Wish you could take a summer vacation to Europe without the cost of flying across the Atlantic? A road trip north of the border to Montreal is not quite the same, but it is a great family destination with a much cheaper price tag.
My kids have been obsessed with Paris for as long as I can remember, and while I am hoping to give them the experience of the real thing one day, Montreal was a great way to try out travel to a foreign city without breaking the bank. Although most Montreal residents speak both French and English, the language that we were always greeted in first was French giving the girls great motivation to learn a few key phrases for basic communication. As any bustling city, Montreal has a huge amount of options for sleeping, eating and playing so narrowing it down to a few short paragraphs can be difficult. The information below reflects our 3 day/3 night trip in early August with my two daughters ages 8 and 9.
Places to Stay
Our home away from home for our three nights in Montreal was the Le Square Phillips Hotel. Our King Bed Suite was the biggest hotel room that we have ever stayed in! The room had huge ceilings, lots of light, a partial wall between the bedroom and the living area and a full kitchen. Did I mention it was HUGE? The hotel had valet parking with in and out priveleges, included breakfast buffet each morning and an amazing rooftop deck and (rooftop) indoor pool which my kids swam in every night before bed.
Other hotels that we considered were the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure because of its rooftop pool and garden and the Le St. Sulpice suite hotel due to its location in Old Montreal.
Food to Eat
Montreal is a definitely a great city for eating. There are several great food markets throughout the city. Marche Atwater along the Lachine Canal and Marche Jean Talon in Little Italy are two of the more well known and are certainly worth a visit to pick up picnic provisions or lunch. We visited the Atwater market and came away with produce, bread, sausage, cheese and maple candy.
There are several Montreal “must eat” foods that you can find in restaurants and markets around the city. The first is poutine, a concoction of French fries with gravy and cheese curds, which tastes WAY better than it sounds. Montreal is also known for all things maple, smoked meat and their version of bagels.
For an eclectic mix of restaurants head to Rue St. Denis in the Latin Quarter (don’t miss Juliet et Chocolat for amazing hot chocolate and dessert concoctions). Other areas with large concentrations of restaurants are Little Italy and the sidewalk cafes of Old Montreal. Note that in Montreal, eateries that are designated as Taverns do not allow children except on outdoor patios.
Things to Do
Like most big cities Montreal has many attractions that are spread throughout the city. There is an extensive metro system and the city is also easy to navigate on foot, by car or by bike. The majority of signs are in both French and English making it easy to find your way around.
- Old Montreal – Strolling through the streets of Old Montreal listening to conversations in French really make it feel like you have been transported to Europe. My kids loved eating crepes in a sidewalk café and walking along the cobble stoned streets. A major attraction here is the Basilique Notre Dame Cathedral. A great way to visit this attraction with kids is through its night time Lumiere Fut light and sound show offered nightly Tuesdays through Sundays at 7pm. Cost of the show is $10 for adults and $9 for kids.
- Old Port – This is Montreal’s summer playground. There are street performers, walking paths, food trucks, bike rentals and the Science Center.
- Lachine Canal – This waterway has paved paths for more than 10 miles. We rented bicycles from Ca Roule Montreal (27 de la Commune Est) and rode along the canal from the Old Port to the Atwater Market. Ca Roule had tandem bikes, trailer bikes and bike trailers all available making this a good option for families with kids of many ages. On the way back we detoured out to the Ile Ste. Helene for a picnic overlooking the Biosphere. There is a Lachine Canal Historic Site located near the end of the canal which houses “The Fur Trade at Lachine” museum. We spent a great morning here learning about the fur trade in Canada. My girls got to feel pelts, dress up and follow a guided tour on an iPad mini. The girls became “Explorers” after completing an activity booklet, the Canadian equivalent to the US National Park Services Junior Ranger Program.
- Mont Royal – Montreal’s namesake “mountain” provides a great place to hike, bike and catch great views of the city below. We chose to drive to the top Maison Smith parking lot and to do the loop walk at the summit taking in the views from the Chalet du Mont Royal and the Croix (cross) du Mont Royal.
Below are a few more attractions that sounded like great family fun if only we had a few more days!
- Lachine Rapids – The Lachine Canal was built to enable boats to pass along the St. Lawrence River while avoiding the Lachine Rapids. Today you can go white water rafting or jet boating through these rapids for an urban adventure. Prices for rafting average about $40 Canadian per person and Jet Boating costs about $10 more each.
- Olympic Park – You can spend a whole day here checking out the Botanical Gardens, Insectarium, Olympic Tower and the Biodome. The Biodome is an indoor plant and animal exhibit that showcases 4 different ecosystems – a rainforest, polar landscape, forest and the St. Lawrence River. The exhibit is housed in the old Olympic bicycle racing stadium.
Montreal is known as a festival city and our trip would have been even more fun had we planned ahead to be in town during the many summer events. The Jazz festival held each July is widely popular, as is the International Fireworks competitions held each Saturday night during the month of July. Montreal is also the founding home of many traveling circuses such as Cirque du Soleil. Early July is often the Circus Festival showcasing acts from its Circus School in town.
Know Before You Go
- Everyone in your family will need a passport to enter Canada
- The Canadian dollar is the official currency in Canada. You can change money once you cross the border or check with your home bank to see which Canadian ATMs you can use without fees. One US dollar is currently worth about $1.10 Canadian.
- The summer weather in Montreal was beautiful during our visit – high 70s during the day and low 60s at night.
- Montreal is about a 9 hour drive from the metro DC area.
Photos by Kim Engstrom.