The French-Canadian city of Montreal is home to reputable universities, modern museums, and world-class restaurants. But this international city is most famously known for hosting exquisite events that draw travelers from around the world. Come winter, Montrealers welcome guests with outdoor raves in sub-zero temperatures (Canadians aren't wimpy), festivals honoring the snow, and festivals that spotlight Montreal's foodie scene. Several crowd-pleasing fêtes take place during the months of December through March, making this the perfect time for a visit. Just be sure to pack your coat and mittens!
A tradition was forged at the Old Port in Montreal in 2007, courtesy of the entertainers behind Montreal's weekly electronic musical festivals, Piknic Electronik. Igloofest, a most anticipated outdoor music rave, takes place in the dead of winter and attracts thousands of electronic music fans every night. At Igloofest, billed as the coldest music festival in the world, you'll find attendees dressed in vintage snowsuits and sporting elaborate hats. This most-anticipated winter music fest features international artists who deliver a wide range of electronic tunes. In 2021, Igloofest is a month-long virtual festival on Facebook, Twitch, and Youtube.
The Montreal chocolate show, Je t'aime en chocolate, first debuted at Old Montreal's Marché Bonsecours in the winter of 2012. This foodie event is the largest Quebecian gathering devoted entirely to chocolate, attracting upwards of 10,000 visitors over the course of three days. Pastry chefs from all over Quebec gather to display their chocolate artistry for the public to munch on. The brainchild of Montreal designer Anne de Shalla and "Monsieur Chocolat," Jean-Jacques Berjot of Cacao Barry Callebaut, this chocolate "fashion show" hosts workshops and performances and highlights premier chocolatier craftsmanship. After a two-year break, the Montreal chocolate festival returned in February 2021.
From March 4 through 28, 2021, Montréal en Lumière lights up Montreal with free outdoor events, culinary delights, beautiful light shows, and displays throughout the city. A Ferris wheel, 360-foot slide, and zip lines provide hours of family fun. Shows and concerts held by international artists entertain guests and Montrealers alike. For the locals, this is one of the most exciting events of the year, as the city's downtown transforms itself into a magnificent light show.
The exciting festival culminates with Nuit Blanche, when Montreal stays open from dusk to dawn, complete with indoor and outdoor entertainment.
Gem and Mineral Show
The Montreal Gem and Mineral Show was canceled in 2020, with the hopes to reopen in 2021; date TBD.
Hosted by the Montreal Gem and Mineral Club, Montreal's annual gem show makes the perfect spot for finding unique holiday gifts. This show is much more than a shopping spree! Instead, it's an educational experience featuring semi-precious gems, jewelry, sculptures, pearls, beads, fossils, and minerals. More than 100 local and out-of-province dealers attend toting crystals from locations around the world, including famous mines in Afghanistan, Africa, Brazil, and North America. The show takes place at Place Bonaventure around the end of November.
The Fête des Neiges Snow Festival was canceled for 2021.
Montreal's Parc Jean-Drapeau turns into a winter wonderland for four consecutive weekends each winter. Fête des Neige, a childhood delight, features activities like ice skating, sledding, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and fat biking. Clowns dressed in winter garb give grand performances and artists carve intricate works from ice. This family-friendly event is free to the public, but still bring some cash, as equipment rentals and certain activities do cost a fee.
There is no set date for the 2021 St. Patrick's Day Parade. Be sure to confirm the most up-to-date details with event organizers.
Montreal's St. Patrick's Day parade, Défilé de la Saint Patrick, dates back to 1824 and is the oldest of Canada's many city parades. The parade takes place every year on St. Patrick's Day and includes hundreds of floats, marching bands, performers, and spectators. Montreal's St. Patrick's Day Parade goes on in rain, snow, or shine, but is often met with sunshine, green t-shirts, and party hats. Head down to Rue Ste. Catherine or Phillips Square to enjoy the festivities.
The Santa Claus Parade was canceled for 2020. Be sure to confirm the most up-to-date details with event organizers.
Christmas in Montreal, or Noël in French, is a magical and busy season. During this time, the city hosts two very special Christmas parades. The Santa Claus Parade (Défilé du Père Noël) has been a local tradition since 1925 and features about 20 floats that make their route along Ste. Catherine Street to St. Urbain Street. The parade draws thousands of spectators and typically takes place in mid-November.
Montreal's second-largest Christmas parade, Défilé des rêves, usually takes place the week after the Santa Claus parade. Those who missed the bigger event, or those who prefer a low-key alternative, can watch floats, dance groups, circus performances, music, and around twenty elves pass by the Plaza St. Hubert.
Dress warmly for either event, bring your chair or blanket, and use public transportation, if possible.