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What to see and do in Montreal over the holiday season



Most of Montreal's major attractions offer special holiday programming and events. We've tracked down some of the more interesting venues to help you and your family and friends enjoy the holiday season in Montreal. Since the holiday season includes time off school, many of the attractions listed here offer free or reduced admission for kids too. Special holiday programs are suited to all family members and include such diverse activities as watching the animals at the Montreal Biosphere open their gifts, a look at first Canadian artifacts at the Mc Cord Museum and free entry to the Stewart Museum's Santa show.

Christmas concerts abound at such important Montreal venues as the Notre Dame Basilica. Since Montreal is the city of festivals, you're sure to find evening entertainment in Montreal's large music halls in the downtown core. While visiting Saint Joseph's Oratory on Mount Royal, take advantage of the skiing and skating opportunities there too. For more seasonal outdoor activities, be sure and visit Montreal parks such as Parc-nature de l'Ile -de- la-Visitation on the northern edge of the city where you can skate, ski and sled - all accessible by public transportation. Equipment rentals are available at select locations throughout the holiday season.


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Montreal's Biodome is the only one of its kind in the world with over 4,500 animals from 250 different species and 500 plant species, all under one roof. The Biodome features four distinct ecosystems recreated in the former 1976 Olympic Games Velodrome. The museum was created to showcase the four most beautiful habitats found in North, Central and South America. Mammals, birds and plant life thrive in mini-habitats so that visitors, especially children, will enjoy all four environments. A favorite activity with adults and children alike centers on the penguin feeding times. Day camps for children aged seven to 14 are particularly popular.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: Popular holiday shows include a giant puppet show/musical featuring new tropical animals and "Christmas for the Animals" where animal residents "unwrap" their gifts.

Sherel's expert tip: Purchase a Nature Package for entrance into the Biodome, the Botanical Garden and the Insectarium for big savings.

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This nature park is also historically significant. Located along the riviere des Prairies, at the very heart of the history of Sault-au-Recollet, the park offers historical elements, such as the site des Moulins ruins, the maison du Pressoir and the maison du Meunier. During winter holidays, make the most of the toboggan hill and the marked hiking or cross-country ski trails. While picnicking, hiking or bike riding, discover the overflow dam waterfall of the Riviere-des-Prairies electric power station. Above all, don't forget your binoculars which you can use to observe the shore birds, among others. Fishing buffs can enjoy their favourite sport in the specially designated areas.

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A 15-acre swath of the Montreal Botanical Gardens incorporates Japanese themes including cherry blossoms, koi ponds and zen gardens. A visit to the Japanese Garden requires an open mind and spirit. Visitors should go right to its heart; to meditate, to collect their thoughts, to feel and touch the beauty of the stone, water, plants and various architectural elements which make up the garden. It is a place where the slow-moving carp or "Koi" float in the shade of broad-leaved water lilies as if contemplating the sun's reflection or the rain on the multicoloured stones or even, as if they were listening to the gurgling waters, laughing as they spill over artfully arranged cascades. Early-risers may surprise great blue Heron as well as red-winged blackbirds and other fine feathered friends at their morning preparations.

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L'Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal
Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Canadian Tourism Commission. Photo by Pierre St-Jacques

Built in 1904, this is one of the world's most popular Catholic shrines. The Renaissance-style dome was the world's largest when completed in 1955. The shrine now holds a museum, a tomb, monuments, a 56-bell carillon and Stations of the Cross in a sculpture garden. Features summer organ recitals on Wednesday evenings.Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal is one of the world's most visited centres of pilgrimage and underlines the significance that religion has played in the establishment of Montreal. Its founder, Saint Brother Andr�, started its construction in 1904. The massive complex includes a stately building whose dome reaches 97 metres (second only in height to Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome), a small original chapel, a votive chapel, a crypt church, a basilica that can accommodate over 2,200 people, and well-tended, colourful, diverse gardens.

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This nature preserve in the northwestern section of the Island of Montreal offers visitors a peaceful look at local plants and wildlife. The parc-nature du Bois-de-Liesse, with its majestic hardwood forest, is a unique conservation park in an urban landscape. Its diverse ecosystem is home to a number of plants and animals that you can observe, including the American beaver, the map turtle and the flowering rush.In the park, the cardinal, chickadee , nuthatch and the Dark-eyed Juncos are also present in winter. Visitors will have ample opportunities to observe wood ducks floundering in Bertrand Creek and on weekdays you may have this paradise to yourself.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: Winter holiday activities in the park include skiing, sledding and skating.

Sherel's expert tip: Try to visit during the week for more private time.

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The McCord Museum houses historic artifacts and visual art from the 18th and 19th centuries. Fun exhibitions like the toy collection allow older visitors to revisit their favorites from childhood while younger visitors can enjoy special school holiday camps. Evening art and cultural based activities add to the appeal of this original teaching museum that offers an impressive online collection. The museum provides much information dealing with the art, culture and history of Native Canadians. Visitors can view native furs, carvings, embroidery, beadwork and 10,000 costumes. Also on display are the Notman Archives, a photography collection containing over 700,000 prints.

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Housed in the cultural complex, Montreal's Place des Arts on Sainte-Catherine St West downtown, the museum is home to both permanent and traveling contemporary art exhibitions, with a strong focus on Quebec art post 1940's. The permanent collection contains more than 7,000 pieces, including the largest collection of art by Quebec artist, Paul-Emile Borduas. Holiday programming:La Biennale de Montréal The museum seeks to connect visitors to Quebec, Canadian and international contemporary art by showcasing performance art, new dance, experimental theatre, contemporary music, video and film along with painting and sculpture and an extensive contemporary art library. The Montreal Museums card is accepted here and the chic cafe is well worth a visit too.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: Outside the Museum at the Quartier des Spectacles,check out the free, annual multimedia holiday show, Luminothérapie featuring sound and video projections and seesaws!

Sherel's expert tip: Admission is half price on Wednesday evenings from 5 pm until 9 pm but it's closed Mondays.

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Stewart Museum

Annual Holiday programming at the Stewart Museum includes a Christmas bell workshop, a display of handmade Santa dolls, part of the "Santas Are Taking Over the Stewart Museum" (free admission for those under 12) and especially for the children, animated films and scavenger hunts. After two and a half years of renovation, the Stewart Museum reopened in June of 2011. The permanent exhibition "History and Memory" features more than 500 items, some of which will be showcased for the first time. Established in 1955, the Stewart Museum is located on Ile Ste. Helene in Jean-Drapeau Park inside a Fortified British Arsenal completed over several years from 1824-1870.

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The Musee des Beaux-Arts, founded in 1860, is Canada's oldest museum and boasts some of the finest paintings in the country. Among its permanent holdings are artworks from Canadian artists and those created by European masters. The museum also features native Canadian artifacts and a collection of period furnishings, along with drawings, engravings, silverware and works of art from ancient Asia, Egypt, Greece and South America. More contemporary exhibitions include an examination of Andy Warhol's advertising, the images of local photographers as well as a look at art as a means to social and environmental change. An on-site restaurant offers light fare.

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Basilique Notre-Dame
Photo courtesy of Paul Shio

Built in 1829, the neo-Gothic Basilique Notre-Dame is built in the scale and manner of Europe's great churches. It's said that the protestant architect James O'Donnell, who designed the basilica, was so taken with the project that he converted to Catholicism. Fine woodwork, rose ceiling windows, blue vaulted ceilings and a massive church bell make this a great place to visit. A small, on-site museum displays various religious artifacts, paintings and vestments.The paintings, sculptures, and stained-glass windows that adorn the structure illustrate biblical passages as well as 350 years of parish history. Catch the Notre-Dame Basilica in the evening, when a sound and light show presents the founding of the city and its basilica.

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Meet Sherel Purcell

Sherel Purcell is a travel writer who specializes in golf, Montreal and Quebec, contemporary art, cycling and food and wine. Her articles appear on USA Today's 10Best, About.com, Aol, Matador,...  More About Sherel

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