Free things to do this winter in Montréal
This article was updated on November 27, 2019.
Montréal embraces winter weather with all kinds of free outdoor and indoor entertainment, from festive seasonal marketplaces to the Fire on Ice fireworks, the Old Port New Year's Eve Party, free music performances, art exhibitions and more filling the calendar from December into March.
Old Montréal’s cheery Merry Montréal festivities bring cozy fires, free entertainment, hot chocolate and more to historic Place Jacques-Cartier's lively Nordic Square. The Atwater Market hosts the food-filled Le Village de Noël de Montréal from November 29 to December 22. Get into a festive mood at the city's glittering Christmas holiday markets too, including the massive Salon des métiers d’art of Québec-made creations, always worth a wander through whether you're in a buying mood or not Also downtown in December, see the XP_MTL Christmas tree on Sainte-Catherine Street and step into Santa's Kingdom at Complexe Desjardins, complete with a mini train, carousel, visits with Santa and musical performances from November 23 to December 24. And the spectacular Fire on Ice fireworks light up the Old Port on Saturday nights from December 14 to January 4, plus a special New Year's Eve celebration with live music, fireworks and more activities.
Parks and parades
Mont-Royal Avenue’s annual Noël sur l’Avenue celebrates the season outdoors with music, carriage rides and La Marche de Noël aux flambeaux, which includes fireworks on December 7. Enjoy live music, hot chocolate, mulled wine and more at charming outdoor festival Christmas in the park from November 30 to December 24 at Place Émilie-Gamelin downtown and in Parc des Compagnons and Parc Lahaie in the Plateau neighbourhood – it's also where you'll see locals picking up Christmas trees and evergreen boughs to bring home. Visit Montréal's major parks Parc La Fontaine, Mount Royal Park and Parc Jarry to go ice skating, snowshoeing, sledding or simply to stroll in the snow – there's even a free Classic Christmas concert on December 8 in the Mount Royal Chalet.
It's been said that Montréal is also a city of lights – with a high-tech twist. See that tech in action at this year’s Luminothérapie art playground at Place des Festivals, featuring interactive artwork POP! by Montréal creative studio Gentilhomme: five fantastical, brightly-hued creatures that will sing and dance with you! While there, look up to see the colourful projection-art animation on the facade of UQAM’s Pavillon Président-Kennedy. In Old Montréal, use your phone to look for the history-illuminating images of Cité Mémoire projected onto the facades of historic buildings. Enjoy several free concerts in beautiful settings at city churches such as Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal and Christ Church Cathedral, while Les choralies are free concerts at the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, XP_MTL and the McCord Museum present free choral concerts every Saturday in December, and the excellent Montréal Bach Festival includes free concerts from November 22 to December 7. Every weekend from January 18 to February 9, Parc Jean-Drapeau hosts family-friendly, free event Fête des neiges de Montréal, action-packed days and nights of playing in the snow, ice skating, snow tubing, dancing to live music and so much more.
Ring in 2020 with a bang at the free Merry Montréal New Year’s Eve Party in the Old Port, with fireworks, food and drink, illumination of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge and high-energy live music by local stars. From February 20 to March 1, the city's signature winter festival MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE makes winter feel more than welcome with incredible food, art and cultural events – at festival headquarters outdoors in the Quartier des spectacles, you'll find live music, theatrical and circus performances, fascinating art and all kinds of food, drink and activities, including a Ferris wheel, ice slides and Illuminart artworks. Epic all-nighter arts and culture event Nuit blanche à Montréal closes out the festival on February 29 – join the crowds to venue-hop from performance to performance, see art in the underground city and party in the streets to live music. Play video and board games for free in a fun atmosphere during Montréal joue, February 22 to March 8. By mid-March, winter’s still in the air for the Montréal St. Patrick’s Parade – pull on a green toque and join the crowds downtown on Sunday, March 15! A highlight of sugar shack season, Cabane Panache et Bois rond captures the spirit of a Québécois winter lumberjack village, with music, food and activities from March 19 to 22.
Museums and culture
Many major Montréal museums offer free entry to kids 12 and under, including the Musée d'art contemporain, showing Francis Alÿs: Children's Games, a survey of works by prominent Montréal painter Janet Werner and more. Entry to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts permanent collections is free on the last Sunday of every month and from December 26 to January 2, and always free for people 30 and under – also see temporary exhibition Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives, as well as Untamed Colour: Celebrating Jean McEwen, and take part in weekend tours and art workshops for families. Among the city's many other kid-friendly museums, the McCord Museum takes a fun interactive look at history in their It's Your Move! exhibition, the Stewart Museum's holiday season programming entertains kids throughout December, and Pointe-à-Callière history and archaeology complex offers several free activities with paid entry, including Who is the real Santa Claus.
On the McGill University campus, visit the Redpath Museum, where you can see skeletons and fossils of dinosaurs, whales and much more. Barbie fans can see her style transformations through the decades at the free Barbie Expo downtown, while comic book and animation fans should head to Mini-Comiccon de Montréal from December 7 to 8 at Palais des congrès. Film festival Les Rendez-vous Québec Cinéma starts in mid-February, and while you’ll need tickets for most screenings, free talks, parties and certain events are open to all. Throughout February, Black History Month presents art exhibitions, talks, performances and other events, some free of charge. And all winter watch for free music, dance performances and art in Place des Arts' open gathering space Espace culturel Georges-Émile-Lapalme as well as at the city's many cultural centres.
Art gallery afternoons
Dress for the weather and follow Art public Montréal’s itineraries for art-focused walking tours, from larger-than-life sculptures in Old Montréal to storeys-high murals of Leonard Cohen. Indoors from February 29 to March 22, follow the Art Souterrain route through the Underground Pedestrian Network to see close to 100 contemporary art projects and activities. Make a visit tothe Fondation Phi pour l’art contemporain a priority for music-oriented installations and video work by British artist Phil Collins and an exhibition by Eva and Franco Mattes that redefines the boundaries of the Internet in video and sculptural works. Nearby, step into new worlds of creative high-tech art, fashion and virtual reality cinema at the Phi Centre.
Discover more commercial galleries and artist-run centres throughout the city, including five floors of art in downtown’s Belgo Building – home to SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art, SKOL, Galerie Dominique Bouffard, Projet Pangée, Les Territoires, Visual Voice Gallery and more. Downtown, check out Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery and Fresh Paint Gallery, as well as at St-Henri’s Parisian Laundry, Griffintown's Arsenal and Galerie Division, Old Montréal's Galerie MX, Bloom, Matthew Namour Gallery, Darling Foundry (by donation) and L'Affichiste, while in the Plateau and Mile End go to OBORO, Galerie Simon Blais, Galerie D'Este, Centre Clark, Dazibao, Optica and Monastiraki, and Little Italy/Mile-Ex’s Never Apart, Yves Laroche and Eastern Bloc. And discover even more art while gallery hopping and antiquing in the city. Wherever you look, there’s something entertaining and easy on the wallet in Montréal.
Robyn Fadden, blogger
Robyn Fadden is a Montréal-based writer and editor who searches out city secrets, new bands, life-changing art and things to do with her perpetually active kid. Robyn has covered major events for HOUR, MUTEK, ARTINFO, CKUT 90.3FM and more.