Barely a week goes by when the Canadian province of Quebec isn’t celebrating some form of sport, art or culture at a fun-packed festival or fair.
A thriving melting pot of First Nations and French colonial influences, Quebec and its largest city of Montreal plays host to a huge number of festivals and fairs throughout the year. If you’re planning a trip to this corner of eastern Canada any time soon and would like to add some great events to your itinerary, we’ve picked out 20 of the best to look out for during your stay.
This outdoor festival brings dance and electronic music to central Montreal. Revellers brave the cold and keep warm by dancing to the sounds of Petit Biscuit, Bonobo, and the British duo Sasha & Digweed, and other notable musical acts. But there’s more to this nine-day event than great tunes – the popular Quai Jacques-Cartier (Jacques-Cartier Pier) is transformed into a veritable winter wonderland for the occasion, replete with ice sculptures, installations, interactive games, and bars.
Old Port of Montreal / January to February each year
Quebec Winter Carnival
Every Canadian recognises the smiley face and red tuque of Bonhomme Carnaval – the official representative of the Quebec Winter Carnival and living embodiment of Quebecois joie de vivre. Each year, locals and visitors flock to one of the world’s largest winter carnivals to witness the spectacular canoe race on the frozen St. Lawrence River, the famous nightly parades, and a whole lot more. For an authentically French Canadian drink, try a shot of caribou (a sweet beverage made of red wine, liquor, and maple syrup).
Venues across Quebec City / February each year
Neige en Fête
The largest gathering of antique snowmobiles anywhere in the province – and perhaps beyond – this event celebrates the beauty of these machines that are inextricably linked to the region’s history and heritage. Over three days, you’ll see some of the coolest vintage snowmobiles on parade and as part of exhibitions. Participants can also embark on fun-packed snowmobile tours of Saint-Raymond during the festival.
Saint-Raymond de Portneuf / February each year
Montreal en Lumiere
Montreal’s Festival of Lights brings together performing arts, gastronomy, and an array of seasonal outdoor activities – all against a backdrop of the ‘Illuminart’ circuit of interactive light installations around the city. Visitors can enjoy diverse culinary treats, from fine dining to wine tasting, and witness the next generation of music, theatre, circus arts, and dance acts from Montreal and around the world. For kids, there’s a plethora of activities including slides, family-friendly shows, and Ferris wheel rides.
Venues across Quebec City / February-March each year
International Children’s Film Festival
Taking place during the school holidays to encourage maximum attendance and engagement, this festival was created to inspire the cinephiles of tomorrow by exposing them to the best young people’s cinema from around the world. As well as screenings of more than 100 films for children spanning fiction, documentary, feature and short film presentations, there’s also a packed programme of workshops and seminars designed to teach kids about the rich history and art of movie-making.
Cinema Beaubien, Montreal / February-March each year
Barbegazi Winter Sports Festival
Barbegazi (meaning ‘frozen beard’) is an ode to all things winter sports, where Montreal’s best tear up the slopes with freestyle snow sport demonstrations and the public takes part in Christmas tree throwing contests, ice skating, and other quintessentially Canadian endeavours. Additional entertainment is provided by live DJs spinning tunes while local food trucks pop in to offer the best in Quebecois street fare.
Esplanade du Parc Olympique, Montreal / March each year
Quebec’s traditional cuisine is rich and diverse, thanks in large part to the First Nations, French, and Irish influences here throughout Canada’s history. The province is famous for such delicacies as poutines (french fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy), tourtière (meat pies), pea soup, maple desserts, and spruce beer – and at the Quebec Exquis! festival, you’ll discover all of this and more through special menus prepared by renowned chefs and local producers. Combined with great wine and affordable prices, this festival is an Epicurean heaven.
Venues across Quebec City / April-May each year
Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival
Held annually in Montreal since 1999, this ten-day festival is designed to bring people from different cultures together to share in the life-enhancing pleasures of reading and writing. Said to be one of the world’s first multilingual literary festivals, it features book and poetry readings, workshops, panel discussions, walking tours, and an award ceremony that recognises the best up-and-coming literary minds in Canada and across the globe.
Venues across Montreal / April-May each year
Les Tam-Tams du Mont Royal
Experience the intoxicating sounds of Montreal’s famous Tam Tams at this drum and dance festival, held every Sunday from spring through to autumn. The grassroots event dates back to the 1980s when a hand-drumming class was looking for a change of scenery. By the 1990s, it was a full-on local tradition attended by young and old alike. These days, you’ll find hundreds of locals tapping their toes to drum beats, dancing, playing instruments, or buying clothing and knick-knacks at the buzzing marketplace.
Mount Royal Park, Montreal / May each year
St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival
Formed around the principle that anyone should be able to express themselves on any topic and in any form, this festival selects performers through a random lottery system so everyone has an equal chance. The shows can be bold, innovative, or just plain boring – that’s the price of democratic performing arts. Tickets are dirt cheap, artists are completely uncensored, and there’s a beer tent to escape to if a musical romp through plastic surgery – to give you just one example of what esoteric themes to expect – isn’t quite your thing.
Mainline Theatre, Montreal / May-June each year
Les Francos de Montréal
Attracting almost a million visitors each year, this is the largest French music festival in the world. A staple of Montreal’s festival calendar for over three decades, the event attracts a stellar line-up of bands and solo acts including the likes of Camille, Polo & Pan, and Galaxie. With hundreds of free outdoor concerts taking place in the city centre, revellers can let loose and enjoy the diversity of Francophone music. As they say in Montreal, “C’est à Montréal qu’on vit sa folie!” (“It’s in Montreal that we live our madness!”)
Venues across Montreal / June each year
Montreal International Jazz Festival
Not to be confused with Montreux, the Montreal Jazz Festival is the largest festival of its kind anywhere in the world, drawing more than two million visitors (including up to a quarter-of-a-million tourists) during its 10-day run. More than 3,000 musicians come from dozens of countries to perform here, while the hundreds of indoor concerts are complemented by free outdoor shows that feature top contemporary jazz artists.
Quartier des Spectacles, Montreal / June-July each year
Quebec City Summer Festival
Stretching out over 11 action-packed days, this outdoor music festival is one of the most eagerly awaited events on Quebec City’s summer calendar. Performances take place across three main stages as well as several indoor venues including renowned live music venues and local bars. All types of music, from rock, punk, electronic and hip-hop to classical and world music, are represented, and there are also street performers and kids’ play areas to keep little ones entertained.
Venues across Quebec City / July each year
International Balloon Festival of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu
There can be few sights more visually arresting than hundreds of hot air balloons decorating the sky in unison. For nine days each year, high above the city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, balloons create a kaleidoscopic display that dazzles all those watching from ground level. Adding to the revelry are musical performances, culinary offerings, live staged performances, and a large area packed with rides and activities that help make this a truly family-friendly occasion.
Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu / August each year
A local tradition in Brome Village since 1856, this annual agricultural fair, which takes place every Labour Day weekend is the largest rural fair of its kind anywhere in the province. For over 160 years, it has welcomed visitors from near and far, giving them a taste of what agriculture looks like today. In addition to cattle, horses, goats, sheep and poultry competitions, visitors can also enjoy traditional handicraft and horticulture exhibits, along with a variety of commercial vendors, entertainment and shows offered throughout the weekend.
Expo Lac Brome / September each year
Martinique Gourmande Festival
Bringing together restaurateurs, chefs, mixologists, caterers and artisans in homage to the rich flavours of the Caribbean island of Martinique, this epic foodie festival throws you into the island’s gastronomic culture at the deep end. Visitors can discover the atmosphere of the Creole market, embark on multi-sensory experiences, sample a range of authentic food, and attend workshops on Martinican culture and gastronomy.
Grand Quay, Port of Montreal / September each year
Festival Western de Saint-Tite
Located between Montréal and Québec City, the town of Saint-Tite was once the central meeting place for lumberjacks from the northern stretches of the Mauricie region where many forest workers lived. The forestry and leather industries drove economic prosperity here and it is this legacy that’s celebrated each year at the Festival Western de Saint-Tite. Some 650,000 visitors descend on the town to relive the good old days of the West through a variety of activities and events including professional rodeos, country music and dancing.
Saint-Tite / September each year
Concerts, shows, art, no-holds-barred poetry, and acts of creative rebellion are what you can expect at this unique interdisciplinary festival. Created to give voice to unclassifiable, innovative and atypical artists, the festival plays host to an eclectic assortment of cabarets, theatre, puppeteering, performative dance, installation art, and poetry readings. Performers include a broad mix of both emerging and established artists.
La Sala Rossa, Montreal / October each year
Parade des Jouets
A local tradition for over two decades, this magical Christmas parade sees thousands of spectators line the route from Charlesbourg to Limoilou as floats and entertainers conjure up a world of childhood fantasy. The premise is to help the elves in their mission to find Santa and his Christmas gifts, with the illuminated floats – animated by a variety of characters, dancers and musicians – taking you on a journey to the big man in red.
Quebec City / November each year
Montreal’s Christmas Village
Montreal buzzes with festive fun during the lead up to Christmas and at the heart of the action is the city’s atmospheric Christmas Village. Taking place in Atwater Market, the village is dotted with chalets selling holiday treats and handmade trinkets by local artisans. There’s also free family activities including a Santa’s workshop, choir performances, and an Elves’ Kingdom where visitors are tasked with finding the recipe for the Golden Cookie, and thus help Santa save Christmas.
Atwater Market, Place du Marche, Montreal / November-December each year