Things to do in Montréal – December 13 to 19, 2019

The holiday season is in full swing in Montréal this week with major seasonal events, including Cirque du Soleil's Axel and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal's The Nutcracker, the interactive outdoor art of Luminothérapie downtown, glittering Christmas markets and villages, ice skating, fireworks and more fun for all ages. While indoors, enjoy art and museum exhibitions, excellent food and drink, world-class Christmas concerts and more live music.

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Seasonal festivities

Among Montréal's many free things to do this winter, play with the bright, colourful and musical creatures of interactive artwork POP! by Montréal creative studio Gentilhomme, created for this year's Luminothérapie at Place des Festivals. Visit the XP_MTL Christmas tree and village at the corner of Sainte-Catherine Street and McGill College Avenue – XP_MTL also presents choir performances on December 14 at noon below the tree and 11 a.m. next to the McCord Museum and more. The 7th edition of Merry Montréal begins on December 19 in Old Montréal – enjoy activities outdoors at Nordic Square in Place Jacques-Cartier and at restaurants, boutiques, museums and hotels. And on Saturday, December 14, watch the Fire on Ice fireworks at 8 p.m. in the Old Port of Montréal.

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Family-friendly fun

Don't miss Cirque du Soleil’s colourful new show on ice Axel, where world-class ice skating meets acrobatics, live music and moments of glorious levity, at the Bell Centre from December 19 to 29. Québec circus company FLIP Fabrique creates a snow-covered world full of acrobatic antics in Blizzard at La TOHU from December 17 to January 5. A holiday tradition by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, The Nutcracker is a magical must-see for all ages, from December 12 to 30 at Place des Arts. Experience the magic of the Santa’s Kingdom, complete with a mini train and visits with Santa, a multimedia fountain show, virtual reality and musical performances, including Orchestre Jazz de Musiques de Films et Jeux Vidéo on December 16 at 7 p.m.

Slide, ride quadricycles, bounce, play games, have snowball battles and more at Voiles en Voiles winter park in the Old Port of Montréal on December 14 and 15. Enjoy live music, fires for roasting marshmallows, hot chocolate, mulled wine and even a visit with Santa Claus at Christmas in the park in Place Émilie-Gamelin downtown, Parc Lahaie in the Plateau neighbourhood and in Parc des Compagnons (also part of Mont-Royal Avenue's Noël sur l’Avenue celebrations). Play at the McCord Museum’s toy exhibition It’s Your Move! Board Games: Larger Than Life and enjoy the holiday magic of Enchanted Worlds, recreating the Ogilvy's department store window. Exporail / The Canadian Railway Museum hosts Railway Christmas until January 5, with train rides, Christmas trees, cookie decorating and Santa visits. For a more traditional take on the holiday, step back in time at Château Ramezay's Around the fireplace... Holiday Traditions, baking workshops and more, plus Champagne, Charlotte and Crinoline at the Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site.

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Holiday markets

Get into the Christmas spirit and get your gift shopping done at holiday markets this week in Montréal! Explore the charming outdoor market and Santa's village of Le Village de Noël de Montréal at the Atwater Market every weekend until December 22. The massive Salon des métiers d’art du Québec fills Place Bonaventure with all kinds of artisanal Québec-made decorations, toys, jewelry, gourmet food and warm winter clothing. In Mile End, the Holiday Edition of the Puces POP Fair highlights local creators of housewares, jewelry, clothing and accessories, kids toys and more at Église Saint-Denis (next to Laurier metro) from December 13 to 15. Not far from the Jean-Talon Market, the Bazar Les Intemporelles de Villeray spécial Noël Vintage & Local features vintage items, locally made creations and more on December 14 and 15.

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December activities

Among Montréal's many wonderful winter activities, ice skating season begins this week! With historic Old Montréal and the St. Lawrence River as its backdrop, the softly lit Old Port of Montréal ice skating rink is an ideal place to stretch your legs on skates – the refrigerated rink is now open for the winter, with skate rentals on site. Mount Royal Park's refrigerated rink next to the Beaver Lake Pavilion is also open now too – rent skates and glide through nature in one of the biggest parks in the city. And catch the Montréal Canadiens at home this week against the Detroit Redwings on December 14 at the Bell Centre.

Visit Notre-Dame Basilica (one of many Montréal churches featuring cultural activities) to see multimedia show AURA and by night in Old Montréal search out the projections of Cité Mémoire on building facades. Take a scenic walk and look out on the snowy city from Mount Royal Park or the Observatoire Place Ville Marie downtown, La Grande Roue de Montréal in the Old Port or the observatory at the top of the Montréal Tower at Olympic Park. And if you're feeling cold, warm up at Montréal's best spas. No matter what the weather, kids will be busy (and not bored!) with these entertaining indoor family activities. Whether you're in Montréal for a long weekend or a week, plot your visit with My Official Montréal City Guide (and save with the MTL Sweet Deal!).

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Festive food and drink

Enjoy incredible holiday meals and seasonal cocktails at restaurants throughout the city: check out our picks of where to eat during the holidays in Montréal. If you're shopping downtown and looking for a quick yet impressive meal, head to the new Time Out Market in Eaton Centre on Sainte-Catherine Street – you can even do your shopping there at the Marché de Noël on December 16 and 17. Another excellent new Montréal food hall, LE CENTRAL - MANGER MONTRÉAL, serves up delicious local fare at the corner of Sainte-Catherine Street and Saint-Laurent Boulevard. Get into the Christmas spirit with dinner and a show at the Casino de Montréal's Cabaret en fête on December 13 and 14, Un Noël magique concert of Christmas classics on December 18 and 19 and at Noël, une tradition en chanson with Québec singers on December 17 – or put on your sparkliest outfit and eat, drink and boogie at We've got the funk, on until December 21.

Sit down at these 5 restaurants with amazing chefs for their unique local dishes, from classic French menus to ground-breaking Asian cuisine. Explore Montréal's new restaurants too, from twists on Italian classics to warming Moroccan dishes to Japanese ramen bowls. And try Montreal's best bring-your-own-wine restaurants and great casual restaurants. Have a locally sourced meal at Marcus restaurant in the Four Seasons hotel downtown – or drop in for its delectable afternoon tea service, every afternoon from 2 to 5 p.m. Also enjoy a classic afternoon tea service at the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth's Rosélys Restaurant, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. from Thursday to Sunday. Or cruise along the St. Lawrence River with Croisières AML – they're offering a Christmas Brunch from December 1 to 15. Explore more of Montréal and its culinary delights on Montréal's best food tours or discover some of Montréal's hidden gems. These inventive Montréal microbreweries craft seasonal beers to join their classic line-ups and Montréal's best bakeries and pastry shops create irresistible desserts and more.

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On stage

Outrageous puppet master Ronnie Burkett returns to Montréal with Little Dickens, a naughty remix of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at Centaur Theatre until December 21. Danse Danse presents choreographer-dancer Caroline Laurin-Beaucage's Intérieurs at Place des Arts’ Cinquième Salle from December 10 to 14. In theatre, see award-winning play Late Company, a story of family, bullying and forgiveness by Jordan Tannahill, from December 10 to 15 at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts. At MAI Montréal, arts interculturels, Black Theatre Workshop presents a double-bill of two plays, Dark Red and Cry Baby, from December 10 to 15. And in the Gay Village, stages light up with world-class drag shows in Montréal.

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On screen

Experience the contemporary VR artistry of the Cadavre exquis exhibition, featuring work by Marina Abramovi, Olafur Eliasson, Laurie Anderson, Antony Gormley, Paul McCarthy and other artists, at the Phi Centre – also visit the VR Cinema to see InnerFlood, creations by artists Anish Kapoor, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, Jakob Kudsk Steensen and Mali Arun. The Phi Centre also presents BIBELOT, an audio visual kinetic installation piece by composer Jay Crocker, and hosts an open house event (where you can check all these exhibitions out for free) on December 18.

Explore the universe at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, featuring science-meets-multimedia shows Planet Nine, Secrets of Gravity, EXO, POLARIS, Continuum and Aurōrae as well as Mice and the Moon for younger kids. The Montréal Science Centre presents IMAX film Great Bear Rainforest 3D and hands-on science exhibitions such as Health from Head to Toe. Among Montréal's great indie cinemas, see art-house, documentaries, Québécois, cult films and more at Mile End's Cinéma Moderne, the Cinémathèque québécoise, Cinéma du Musée at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and at long-running Cinéma du Parc. And you can drink and watch Goodfellas on December 17 and Die Hard on December 18 at Ritz P.D.B.

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Art for everyone

At the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Untamed Colour: Celebrating Jean McEwen pays homage to the Montréal painter, About Face: Photographs by Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons and Rachel Harrison from the Collection of Carol and David Appel is on, the Stephan Crétier and Stéphany Maillery Wing for the Arts of One World opens, and families can take weekend tours and art workshops. At the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, experience the video works of Francis Alÿs: Children's Games, a survey of prominent Montréal painter Janet Werner and more. The Fondation Phi pour l’art contemporain presents music-oriented installations and video work by British artist Phil Collins exploring how we participate in popular culture, while Eva & Franco Mattes redefine the boundaries of the Internet in video and sculptural works.

Montréal's Arsenal Contemporary gallery in Griffintown hosts Imagine Van Goghan immersive, technologically-enhanced experience of over 200 of the artist's paintings, including Sunflowers and The Starry Night. Galerie de l’UQAM presents Le déploiement, an exhibition of works focused on the Canadian Far North by photographer and video artist Emmanuelle Léonard. The Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery presents ᓄᓇᙳᐊᓕᐅᕐᓂᖅ ᓄᓇᕐᔪᐊᙳᐊᓂᒃ Mapping of the World by Nunavut-based artist Shuvinai Ashoona. At La Guilde see Nunavut artist Jessie Oonark's Artworks - Still Very Much Alive and Love-Struck Souls by jeweler Aurelie Guillaume. At the Canadian Centre for Architecture, see Building a new New WorldAmerikanizm in Russian Architecture, as well as Rough Cuts and Outtakes, showcasing the work of Gordon Matta-Clark. The Museum of Jewish Montreal presents Return to The Fortress by Julie Gladstone. Mile-Ex gallery and cultural space Never Apart features new art in its fall exhibitions. Sculptor Glen LeMesurier shows his new metal creations in Gravity & Grace at Galerie Grace. Visit Art Mûr to see exhibitions by Bevan Ramsay, Jennifer Small, Hédy Gobaa and Brandon Vickerd. And there's more art to discover while gallery hopping and antiquing in the city.

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History near and far

Montréal is also a must for history buffs. One of this fall's major exhibitions, the British Museum's Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives makes its North American premiere at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, reconstructing the lives of six Egyptians who lived along the Nile from about 900 BC to AD 180. At Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Archaeology and History Complex discover the origins and legacy of the Inca Empire in stunning exhibition The Incas, Treasures of Peru, and experience multimedia exhibition Generations MTL and cabinet of curiosities Into the Wonder Room. At the McCord Museum see retrospective exhibition Jean-Claude Poitras: Fashion and Inspiration, Celia Perrin Sidarous: The Archivist and more. The Stewart Museum's new Nights exhibition lets visitors explore the fiction-meets-reality of four worlds created by Québec writers Heather O’Neill, Simon Boulerice, Dominique Demers and Éric Dupont – while at the museum, peek into day-to-day life in New France in History and Memory and enjoy family-focused holiday activities all month or try your hand at escape game Phantoms of the Island every Saturday.

Among the city's other family-friendly museums, the Musée de Lachine illuminates 350 years of history, wax museum Grévin MONTRÉAL features Québécois and international celebrities past and present, and the free Barbie Expo shows off Barbie's fashion transformations through the decades. At the Biosphère, Environment Museum see several exhibitions on marine environments, weather and current environmental issues. Discover Irish Montréal and Montréal's Scottish history through historic landmarks and more. Read all about jazz in Montréal, from the Roaring Twenties to today. And pick up some historic and present-day facts about Montréal that even some locals might not know.

Classical and Christmas music

Famed pianist Yefim Bronfman and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal perform Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 24 and more at Maison symphonique de Montréal on December 14 and 15. The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal also presents the Great Voices of Québec Sing Christmas concert featuring opera singers Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Etienne Dupuis and others with the Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal and JIREH Gospel Choir, at Maison symphonique from December 17 to 19. At Bourgie Concert Hall at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, enjoy a Celtic Christmas on December 18 and A Charlie Brown Christmas with the Taurey Butler Trio on December 19.

Enjoy even more of Montréal's many Christmas concerts this week too: Les Violons du Roy present Handel's Messiah on December 13 at Maison symphonique; the Andy Kim Christmas benefit concert features an all-star cast of performers at Theatre Jean-Duceppe on December 13; and hear Carols by Candlelight on December 15 at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul. And the Québec Issime troupe presents French-language family-friendly musical Décembre, the story of a small town whose characters come alive beneath a Christmas tree, at Place des Arts from December 12 to 29, and Le petit Noël de Québec Issime, a musical for young kids, on December 15, 21 and 22.

More live music

On Friday, December 13, beloved Canadian singer and musician Serena Ryder performs at Corona Theatre, while Belgian pop singer-songwriter Angèle is at the Bell Centre, metal band Mountain Dust plays Casa del Popolo and rapper Rambo launches a new EP, with opener Nate Husser, at Newspeak. On Saturday, singer-songwriter Tim Baker (lead singer of indie rock band Hey Rosetta!) performs at L’Astral, metal music festival HEAVY MONTRÉAL throws a Ho Ho Heavy holiday party with bands Anonymus, B.A.R.F. and Gutter Demons at Corona Theatre, Parisian electronic producer Zimmer fascinates with openers Fonkynson and Bolarinho at Newspeak, and Finnish trance music duo Super8 and Tab come to New City Gas.

Théâtre La Chapelle presents Acoustic Sessions on December 13 with the uniquely immersive music of Radwan Ghazi Moumneh (of Jerusalem in My Heart) and Alexei Perry Cox, while on December 14, Brad Barr (of The Barr Brothers) and Elizabeth Powell (of Land of Talk) perform solo sets. And Le Balcon's weekends of The biggest Soul, Motown, Disco and Funk hits for the holiday season feature incredible singers Meredith Marshall, Shaharah and Kim Richardson on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Sunday night's made for late-night dancing with Spanish electronic dance music producer De La Swing and Montréal's Paskal Daze. And Wednesday, December 18 brings rapper A$AP Ferg and opener Murda Beatz to MTELUS. For even more music throughout the week, check out our picks on how to get your nightlife on in Montréal, where to hear live music in Montréal, 10 great places to see indie bands, Montréal's best jazz and blues clubs and our guide to electronic music in Montréal. And if you want to bring the music home with you, go record shopping at Montréal's excellent vinyl stores.

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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