There are so many reasons to take your kids on a trip to explore Montreal. For one thing, it’s the Europe of North America and you can introduce them to French culture without actually going across the ocean. If you’re not a lover of traveling long distances with kids, you will love the fact that you can jump on a plane and go on a relatively short flight.
For another, the city has a heritage that you will want to teach your kids about. The signs are in French, the natives speak French and English and the city has a rich history that is easily taught walking the streets or going to its various museums. You can introduce them to French food like croissants and crepes, or they can feast on the city’s famous bagels or smoked meat, two of Montreal’s delicacies.
Lastly, and most importantly if you are looking to travel without breaking the bank, Montreal is not nearly as expensive as taking the kids to Europe…and it’s not that different. When you are walking down the streets of Montreal, you’ll be transported into another world via the architecture, cobblestone streets, boulangeries, patisseries and much more that is reminiscent of Paris or another city in France.
For kids there are so many fantastic sites to choose from in Montreal. In Old Montreal, they can walk the cobblestone streets of a French colonial settlement and explore the city’s scientific side at the Montreal Science Centre, or travel through the world’s eco-systems at the Biodome. When they tire of the more educational activities, they can run loose at Shed 16 Labyrinth, ride jet boats or bicycles in the Old Port or hit one of the many festivals that take place in the city throughout the year like the Jazz Festival, Grand Prix or the Fireworks Festival.
And the bonus? You’ll enjoy the activities just as much as your kids! Here’s a compilation of ten of the best activities, including food options and where to stay, in Montreal, or shall we say Momtreal, for kids?!
Pointe-a-Calliere: This is a great stop to make with kids to introduce them to the history of Montreal. It focuses on the early periods of Montreal’s history and shows how the city grew from an Iroquoian village to a missionary colony to the French empire in America to a world-class metropolitan city. You start with a 3-D multimedia show and then head down to the museum’s archaeological remains, which enables visitors to take an underground archaeological tour. Models set in the floor reveal how Place Royale evolved through the centuries and the exhibits include displays of artifacts found there, including dice, crockery, old combs and beer caps. Virtual historic figures also pop up to chat about their era. Even kids who hate museums won’t help but be intrigued and leave with a better understand of how this city has evolved over the centuries. You’ll also see Montreal’s first Catholic cemetery, which dates from 1643.
Address: 350 Place Royale, Corner of de la Commune, Old Montréal (Quebec)
Montreal Science Center: There is no better to visit the Montreal Science Center than now, especially if you have a child that loves Indiana Jones. They currently have the Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology exhibit and it’s magnificent. The exhibition puts the spotlight on the extremely large and exclusive collection of props, models, film scenes, original costumes, drawings and concept and set designs for the making of the Indiana Jones film series but also archaeological artifacts. It’s not only an education about the making of the film, but it’s also an education about the history of our civilization. Lucas Films and Steven Spielberg are behind this incredible exhibit that celebrates the 30th anniversary of the films.
To supplement the tour, the center provides an automated tour via remove control that you operate while walking through the exhibit. It’s easy to handle, and I saw kids as young as 5 or 6 following along. They seemed very engaged in the exhibit. I was delighted to see Harrison Ford narrate the introduction of the exhibit. The exhibit took me back in time behind the scenes to my childhood when I was growing up with the invincible Indiana Jones, but I also learned so many new facts about the making of the film series. Who knew there were Star Wars references in the film? Who knew that 2000 rats were involved in the making of the film and 10000 snakes were used? It’s pretty incredible and you can catch it until September 18th when it leaves North America to travel and won’t be back in our neck of the woods for about six years.
The museum also has permanent collections that offer educational activities, both traditional and digital, an interactive movie game and an IMAX theater. They are currently showing “Born to be Wild 3D” that delves in the world of orphaned orangutans and elephant and the people who devote their lives to saving them.
As a bonus, the museum offers all types of cuisine in its various food courts. They have many options for kids and adults from pizza, Thai, middle eastern, sushi and more.
Address: Old Port of Montréal, 333 de la Commune St. West
Biodome: The Biodome was built to keep kids in touch with nature. It’s housed as part of the city’s Space for Life, the institution that includes the Botanical Gardens and the Insectitarium. The Biodome is an amazing piece of architecture that houses five eco-systems with plants, birds and animals native to particular regions. It holds over 4800 animals from 230 different species and 750 plant types that coexist under the same roof. We started our tour in the lush tropical rainforest where we observed lynx, beavers and otters in the Laurentian Maple Forest. Then we observed birds and underwater fauna inhabiting the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and our journey concluded with the auks in the Sub-Antartic Islands. Unfortunately, the day we were there, the penguins section in the Sub-Polar Region was closed due to apparent water-proofing, but we were told it’s a very popular part of the experience. Kids love walking the long pathways of the Biodome, going through one ecosystem to another.
Address: 4777, avenue Pierre-De Coubertin, Montréal
Montreal’s Planetarium: The Planetarium is actually part of the Space for Life, as well. It offers multimedia shows for people of all ages, designed to reveal the fascinating world of astronomy and space exploration. It is one of the few Planetariums in the world to still present shows with live narration. Original scripts skilfully adapted to various audiences explain the sky in all its splendour to children and adults. The Planetarium’s astronomers generously share their passion for the sky through observation sessions and some very interesting astronomical events. At “A Guided Tour of the Milky Way,” we traveled through an exploration of the Milky Way. It’s a celestial study into the birth of stars and planets and is an excellent way to educate kids about what’s beyond the skies in sight.
While you’re waiting for the show to begin, you can tour educational exhibits on stars, galaxies and other astronomical phenomena.
Address: 1000, rue Saint-Jacques Ouest, Montréal
Shed 16 Labyrinth: There’s a maze located in Shed 16 in the Old Port, right on the water. It’s an adventure that’s perfect for kids. It’s maze changes yearly with a new adventure with a new setting and new maze that challenges one’s body an mind. It’s fun, to say the least. You wander through a maze of dark alleys, where puzzling obstacles and riddles lead you to the end. Kids love the experience. My only suggestion: hold your child’s hand. It’s dark and I’d hate for a little one to get lost in there.
Address: 1000, rue Saint-Jacques Ouest, Montréal
Notre Dame Basillica of Montreal: The Notre Dame is a fantastic structure located in the Old Port area and you can’t get in unless you book a ticket for a tour, we we booked tickets to the evening performance of “And Then There Was Light” that is promoted as celebrating the founding of Montreal and the Notre Dame Basillica. It is a truly remarkable experience. This magnificent show uses today’s most advanced multimedia techniques to (literally) highlight the Basilica’s historical, cultural and architectural legacy…and its many outstanding works of art. The show represents the work of 150 artists and skilled technicians. During the show 26 silent motors move the screens, projectors and curtains in this superb, highly automated production. When the curtains go up that cover the church’s ark and beautiful stained glass windows, you can’t help but feel awe-struck.
Ca Roule/Montreal on Wheels: Another great way to see the city is to go on a bike tour of the city. I’m not joking when I say that the best way to see Montreal is by bike. We took bikes out at Ca Roule/Montreal on Wheels, the biggest rental shop in Montreal. For $55 per person, or $22 per child, you can take a tour of the city with a professional tour guide. We took the Classic RideTour around the city that took us through the Old City, to the Latin Quarter, through the Plateau, to La Fountaine Park and Mont-Royal Park, through the Business District, McGill University and for bagels at St. Viateur Bagels. If a tour is too much for your child, just take bikes out for $30.
The bikes were really comfortable. Montreal on Wheels gets new ones every year. It’s the city’s largest bike rental center and offers a vast arrayof more than 150 bikes, including trailers and road bikes, good for all ages. I can honestly say we saw the best of the city, riding through alley and down streets we never would have come across any other way, encountering outstanding architecture and the real natives of Montreal.
Address: 27, rue de la Commune Est, Montréal
Hours: Daily 9am-8pm (6pm if it rains)
Fees: Check web site.
Culinary Options: Food wise, Montreal is extremely family-friendly. Jardin Nelson (407, place Jacques-Cartier Vieux-Montréal) is a restaurant that has a passage that leads to a garden in the back. We ate dinner while listening to live jazz and took in the French culture and ambience. Jardin has an extensive menu with options for everyone, from pasta and pizza to more eclectic choices like lasagna and eggplant. Lunch at Eggspectation was an unexpected delight. They have a complete family-friendly menu, featuring 160 items. It’s not all eggs either. They have yummy salads, steak, pasta, sandwiches, chicken, soup, as well as a variety of egg dishes. Dinner at Guido & Angelina (690 Sainte-Catherine Street West), right on Sainte-Catherine Street, is another child-friendly restaurant. The restaurant offers pasta and other traditional Italian dishes. Pizzadelic has various locations around the city. If you like pizza, pasta and starters with a psychedelic flair then you’ll like this place. They have traditional and more modern options, with a host of thin-crust possibilities, from basic tomato sauce and mozzarella to black tiger shrimp and pickled ginger. They also have a lovely assortment of salads and burgers, and they also serve breakfast daily.
Montreal is also known for poutine, a local snack that consists of french fries with cheese curds topped with gravy. It’s also known for beaver tails, a sugar delicacy your kids will love. The bagels…ahhh the BAGELS! There’s something to say about the bagels in Montreal. You hear the hoopla and hype about them and don’t understand….until you try them. The bagels here are made with honey and then baked in a wood-fired oven, and they are delicious.
Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Montreal: Montreal has a wide range of hotels, in all price ranges, and in all parts of town. I stayed at Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Montreal on this trip (980 Boulevard de Maisonneuve, Montreal, H3A), which I’d recommend highly for a family visit. It’s a beautiful boutique hotel that opened up last year right in the town center. You can get a nice-sized suite (they have 123 rooms and suites), large enough for the family. It’s very clean, and very, very comfortable. The style is both contemporary and traditional, and it’s really charming. I can honestly say that the bed was the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in. Its free breakfast is also a nice perk; I loved waking up to café’ au lait, croissants, pate’, fruit and lovely eggs. It’s also very convenient to everything, including the longest shopping street in North America, Rue Sainte-Catherine, which is right outside the hotel, around the block. It’s conveniently located close to two metro stations, one is right across the street, which makes travel particularly easy.
Festivals: If you plan a trip this summer, there are so many festivals to work into your visit that are child-friendly including:
- Montreal Museums Day (May 29th, 2011)
- Fringe Festival (May 30th-June 19th, 2011)
- Montreal Grand Prix (June 10th-June 12th, 2011)
- Montreal Jazz Fest (June 25th-July 4th, 2011)
- Fireworks Festival (June 25th – July 30th, 2011)
- Canada Day (July 1st, 2011)
- Montreal Circus Arts Festival (July 8th-July 25th, 2011)
- Just for Laughs and Twins Parade (July 5th-30th, 2011)
Disclosure: My trip was sponsored by Tourisme Montréal, but all opinions expressed are my own.