Canada

The Best Festivals and Fairs in Montreal and Quebec City

by Alyssa James  |  Published January 26, 2018

Many cities in the world claim to have the best festivals of the year. One thing that sets Montreal and Quebec City apart is the sheer diversity—festivals and major events are simply a way of life. Not a week will go by that these francophone cities aren’t celebrating winter sports, comedy, experimental theatre, poutine, or some other obscure subject, art form, or food.

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Fun for kids and grown-ups alike (Photo: Bruno Guérin)

The festivals and fairs in Montreal and Quebec City range from free to paid, but the bottom line is that you’re always going to find an event you’ll enjoy. Here are the best festivals and fairs in Montreal and Quebec City from January to June 2018.

January 2018

Barbegazi Winter Sports Festival

Barbegazi (meaning ‘frozen beard’) is the first major event on Montreal’s annual festival calendar. It’s an an ode to all things winter sports where Montreal’s best tear up the slopes with freestyle snow sport demonstrations and the public participates in Christmas tree throwing contests, ice skating, and other truly Canadian activities. Live DJs spin tunes at each event while local food trucks pop in to offer the best in Quebecois street food.

WHERE Olympic Stadium, Montreal               WHEN January 13-14 & 20-21

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The namesake of the festival, Le Barbegazi (Photo: Bruno Guérin)

Igloofest

This outdoor music festival brings dance and electronic music to the urban centre of Montreal—in -20ºC weather! Brave the cold with 10,000 other hardcore music fans, warming up by dancing to the sounds of Petit Biscuit, Bonobo, and the British duo Sasha & Digweed. There’s more to this nine-day rave than local DJs and musical acts—the Quai Jacques-Cartier will be transformed into a winter wonderland replete with ice sculptures, installations, interactive games, and bars.

WHERE Old Port of Montreal              WHEN January 18 to February 3, 2018

Fête des Neiges

Every weekend is a new adventure with the family at the 35th edition of Fête des Neiges in Montreal. The festival features activities for the whole family as well as live music and performance. Dance yourself warm to the sounds of DJ Cyusa or hone your inner lumberjack by trying out axe throwing. Ziplines, ice skating, dog sledding, and more are available for kids and the kid-at-heart. Take a historical walk around the island and venture up the Tour de Lévis for incredible views over the city. The live events are weekends only from 10AM to 8PM on Saturday and 10AM to 5PM on Sunday.

WHERE Parc Jean-Drapeau                 WHEN January 20 to February 11, 2018

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Hot chocolate and snowmen at Parc Jean Drapeau (Photo: Céline Mosnier via Flickr)

Carnaval de Québec

Any Canadian child who had a good French teacher at school will immediately recognize the smiley face and red tuque of Bonhomme Carnaval. He is the official representative of the Quebec Winter Carnival and living embodiment of the Quebecois joie de vivre. Local and international visitors flock to  historic Quebec City for one of world’s largest winter carnivals. Witness the spectacular canoe race on the frozen St. Lawrence River and the famous parades that happen nightly. Join in on the songs, activities, and a shot of caribou (a sweet beverage made of red wine, liquor, and maple syrup) to enjoy all things French Canada. New for this year is the interactive multimedia show inside Bonhomme’s Ice Palace, Odyss Land of Ice.

WHERE Quebec City                WHEN January 26 to February 11, 2018

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Bonhomme Carnaval, epitome of all things French Canadien (Photo: Frederic Lavoie)

February 2018

Neige en Fête

The Neige en Fête festival in Quebec City is the largest gathering of antique snowmobiles in the province. The event celebrates the beauty of these machines inextricably linked to the regions history and heritage. Over three days, you’ll see some of the coolest vintage snowmobiles on parade and in exhibitions. Participants will also have the opportunity to learn more about the history and region with snowmobile tours of Saint-Raymond.

WHERE Saint-Raymond         WHEN February 9 – 11, 2018

Rendez-vous du Cinéma Québécois

Québécois cinema has brought us some of the best Canadian films of all-time, from Mommy (2014) and Incendies (2010), to Bon Cop Bad Cop (2006) and C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005). Over 11 days, more than 400 artists and cinephiles will come together to celebrate French-Canadian cinema—the only festival of its kind. In 2018, there will be 111 premiers and over 30 free events hosted by some of Quebec’s most talented film directors and actors.

WHERE Montreal Quartier des Spectacles    WHEN February 21 to March 3, 2018

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Tickets for the rendez-vous (Photo: Québec Cinéma)

MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE

MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE i is one of the largest and most eclectic winter festivals in the world, bringing together the performing arts, gastronomy, and outdoor activities. Enjoy countless culinary treats, from fine dining to wine tasting. Witness the next generation of music, theatre, circus arts, and dance through artists and performers from Montreal and around the world. Families can participate in a plethora of activities from slides, shows, and Ferris wheel rides. Of course, Montreal’s Festival of Lights would not be complete without taking part in the Illuminart circuit of interactive light installations around the city.

WHERE Various locations            WHEN February 22 to March 4, 2018

Port Symphonies

This free event is one of Montreal’s most unique musical concerts. The open-air symphony takes advantage of the trains, tugboats, and boats moored in the Old Port for the winter—a composer makes use of the horns, whistles, and other urban instruments to play an unusual and beautiful score to enthusiastic crowds. This year’s composer is Herman Kolgen. He will use sirens to create a musical piece inspired by the wind—an element closely connected to the river, boats, and sound.

WHERE Pointe-à-Callière       WHEN February 25, 2018

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SP boats in the Old Port (Photo: Simon Laroche)

March 2018

Festi Lumière

Festi Lumière is Quebec City’s festival of lights where an outdoor circuit is illuminated by more than 500,000 LED lights to create an enchanted forest. You’ll see animal-shaped installations, light projections and live music that are sure brighten up even the darkest winter night. Once you’ve taken in all the sights, slide runs, inflatable games, and an outdoor bar with a fire pit await children and parents. The event is open everyday from 6PM to 9PM.

WHERE Various locations          WHEN March 3 – 10, 2018

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Seal in lights at Quebec Aquarium (Photo: Aquarium du Québec via Instagram)

International Children’s Film Festival

The International Children’s Film Festival is a family version of the film events we have come to know and love. The organization’s mission is to inspire the cinephiles of tomorrow by exposing them to the best young people’s cinema from around the world. The festival takes place during the school break to offer children the most opportunity to see some of the more than 100 films for children. Workshops, film education, and seminars are also available between the presentation of fiction, documentary, feature and short film presentations.

WHERE Cinema Beaubien, Montreal              WHEN March 3 – 11, 2018

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Recognizing their achievements in cinema (Photo: Montreal International Children’s Film Festival)

Festival Art Souterrain

With a pedestrian network spanning 33 kilometres of Montreal’s downtown core, the underground city is the largest of its kind in the world. It’s a confusing maze that connects metro stations, office buildings, universities, shopping malls, and more, making it natural place to integrate contemporary art exhibitions for a few weeks in March. Art Souterrain aims to bring art out of studios and institutions and into people’s everyday lives—to help mediate the cultural exchange, Art Souterrain offers audio guides, guided tours, workshops, and apps so they can reach the widest group of people possible. The theme for 2018 is ‘Labor Improbus’, exploring ‘work’ in its forms, non-forms, and relationships to individuals and society.

WHERE Underground City     WHEN March 3 – 25, 2018

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Work by Catherine Lisi-Daoust presented in the Palais des Congrès de Montréal (Photo: Sarah Seené)

St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The Montreal’s 195th St. Patrick’s Day parade is the oldest in Canada, held every year since 1824—not even war or economic depression stopped people from honouring Ireland’s patron saint. The parade only lasts a few hours, marching down Boulevard de Maisonneuve until it reaches Phillips Square; however, the atmosphere continues long after with Irish pubs serving Guinness and Irish coffee throughout the downtown core. 

WHERE Rue Ste. Catherine   WHEN March 18, 2018

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Having fun at the parade (Photo: United Irish Societies of Montreal)

Jamboree

This winter urban sports and lifestyle festival is one of the most anticipated events in Quebec’s social calendar. The Jamboree combines the thrill and snowboarding and Free ski with music and art entertainment in the heart of Quebec City. This year, the Jamboree is hosting the FIS Snowboard Big Air, Slopestyle, and Freestyle Ski World Cups. And since 2018 is Winter Olympics year, the festival is being held in spring—that means no freezing your tail off in Quebec’s extreme winter conditions!

WHERE Downtown Quebec City         WHEN March 22 – 25, 2018

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Crowds gather ’round for the big show (Photo: André Lyra)

April 2018

ImagiNation Writers’ Festival

ImagiNation Writers’ Festival is the literary event of the Spring in Quebec City. Dozens of Canadian authors come together for readings, discussions, and book signings for a week-long celebration of literature. Visitors to this festival will be able to meet their favourite authors and discover emerging writers.

WHERE Morrin Centre            WHEN April 4 – 8, 2018

Vues d’Afrique

This international film festival is recognized as one the most prestigious of its kind in North America. Cinephiles will discover the realities and imaginaries of African and Creole countries, and their diasporas, through film and other visual arts. Attendees who wish to learn more will have the opportunity to attend seminars, discussions, and events that feature some of the best African and diaspora talent in the world.

WHERE Various venues in Montreal WHEN April 13 – 22, 2018

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Opening night celebrations (Photo: Lou Scamble via Facebook)

Quebec Exquis!

Quebec’s traditional cuisine is rich and diverse, thanks to the First Nations, French, and Irish influences developed during the fur trade period of Canada’s history. Quebec is famous for poutines, meat pies called tourtière, pea soup, maple desserts, and spruce beer; at the Quebec Exquis! festival, you’ll discover the region’s gastronomy through special menus prepared by renowned chefs and local producers.  Excellent food, great wine, and affordable prices make this festival an epicurean heaven.

WHERE Various venues, Quebec City             WHEN April 17 – 29, 2018

Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival

Blue Metropolis brings people from different cultures together to share in the pleasure of reading and writing. At this festival, priority is given to Canadian literature in both of the countries’ official languages. Throughout the ten days, there are book and poetry readings, workshops, panel discussions, walking tours, and an award ceremony that recognizes the best up-and-coming literary minds in Canada and globally.

WHERE Various venues in Montreal WHEN April 20 – 30, 2018

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A gathering a bibliophiles (Photo: Blue Metropolis via Facebook)

May

Quebec City Magic Festival

The Quebec City Magic Festivals leaves attendees spellbound with 25 Canadian and international magicians doing their best to mesmerize the crowds. This year features conferences, a magic school, and an international magic contest. Keep an eye out while you’re exploring the city as street performances and free workshops will be magically appearing throughout the festival.

WHERE Saint-Roch, Quebec City       WHEN May 3 – 6, 2018

Vue sur la Relève
Montreal’s Vue sur la Relève is the opportunity to see the rising stars of Canadian performing arts. The nearly two-week festival puts the spotlight on song, music, dance, storytelling, circus, and theatre. Experience innovative live performances, stimulating panel discussions, and lively conferences at venues around Montreal.

WHERE Various venues          WHEN May 8 – 19, 2018

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Andrea Pena and artists on stage (Photo: Romain Lorraine)

Tam-Tams

Head to the top Mont-Royal to experience the intoxicating sounds of the city’s famous Tam Tams, a drum and dance festival held every Sunday from spring through to autumn. This grassroots event is said to have begun in the ‘80s when a hand drumming class was looking for a change of scenery. By the ‘90s, it was a full-on local tradition attended by young and old alike. These days you’ll find hundreds of locals gathered in circle listening to drum beats, dancing, playing instruments, or buying clothing and knick-knacks at the marketplace.

WHERE Mont-Royal, Montreal                 WHEN May – September 2018

Carrefour international de théâtre

Feed your imagination with the best in inventive theatre from Canada and around the world. The festival showcases nearly a dozen plays that will challenge your ideas about contemporary theatre. Throughout the festival, you’ll have the opportunity to stroll around Quebec City, participate in workshops, and join fellow theatre lovers for drinks and lectures.

WHERE Saint-Roch, Quebec City       WHEN May 22 – June 9, 2018

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Where do you go when you sleep while walking? (Photo: Renaud Philippe)

June

Les Francos de Montréal

Les Francos in Montreal attracts almost a million visitors during the event, making it the largest French music festival in the world. Now heading into its 30th year, the Francos are bigger and better than ever with Camille, Polo & Pan, and Galaxie headlining some of the biggest shows. With 180 free outdoor concerts in the centre of the city you can let loose and enjoy the diversity of Francophone music—as they say in Montreal, “C’est à Montréal qu’on vit sa folie!”

WHERE Various venues          WHEN June 7 – June 16, 2018

St-Ambroise Fringe Festival

The Montreal Fringe Festival is the time and the place where anything goes—the organizers believe anyone should be able to express themselves on any topic and in any form. Rather than judging submissions, the Fringe Festival selects performers through a random lottery system so everyone has an equal chance. The shows could be bold, innovative, or just plain boring—that’s the price of democratic performing arts. Tickets are $10 or less, artists are completely uncensored, and there’s a beer tent to escape to if a musical romp through plastic surgery isn’t quite your thing.

WHERE Various venues          WHEN June 7 – June 17, 2018

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In the village of Deux-Montagnes-De-L’Érablière, you should never trust appearances (Photo: Activités culturelles UdeM via Flickr)

Montreal Grand Prix

Start your engines folks, Formula 1 is here and it’s the opportunity to plunge head first into a weekend of high-octane fun: loud cars, DJ-hosted street parties, and upscale, invite-only supper club events. Race goers get to enjoy special events such as the driver’s parade, a pit lane walk, and race simulators. But it’s about more than the race—for 72 hours, the whole city comes alive!

WHERE Parc Jean-Drapeau          WHEN June 8 – 10, 2018

Visit’Arts-Quebec 2018

More than 85 artists will display their work at this annual painting symposium that aims to bring more visibility to local painters in Quebec City. For 2018, they’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Artistic and Cultural Society of Quebec (SACQ) and offering an excellence prize to the best work at the symposium. Head here to support local artists—maybe you’ll start your own collection!

WHERE Samuel-de-Champlain Promenade        WHEN June 16 – 17, 2018

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Ready to discover art? (Photo: Visit’Art Quebec)

Montreal International Jazz Festival

Not to be confused with Montreux, the Montreal Jazz Festival is the largest in the world, drawing 250,000 tourists to the city and more than two million visits to the festival during its 10-day run. More than 3000 musicians come from more than 30 countries, while the hundreds of indoor concerts are complemented by free outdoor shows that feature top contemporary jazz artists. Be sure to be there when North America’s francophone capital transforms in the heartbeat of Planet Jazz.

WHERE Quartier des Spectacles          WHEN June 28 – July 7, 2018

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King Crimson on stage in Montreal (Photo: Frédérique Ménard-Aubin)