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 March 5, 2021.

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.

Note: Due to current public health directives, some businesses and attractions may be temporarily closed or may have reduced hours or services, so we recommend that you call ahead or visit their websites for the most up-to-date information. As well, under the province-wide curfew in effect from January 9 to February 8, 2021, residents must be home between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. so plan your activities accordingly. For more details on the current situation in Montréal, click here.

December festivities

Outside Place des Arts, stroll along Noël Montréal's tree-lined winter garden path Jardins d’Hiver from December 3 to January 4. And further into downtown along Ste-Catherine Street, enjoy the festive Lights on Peel illuminated artwork honouring the Kanien’keha:ka clans, and Follow Santa Claus to see parade floats and more on Ste-Catherine Street sidewalks and in store windows.

Get into a festive mood at the city's glittering Christmas holiday markets too, both online and in person, including the festival and food-filled Le Village de Noël de Montréal at the Atwater Market and the Marché de Noël de Jean-Talon at Jean-Talon Market. Also downtown on Ste. Catherine Street in December, see the XP_MTL Christmas tree, giant Nutcrackers and colourful window displays – and take great pictures from a festive overhead walkway.

Enjoy music, hot chocolate, mulled wine and more at charming outdoor festival Noël dans le Parc in Place Émilie-Gamelin downtown and Parc Lahaie and Parc Compagnons-de-Saint-Laurent in the Plateau – this year with virtual Concerts sous le sapin by Québec musicians such as Damien Robitaille. And in Old Montréal, it’s bright and festive at Merry Montreal’s Place Nordique along Place Jacques-Cartier from December 17 to 21 and from December 24 to 27, while the virtual Merry Montréal New Year’s Eve party celebrates on December 31 at 9:30 p.m., with music by Martha Wainwright, Louis-Jean Cormier, Beyries and more great artists!

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 10 outdoor artworks throughout the Quartier des spectacles. At Place des Festivals, the bright interactive zoetrope pods of Loop return with new sound and images, along with animated video projection Index on the façade of the Pavillon Président-Kennedy. Not far way, see the inflatable shadow-theatre spheres of Lucion's Nouvelle Lune

Watch for new ways to have winter fun this season too, from creative “winter stations” in neighbourhoods to a historic snowshoeing trail in Parc Jean-Drapeau. In Old Montréal, use your phone to look for the history-illuminating images of Cité Memoire projected onto the facades of historic buildings from Wednesday to Sunday nights.

If the weather’s right, visit Montréal's major parks Parc La Fontaine, Mount-Royal Park 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 (free for children under age 4) and try out the cross-country ski paths of Parc Maisonneuve next door. Escape across the river to Parc Jean-Drapeau, hosting a special program of winter activities this year, including an expanded new ice skating rink (not to mention an elaborate mitt-warmer) at the refrigerated new ice skating rink Patinoire Radio-Canada OHdio, cross-country ski trails, a historic snow shoeing trail and winding fat biking 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

Montréal’s signature winter festival of food and culture MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE returns from March 4 to 28 in collaboration with the Casino de Montréal, featuring virtual events, Québecois terroir gastronomy activities, an outdoor site at Place des Festivals with a Ferris wheel and luminous art and more. 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 14! 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 virtual activities too! Take virtual tours of major exhibitions and try new art activities online through the Musée d'art contemporain and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts web sites. Among the city's many other kid-friendly museums, the McCord Museum takes a fun interactive look at history in the museum and online – outdoors, don’t miss their classic holiday window display Enchanted Worlds on Victoria Street.

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.

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.

When commercial galleries and artist-run centres reopen throughout the city, why not go gallery hopping! Explore the five floors of art in downtown’s Belgo Building – home to SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art, Galerie Hugues Charbonneau, SKOL, 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, Galerie D'Este, Centre Clark, Dazibao, Optica and Monastiraki, and Little Italy/Mile-Ex’s Never Apart, Galerie Yves Laroche, and Eastern Bloc. 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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