Free things to do this winter in Montréal

Robyn Fadden

This article was updated on November 16, 2018.

Montréal embraces winter weather with all kinds of free outdoor and indoor entertainment, from festive seasonal marketplaces and the Santa Claus parade to the Natrel Fire on Ice fireworks, the Old Port New Year's Eve party, free music performances and art events, and more filling the calendar from November into March. 

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December festivities

Old Montréal’s cheery Merry Montréal festivities bring cozy fires, free entertainment, hot chocolate and more to historic and lively Place Jacques-Cartier. The Atwater Market hosts a festival and food-filled Le Village de Noël de Montréal from November 30 to December 23. Get into a festive mood at the city's glittering Christmas 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 13,000 lights of the Place Ville Marie Christmas tree, and step into Santa's Kingdom at Complexe Desjardins, complete with a mini train, carousel, visits with Santa and musical performances from December 1 to 30. And the spectacular Natrel Fire on Ice fireworks light up the Old Port on Saturday nights from December 15 to January 5, plus a special New Year's Eve event with music, fireworks and more activities.

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Parades and parks

See Santa and all his friends at Montréal’s annual Santa Claus Parade on November 17 along Sainte-Catherine Street downtown. Mont-Royal Avenue’s annual Noël sur l’Avenue also celebrates the season outdoors with music, carriage rides and La Marche de Noël aux flambeaux on December 8. Enjoy live music, hot chocolate, mulled wine and more at charming outdoor festival Christmas in the park from December 1 to 25 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 bows 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 for a snowy stroll. And go a little further afield to Frédéric-Back Park for stargazing – by day, take a walk and warm up while looking at exhibitions inside nearby TOHU.

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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 interactive art playground at Place des Festivals from December 11 to January 27, featuring interactive artwork Domino Effect – play with 120 giant, luminous dominoes to make a symphony of sounds. While there, look up to see the colourful projection art animation of 100% chance of snow, celebrating winter playtime. In Old Montréal, 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, as well as at the excellent Montréal Bach Festival, from November 17 to December 7, and the Montréal / Nouvelles Musiques festival, from February 23 to March 4. And every weekend from January 19 to February 10 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.

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Party town

Ring in 2019 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 21 to March 3, the city's signature winter festival MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE makes winter feel more than welcome – 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, light-up curling and Illuminart projections. Epic all-nighter Nuit Blanche à Montréal closes out the festival on March 2 – join the crowds to venue hop from performance to performance, see art in the underground city and party in the streets. Play video and board games for free in a fun atmosphere during Montréal joue, February 23 to March 10. And 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 17!

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Museums & culture

Many Montréal museums offer free entry to kids 12 and under, including the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, showing immersive video work Manifesto by German artist Julian Rosefeldt and a retrospective of Québec artist Françoise Sullivan until January 20. 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 – weekends feature free art workshops for families too. Among the city's many other kid-friendly museums, the McCord Museum takes a fun look at history in their Toys exhibition and takes us on a flashlight-led journey in Shadows without Borders. Pointe-à-Callière history and archaeology museum offers several free activities with paid entry, including the Who is the real Santa Claus? activity. On the McGill University campus, the Redpath Museum, where you can see skeletons and fossils of dinosaurs, whales and much more, hosts activities for kids. 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 November 24 to 25 at the Montréal Convention Centre. 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.

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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 in February, follow the Art Souterrain route through the Underground City to see close to 100 contemporary art projects and activities. Make a visit to DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art a priority when in Old Montréal to see Jasmina Cibic's Everything That You Desire and Nothing That You Fear, exploring cultural production and political aims. Nearby, step into new worlds of creative high-tech art and fashion 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, Galerie Donald Browne, Centre des arts actuels 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 Saint-Henri’s Parisian Laundry, Griffintown's Arsenal and Galerie Division, Old Montréal's Galerie MX, Galerie 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 Gallery, Battat Contemporary 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

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.

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