Things to do in Montréal – December 20 to 26, 2019

Celebrate the holidays this week in Montréal, illuminated by Christmas villages, markets and other seasonal fare such as the outdoor art of Luminothérapie downtown. Also see Cirque du Soleil's on-ice show Axel and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal's classic The Nutcracker, hear world-class Christmas concerts, go ice skating and sledding, see fireworks, enjoy art and museum exhibitions, savour holiday meals and make the most of the sparkling season.

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Seasonal festivities

Seasonal festival Merry Montréal transforms Old Montréal's Place Jacques-Cartier into a Nordic Square – roast marshmallows over outdoor fires, hear choirs and musicians, visit Santa, ask the Wish-A-Phone what you want for Christmas, and more until December 31. On Saturday, December 21, watch the Fire on Ice fireworks at 8 p.m. in the Old Port of Montréal. Also among Montréal's many free things to do this winter, enjoy live music, wood-burning fires, 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) until December 24.

Downtown in Place des Festivals, play with the bright, colourful and musical creatures of interactive artwork POP! by Montréal creative studio Gentilhomme, created for this year's Luminothérapie. Not far away on Sainte-Catherine Street, visit the XP_MTL Christmas tree and village at the corner of McGill College Avenue – XP_MTL also presents choir performances on December 21 and 22 at mid-day below the tree and mid-day at the Central Station on December 20.

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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. And experience the magic of Santa's Kingdom, complete with a mini train and visits with Santa, a multimedia fountain show, virtual reality and musical performances until December 24.

Play at the McCord Museum’s toy exhibition It’s Your Move! Board Games: Larger Than Life, enjoy the holiday magic of Enchanted Worlds, recreating the Ogilvy's department store window and create games at workshops until January 5. At Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Archaeology and History Complex meet Santa Clauses from around the world in seasonal activity Who is the real Santa Claus? 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

Find unique, made-in-Montréal gifts at holiday markets this week in Montréal. Explore the charming outdoor market and Santa's village at 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 until December 22. And La Petite Station at Station Service on Mont-Royal Avenue features an array of lovely handcrafted items until December 31.

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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, also where you can go tobogganing and tube-sliding on the snow-covered hills. Slide, ride quadricycles, bounce, play games, have snowball battles and more at the Voiles en Voiles winter park in the Old Port of Montréal, open every afternoon from December 21 to January 5. And learn to snowboard and ski at Pente à neige snow park, also featuring a snow-tubing hill — dress up as Santa on December 22 and you'll get to slide for free!

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, including special Christmas and New Year's Day meals at JAMES Le Restaurant, Renoir and other fine dining locales. 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. 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. Also check out these other foodie hotspots downtown. Get into the Christmas spirit with dinner and a show at the Casino de Montréal's Cabaret en fête on December 20 and 21, Carter and The Boomers classic crooners show from December 24 to 26, rock-jazz show All Shook Up and more – and put on your sparkliest outfit and eat, drink and boogie at We've got the funk with the Boogie Wonder Band on December 20 and 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 Montréal'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. 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 and screen

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. 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.

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 in the Gay Village, stages light up with world-class drag shows in Montréal.

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Art for everyone

At the MMFA, don't miss “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”: Selections From The Bailey Collection, About Face: Photographs by Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons and Rachel Harrison from the Collection of Carol and David Appel and more, and check out the museum's 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 Art gallery in Griffintown hosts Imagine Van Gogh, an 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 to December 22. 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. 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 show 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.

Christmas concerts

Celebrate the season this week at Montréal Christmas concerts. Hear chamber music ensemble I Musici de Montréal in Enchanted Music, concerts of winter songs and holiday classics at the McCord Museum on December 21 and 22. Listen to choirs on the nights of December 21 and 22 at Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel in Old Montréal. Vocal quartet Tocadéo sings holiday classics and more in their Meilleurs vœux show December 20 and 21 at Place des Arts' intimate Cinquième salle. Ensemble Caprice performs the sacred cantatas of J. S. Bach at Bourgie Concert Hall on December 21.

Enjoy Québec Issime troupe's 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 21 and 22. Celebrate with the choirs and orchestra of Noël symphonique on December 21 at Maison symphonique de Montréal. And vocal ensemble The Red Army Choir performs Christmas concerts with Isabelle Boulay from December 26 to 30 at Maison symphonique.

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More live music

Pop and electronic music keeps spirits high this week too. On Friday, December 20, party with live electronic trio Black Tiger Sex Machine and opener Blanke at MTELUS or with French electro producer Brodinski at Newspeak or dance Friday night away with the Brazilian rhythms of Tupi Collective at La Sala Rossa. Le Balcon's weekend of The biggest Soul, Motown, Disco and Funk hits for the holiday season features incredible singers Meredith Marshall, Shaharah and Kim Richardson, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Spend Saturday night with the pop-electro sounds of colourful producer Öona Dahl with Enamour at Newspeak or dance to the tropical beats of collective Canicule Tropicale at La Sala Rossa. And there's more dancing in store on December 26 with electronic producers Borgore, 13, Dodge and Fuski, and Sam Lamar on the first night of Lumen Festival 2019 at New City Gas.

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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