowds that will certainly be forming. If you really want to catch the gorgeous (and for that night only, free) view from the Observatory at the Sommet Place Ville Marie, you would be wise to get there nice and early before the doors open at 8 p.m. If you’re both a history and architecture buff and want to be part of the guided tour of Old Montreal boutique hotels, you better make sure you’re lined up at 6:30 p.m. Some events (like the ones located in the city’s main museums and art centres, as well as in and around the Quartier des Spectacles) will be much more popular than the smaller, lesser-known, or more eclectic events. It’s up to you to look at the schedule and figure out which is which.
Check the weather and layer, layer, layer!
Montreal winter weather is unpredictable. It can be mild when you leave the house, only to have the temperature plummet by the time you’ve made it to event #2. Make sure to dress appropriately and warmly, and that means a good winter coat, waterproof winter boots, a scarf, a tuque, and gloves.
Now that you’ve got all that on, make sure that you’re wearing lots of layers of clothing underneath that can easily be removed. There is nothing more annoying than entering a stiflingly warm, overcrowded space and being unable to enjoy the music, the art, and the offerings because you’re dying a slow death by hyperhidrosis. (Go ahead and Google it, I’ll be right here waiting).
Use social media to your advantage
Download the MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE mobile application on your smart phone and have the Nuit blanche schedule right at your disposal. With events happening all across the city, from the Old Montreal’s Phi Centre, the Main’s Mainline Theatre and Studio Tango, to the Museum of Fine Arts, and so much more, you’ll need to stay organized. “Like” the Nuit blanche Facebook page and follow the #NBMTL hashtag throughout the night on Twitter and Instagram to stay on top of things.
Don’t get carried away by FOMO.
You can’t see it all. Catch what you can and be thankful that you live in a city that allows you to do it all over again next year. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy celebrating winter, while basking in the knowledge that in two weeks’ time Montreal’s unofficial celebration of spring (also known as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade) will have most of us out in the streets celebrating again.