Winter holiday activities for all in Montréal

Robyn Fadden

Every year, Montréal's winter holiday season seems to get brighter and more festive, with even more fun things to do for families and activities specifically for kids in ever corner of the city.

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Holiday sparkle

Check out outdoor market Le Grand Marché de Noël de Montréal for locally made goods and goodies, activities for kids, live music and more outdoor festivities, Dec. 1-24. In Old Montréal, the Merry Montréal festivities mean hot chocolate, cozy fires, Christmas-themed films and a Christmas market at Place Jacques-Cartier. Spot Christmas trees, elves and all kinds of sparkle at the city's many Christmas Markets, whether you're in a buying mood or not. A Christmas market, Santa's workshop, entertainment and gourmet treats await at the Christmas Village at Place du Marché  in Saint-Henri near the Lachine Canal, Dec. 7-10 and 15-17. The 13,000 lights of the Place Ville Marie Christmas tree structure glitter among downtown’s skyscrapers. Peer into the window of Ogilvy department store on Sainte-Catherine Street to behold a miniature winter wonderland. Enjoy music, hot chocolate and more at Christmas in the Park at Jardins Gamelin downtown and in Parc des Compagnons and Parc Lahaie in the Plateau neighbourhood, Dec. 1-25. Join in Mount-Royal Avenue’s annual Noël sur l’Avenue celebrations all month long – hear music, take carriage rides, and even join parade La Marche de Noël on Dec. 2. See Montréal in all its festive glory from the top of the Montréal Tower at Olympic Stadium, on the tallest observation wheel in the country, La Grande Roue de Montréal, and from 46 floors above downtown at the Observatoire Place Ville Marie. The spectacular Natrel Fire on Ice fireworks light up the Old Port Dec. 16 to Jan. 6, and The Finale on Dec. 31 closes out Montréal's year-long 375th anniversary celebrations with music, fireworks and more activities.

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Must be Santa

See Santa and all his friends at Montréal’s annual Santa Claus Parade on Nov. 18 along Sainte-Catherine Street downtown and on a smaller magical scale at Plaza St-Hubert’s Christmas Parade on Friday, Dec. 1. Santa will also be outdoors at decorated Jardins Gamelin downtown on weekends Dec. 3-18. Or visit Santa at his natural habitat in the mall throughout the season, including at the Complex Desjardins Magic Kingdom – complete with a mini train and carousel, the multi-sensorial Fontaine Boréale show along with choir, orchestra and dance performances. Santa also shows up at the Stewart Museum in person and in historical and heartwarming 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. For an even more traditional take on the holiday, step back in history for a Victorian Christmas in Montréal

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Show stoppers

Keeping with long-time holiday tradition, Les Grands Ballets’s The Nutcracker brings dancing soldiers and sugarplum fairies to the stage at Place des Arts, Dec. 14-30. The colourful, magical world of insects 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. Another world-renowned circus company, Les 7 Doigts presents Triptyque in collaboration with choreographers Marie Chouinard, Victor Quijada and Marcos Morau at Place des Arts Nov. 23-25 and Patinoire, a stunning and hilarious solo show by tightrope walker and high-energy performer Patrick Léonard at La Tohu circus centre, Dec. 19 to Jan. 6. Marionette show Le cœur en hiver adds a magical twist to the Snow Queen tale, Dec. 28-30 at Place des Arts. Multimedia wonder AURA capitivates at Notre-Dame Basilica. Among Montréal's many seasonal concerts: the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal presents Le diable en canot d'écorce: A Christmas Story by Michel Tremblay Dec. 19-21; the Montréal Bach Festival delights Nov. 17 to Dec. 3; Orchestra Métropolitan performs a Winter Tales Christmas concert Dec. 14 and Handel’s Messiah Dec. 22-23; the Place des Arts Junior series makes music and theatre for kids throughout December; the sounds of Christmas play at Bourgie Hall at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, including the CBC Christmas Sing-In on Dec. 10 and the Nutcracker on the morning of Dec. 14; and Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy play A Celtic Family Christmas Dec. 7 at Place des Arts.

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Hockey and ice skating

Cheer on NHL hockey pros the Montréal Canadiens as they go for the win at home against a roster of opponents throughout November and December at the Bell Centre. Or go for the pro hockey of CWHL champions Les Canadiennes Dec. 9-10 and 16-17 – game tickets are only $15. Take a trip back in legendary hockey history at history museum Pointe-à-Callière's exhibition Passion: Hockey. Comfortably hit the ice indoors with Santa at Atrium le 1000 downtown or go ice skating outdoors at the picturesque Old Port of Montréal skating rink, quaint Parc La Fontaine rink, and at Beaver Lake in Mount-Royal Park, where you can also rent snowshoes and cross-country skis. And when it’s time to re-fuel, try one of Montréal’s many family-friendly restaurants.

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Winter wonders

Make music while playing on the brightly lit seesaws of this year’s Luminothérapie interactive-art playground at Place des Festivals, Nov. 30 to Jan. 28. At the Space For Life, warm up in the Biodôme’s tropical adventure zone (also open Dec. 26 when the animals get Christmas gifts) and under the palm trees at the Botanical Garden greenhouse, see winter-ready insects at the Insectarium, and explore the universe at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. More indoor family activities await at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts and at Pointe-à-Callière history and archaeology museum. The Topsy-Turvy Storyland toys exhibition and activities alongside Illusions: The Art of Magic wow at the McCord Museum. Or see Barbie through the decades at the Barbie Museum. Mini ComicCon brings fans, comic book and animation creators and sellers together on December 9-10 at Palais des Congrès. All season, the Expo Rail train museum hosts a Railway Christmas, while on Nov. 26 the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train makes stops at Gare Montréal-Ouest and Beaconsfield with performances by Colin James, Jonathan Roy and Emma-Lee. Get a new perspective on the season from on high at Horizon Roc indoor climbing centre, featuring special holiday-themed activities for kids, including full- and half-day camps.

Practical tip

You’ve planned a trip to Montréal during the holidays? Make VIA Rail your designated driver. You’ll travel comfortably and arrive at your destination worry-free, no matter what the weather and traffic conditions are. Enjoy the ride!

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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