Montréal and Québec City's Best Festivals
January and February
Carnaval de Québec. The biggest winter carnival in the world takes place on the Plains of Abraham over three weekends from the end of January to mid-February, with winter sports competitions, ice-sculpture contests, and parades. Plains of Abraham, Québec City, Québec. 866/422–7628; www.carnaval.qc.ca.
Fête des Neiges de Montréal. Over four weekends from mid-January to mid-February, Montréal celebrates its winter festival at Parc Jean Drapeau across the Port from Old Montréal. Hockey games, tubing, skiing, dog sledding, and a Himalayan zip line are perfect activities to enjoy in the cold winter weather, but don't forget your toque. Montréal, Québec. 514/872–6120; www.parcjeandrapeau.com/events/fete-des-neiges-de-montreal.
Montréal en Lumière. This festival brightens the bleak days of February with fabulous food and cultural activities. Leading chefs from around the world give demonstrations and take over the kitchens of top restaurants for special dinners. "Nuit Blanche," held on the last Saturday of this festival, lets you explore the city until the wee hours of the morning. Many of the events are free, and there are shuttle services to take you to the locations. Dress warmly. 514/288–9955; 855/864–3737; www.montrealenlumiere.com.
The Blue Metropolis Montréal International Literary Festival (www.bleumetropolis.org) presents more than 200 writers for readings and discussions in English, French, and other languages.
Blue Met (Metropolis Bleu) Festival. Taking place in late April/early May, this multicultural literary festival presents more than 200 reading, writing, and discussion workshops in English, French, Spanish, Portugese, and other languages. Montréal, Québec. 514/932–1112; bluemetropolis.org.
Fringe Festival. Open to playwrights, acting troupes, dancers, comics, and musicians, the Fringe Festival, during the first three weeks of June, is run on a lottery system to determine which performers get on stage. 514/849–3378; www.montrealfringe.ca.
Les FrancoFolies de Montréal. Such major Quebecois stars as Isabelle Boulay, Les soeurs Boulay, Coeur de Pirate, Paul Piché, and Nicola Ciccone play to packed concert halls, while lesser-known artists play free outdoor concerts during this mid-June festival celebrating the art of French songwriting. More than 1,000 musicians, many from France, Belgium, Senegal, and Haiti, perform rock, hip-hop, jazz, funk, and Latin. 514/876–8989; 855/372–6267; www.francofolies.com.
Mondiale de la Bière. In Montréal, for five days every June, this beer festival transforms the exhibition hall of Palais de Congrès into a giant indoor beer garden serving some 600 ales, lagers, and ciders from nearly 100 microbreweries from Québec and around the world. Admission is free, tasting coupons are $1 each. 514/722–9640; www.festivalmondialbiere.qc.ca.
Festival d'Été de Québec. This exuberant 11-day music extravaganza in Québec City features rock, folk, hip-hop, and world-beat music. The main concerts rock nightly with 10 indoor and outdoor stages in early July in or near Old Québec, including one on the Plains of Abraham. 418/529–5200; 888/992–5200; www.infofestival.com.
Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. This major event attracts more than 1,000 musicians for more than 400 concerts held over a period of nearly two weeks from the end of June through the beginning of July. Past stars have included B.B. King, Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill, Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, and Canada's most famed singer-pianist, Diana Krall. You can also hear blues, Latin rhythms, gospel, Cajun, and world music. 514/871–1881; 855/299–3378; www.montrealjazzfest.com.
Festival OFF. A sidekick of the Festival d'Été International de Québec, this music event takes to the stage in July at the same time as its big brother. Most of the shows are free and take place in offbeat spaces such as in front of Église St-Jean-Baptiste, Bar Le Sacrilège, and the Musée de l'Amérique Française, just to name a few. 418/529–5200; 888/992–5200; www.quebecoff.org.
Juste pour Rire. Montréal's world-famous comedy festival hosts international comics, in French and English, from the second through third weeks of July. There are tons of shows to watch, from big concert halls to quaint bars. Walk around the Quartier des Spectacles during the festival and giggle your way from one outdoor act to another. The twins parade is not to be missed. 514/845–2322; www.hahaha.com.
L'International des Feux Loto-Québec. Join the thousands heading to Montréal's Jacques Cartier Bridge or the Old Port to watch the free fireworks show most Wednesday and Saturday nights in late June and July. The launch site for this high-in-the-sky show, set off by competing international teams, is La Ronde, on Île Ste-Hélène. 514/397--2000; www.laronde.com/fr/larondefr/linternational-des-feux/accueil.
Festival International des Films du Monde. For several days in Montréal from late August to early September, this festival presents about 400 films from all over the world, including feature films, documentaries, shorts, animation, and student productions. During the festival, Cinema Under the Stars, in the Quartier des Spectacles, screens foreign films outdoors. Go early to grab a seat or bring your own blanket. 514/848–3883; www.ffm-montreal.org.
Fêtes de la Nouvelle France. During this five-day festival, in early to mid-August, Québec City's centuries-old heritage comes alive. The streets of Lower Town are transported back in time, and events range from an old-time farmers' market to games and music—all done in period costume. 418/694–3311; www.nouvellefrance.qc.ca.
St-Jean-sur-Richelieu's Hot-Air Balloon Festival. This colorful airborne event, the largest gathering of hot-air balloons in Canada, takes flight about 25 minutes' drive southeast of Montréal. The balloons are so vivid and plentiful that you can sometimes see them from Downtown. 450/346--6000; www.ballooncanada.com.
Black and Blue Festival. Organized by the Bad Boy Club Montréal, this festival started more than 25 years ago as a gay community fundraiser for AIDS charities. It has grown to be a gay and gay-friendly week (in mid-October) of intense partying, featuring soirées like the Leather Ball, the Military Ball, and the Black and Blue Ball. 514/875–7026; www.bbcm.org.
Festival of Colors. Farmers’ markets, arts-and-crafts fairs, and weekend hikes are part of this festival, which celebrates the fall throughout Québec. If you head to a ski resort you can get a bird’s-eye view of the splendid and vibrant red, orange, and yellow foliage from the chairlifts. Québec.