Montréal Holiday Lights Circuit
Come December, out come festive garlands, Santa, the elves, and illuminated art installations! It’s time to do the rounds and soak up all this holiday cheer.
Since outdoor guided tours including our Christmas Secret of Old Montréal tour are currently forbidden, here are some suggestions for where to take advantage of some holiday magic in Montréal. The three must-see neighbourhoods? Old Montréal, the Quartier des spectacles, and downtown. We also suggest our Christmas Secrets of Old Montréal private walking tour from December 17, 2020 to January, 2021.
If you are going by car, you should know that street parking is free in the Ville-Marie borough every weeknight from 6p.m., and all weekend long, until December 31st.
Now, grab your tuque and your mitts and go!
We suggest you start in Old Montréal, a neighbourhood that fully understands the value of a lighting plan. For over 20 years, building owners in the historic district have been encouraged to light up their facades. This accentuates architectural elements and makes the area even more welcoming after nightfall.
The “lights circuit” exists year-round. It’s even indicated in yellow on the map provided by the SDC Vieux-Montréal, the local merchants’ association. You can download the electronic version of the map here.
From November, winter lights are added. This year marks the end of a three-year project aiming to update all the outdoor lighting in the district.
From Place d’Armes to Place Royale
New from this year, the stars at Place d’Armes will no doubt dazzle you. They change colour continuously, providing an endless array of photographic opportunities.
In the background, we can admire the lighting of the square’s buildings, notably the Bank of Montréal and Notre-Dame Basilica. The blue of the tower windows and the arched entrance brings to mind the striking blue of the interior vault. All told, 150 LEDs are used to light up the church.
From there, we suggest you go to Pointe-à-Callière, birthplace of Ville-Marie, to admire the decorations on Place Royale. Some will say it looks like the tree of Gondor of Lord of the Rings fame, but you have to agree it makes an impact.
From here you will also be able to better appreciate the top of the Aldred. The long lines of this Art Deco style building are beautifully highlighted by beams of light, such that you may be reminded of another very famous building in the same style, located in New York.
From Saint-Paul Street to Place Jacques-Cartier
Go back to Saint-Paul Street and head eastward while admiring the lights suspended overhead, and the shop windows. In fact, the merchants’ association, in collaboration with CBC, invite you to participate in a contest to determine the prettiest holiday window displays and decorations (in French only).
Once you’ve crossed Saint-Laurent, be sure to take in the new sidewalks and cobblestone. After two years of hard work, it’s definitely something to celebrate! And why not take the little detour through Saint-Amable alley before popping out onto Place Jacques-Cartier. Here you’ll find more lights.
If you happen to wait until December 17th, Place Jacques-Cartier will then be decked out with even more street furniture and temporary works of art, courtesy of Merry Montréal.
Finally, go see the front of Bonsecours Market and Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Chapel before making your way back up to Notre-Dame Street.
For those of you who have had enough, you can do one last stop at Place Vauquelin before heading back towards Place d’Armes. Here you’ll see more decorations, and there’s also a view onto the city skyline.
The Church Steeple at the CHUM
For those who want more, once you get to Notre-Dame, simply go down the other side by following Bonsecours Street, which turns into Saint-Denis Street. Stop once you get to the corner of Viger. Here you will find the steeple of the old Saint-Sauveur church, which is now part of the CHUM.
Gingerbread cookies are king here! According to TKNL, creators of the show, you can see the projections on the steeple until December 20th, from 5 to 10p.m.
Gingerbread cookies – made by Ricardo – were at the heart of last year’s fundraiser for the CHUM Foundation. This year, because of the pandemic, you can buy a virtual cookie at a cost of $10, which gives you access to the projections (also virtually). But why not bring your own gingerbread cookies, see the projections in person and still make a donation?
Quartier des spectacles & Luminothérapie
It’s easy to spend a good hour visiting the Quartier des spectacles. You can appreciate the fairly interactive Luminothérapie installations all while keeping a safe distance from others. Until March 14th, come rediscover five installations from years past.
If you happen to be there for 6p.m., for a few minutes you will feel the “beating heart” of the Quartier des spectacles. This is a show of support for the cultural sector, greatly affected during the pandemic lockdowns.
On Sainte-Catherine just west of Saint-Laurent, you will find the first of five stops on the Luminothérapie circuit, called Spectrum. Speak, sing, shout into the little microphone and watch the rings of light react. Have fun with it!
As you continue along Sainte-Catherine towards Place des Arts, you will stumble across an Iceberg. Walk through the interior of the work while paying special attention to the sounds. Those are the drops of water echoing as they fall through crevasses and fissures.
Still further ahead on Sainte-Catherine, you’ll see Nouvelle Lune. These giant puff balls start out as opaque but then light up, revealing their secrets. Images appear, inspired by the neighbourhood. One almost wants to enter the bubble, just to join the party for a song or two.
Once you get to the Esplanade at Place des Arts, you’ll see the Winter Gardens with its vintage HOHOHO Winnebago. This is in place for the holidays, along with a tree and a small Christmas village. Take advantage of the picnic tables to sip on a hot drink or have a snack.
Right next to this you will find the fourth Luminothérapie installation: Entre les rangs (literally “between country roads”). This is an ode to our farmers. Twenty-eight thousand stems topped with white reflectors sway in the wind, reminding us that wheat fields are an essential part of Québec. It’s also fertile ground for selfies. To your cameras, smile… click!
Twelve giant zoetropes are ready to be activated. Once you’ve got the heart pumping, illustrations from local artists will cycle through, telling a story inspired by works of Québec literature. In the background, Index is projected onto UQÀM’s President-Kennedy pavilion.
Still want more? Montréal centre-ville, the downtown merchants’ association, has put on many activities and a contest for the holiday season. Some of these are perhaps more fun to do during the day, like Rudolph’s Mission (for adults) and the Journey of the Mischievous Elves (for kids of all ages). These are two “rallye” style circuits that will have you walking through the streets of downtown, looking for clues in shop windows and elsewhere.
But if you simply keep walking west on Sainte-Catherine, eventually you will see the decorations put up by XP_MTL, between Robert-Bourassa and de la Montagne, including the spectacular nutcrackers and the giant tree. Climb the steps to the top of the tree for a great view overlooking Sainte-Catherine Street.
At the corner of Peel, walk a few steps to the south to square Dorchester and take in the lamppost decorations. Represented are the bear, the turtle and the wolf, the three clans of the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) Nation.
This project is a collaboration with the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake and the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Centre, making the complementary online information particularly well presented. You will not only learn about clans, but also about the archeological digs that have taken place along Peel Street.
The old Ogilvy window
Finally, especially if you are accompanied by little ones or nostalgic types, the pilgrimage to the old Ogilvy window may be necessary. The Mill in the Forest mechanical display is located at the corner of Victoria and Sherbrooke Streets.
First installed in the windows of the iconic Sainte-Catherine Street store in 1947, the displays have fascinated kids for nearly 75 years already. Luckily for all Montrealers, the McCord Museum has agreed to preserve both displays, one inside the museum and one outside.
Montréal Lights Up
As you can see, there are more activities, contests, selfie opportunities, and illuminated installations than you can shake a stick at. Whether it’s Old Montréal, Quartier des spectacles or the downtown core, there’s something for everyone. All that’s missing is you!
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Stars : © Bonnallie Brodeur for SDC Vieux-Montréal
Place Royale : © SDC Vieux-Montréal
Bonsecours Market : © Geneviève Giguère for SDC Vieux-Montréal
Sainte-Catherine Christmas tree : © Philippe Nguyen for XP_MTL