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 November 23, 2023.

Montréal embraces winter weather with all kinds of free activities and entertainment, from festive seasonal marketplaces to art exhibitions, 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 November 30 until March 10, 2024. Throughout December, it’s a sparkly winter wonderland of holiday activities, from the Santa Claus Parade on November 25 to the Great Montréal Christmas Market outside Place des Arts and the Montreal Christmas Village at Atwater Market, to Noël dans le Parc at Place Émilie-Gamelin downtown and in Parc des Compagnons and Parc Lahaie in the Plateau, as well as 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 Stewart Museum'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. Explore the Quartier des spectacles on a luminous pathway of video projections and lighting installations, and see Montréal’s cultural institutions in a new light in Insitu, projected on the facade of Maison symphonique. 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. And take part in free winter activities with Parks Canada at Hanger 1825 at the Lachine Canal National Historic Site.

Ice skate in the middle of downtown at the Esplanade Tranquille ice skating rink from mid-November to March 2023: skating is free, and you can rent skates or bring your own, learn a few moves from instructors, and go “dancing” on the ice under the lights on DJ nights! At the Old Port of Montréal ice skating rink, free for kids under 6, the weekend lineup includes all kinds of festivities, including DJ nights on Fridays, a variety of music from Latin to world music on Saturdays, and family activities on Sundays.

Escape across the river to Parc Jean-Drapeau, where you can go ice skating at rink Patinoire Radio-Canada OHdio 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.


Party town

Watch for New Year’s Eve fireworks and festivities in Old Montréal and the Old Port. Downtown shines bright from February 22 to March 10, 2024, when 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.

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 17! 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 Marisol: A Retrospective and new paintings by Françoise Sullivan at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Pussy Riot 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 Stewart Museum – free for anyone 17 and under – takes a fun interactive look at history in the museum and online, with exhibitions Becoming Montreal: The 1800s Painted by Duncan and more. 

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. Catch free music, dance performances and art in Place des Arts' open gathering space Espace culturel Georges-Émile-Lapalme (currently hosting exhibition An Artistic Journey), plus art at Place des Arts’ exhibition space (see Michel Lemieux and Édouard Lock exhibition New Media Pioneers, followed by 60 Years of Show Posters this winter.) Visit the city's many cultural centres for free exhibitions and performances. 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.

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, Galerie Bloom, Galerie Youn, Darling Foundry (by donation) and L'Affichiste Vintage Poster Gallery.

In the Plateau and Mile End go to Oboro, Galerie Simon Blais, Centre Clark, Daphne, Dazibao and Optica and more galleries, as well as Little Italy-Petite Patrie’s Galerie Yves Laroche and Art Mûr. 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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