Can’t take the kids to Europe? Hop in a car and drive to Montreal, Canada. Try your French, join in the party, eat to your heart’s delight, and experience one of the world’s great cities for kids of all ages.
Montreal has European ambiance but it’s closer, friendlier and more economic. Since Jacques Cartier arrived in 1535, the city’s residents have welcomed guests and entertained them royally. The city is exotic because it is French speaking, but English is widely spoken and “Merci” earns a warm smile.
Getting to Montreal is simple. Take the family car on an easy road trip that is roughly six hours from New York and Boston. There are also good air, rail and bus connections.
Here are our family’s favorite things to do in Montreal with kids:
A CITY OF FESTIVALS
When should you visit? Montreal can be fun at any time. Summer is warm and the entertainment options are limitless, but winter offers skiing, skating, Montreal Canadiens’ hockey and shopping through an Underground City that links most of downtown.
To ensure that you have fun, Montreal has festivals that run throughout the year. The Montreal International Jazz Festival in June is the world’s largest. There are 800 concerts of which two-thirds are free. Children are welcomed at the open air concerts. June also offers the Canadian Grand Prix F1 road race and the French music festival Les Franco Folies de Montreal.
July is for smiles as the Just for Laughs Festival brings 1600 comedy shows, most of which are free. The Montreal World Film Festival in August has films from roughly 70 countries. Kids will also enjoy the Loto-Quebec International Fireworks Competition that decorates the June through August nights with fireworks and music from nine countries. For a full list of the numerous other festivals through the year check out Montreal’s tourism web site: www.tourisme-montreal.org.
WHAT TO SEE WITH THE KIDS
Our girls are best entertained when they participate in activities that are unusual and that spike their curiosity. Start your tour in Old Montreal at Notre Dame Basilica at Place d’Armes. Take a look at the stunning carved wood and stained glass in this beautiful 1824 church. Then take a horse drawn calèche ride through Old Montreal beginning in front of the church. For 9-14 year old kids, ask to be dropped off at the Old Port where you can explore the Montreal Science Center. Dad and Mom will find their curiosity piqued as well.
You can spend a full day at the 1976 Summer Olympics site. Visit the Montreal Biodome to experience the animals, birds and fish from four ecosystems. Then walk over to the Insectarium where you find insects from around the world. Tweens love the ick factor. The new Planetarium is winning star reviews and is the newest must see.
On a summer day, walk up Mont Royal. The park on the top of the mountain is green and refreshing. Beaver Lake is pretty and the views of the city are panoramic. Then walk back to your hotel and shop Ste. Catherine’s Street along the way. You will find an eclectic mix of styles and price points. If the family is not exhausted, take the Metro to La Ronde, Montreal’s amusement park on the old Expo 67 site and ride the roller coasters.
It is impossible to stay hungry in Montreal with the endless number of good restaurants, but kids can sometimes be picky. An arbitrary list of five of our favorite family restaurants begins with breakfast at Beauty’s at 93 Mont Royal West at St. Urbain. Order bagels and lox and a fresh orange juice. At lunch, try a smoked meat on rye sandwich and an order of poutine (French fries, cheese curds and gravy) at Schwartz’s at 3895 Boulevard St. Laurent. Servings are generous.
At dinner you can spend more for a memorable meal. Montreal’s foremost Chinese food may be at Le Piment Rouge at 1170 Peel. Is excellent steak and seafood more your style? Try dining in an old stone stable that was constructed between 1694 and 1850. Gibby’s Restaurant at 298 Place d’Youville in Old Montreal is my daughter Christine’s favorite.
Finally, end with dessert at Le Bilboquet at 1311 Bernard West. Choose from among four dozen ice creams and sorbets and remember that calories don’t count when you are eating the world’s best ice cream.
Enjoy one of our favorite cities and after you visit, write me with your own favorite list of things to do in Montreal with kids.
This article was originally published by Hilton Mom Voyage.