Things to do in Montréal December 22 to 28

Robyn Fadden

The festive seasonal lights of Montréal add their magic to city life this week, whether you're last-minute gift shopping or ice skating under fireworks in the Old Port, watching holiday classic The Nutcracker or Cirque du Soleil's first on-ice show, or letting loose to live music.

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Holiday joys

Embrace the holiday spirit in Montréal with glorious feasts, world-class fireworks and festive winter activities this week, including outdoor art event Luminothérapie in downtown's Place des Festivals – ride illuminated see-saws while having a warm drink and a bite to eat, and look up to see dreamlike architectural video projection Les Lointaines. Just around the corner, spend some time at open-air market Le Grand Marché de Noël de Montréal. Also downtown, eat, drink hot chocolate or mulled wine and listen to music at Christmas in the Park at Jardins Gamelin, or at Parc des Compagnons and Parc Lahaie in the Plateau neighbourhood until Dec. 25. Gather round the fire at Old Montréal's Merry Montréal, featuring music, Christmas-themed films and a Christmas market to Place Jacques-Cartier, plus special event Place Nordique. The spectacular Natrel Fire on Ice fireworks celebrate the season in a spectacular way in the Old Port every Saturday night – also where you can skate to music next to the Saint-Lawrence River day or night at the Natrel Skating Rink. Mount-Royal Avenue’s Noël sur l’Avenue celebrates the season with music and carriage rides all month and Le Village du Vilain Sapin stands out with its tall Christmas tree on Prince Arthur Street until Dec. 23. And if you're still looking for that perfect gift for that special someone, find unique ideas in our Montréal gift guide.

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Wintery sights

Take advantage of the many free things to do this winter in Montréal – not to mention the picks in our budget-friendly guide to Montréal – such as entertainment, ice skating and more at the V Winter Village at Olympic Park, or a self-guided history tour of the Saint-Lawrence River with Montréal, toute une histoire and a walk in the Plateau neighbourhood to see the comic artwork of Paul à Montréal. In Old Montréal's Place d’Armes and on the Place Jacques Cartier, choirs sing carols and Québécois traditional songs on Saturday at 3 p.m. At night the historic tableaux projections of Cité Memoire come to life and multimedia wonder AURA shimmers at Notre-Dame Basilica. At the Buckminster Fuller-designed Biosphère see the city anew in Planète MTL and travel back 50 years with Écho 67. See amazing views from La Grande Roue de Montréal observation wheel, the Observatoire Place Ville Marie downtown and the Montréal Tower at Olympic Stadium. Or relax with a view of the Saint Lawrence River at Bota Bota floating spa. Montréal hockey history unfolds in exhibition Passion: Hockey at Pointe-à-Callière museum. And if you're planning to see a Montréal Canadiens NHL game in 2018, snag your tickets now at the only Canadiens authorized and secure site Ticket Vault.

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Family holiday activities

Visit Santa at the Complex Desjardins Magic Kingdom – complete with a mini train and carousel, music, performances and more to Dec. 24. Santa also shows up at the Stewart Museum in person and in Santa figurines and cartoons, while four versions of Santa visit from around the world in Pointe-à-Callière's Who Is the Real Santa Claus? exhibition. Toys and fairytales take over in The Topsy-Turvy Storyland at the McCord Museum, with story hour and more activities over the holidays (plus a parents-and-babies workshop on Dec. 27) – free for kids 12 and under. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts offers free entry to the collections and to cultural activities this week, with several creative workshops, musical performances and films for kids – pick up your free passes at the front desk. For a traditional look at the holidays, step back in history for a Victorian Christmas in Montréal. Take the kids on a Tropical Adventure at the Biodôme starting Dec. 22 and watch the animals open Christmas presents on Dec. 26. See animals in their natural winter wonderland habitat at the Ecomuseum Zoo – they'll be getting gifts from the zoo's elves Dec. 23 to Jan. 7. Explore the cosmos in two new immersive films at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium: EXO and Space Next, and go on a wild ride in IMAX with Amazon 3D and Incredible Predators 3D at the Montréal Science Centre.

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Leonard Cohen's Montréal

As part of Montréal's 375th anniversary and in honour of his artistic impact on the city and the world, Montréal celebrates Leonard Cohen. International exhibition Leonard Cohen – A Crack in Everything at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal features work by 40 artists from 10 countries, inspired by Leonard Cohen's life, music and writing – an absolute must-see. While there, also explore That's How the Light Gets In, a collections exhibition that frames art in terms of the fundamental aspect of light (visibility, reflection, representation, perception), and The Gaze Listens, an auditory contemplation of art. And see building-sized murals of Leonard Cohen on Crescent Street downtown near the Sir Winston Churchill Pub and on Saint-Laurent Boulevard at Napoleon Street not far from Schwartz's.

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Festive food and drink

There's nothing like feasting in Montréal this time of year. From traditional terroir to high tea, we've got the gourmet goods on where to eat in Montréal during the holidays. Warm up with a meal or a drink next to a cozy fireplace or by sipping the best hot chocolate in the city. If you're looking for tried-and-true Québécois classic dishes, let us guide you towards the best poutine and the best Montréal bagels along with more musts for foodies visiting Montréal – plus where to go shopping for foodies too. Or discover creative new cuisine from Québec at our Montréal restaurant picks. Explore the city's public markets and some of Montréal's liveliest neighbourhoods through their restaurants. Caffeinate in style at Montréal's indie coffee shops. Relax with weekend brunch or a creative cocktail. And there's even plenty of genuinely delicious health-conscious food to be found in Montréal.

On stage spectacles

Place des Arts sparkles with the return of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal’s The Nutcracker, by Quebec choreographer Fernand Nault based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic tale and set to the music of Tchaikovsky, Dec. 14-30. A colourful, magical world comes to awe-inspiring life in Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal, the first Cirque du Soleil show on ice, Dec. 20-31 at the Bell Centre – get a family package for the full experience. Meanwhile, experience a different kind of circus in Patinoire, a stunning and funny solo show by tightrope walker and high-energy performer Patrick Léonard at La Tohu circus centre, Dec. 19 to Jan. 6. And see family-friendly musical The Nut Job Live & Friends, in English Dec. 28 at L'Olympia, or the inventive marionettes of Le cœur en hiver at Place des Arts Dec. 28-30.

Once Upon A Time… The Western gives the Western film genre new artistic life at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – while there also see installation Kushapetshekan / Kosapitcikan by Eruoma Awashish, Meky Ottawa and Jani Bellefleur-Kaltush, Nadia Myre's Tout ce qui reste – Scattered Remains and WOOL WAR ONE, composed of 780 small knitted soldiers. Inspiring art foundation DHC/ART in Old Montréal celebrates its 10th anniversary with dynamic group exhibition The Gift/L'Offre as well as the pioneering video art and installation work of Bill Viola: Naissance à rebours. The Montréal Science Centre presents Indigenous Ingenuity: Timeless Inventions, from the essentials of First Peoples’ scientific principles to how to build an igloo, alongside photo exhibition Regalia: Native Pride. Explore the golden age of magicians in the McCord Museum's Illusions: The Art of Magic and see a new exhibition of photography by Gabor Szilasi: Le monde de l’art à Montréal, 1960-1980. The illustrations of exposition Le Montréaler emulate classic New Yorker covers, at the Maison de la culture Plateau Mont-Royal. And if you're driving to or from the airport along Highway 20, keep an eye out for Alain Paiement's art work Bleu de Bleu.

Live music

On Friday and Saturday evening, Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the Orchestre Métropolitain in Handel's Messiah at Place des Arts' Maison symphonique. Hear choir performances in the Les choralies series at Chapelle Notre Dame de Bon Secours Chapel, featuring Ensemble Da Capo on Dec. 22, Chœur de chambre du Québec on Dec. 23, and a music before Christmas Mass on Dec. 24. Also on Friday night, Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke (of Einsturzende Neubauten) perform music from new album Perseverantia, with opener Eliza Kavtion, at Casa del Popolo. On Dec. 23, see Afghan poet, singer and musician Dawood Sarkhosh in concert at L'Olympia, chill with the house-techno of Québec electronic music producer MAUS at Datcha, or go for the electro high-life at Produkt's L'Expérience Dom Perignon at New City Gas. Heavy Montréal punk-rock-metal festival celebrates the season with heaviness, of course: see All that Remains and The Agonist on Saturday, Dec. 23 at L'Astral. Move to the hardcore electronic sound of Snails and Funtcase on Thursday, Dec. 28 at MTelusgroove to the deep house of London producer and Birds That Fly label head Kidnap Kid at Newspeak, or sing and dance along to the Best of the 60s at Le Balcon supper club and live music venue on Dec. 28. For more live music throughout the week, check out our guides to where to hear live music in Montréal and Montréal's best jazz and blues clubs.

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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