Montréal neighbourhood: Discover the Quartier des spectacles

Centre-Ville - Quartier des spectacles - Place des Festivals
Isa Tousignant

Isa Tousignant

This article was updated on February 20, 2023.

Energetic and constantly evolving, Montréal’s Quartier des spectacles is the city’s entertainment district. With its bright nights all year round, it gives Paris a run for its title as the City of Lights! The Quartier hosts more than 40 annual festivals, houses 80-plus performance spaces, is serviced by three metro stations and 10 bus lines, and is a gateway to the city’s Underground City.  No wonder it’s at the heart of so many iconic Montréal festivities.

Red Light District, 1957 - Aldo Tavern, 150 de Montigny, on the corner of De Bullion

A quick look back

With roots to the beginning of the 19th century, the Quartier des spectacles straddles the site of Montréal’s former Red Light district. (Sounds kind of naughty, no?) In the late 1800s it had already become an entertainment hotbed, with theatres and cinemas drawing the city’s growing crowds to the neighbourhood. America’s prohibition years of the 1930s represented a windfall for the Montréal economy, since alcohol remained legal here. This anchored Montréal’s reputation as a fun-loving city where (almost) anything goes.

Fast forward to today, and the neighbourhood has certainly cleaned up its act – but its liveliness remains the same! To the existing theatres and cinemas were added museums, malls, a ton of restaurants, a selection of grand hotels and some huge outdoor spaces perfectly designed for festivals to spread themselves out in all their glory.


Festival International de Jazz de Montréal

The spectacles of now

These days the neighbourhood is the central gathering place for some of Montréal’s biggest festivals. The Jazz Fest continues to be one of the most important events of the year, but the Quartier des spectacles venues are home to some 40 massive festivals that take place across all four seasons.

The annual comedy festival Just for Laughs is based here, as are a French-language music festival (Les Francos de Montréal), an African arts festival (Festival International Nuits d’Afrique), an international documentary festival (Montréal International Documentary Festival), the winter fun fair Montréal en Lumière, and so many more.


Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal - MAC

All year long

No matter when you visit Montréal, Quartier des spectacles has evergreen attractions to add to the punctual fun of the festivals. Here are some not to be missed:

Luminous Pathway. The neighbourhood is a canvas of light. With a playful nod to the classic red carpet and the Quartier des spectacles’ Red Light past, two rows of red dots light up the sidewalk in front of each of the district’s cultural venues. Architectural lighting highlights the façades of more than 20 buildings and sites, throwing their features into dramatic relief. In the evening, all year long, nine building façades serve as architectural “screens” on which artistic videos are projected. Here’s a map to find the projections!

Musée d’art contemporain: Located in the heart of the Quartier des spectacles, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal highlights current art emerging locally and beyond. It was Canada’s first museum devoted to contemporary art, and it continues to offer a stellar array of programming. (Please note that the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal is undergoing a major renovation and has temporarily relocated a few blocks away to Place Ville Marie during its transformation.)


Place des Arts


Place des Arts: Featuring an impressive program of music, theatre, dance, opera, song, comedy and musicals all year round, this cultural venue is comprised of six distinct performance spaces, including the Maison Symphonique (where you can watch the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal). Place des Arts is also home base to a few of the city’s other important arts organizations, such as the Opéra de Montréal and the Grands Ballets Canadiens. In short: big-ticket cultural events happen here!

Complexe Desjardins: Besides many well-known fashion boutiques, the Montréal downtown mall comprises specialized businesses, a supermarket, sports facilities and a food court. The large public square (at the centre of the mall) hosts over 200 days of events per year.

Espace danse: A complex unlike any other in Canada, Espace danse in the recently revamped Wilder Building offers a host of new services to dance professionals and the public. It’s home to Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, Tangente, École de danse contemporaine de Montréal and Agora de la danse. One address, the best of dance.


Isa Tousignant

Isa Tousignant

Isa Tousignant is a Montréal-based editor and storyteller with a curiosity that runs deeper than most. She has chatted life philosophies with celebrity chefs, gemologists, arena rockers and furries. (All were transformative.) Her free time is spent designing jewellery and laughing at her husband’s jokes.

See articles by Isa