Montreal really comes to life in the summer. Our winters are colder than most, so when temperatures rise and the sun returns to stay, we celebrate. The streets bustle with makeshift roadside terrasses, and every green space from Dorval in the West Island to the northerly suburb of Laval becomes a picnicking hotspot. Whether your ideal family vacation involves getting back to nature or soaking up history and culture, summer in Montreal is sure to deliver.
1. Get festive
This year’s Folk Fest on the Canal will be held at the Centennial Esplanade on the Lachine Canal from June 14–17, 2018. It’s very much a family event: think teens lounging on camp chairs and toddlers boogieing beside the main stage. Children’s entertainment goes beyond music and includes face painting, bouncy castles, and a crafts table. There’s also a fleet of food trucks serving picky-eater-approved offerings, like Nutella-slathered crepes and artisanal grilled cheese.
If your family getaway falls later on the calendar, check out July’s Montreal Cirque Festival, a celebration of circus arts. In August, opt for a day trip to the International Balloon Festival of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu – it’s about an hour’s drive from the Hampton Inn and Suites Montreal Dorval, where you can enjoy free parking.
2. Celebrate an icon
Billing itself as the world’s largest permanent Barbie doll exhibit, Barbie Expo is a free museum housed in Les Cours Mont-Royal, a shopping center in Montreal’s Golden Square Mile. The collection includes Harley Davidson-riding biker Barbies and painstakingly recreated characters from film franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Hunger Games.
3. Bug out
If Montreal’s Botanical Garden is at the top of your family vacation hit list, set aside some time for a pit-stop at the Insectarium. The admission fee for one spot includes access to the other, although the two attractions are separated by a 15-minute walk. Set over two stories, the Insectarium’s colorful array of live and preserved creepy-crawlies is stimulating rather than scary. Displays include plenty of fun facts to file away for future science reports.
4. Go back in time
On the edge of Old Town, near the St. Lawrence waterfront, Pointe-à-Callière is a modern tribute to Montreal’s historic past. Open since 1992, the sleek museum doesn’t quite blend in with the cobbled streets and rough stonework of the surrounding area – but this is where it all began. Pointe-à-Callière is built on the ruins of Fort Ville-Marie, a 17th-century fortress at the heart of the settlement that would become Montreal. 375 years of the city’s history are recounted in kid-friendly exhibitions, including a swashbuckling tribute to 18th-century French privateers.
5. Zip it
According to local legend, the silver dome of Bonsecours Market – just opposite Montreal’s Old Port – was built to impress out-of-towners arriving by boat. Today, MTL Zipline offers a bird’s eye view of this iconic rooftop and the bustling quays below it. A brief, mandatory safety session should put any last-minute nerves at ease. Since you’re strapped into a harness, thrillseeking kiddos can even go hands-free as they fly over the water.
6. Hit the deck
As an island city, Montreal offers a wide array of water sports in Parc Jean-Drapeau, on the Lachine Canal, and around the Old Port – but pedal boating remains a firm family favorite. These easy-to-manoeuver watercraft can fit two adults and two children at once. For the prettiest views, head to the Bonsecours Basin at the Old Port. Pedal boat rentals may be subject to good weather, so if you want to cover your bases for an aquatic adventure, stay somewhere with an indoor pool (like the Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Airport).
7. Overcome obstacles
No summer getaway is complete without a day on the water. Head to Jean–Doré Beach in Parc Jean-Drapeau, where you can collaborate on sand castles or catch up on your summer reading. Aspiring American Ninja Warrior champs should swim out to Aquazilla, an inflatable obstacle course complete with climbing “walls.” Though challenging, Aquazilla is appropriate for kids as young as six – life jackets are provided (and mandatory). Arrive early to beat the crowds.
No matter what adventure your family chooses, there’s a Hilton hotel nearby. The Hilton Montreal/Laval and the DoubleTree by Hilton Montreal Airport both offer easy access to the city center – and free parking when you’re ready to escape it.