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Montreal celebrates the harvest season with the Gardens of Light fall festival.
It’s an annual tradition at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. Hundreds of lanterns flood the Chinese and Japanese Gardens with light, illuminating the landscape with bursts of bright colors. The lights transport you to another place for the evening. I felt as though I was in China. Yet here I was at Gardens of Light, or Jardins de Lumière, in Montreal. Though Chinese lanterns are typically used to celebrate the Chinese New Year, they’re on display here for the fall harvest, or Moon Festival.
The lanterns are handmade in Shanghai, and it takes a full year of preparations to organize and display the lights. Every small detail contributes to the magical atmosphere of the festival.
I was delighted to visit the Montreal lantern festival. Several years ago, a similar Chinese Lantern Festival took place in downtown Toronto. Sadly, this event was cancelled and I’ve missed seeing the lanterns for years now. When I heard about this festival in Montreal, I just had to attend. As we entered the Botanical Gardens and I caught my first glimpse of colorful light off in the distance, my heart fluttered with excitement.
This year’s theme for the festival is “Son of Heaven”, the name given to the Chinese Emperor throughout the Han dynasty. In the Chinese Garden of the Botanical Gardens, elaborate displays of light depict the various stages of an emperor’s life, from his enthronement to his wedding.
You’ll see Chinese dragons, fish, vases, human figures riding bicycles and horses, among others. There are also traditional lanterns of animals like pandas, birds, giraffes, and tigers. The most spectacular exhibit was the Forbidden City, shining brightly in the middle of the pond. The light shimmered and reflected off the dark waters in the black night.
I was mesmerized by the lights, making a couple of rounds through the Chinese Garden to take in the spectacle more than once.
Here are some photographs of our experience.
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Want more photos of the Gardens of Light? Check out our Montreal 2016 photo album. You can even purchase prints, canvas wall hangings, and housewares of our photographs.
By contrast, the Japanese Garden offers a subtle display for peaceful contemplation. Soft, bamboo lighting lines the pathways. An exhibit in a forest combines ambient rumblings with random bursts of diffused light against the trees. It reminded me of a distant thunderstorm. Some trees are illuminated completely in dark blue, green and pink. There’s also a video projection against the Japanese pavilion portraying sumi-e ink wash paintings.
HELPFUL INFORMATION AND TIPS
The Montreal lantern festival, Gardens of Light, runs from the beginning of September until the end of October annually. The Montreal Botanical Gardens opens at 9:00am and closes at 9:00pm. Be sure to give yourself a couple of hours to wander around the premises to fully absorb the light display. And of course, the lights are best viewed from dusk through nightfall.
To avoid the biggest crowds, head to the festival on a weeknight. We only had the option of visiting on the Friday night of Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. It was very crowded – and for an excellent reason: the Montreal lantern festival is sensational! I recommend that you try to plan your visit accordingly.
If you’re looking for food options in the area, please check out Mostly Amélie’s vegan Montreal food guide.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at Hotel Universel Montreal. It is conveniently located across the street from the Montreal Botanical Garden. It’s also very close to Olympic Park, the Planetarium, and the Biodome. You can easily walk from the hotel right to the gardens. From there, you can also hop on the subway and ride anywhere in the city.
The hotel features free parking, clean and comfortable rooms, a restaurant, and a bar. We enjoyed some drinks in the bar after we walked back from the Gardens of Light and received great service. There’s also free Wi-Fi – a must for anyone who loves staying connected!
The rooms have a large working desk, perfect for the business traveler. There’s also a Keurig coffee maker, a flatscreen TV, and a mini fridge. The staff at the front desk were very friendly and receptive. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Hotel Universel and recommend it to anyone traveling to Montreal.
Hotel Universel Montreal
5000 Rue Sherbrooke E
To book: Hotel Universel
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Thank you so much to Tourisme Montreal for assisting us with our travels.