Summary: Otakuthon is still THE best Anime convention in Canada. Nuff said. While all the big U.S. conventions get all the attention (and rightfully so), Otakuthon shows we have some of the best to offer north of the border as well.

If you live near Montreal, you need to take a trip and experience this awesome convention and fun city. And that’s what this Otakuthon guide is about!

The Basics

    Name: Otakuthon

    Date: Early-Mid August (August 11-13 in 2023)

    Location: Palais des congrès in Montreal, Quebec (5-6 hours away from Toronto, 2-3 hours from Ottawa, 5-6 hours from Boston and New York City)

    Hotel room availability: Easy to find but hotel rooms get fairly expensive because of other events happening in Montreal at the same time. There are tons of lodging options in the city of Montreal, and the hotels under the Otakuthon block are reasonably priced…for the most part.

    Costs

    Weekend Pass: $70 until August 4, 2023 ($75 at the door)

    Hotel room prices: Ranging from $235/night to $305/night (booking under Otakuthon hotel block).

    Parking: Since the convention is located downtown, parking is a bit more expensive. However, there are a few spots where you can save on parking costs, which I talk about further down. In general, expect to pay $20-$30 a night for parking in downtown Montreal.

    Budget: Approximately $400-$500 CAD if lodging with 3 other roommates ($100-$200 for hotel, $60 for food, $60 for weekend pass, $30-$50 for gas if you plan on driving, $50 for items in the dealer’s room).

    Overall costs: The hotel will likely be the most expensive part of your trip, but everything else will be the typical cost of a large Anime convention. For you Americans coming to Montreal, the prices here a bit cheaper than you’re used to at home. (E.g. Otakuthon weekend pass is fairly cheap at $70 CDN, which is much cheaper than a weekend pass for big cons like Anime Central or Anime Expo)

Some quick facts about Otakuthon:

  • Otakuthon is the 2nd largest Anime convention in all of Canada in terms of attendance, Anime North in Toronto being the first. I’ve been to Otakuthon for several years and it’s crazy to see how this convention has grown and gotten better over the years. The convention used to be much smaller, but now the event has become one of the premier conventions in Canada.
  • Do you dislike how at some conventions, you have to walk from building to building? With Otakuthon you’re in luck! The entire convention is held in one (beautiful) building: The Palais des congrès de Montréal! So you can wear that bulky cosplay in comfort despite being hot outside in Montreal…as long as you use the underground system, which I’ll explain later in this article.
  • The last time took Otakuthon place, they utilized RFID badges. This meant that every badge is electronically-coded and unique to every single attendee. When you enter the con, you go through a checkpoint where you “tap” in with your badge. This RFID badge system can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. Great for crowd control that keeps non-paying attendees out of the conventions, and probably for the con organizers. Not so great for lobbyconners.

Here’s what this extensive Otakuthon guide will cover:

  • I. Getting to Otakuthon
  • II. Otakuthon Venue
  • III. Cosplay Photoshoot Opportunities at Otakuthon
  • IV. Otakuthon Programming
  • V. Otakuthon Lodging Options
  • VI. Food And Drinking
  • VII. Verdict
  • Otakuthon Guide Pro Tips

I. Getting to Otakuthon

By driving

Otakuthon is located right in downtown Montreal. There’s a highway (Autoroute 20) that runs underneath the convention centre, so it’s fairly easy to reach if you’re driving. However, you’re still driving through an area full of vehicles and pedestrians, so it can be nerve racking if you’re not used to driving in city traffic. There’s (usually) a ton of road construction going on in Montreal, so Google Maps is your best friend if you’re looking for the fastest route to the con while avoiding road delays.

In any case, driving is not a bad option if you have roommates with you during the car trip. However, once you reach the convention I recommend leaving the car in a garage for the whole weekend and explore the city either by walking or taking public transit. That’s what I certainly did when I drove myself and my friends to Otakuthon.

By bus/train

It’s easy to reach Montreal and Otakuthon by transit! Montreal is the 2nd largest city in Canada, so naturally this place is a major transit hub. There are a variety of bus/train services that go to Montreal from various cities in Quebec, Ontario and U.S., including:

  • Megabus (bus service from Toronto and Kingston)
  • VIA Rail (train service to Montreal if you live along Windsor, Toronto or Kingston)
  • Orleans Express (mostly travel within Quebec)

 I prefer to take the bus because it’s quick and relatively cheap. This is a great option if you’re traveling alone and have no one else to split the costs with. The train hub (Gare Centrale) is located in the southwest area downtown, while the bus terminal (Gare d’autocars de Montreal) is in the northeast corner of downtown.  Both are only a 15-20 minute walk away from Otakuthon, or a couple of stops away using the Metro.

By plane

Montreal’s International airport is located pretty far from downtown and the convention centre for Otakuthon. So you’ll either you’ll be taking a long bus and metro train ride to downtown, or taking an expensive taxi ride. Not only that, the bus from the airport costs $10.

I would only fly into Montreal if you’re coming from the U.S. or from Western Canada. If you live around Windsor, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa or Kingston Ontario, you’re better off just taking the train or bus to Montreal. It will be cheaper AND the bus/train will take you much closer to Otakuthon than the airport.

II. Otakuthon Venue

The Palais des Congres convention centre for Otakuthon.
The Palais des congrès de Montréal convention centre for Otakuthon. This building is huge and awesome!

Otakuthon wouldn’t be as awesome if it didn’t take place at the amazing Palais des congrès de Montréal. The building has a beautiful interior with coloured windows and gorgeous panel rooms. It’s very big, starting from the bottom of the street level where the entrance is, to the rooftop patio where the cosplay café is held. You can get a lot of great views from the Palais des congrès de Montréal and some amazing cosplay photos because the inside is so fancy.

I don’t know how to describe it; the inside is large and functional as a convention centre, but also cozy enough to be a hotel interior. Even though it’s a big building, I like the simplistic layout and how easy it is to navigate through.

It also happens to be located in a convenient spot:

  • It’s right beside Chinatown, with a lot of good and Wallet-friendly restaurants.
  • The Montreal Metro station (Place D’armes) is right beside the convention centre.
  • The convention centre is part of Montreal’s Underground City. Although the network is probably more useful in the winter, the underground is also very handy in the summer. Why? It gets hot in Montreal during the summer! You can wear your bulky cosplay and walk from your hotel to the Palais des congrès de Montréal without going outside in the heat.
  • A few minutes walk from Sainte-Catherine Street, the main shopping district in Montreal and also a popular spot for nightlife.
  • A few minutes walk from Old Montreal, a popular tourist district.

It’s nice to attend a convention where the location is convenient and the con building happens to be a nice place to walk around. Otakuthon has both!

Staying comfortable during Montreal weather

Yes, Montreal (or Canada in general) is well-known for the very cold weather. But did you know that a lot of places in Canada also get very hot as well?! That includes Montreal, where temperatures can reach 30-35 degrees, feeling more like 40 degrees at times with the humidity! So I recommend planning for the hot weather, especially if you are going to wear a heavy cosplay.

A few things to note:

  • Fortunately, the Palais des Congres has air conditioning! So you’ll be able to cool off while you’re inside the convention. It might be a little more difficult to stay cool when it gets crowded. But if you find a secluded spot in the convention centre to sit down, it’ll be easier to cool off and relax for a bit.
  • Unfortunately though, the Montreal Metro does NOT have air conditioning! While the city has started to run newer trains in the Metro system, those ones too don’t have A/C. For me, it was crazy hot down in the subway stations and even hotter while on the trains. So keep this in mind if you’re planning to commute downtown to the convention by using the Metro. And if you plan on wearing a bulky cosplay on the train, it’s going to be uncomfortable, to say the least.
  • If you need to walk up north to St. Catherine Street to your hotel or for food, instead of walking outside and sweating your butt off, you can utilize Montreal’s Underground City! The path is completely indoors and (likely) air-conditioned. The indoor path from Palais des Congres to Complexe Desjardins is open until late in the evening. You can grab some food at the food court at Complexe Desjardins and cool off at the same time!

III. Cosplay Photoshoot Opportunities at Otakuthon

Inside the Palais des Congres: the interior is very nice and colourful, although it definitely won't be this empty during Otakuthon.
Inside the Palais des Congres: the interior is very nice and colourful, although it definitely won’t be this empty during Otakuthon.

Otakuthon is a huge convention so for most of you guys, you’ll definitely be doing cosplay photoshoots during the event. There will be lots of photographers ready to shoot because it’s super convenient for them as well.

While the settings for Otakuthon is not as amazing as say Katsucon or YetiCon, the location is nowhere bad for photoshooting like Anime North or Anime Central. As mentioned previously, the Palais des Congres has a very colourful interior: purple and yellow glass windows, navy coloured walls, dark flooring. Has a very sleek, futuristic modern look, which is great for series like Genshin Impact or Chainsaw Man. As for where to shoot in the building, here are some ideas:

  • There’s a section just above the main floor where you can get some decent shots without any distractions. Just make sure it’s okay with staff to shoot there.
  • As mentioned earlier, the Palais des Congres is connected by a series of underground walkways. These walkways are very fancy and decorative, and also relatively quiet. You can get some nice wide angle shots here.
  • Right beside the convention is the historic Old Montreal, a beautiful tourist district with narrow cobblestone streets! This area is not only nice to visit, but the area provides a good opportunity to take some scenic cosplay photos. I always wanted to do a Black Butler photoshoot in Old Montreal while riding one of the horse carriages in the district! However, keep in mind that Old Montreal is always full of tourists and other visitors during the day. So you’re probably better off shooting early in the morning or in the evening during golden hour.
  • There’s a fountain across the street from the building, which happens to be a popular spot for cosplay photoshoots.

That’s just a few cosplay photoshoot ideas for Otakuthon. You don’t need to go crazy because the convention building is nice enough to get some decent photos!

Montreal Underground Network provides great cosplay photoshoot opportunities during Otakuthon.
The Montreal Underground Network provides great cosplay photoshoot opportunities. A good portion is beautifully decorated.

IV. Programming at Otakuthon

Otakuthon has your typical Anime convention programming like the Masquerade, rave, dealers room, manga library, tabletop gaming and cosplay chess.

The con also features unique events happening during the weekend. In the past, they’ve held some video game concerts such as Capcom Live! And Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy. This year, Otakuthon will have a bunch of live performances including Orchestre de Jeux Vidéo, Anly and KANA-BOON!

The World Cosplay Summit takes place at the convention every year. Up on the top floor of the building, there’s a Cosplay cafe where Otaku-themed cafeteria food and drinks are sold. There’s a giant tent on the terrace where you can get scenic views on the roof. Karaoke takes place here all day long as well.

The Cosplay Cafe on the top floor is a great area to take a break. The terrace provides nice views of the city!
The Cosplay Cafe on the top floor is a great area to take a break. The terrace provides scenic views of the city!

Also throughout the entire weekend, there are a LOT of concerts taking place. Some are free while others you have to pay for. There’s also a variety of Yaoi and Yuri events and activities catered towards the Doll Culture (DollFest).

The only weak point of programming in my opinion is the video gaming. It’s one room with only a handful of games to play. Don’t expect to see an enormous video game room like you would at American cons such as Youmacon. The video game room isn’t the greatest IMO, at least compared to ones at U.S. conventions.

What’s interesting to note is that Otakuthon is a bilingual convention, meaning that you’ll see things in English and French. This is really cool and it makes things easier for attendees who can understand one of the languages but not the other.

V. Otakuthon Lodging Options

My Otakuthon room at at the hotel I stayed at.
Hotel Monville. My Otakuthon room at the hotel I stayed at one year.

Normally during off-peak season, staying in Montreal is relatively cheap. At least compared to the places I’ve stayed in the U.S. However, because Otakuthon always takes place during peak tourist season, things get way more expensive.

So unless you stay very far out of the city or booked a cheaper room under the Otakuthon hotel block, expect to pay over $200/night for a place in the city.

Here are some options to keep your lodging budget as low as you can:

  • Stay in the convention hotel block. Not the cheapest option but still the best deal IMO. The prices can vary; in 2019 a single room at the Travelodge is $159/night, whereas the Embassy Suites by Hilton is $289/night. This year in 2023, your cheapest option is the Holiday Inn at $235/night. It’s not the cheapest rate ever, but I’d say it’s reasonable given it’s peak season and you’re literally across the street from the convention!
  • Stay at a hostel or dorm nearby. You’ll share a room, washroom and/or kitchen with others but this is by far the cheapest option to go! The closest hostels are the Alternative Hostel of Old Montreal and Auberge Saint-Paul Hostel, both of which are only a 10-15 minute walk to the convention! If you’re a regular reader of my website, you know that I rave all the time about hostels! My experiences with hostels have been great. So IMO, this is a great option if you’re on a super tight budget and traveling on your own.
  • Airbnb is another option. But in this case, I’d be careful and make sure you have a backup plan. A couple of my friends in the past booked an Airbnb for Otakuthon months in advance, only for the owners to cancel their reservation last minute and repost the rental at a highly inflated price. So while you can definitely find great rates on the site, your room is never guaranteed. So if you decide to book through Airbnb, have a backup plan in case this happens.

VI. Food And Drinking

Be sure to explore Montreal for some great food like hot dog poutine at La Banquise
Be sure to explore Montreal for some great food like hot dog poutine at La Banquise!

What kind of Otakuthon guide would this be if I didn’t talk about food? Let me put this out there – You go to Otakuthon not only for the convention but also for the amazing food in Montreal! You have lots of food options when you attend the convention.

At the Palais des Congres, you have fast food joints like Subway, Tim Hortons, Burger King, Sushi Shop, Noobox (noodle bar) and Basha (Mediterranean cuisine). I’ve noticed that the lineups for these restaurants aren’t too long, which is surprising considering the size of this convention. In my experience, you’re only waiting 10-15 minutes at most to get food at these places. Whereas at Anime North, I was waiting more than 30 minutes. So if you’re looking for some food, you don’t have to go very far or wait very long for it!

Some other options:

  • You can also head to Complexe Desjardins nearby where there’s a big food court underneath with a variety of fast food restaurants and local chains.
  • Chinatown is right beside the convention where you can find good Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine. A fellow reader of mine suggested these foods and drinks you can get at Chinatown: Bao/buns (yummy bakery at cheap prices), bubble tea (don’t think I need to explain what this is), hot pot (throw lots of yummy food into boiling water) and pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup).
  • St. Catherine Street is about a 5-10 minute walk away from the convention, and it’s Montreal’s main tourist corridor.. If you walk along the streets, you’ll find a variety of restaurants!
  • Old Montreal is nearby and while I’m sure there are restaurants in the area, I’m not sure how good they are. I’d imagine it would be more expensive since it’s a huge tourist district, so keep that in mind.

At some point, you got to head out of the convention and try the numerous amounts of great restaurants in the city. Much like Toronto, Montreal is a multicultural city with diverse backgrounds, which means there are plenty of different cuisines in the city!

By far the most famous in Montreal is the poutine and smoked meat. For those who don’t know, poutine is basically fries with gravy and square cheese curds on top. It sounds gross at first but believe me; it’s super tasty! And smoked meat is Montreal’s version of beef brisket.

Smoked meat is a speciality in Montreal, with Schwartz being one of the most famous restaurants in the city
Smoked meat is a speciality in Montreal, with Schwartz being one of the most famous restaurants in the city.
Be sure to try out the Teriyaki burger at Kazu, one of the more popular Japanese restaurants in Montreal!
Be sure to try out the Teriyaki burger at Kazu, one of the more popular Japanese restaurants in Montreal!

Drinking during Otakuthon!

Crescent Street in downtown Montreal is a popular spot to hit up a bar.
Crescent Street in downtown Montreal is a popular spot to hit up a bar.

There are numerous bars and clubs in downtown Montreal to get your drink on. The most popular bars happen to be on Saint Catherine, St. Denis, St Laurent and Crescent Street. All of these areas are in the downtown core of Montreal. 

If you’re looking to buy alcohol at a store, you’re in luck! There’s a convenience store named Couche-Tard right in the concourse level of the convention centre. In Quebec, you can purchase alcohol until 11 p.m.  However, if you’re looking for a wide selection of alcohol, head to SAQ which is only a few minutes away from the convention inside the Complex Desjardins. Alcohol prices in Quebec tend to be more expensive than in the U.S., but still cheaper than they are in Ontario.

The legal drinking age in Quebec is 18, which must be great for my younger readers here. But as always, drink responsibly!

Verdict

In some ways, I feel like this convention is underrated because the event certainly deserves more attention. I’ve been attending Otakuthon for several years and I personally have gotten to see this convention grow from an up-and-coming Anime convention to the 2nd largest one in all of Canada. I truly believe Otakuthon will continue to shine as one of Canada’s best Anime conventions.

Otakuthon Guide Pro Tips

The Otakuthon badge not only gets you in the convention; it's also a handy map!
The Otakuthon badge not only gets you in the convention; it’s also a handy map!
  1. There is so much to do at Otakuthon, so be sure to plan ahead! The amount of programming and activities that will be available at Otakuthon is insane! You’ll definitely want to schedule or write down all the things you’ll want to do. Once the 2023 programming schedule is out, you should take a look!
  2. Hotels during Otakuthon are pretty expensive throughout the entire city. The Otakuthon hotel room blocks are fairly reasonable. But if you don’t want to pay crazy money for a hotel, you can try staying in a hostel or dorm to lower the costs significantly. Of course, it’s not as convenient as having your hotel room. And you’ll have to walk through the hot and humid outdoors of Montreal (more on this later in the next point). But if you’re absolutely strapped on cash and want to attend this con, then you can save significantly by staying in a hostel or dorm.
  3. Bag check is available for Otakuthon! The Palais des Congres has an elaborate bag check area on the main lobby floor of the building. It’s $4.00 CAD per item per day. Check out this link for full details on bag check rules (e.g. how often you can come back and forth with the bag, hours of operation). Anyways, bag check is a great option for a lot of you guys. Whether you live within the Montreal area and rather not pay for a hotel, but need to leave your stuff while you cosplay and walk around the convention. Or if you’re from out of town and your hotel is far away from the convention and need to leave your bags somewhere. All you have to do is bring your suitcase, change into cosplay and drop off your suitcase in bag check, and come back when it’s time to leave the convention!
  4. Not all guests and concerts are included with the badge. Otakuthon has a lot of big name guests and concerts that take place. Some of them are included with your weekend badge while others you have to pay extra. Be sure to check on the website to make sure you don’t miss the ones you want to see.  Speaking of badges….
  5. Flip the back of your badge! If you’re looking for a particular room at the Palais des Congres, Instead of having to go through your bag and take out your guidebook, just flip your badge and look behind! There’s a map of the entire building on the back of the badge, which is super handy and useful.
  6. It is freaking hot in Montreal during the summer! So you may want to reconsider wearing a bulky cosplay, especially if your hotel is far away. Either that or plan ahead. For example, if you’re staying within the area, you can utilize Montreal’s underground network to reach the Palais des Congres while staying indoors. The convention centre does have air conditioning, so you won’t be sweating too much while you’re at the con.  On a side note, a lot of places in Montreal do not have air conditioning. Not in subway or buses, and in several restaurants. So definitely dress for the weather!
  7. If Otakuthon is like previous years, there will be only two ways to enter the convention building: through the main entrance outside and from the Underground City that’s one level below the main floor. Once you past these two points, you’ll be greeted by a long escalator that takes up to the main floor where most of the activities are. However, you don’t necessarily have to take that long escalator. If you go behind the escalator, there will be a long hallway on the left and right sides, where you can take alternate escalators up to that same level. It’s far less crowded than the main escalator by the entrance.
  8. Not only does the surrounding area offer a variety of food options, you also have the Cosplay Café on the top floor of the convention centre! Here you can enjoy some Japanese food and treats, as well as do karaoke. It’s very rare that a convention has something like this! More info here.
  9. Don’t just attend Otakuthon…explore Montreal! This is just me as an avid traveller and explorer – If you’re not from the city, you HAVE to explore Montreal! This place is a fun and awesome city, and you should definitely take some time to explore during the convention weekend. Walk down St. Catherine Street. Explore the eclectic nightlife on St. Denis Street. Stroll down Old Montreal and appreciate the history of this area (and how touristy it also is). Montreal is awesome.
  10. If you’re planning to attend Otakuthon next year or after, then you should subscribe to Otakuthon’s social media such as their Facebook. That way you’ll know when the cheapest hotels are released so you can book right away. And don’t forget that the cancellation policy for these hotels is very generous; you can usually cancel up to the week of and not get penalized for it. So I recommend reserving a hotel room as soon as Otakuthon announces them for that year. And if plans change, you can always cancel within a week or so without penalty.

I hope you found this Otakuthon guide helpful in planning your convention weekend. As always, if you have any other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer!