Montreal is a hub of festivals. More and more crop up each year adding to the idea that there is always something to do in Montreal. However, often the best festivals are the oldest and most established: the ones that have the knowhow to make a great experience every year for tens of thousands of people. One of those classic festivals is not actually known to many people living on the island despite its 33 year,s yet it draws massive crowds, uber popular artists, and renders even the most stern of adults into awed children full of wonder. This, of course, is the International de Montgolfieres de Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu at a mere 30 minutes outside the city.
Hot air balloons are epic. They come in all shapes and sizes and paint the sky with a glorious swath of colour like no other. This year has seen a flurry of special shapes arrive from South America, such as the frog, the seahorse, and the giraffe. While any of these on their own are a wonder, it is the entire experience of 150 hot air balloons going up together that make the sight a marvel.
Being veterans of the festival, we can recommend three specific tips to really make the hot-air balloon experience that much better. First and foremost, if you have the money, take a flight in a balloon. It is a completely unique experience to float over cities and rivers in a wicker basket with nigh on no noise except the occasional blast of flame above your head. Second, bite the bullet and go see the balloons go up at 6:00am. Not only are you able to walk among the inflating balloons, you can also help out, holding down the basket before takeoff or spreading the massive fabric while it inflates. Third, chase them down. Not only is chasing balloons an adventure on its own, you can be there when they land and are in sore need of help to wrestle their giant inflated shape to the ground. Who knows, you might even earn a free flight.
While the festival revolves around hot air balloons, it is not the only thing to get you onto the site. Every year, the municipal airport becomes the host of a huge festival ground. This year, the wonderful food trucks that you know and love in Montreal have been invited to set up throughout the festival grounds. Furthermore, there are several pavilions throughout the grounds such as the SAQ Bistro, the inflatable world (not just for kids!), the local artisans’ pavilion, and our favorite, the wearable bouncy ball wrestling arena.
The concerts are very impressive for such a small town festival. This year has already seen Charlie Puth and Meghan Trainor perform on opening night Saturday. But the hits will continue with Tyler Shaw and Shawn Mendes this Wednesday the 12th, Jonas & The Massive Attraction on Friday the 14th as well as Our Lady Peace on Saturday the 15th. Check out the full lineup, as there are many popular artists in attendance. If you choose to go on any of these nights, make sure to go early as the event is very popular and creates more and more traffic as the night wears on.
Tickets are $25 except on Saturdays where they are $30. There are also family passes for anyone with kids at $60 per family. To reserve a flight is $180 in the morning or $220 at night but these will be gone soon so act fast. As one final piece of advice, if you’re going without really caring what artist is playing at night, try the 10th, 11th, or 13th. These are the Nuits Magiques, which have multiple hot air balloons inflate but not ascend. They stay attached to the ground despite the dark of night and illuminate their massive colourful shapes with the fire of their cannons. It is truly a wonder to see. You can even get there directly via shuttles from the 1000 De la Gauchetiere bus depot this year, so no blaming the lack of a car!