Year-round, it's nearly impossible to miss a celebration of some sort in Montréal and Québec City. For an exhaustive list of events beyond those listed here, check http://events.frommers.com, where you'll find a searchable, up-to-the-minute roster of what's happening in cities all over the world.
La Fête des Neiges (the Snow Festival), Montréal. Montréal's answer to Québec City's February winter Carnaval features dog-sled runs, a mock survival camp, street hockey, and tobogganing. It's held during the last 2 weekends in January and the beginning of February. Visit www.parcjeandrapeau.com and search for "Fête des Neiges" or call tel. 514/872-6120. January 21 to February 5, 2012.
Festival Montréal en Lumière (Montréal High Lights Festival). At the heart of this winter celebration are culinary competitions and wine tastings. There are also multimedia light shows, classical and pop concerts, and the Montréal All-Nighter that ends with a free breakfast at dawn. Call tel. 888/477-9955 or 514/288-9955, or visit www.montrealhighlights.com, for details. February 16 to 26, 2012.
Bal en Blanc Party Week, Montréal. Drawing crowds of an estimated 15,000 people, this 5-day rave/dance party is one of the biggest such events in the world. Last year's "White Party Week" was the 16th annual affair and featured house and trance D.J. events at Palais des Congrès and clubs such as Parking. Visit www.balenblanc.com. Early or mid-April, over Easter weekend.
Montréal Museums Day. This event is an open house for most of the city's museums, with free admission and free shuttle buses. Visit www.museesmontreal.org or call the tourism office (tel. 877/266-5687 or 514/873-2015) for details. Last Sunday in May.
Montréal Bike Fest. For 8 days, tens of thousands of enthusiasts converge on Montréal to participate in cycling competitions that include a nocturnal bike ride (Tour la Nuit) and the grueling Tour de l'Île, a 52km (32-mile) race around the island's rim; it draws 30,000 cyclists, shuts down roads, and attracts more than 100,000 spectators. The nonprofit biking organization Vélo Québec (tel. 800/567-8356 or 514/521-8356) lists details at www.velo.qc.ca. Late May into early June.
Les FrancoFolies de Montréal. Since 1988, this music fest has featured French-language pop, hip-hop, electronic, world beat, and chanson. There are 70 indoor shows and twice as many that are outdoors and free. Call tel. 888/444-9114 or 514/876-8989, or check www.francofolies.com. June 8 to 16, 2012.
Mondial de la Bière, Montréal. Yes, beer fans, this is a 5-day festival devoted to your favorite beverage. Admission is free, and tasting coupons are C$1 each, with most tastings costing one to five coupons for 3-ounce samples. Showcased are world brands and boutique microbreweries, and "courses" lead to a "Diploma in Beer Tasting." For details, call tel. 514/722-9640 or check www.festivalmondialbiere.qc.ca. Early June.
Saint-Ambroise Montréal Fringe Festival. For a long time, the main graphic at this event's website was a hand raising its middle finger. That gives you an idea of the attitude behind the Plateau Mont-Royal fest. It's 10 days of out-there theater with acts such as a one-man Star Wars stand-up, clowns gone bad, and drunken drag queens. The festival proclaims that there's "No Artistic Direction. Artists are selected by lottery. . . . No Censorship. Artists have complete freedom to present ANYTHING." Vive le fringe! Call tel. 514/849-3378 or check www.montrealfringe.ca. Mid-June.
Jean-Baptiste Day. Honoring St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of French-Canadians, this day is marked by far more festivities and enthusiasm throughout Québec than is Canada Day on July 1. It's Québec's own fête nationale with fireworks, bonfires, music in parks, and parades. Call tel. 514/527-9891 or visit www.fetenationale.qc.ca for details. June 24.
L'International des Feux Loto-Québec (International Fireworks Competition), Montréal. Pitting the fireworks displays of different countries against each other, this annual competition is a spectacular event. Buy tickets to watch from the open-air theater in La Ronde amusement park on Île Ste-Hélène, or enjoy the pyrotechnics for free from almost anywhere overlooking the river (tickets have the added benefit of admission to the amusement park). Insider tip: The Jacques Cartier bridge closes to traffic during the fireworks and offers an unblocked, up-close view. Kids, needless to say, love the whole explosive business. Call tel. 514/397-2000 or go to www.internationaldesfeuxloto-quebec.com for details. In 2011, the country-themed program was held on Wednesdays and Saturdays from late June to the end of July. Check for 2012 dates.
Canada Day. On July 1, 1867, three British colonies joined together to form the federation of Canada, with further independence from Britain coming in stages in the 1880s. Celebrations of Canada's birthday are biggest in Ottawa, though there are concerts, flag raisings, and family festivities in Montréal and Québec City. July 1.
Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Since Montréal has a long tradition in jazz, this is one of the monster events on the city's calendar, celebrating America's art form since 1979. The 2011 edition featured performances by guitarist Paco de Lucia, Best New Artist Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding, k. d. lang, Robert Plant, the B-52s, Sade, Prince, Diana Krall, Chick Corea, Youssou N'Dour, and hundreds more. It costs serious money to hear stars of such magnitude, and tickets often sell out months in advance. Fortunately, 450 free outdoor performances also take place during the late-June/early July party, many right on downtown's streets and plazas. Call tel. 888/515-0515 or 514/523-3378, or visit www.montrealjazzfest.com. The 33rd edition of the festival will be held from June 28 to July 7, 2012.
Festival Juste pour Rire (Just for Laughs Festival), Montréal. Well-known comics including Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, and John Cleese have been featured, while smaller-name Francophone and Anglophone groups and stand-ups from around the world come to perform. It's held mostly along rue St-Denis and elsewhere in the Latin Quarter, both indoors and on the street. Call tel. 888/244-3155 or 514/845-2322, or check www.hahaha.com, for details. Held July 5 to 24 in 2011; check for 2012 dates.
Divers/Cité Festival, Montréal. In partnership with government agencies and sponsored by major corporations, Divers/Cité is one of North America's largest parties for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. It's 6 days of dance, drag, art, and music concerts, and nearly everything is outdoors and free. For details, call tel. 514/285-4011 or visit www.diverscite.org. Late July.
Festival International de Courses de Bateaux-Dragons de Montréal. The annual dragon boat festival welcomes some 200 teams that pour into the Olympic Basin on Île Notre-Dame. In addition to races, there are drawing contests for children and opportunities to try paddling on the ancient Chinese crafts. Details are at www.montrealdragonboat.com. Three days in late July.
Festival des Films du Monde (World Film Festival), Montréal. This festival has been an international film event since 1977. A strong panel of actors, directors, and writers from around the world make up the jury each year, giving the event a weight that many festivals lack. Various movie theaters play host. Call tel. 514/848-3883 or check www.ffm-montreal.org for details. Late August to early September.
La Fête des Vendanges. This event gives attendees a chance to discover the scenic wine country and charming streets of Magog and Orford in the Eastern Townships. During the grape harvest season, visitors can partake in dinner cruises along Lac Memphrémagog, street festivals, and restaurant events that bring together chefs and wine producers for special dinner collaborations. Last year's dates were September 3, 4, 5, 10, and 11. Visit www.fetedesvendanges.com for updates.
Fall Foliage. Starting midmonth, the maple trees blaze with color, and a walk in the parks of Montréal and Québec City is a refreshing tonic. It's also a perfect time to drive to the Laurentians or Cantons-de-L'Est (both near Montréal) or Île d'Orléans or Charlevoix (both easy drives from Québec City).
Black & Blue Festival, Montréal. One of the biggest gay events on the planet, this party was, a few years ago, named the best international fest by France's Pink TV Awards, beating out even Carnival in Rio. And when we say big, we mean big: The main event is an all-night party at Olympic Stadium. There's also a Jock Ball, a Leather Ball, and a Military Ball. Call tel. 514/875-7026 or visit www.bbcm.org. Seven days in mid-October.
Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, Montréal. Screenings of new and experimental films ignite controversy, and forums discuss the latest trends in cinema and video. Events take place at halls and cinemas throughout the city. Call tel. 514/282-0004 or check www.nouveaucinema.ca. Twelve days in mid-October.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.