Do you want a getaway where you can get all of your holiday shopping done in one fell swoop and at a discount to boot? Want to escape the frantic stampedes of Black Friday and, at the other extreme, the sedate, just-add-it-to-your-cart humdrum of online shopping? Then go to Montreal, Quebec, a holiday festive town that you can count on to put you in a joyful mood and to serve you up lots of fun while you shop for your loved ones, especially at its upcoming winter holiday markets that include: The Nutcracker Market, souk @ sat, and Le Grand Marché de Noël de Montréal.
Before we go into these three markets, we must admit that Montreal is a pretty swell town for shopping all year round. From its boutiques in Mile End and along Mont Royal Avenue up on the Plateau to its village of art galleries and gift shops in Old Montreal to its big, shiny “grande dame” department stores and Underground City in the Business District, Montreal is a magnet for shoppers. With the re-opening of Montreal’s many winter holiday markets though, shopping here becomes every shopper’s sweet dream come true.
If everyday shopping in Montreal is special for the variety of high-quality goods and exemplary personal service that you can routinely get, the holiday markets are extra special for their unique, locally made goods that are sold directly by the artists and artisans who created them.
You can, for example, buy some wonderful jewelry and pottery at these markets (for gifts, remember, for gifts!) from the potters and jewelry makers who lovingly crafted them by hand, giving you a nice chance to gain insight into the care, skill, and hard work they put into creating such beautiful goods. If you can’t remember the last time that you spoke with the person who made something that you purchased, then that’s just another big reason to visit these holiday markets. We provide some highlights of them below:
The Nutcracker Market (Nov. 30th – Dec. 10th) – A Land of Sweets Like in the Ballet
The Nutcracker Market is a land of sweets, sweet things, and the sweet! It takes place on the ground floor of the Palais des Congrès de Montréal, a convention center in the Quartier International, whose bright, multi-colored façade of glass panels makes for luscious eye candy that jubilantly reflects the holiday treats that this market offers you inside. Nearly 100 merchants set up shop here for just 11 days.
You can load up your sleigh at this market with oodles upon oodles of delectable, ungodly good goodies like boxes and boxes of party-colored, delicious macarons and lickable lollipops you’ll be lickin’ all day long (for shopping energy!), gourmet chocolates, nougat, handmade candies with exotic flavors and quirky styles like the “sushi kit,” decadent caramel butter, jammin’ fruit jams, salad dressings and barbecue sauces made with Canadian maple syrup, and sweet libations such as Cassis and maple syrup liqueurs.
The Sweet Things
There are plenty of sweet things to add to your sleigh as well such as beautiful, golden Baltic Sea amber jewelry and handmade pottery, including really nice coffee cups and complete sets of dishware too. You’ll also find cool and clever toys for children, scented candles, and perfumes and cosmetics, stylish clothing, pocketbooks, and even ballet apparel and other special dance-related products offered by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, which sponsors the Nutcracker Market.
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, an international dance company formed in Montreal in 1952, created the Nutcracker Market and the related Nutcracker Fund for Children in 2010 to raise money for the benefit of local children who have been stricken with illness or otherwise disadvantaged. Les Grand Ballets has been hosting the market for eight years running now, building upon its tradition of helping children in need and continuing to add a charitable dimension to its motto “Move the world. Differently.” Last year, the Nutcracker Market drew about 75,000 visitors, raising tens of thousands of dollars for its charity.
The vendors generously contribute 10% of their proceeds from the sale of their goods at this market to the Nutcracker Fund for Children.
Shoppers who buy gifts at the Nutcracker Market are also giving to children in need through the Nutcracker Fund, including providing them with a chance to attend a performance of the Nutcracker Ballet by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal.
Admission to the market is free. The Nutcracker Market is located in the Palais des Congrès de Montréal at 1001 place Jean-Paul-Riopelle, and starts at 11 a.m. each day it is open.
Souk @ Sat (Nov. 29th – Dec. 3th) – Like A Bazaar in North Africa, Sans Snake Charmers
A “souk,” if you haven’t already guessed, is a market such as a Moroccan bazaar where you never quite know what unique and exotic treasures you might find, but are at least certain that you absolutely must have a look. And “sat” is the Society for Arts and Technology, which is an internationally recognized non-profit organization founded to promote the digital and media arts. So souk @ sat then is a holiday bazaar where about 60 – 70 Montreal artists and designers take over the first two floors of the SAT center (putting high technology briefly on pause) to hawk innovative, one-of-a-kind arts and crafts that they created.
A Chance to Meet Montreal’s Newest Artists
One of our favorite markets, the exciting souk @ sat gives you an evanescent chance to meet some of Montreal’s newest artists and buy their creations all in one stop. It’s set in an industrial, loft like space where many of the goods are displayed on long, low tables that beckon you to crouch down to touch and feel before you buy – just like you might do with a Marrakech street vendor’s wares. (There’s something about squatting on the ground with a vendor that just says “let’s make a deal.”)
A Range of Innovative Goods from Utilitarian to Très Chic
While souk @ sat is a lot more refined than a Marrakech market, another of its strong parallels is that it’s a place where you never know what you’ll find since what’s on offer in any given year depends entirely upon what a new group of artists has created. You’re sure to discover a range of interesting goods from utilitarian yet stylish things like doormats with designs to high fashion dresses and chic jewelry. One year there was even a neat type of laundry bag for sale that you could stand up in a closet, fill, and then convert into a backpack for carrying to the laundromat. We’ve also seen wonderfully woven wool blankets and sweaters here that were beautiful, warm, and comfortable.
You can spend a lot of time shopping this market, especially since there is a very good restaurant on the second floor where you can refuel between shopping sprints.
Soon to be in its fourteenth year of operation (“take 14” in media terms), souk @ sat is located at 1201 Blvd. Saint-Laurent in the Quartier des Spectacles. It starts at noon on each of the five days that it is open to the general public, and admission is free.
Le Grand Marché de Noël de Montréal (Dec. 1st – Dec. 24th*) – An Xmas Market with A Jolly Village!
What’s grand about Montreal’s Grand Christmas Market? Well, for starters, about 60 festively decorated wooden houses with vendors offering all kinds of holiday favors will merrily line Saint Catherine Street between Jeanne-Mance and Saint-Urbain streets, which will be pedestrianized for this event, in front of the Complexe Desjardins. Saint Catherine Street, or St. Cath as it’s affectionately known, is one of Montreal’s main shopping arteries so the addition of the Grand Christmas Market effectively puts one grand market within another, thereby nicely aggrandizing (pun intended) your holiday shopping fun indeed. Chances are that if you’re in Montreal for the winter holidays, you’ll be shopping on St. Cath anyway so visiting this market should be as effortless as sledding downhill.
But if you do have any trouble spotting it, just look for its grand Christmas tree, which rivals the one in New York City’s Rockefeller Center.
Edible Gifts You’ll Be Tempted to Eat Instead of Give
Ice wine, foie gras, glow in the dark cotton candy, and candied fruits anyone? You can get lots of tasty and tasteful treats such as these here. (Now that’s livin’ la dolce vita!) If the GLOW MTL cotton candy doesn’t light up your soul for the holidays though, there are plenty of other things that will like body butter, lip balm, beautiful bijoux (both modern and vintage jewelry), brownies, books, bags, and even shortbread on sticks. There’s also warm clothing to be had, including plush scarves, wool socks, winter caps and hats, and holiday slippers.
Plenty of Food to Eat as You Shop (So That You Don’t Drop)
Another great thing about this market is that you don’t have to starve while you’re buying edible gifts for others since you can stuff yourself along the way with good food and spirits at the many stands, kiosks, bars, coffee shops, and wine bars that will be offering gourmet and traditional holiday treats. The old adage “shop till you drop” just doesn’t apply here because there are so many places where you can get a quick, revivifying pick-me-up of one delicious kind or another. (And the more food you eat along the way, the less you’ll be tempted to eat those edible gifts, theoretically speaking.)
A Jolly Christmas Village Where You’ll Find the Spirit of Christmas
Possibly the grandest thing about Montreal’s Grand Christmas Market though is that it brings the spirit of the holidays and winter traditions to downtown Montreal with a Christmas village set up on the L’esplanade de la Place des Arts, complete with Santa’s workshop and an enchanted forest. In the Christmas village, you can attend cookie workshops, ride on a carousel, listen to storytelling, and even get in on some Christmas Karaoke. It’s a great place for family fun and a nice break from all of the shopping.
*The Grand Christmas Market runs from December 1st to December 24th but closes December 4 – 6 and December 11-13.
A Few Sweet Tips for Your Holiday Shopping Trip
Where the Discounts Are
Since major currencies like the U.S. dollar and the Euro are strong against the Canadian dollar, you can effectively get a discount on almost everything you purchase in Canada. For example, something that costs CA $100 only costs about US $78 when the purchase is adjusted for currency conversion. If you buy with a credit card that forgives currency conversion fees, you get to keep more of the discount.
Tourisme Montréal offers a “Fall Sweet Deal” that enables you to get as much as 50% off your second night’s stay at participating Montreal hotels as well as a booklet of coupons with special offers from local stores and from popular tourism sites. Furthermore, some hotels have partnerships with local businesses that enable their guests to get discounts off merchandise and services so be sure and inquire about this at the one you choose.
Some vendors in the markets will charge you a bit less if you pay in cash.
Airfare to Montreal Is Cheap
Flying to Montreal from any of the East Coast states in the U.S. is pretty cheap. Recently, we saw nonstop fares on American Airlines from New York to Montreal for around $200 round trip on CheapOair.
Book Your Hotel Room Early
Montreal has plenty of hotel rooms at a range of different price points, but the best deals get booked pretty quickly around the holidays so don’t delay booking your stay.
What to Bring
Finally, bring a big, cozy sleigh (wink).
Have you ever visited any of the many holiday markets in Montreal? If so, let us know what kinds of sweet things you picked up. If not, will you be planning a trip this year?