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Osheaga Music Festival: A First-Timer’s Guide

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I love a good music festival. But having been a devoted Coachella goer ever since moving to California, I was a little wary at first when my friend Lauren suggested we do a little something different last summer: Osheaga. Her college friends were meeting up in Montreal for a reunion of sorts and wouldn’t it be a blast?

I had never even heard of it. Why would I go to a music festival that clearly no one ever talks about?

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Chances are high that if you’re from the U.S., you’ve also never heard of Osheaga, Montreal’s biggest music festival put on every summer at Parc Jean-Drapeau. Even my most music-savvy friends looked at me with blank stares when I mentioned my travel plans for last July.

But as it turns out, Osheaga is the festival of the summer for many Canadians, with crowds descending on the historically French city from all over the country. Plenty of passes are still on sale on Stubhub for the festival this month and the lineup includes Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, M83, Flume, The Lumineers, Leon Bridges, Haim and many more. If you’re thinking about out breaking out of the typical American music festival circuit this summer, it’s the perfect one to get started with and is an easy plane ride away from the U.S. Here’s a mini first-timer’s guide to Osheaga that will help you get a little more acquainted.

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First thing’s first. Why should you even go to Osheaga?

I’ll give you a few good reasons.

  •  The lineup rivals any other American music festival. In fact 2015’s lineup was about 75% identical to Lollapalooza’s and this year’s includes the same main headliners.
  • Canadians have their shit together. Despite the fact that alcohol is permitted everywhere at Osheaga, without any of the annoying designated drinking areas that many U.S. music festivals enforce, I didn’t witness one single person throughout the weekend who seemed overserved or reckless. Go Canada.
  • It’s a chance to explore a new city. The metro system in Montreal makes it super easy to pop over to Parc Jean-Drapeau (about 15 minutes on the subway from Old Montreal), which means that you can spend the mornings exploring new neighborhoods before ending the day at the festival.

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How to Get There

Fly into Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) and take a taxi to your accommodation (the rate is 40 flat Canadian dollars). I was trying to book a one-way bus ticket out of Montreal to New England and much to my surprise nothing of the sort existed, so if you’re coming from the East Coast your best option is to fly or drive yourself across the border. 

Once you’ve arrived in Montreal, make sure to purchase Osheaga’s special fare card that gives you unlimited subway access for the weekend for around $16, saving you money and the hassle of buying new fares each day. You can only purchase the special fare card on specific dates, so make sure to check on the Osheaga website for updated information. Getting to the actual festival is easy on the yellow line and only takes about 15 minutes from Place d’Armes (walking distance from Notre-Dame in Old Montreal). 

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Getting Around

Montreal is a very bike and bus-friendly city, but we mostly took cabs and Ubers as it was the only option based on the location of our rental. As noted above, the metro is quick, clean and easy to navigate as well, but I found the stops to be quite sparse compared to other cities that I’m used to like New York City. Just make sure to map walking distance from the metro stop to your destination so you’re not caught off-guard. I made the mistake of eyeballing it and completely miscalculated.

It’s worth noting that there is still a great deal of tension between taxis and Ubers in Montreal, so be aware of this as you use the ride sharing service. Also drivers are extremely strict about not going over the person limit in their vehicle, so plan ahead if you have a large group.

Where to Stay

Airbnb rentals fill up quickly the week of Osheaga, but try and snag a space near the yellow line if you can — to keep your commute into the festival super easy. 

If you’re planning on spending most of your time at the festival and just want convenience, Le Westin Montreal is a great option for SPG card holders and is three blocks from Place d’Armes, an easy metro hub to get you straight into Osheaga. 

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What to Expect at the Festival

Immediately upon stepping foot onto Parc Jean-Drapeau I knew I was going to love it there. Not only were the security lines a breeze, but as an American, you tend to get used to the sprawling open spaces where festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza are typically organized.

Osheaga is a different story.

Stages are sprinkled in various nooks and crannies of the park, over walk bridges and under forest cover, giving each area its own unique mood and setting. Also–shade. Need I say more? Just note that because the festival’s layout is a bit more complex, it takes a bit of navigating before you get the hang of it, so give yourself ample time to get to each show or go early on day one to get your bearings so you don’t get lost and miss performances. 

What Else to Do

If you have some time to poke around, Old Montreal and Boulevard Saint Laurent are both great areas to walk and explore. St-Viateur Bagel (go to the one on 263 Rue Saint Viateur O) is also the best place to go for a classic Montreal bagel, although don’t expect a bagel sandwich. St-Viateur’s version is fresh from the oven, simple and delicious.

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Make sure to check out Notre-Dame and then head to the rooftop bar Terrasse sur L’Auberge for amazing views of the city. Some restaurants/bars offer discounts for Osheaga bracelet holders, so keep your eyes peeled for these offers throughout the weekend. And last but not least, while I’m not personally a fan of poutine, you can’t go to Montreal and not try this classic dish at least once. 

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One Final Note

Montreal is a city rooted in French history and they take it pretty seriously (ie. many people will only speak French). Learning a few phrases in French or even just a simple “bonjour” and “merci” can go a long way when communicating with the locals.

Have you been to Osheaga before or are planning to go? Let me know in the comments below!

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