In the dark days of winter, cultures around the world throw various types of light festivals. From Diwali to Hannukah to the Berlin Festival of Lights, you can find these events across the globe. The city of Montreal hosts its own version called Montréal en Lumière—literally, "Montreal in Lights"—which includes massive light installations put up all over downtown and on building facades for locals and visitors to enjoy.
To accompany the lights, there's a month-long festival that includes fine dining, live performances, cultural workshops, and even an all-night art event. It's one of the largest events of the year that takes over the city, and more than makes up for the frigid weather.
Montréal en Lumière 2021
As with many events in 2021, Montréal en Lumière looks different from most years. The festival is scheduled to take place, but it's been pushed back from the usual February dates to March 4–28, 2021. And while the lights are set up around the city to enjoy in person, most of the programmed events are taking place virtually, including Nuit Blanche.
Gastronomy is still a major focus of the festival and local restaurants are offering special meals to pick-up or be delivered, coupled with a digital line-up of culinary workshops and gourmet events.
Be sure to confirm the most up to date information on the official webpage, since last-minute changes and additions are happening up until March.
What to Expect
Since the name of the festival literally means, "Montreal in Lights," you can expect to see the city illuminated with intricate light displays that can better be described as shining works of art. In addition to the month-long decorations, the city also hosts all kinds of concerts, gastronomical events, and other festivals to celebrate.
The focal point of Montréal en Lumière is usually the Place des Festivals plaza located in the Quartier des Spectacles. The outdoor site also spills out onto Ste. Catherine Street and Place des Arts adjacent plaza. The outdoor site is open for most of the festival with the bulk of the fest's free entertainment and activities scheduled on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Things to See and Do There
The lights may be the primary focus of Montréal en Lumière, but the festival is also just as much about art, music, and food.
- Nuit Blanche is easily the biggest attraction linked to Montréal en Lumière, usually held the last Saturday of the festival and over 200 free activities that occur all night and stretch out until dawn. The 2021 edition is taking place virtually and is scheduled for March 13.
- The Festival of Quebec Cheeses is just one of the festival's gastronomic attractions. This free event is held across the street from the Montréal en Lumière outdoor site, at Complexe Desjardins. It's cheese tasting on a grand scale with the chance to try over 60 different Quebec cheeses made by 20 different producers. Once you find a cheese you love, you can purchase some to take home. However, the Cheese Festival is not taking place in 2021.
- Usually debuting the same night as Nuit Blanche, Art Souterrain is an annual event devoted to underground art. The entire event is set in Montreal's Underground City, one that features anywhere from 75 to over 100 art installations throughout the city's subterranean corridors. The 2021 event is happening virtually, and you can join in from February 20 to April 30.
- Most if not every evening at Montréal en Lumière's outdoor site, visitors can usually listen to live performances and concerts. Artists tend to be local Quebecois musicians singing in both French and English. As for bigger international names, they're far more likely to be scheduled on the paid concert roster.
- Montréal en Lumière proposes themed fine dining evenings with dishes prepared by guest chefs flown in from various regions around the world. Each edition usually spotlights a Quebec region.
Tips for Visiting
Montréal en Lumière is one of the biggest winter festivals in the world, turning what would generally be a low-season travel period into an insanely popular time to visit.
- Look into hotels as early as possible, since those that are closest to the festivities will be the first to fill up and prices will rise.
- Staying around Downtown Montreal or Old Montreal are the best areas for being closest to the action, but consider staying farther out to save money. Outer residential neighborhoods have fewer hotels and more homestays like Airbnb, but you may be able to find better deals.
- Even though the winter weather is part of the charm of the event, it's still cold out and the daily highs are typically below freezing. Pack accordingly for winter in Montreal, meaning lots of layers and heavy coats.
- Use the very efficient Montreal metro for getting around while avoiding the cold. Most of the downtown stations around the Montréal en Lumière events are connected by the Underground City, so you can get around without even surfacing to ground level.
- Since you've made the trip to Montreal in the wintertime, consider taking a break from the festival to venture out to the nearby ski resorts for a day or weekend on the slopes.