Traveling north at this time of year may seem counterintuitive, but not for those craving a big, Parisian-style festival in a French-speaking city. Hop on a two-hour flight to Montreal and find just that at the 15th annual Montréal en Lumière, happening February 20 to March 2.

The 11-day winter fest is one of Canada’s biggest, occupying the streets of downtown Montreal on the Place des Festivals. Some 900,000 festival goers come out to enjoy the huge program of events, which are mostly free. Start at the Nucléus of lighted lasers, walk the re-created backyard of a Montreal apartment strewn with laundry, and huddle around blazing braziers to roast sausages. Beginning February 22, warm up with seven different kinds of free soup ladled out by local celeb chefs Patrick Bermand, Sébastien Houle, and others. At night, step into the vidéomaton to project the giant image of your face onto nearby buildings before taking a ride on the neon-illuminated ice slide or the Air France Ferris Wheel.

Concerts happen nightly both inside and outdoors and will feature high-profile artists such as rocker Louis-Jean Cormier (February 20) and soprano Barbara Hendricks (February 21). DJ sets follow outside at the RBC stage after 9 p.m. The full schedule of events for Nuit Blanche, an all-night finale delivering free access to 180 sites, will be announced today; but visitors can definitely look forward to late-night flashlight tours of the city’s museums and a classical concert at beautiful Bourgie Hall.

For a quick look at Montréal en Lumière, check out this movie.

Where to stay: Keep the culture immersion going at the 133-room Le Place d’Armes (from $169; get 50 percent off the second night with this deal). Spanning three 19th-century buildings in Old Montreal, the hotel also houses more than 25 varieties of sake at its Kyo Bar Japonais, opened in June.

Where to eat: Find more Montreal dining picks in Chicago magazine’s “Five Great Food Vacations for Chicagoans with an Appetite.”

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