Free things to do this winter in Montréal

Robyn Fadden

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.

This article was updated on January 18, 2023.

Montréal embraces winter weather with all kinds of free activities and entertainment, from art exhibitions and installations, ice skating and sledding in the snow, and more fun filling the calendar from December into March. 

Winter wonders

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, featuring illuminated interactive outdoor artworks on Sainte-Catherine Street, in the Esplanade Tranquille ice rink and throughout the Quartier des spectacles from December 1 until March 2023. Throughout December, it’s a sparkly winter wonderland of holiday activities in the Village de Noël de Montréal outside Place des Arts, at Noël dans le Parc at Place Émilie-Gamelin downtown and in Parc des Compagnons and Parc Lahaie in the Plateau, and indoors at Complexe Desjardins downtown – enjoy the festive atmosphere, free performances, kids activities and more all season.

Near the gates to McGill University, don’t miss Ogilvy's classic holiday window displays in the McCord Museum Stewart's Enchanted Worlds exhibition indoors and outside on Victoria Street. In Old Montréal, use your phone to look for the history-illuminating images of Cité Memoire projected onto the facades of historic buildings on weekends in December. And see Claude Cormier et Associés’s massive The Ring installation aglow at Esplanade Place Ville Marie downtown.

If the weather’s right, get outside and play this winter! Visit Montréal's major parks Mount-Royal Park, Parc La Fontaine and Jarry Park to go ice skating, snowshoeing, sledding or simply for a snowy stroll. Explore the sprawling wintery grounds of the Montréal Botanical Garden and try out the cross-country ski paths of Parc Maisonneuve next door. Plus, at the Old Port ice skating rink, the weekend lineup includes all kinds of festivities! On Fridays, skate to the sounds of DJs such as Steph Belfort, Milton Clark, and Lady Oracle. On Saturdays, enjoy a variety of music styles from Latin to world music. On Sundays, enjoy family time; kids can get face painted, meet magicians, and play boot field hockey. 

Escape across the river to Parc Jean-Drapeau, where you can go ice skating at the skaters' trail and try cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking on the park’s winding trails – if you don’t have your own equipment, rent it on site! And explore Montréal's major nature parks, like Parc-nature du Cap-Saint-Jacques and Parc-nature de l'Île-de-la-Visitation.

Follow the Sentier-des-Neiges winter path in Côte-des-Neiges to see lighting installations, enchanted trees, a tour of local merchants and more until March 17 – and don’t miss the Christmas Village giant video projections at 5450 Côte-des-Neiges!

Solve all the riddles during Winter store fronts, a treasure hunt in the Quartiers du Canal, organized by A/Maze. This free and accessible rally is perfect to go through the 14 shop windows in Saint-Henri and Little Burgundy. Whoever finds a box hidden in the neighborhood and solves the riddles will have a chance to win a prize!

Starting January 7 at Récréoparc, located in the Montreal metropolitan area, it will be the launch of the Rendez-vous Polaires: this winter village offers activities for all, including snow slides, festive evenings with a DJ, and much more.


Party town

From February 16 to 26, 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 and animated projection art. Epic all-nighter arts and culture event Nuit Blanche closes out the festival with an array of virtual activities.

Play video and board games for free in a fun atmosphere during Montréal Joue in late February. By mid-March, winter’s still in the air for the St-Patrick’s Day Parade – pull on a green toque and watch the parade downtown on Sunday, March 19! 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 in late March.



Museums and culture

Many major Montréal museums offer free entry to kids 12 and under and offer virtual activities too! See timely major exhibitions such as Seeing Loud: Basquiat and Music at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Nelson Hendricks at the Musée d'art contemporain's temporary home at Place Ville Marie – both museums also host free virtual exhibitions online, including the MAC’s Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything. Among the city's many other kid-friendly museums, the McCord Museum takes a fun interactive look at history in the museum and online, including exhibition Indigenous Voices of Today: Knowledge, Trauma, Resilience.

Play games, do science experiments and even journey into space with the Montréal Science Centre's online activities. Barbie fans can see her style transformations through the decades at the free Barbie Expo downtown. Throughout February, Black History Month presents art exhibitions, talks, performances and other events, some free of charge. And watch for the return of 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. And for another slice of Québec history, visit Montréal’s stunning churches and sacred sites.



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. Starting in late February, follow the Art Souterrain route through the Underground City to see close to 100 contemporary art projects and activities.

Winter is the perfect time to go gallery hopping! Known for hosting renowned and experimental international and Canadian artists, Old Montréal’s Phi Foundation for Contemporary Art and Phi Centre always inspire. Explore the five floors of art in downtown’s Belgo Building – home to SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art, Galerie Hugues Charbonneau, SKOL, B-312 and more. Downtown, check out Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, and in St-Henri Bradley Ertaskiran, Griffintown's Arsenal and Division, Old Montréal's Galerie MX, Darling Foundry (by donation) and L'Affichiste Vintage Poster Gallery.

In the Plateau and Mile End go to Oboro, Galerie Simon Blais, Centre Clark, Dazibao and Optica, and Little Italy. And discover even more while antiquing in the city. Wherever you look, there’s something entertaining and easy on the wallet in Montréal.



Robyn Fadden

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.

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