North American but with a European flavour, Montreal is a destination “fantastique” for families. It’s foreign enough to experience the thrill of a faux ‘overseas’ vacation, but accessible enough to avoid the hassles and the cost associated with one.
And who knows, the trip may even motivate the kids to pay attention in French class.
Here are some must-see spots if you’re bringing young children to Montreal.
1) Old Montreal – The kids may not appreciate the 350-year-old history or the Victorian architecture but they’ll love the street performers in Place Jacques-Cartier. This pedestrian square is teeming with colourful performances throughout the summer. On one of the many patios that line the square, we enjoyed a meal and glass of wine while fire-eaters, bicycle stuntmen and caricature artists mesmerized our kids. www.vieux.montreal.qc.ca
2) St-Viateur Bagel – At Montreal’s legendary bakery, kids (and adults, too) can stare in amazement as dough is expertly twisted and shaped, and then baked in a wood-burning oven before your very eyes. The heavenly aroma alone makes it worth a visit and they taste every bit as good as they smell. Chewy with a touch of sweetness, this classic Montreal treat is a hit for the kids and a perfect snack for the road or a picnic. www.stviateurbagel.com
3) Mount Royal Park – Speaking of picnics, there’s no better spot than this 100- hectare green space on top of the city. Kids can let off steam as they run along the many trails and you’ll appreciate the panoramic views of the city. If you’re here on a Sunday afternoon, you can witness the Tams Tams when people of all ages congregate to take in the rhythm of the drums. www.tourisme-montreal.org
4) Bio-Dome – This bike-helmet shaped dome was the venue for the indoor bike races during the 1976 Olympics and has now been transformed into a unique indoor zoo/aquarium that recreates four distinct eco-systems: tropical rainforest,Laurentian Forests, Arctic and Antarctic. Penguins steal the show here and we lost track of time watching them transform from cute-but-awkward waddling birds on land to sleek graceful swimmers under water. www.biodome.qc.ca
5) Montreal Tower – Yes, it’s touristy and no one who lives in Montreal has actually gone up to the top of it. But what young kid doesn’t like riding up a gondola and looking through telescopes at a new city? And they can brag to their school friends that they’ve gone up the tallest inclined structure in the world. www.rio.gouv.qc.ca
6) Insectarium And then there’s the bragging rights of eating a larvae lollipop, which you can find at the gift shop of the insectarium. Any kid who loves all things creepy and crawly will get a kick out of the mounted displays of large beetles and cockroaches. Here you can find out everything you wanted to know about the world of insects and more. Apparently, my son weighs the equivalent of 2.75 million ants. Who would have guessed? www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/insectarium
7) The Atrium – Montreal, with all its panache, is still at heart a hockey town, which you’ll find out quickly enough if you visit during play-offs. So why not pay homage to this, lace up some skates and enjoy the rink, shops and fast-food restaurants at this year-round indoor ice rink. www.le1000.com
8) Jean-Drapeau Park – There’s nothing like an island to put you in a relaxed frame of mind and this park stretches over two – Sainte Helene and Notre-Dame. Though right in the middle of the city, there’s no rushing here and locals and tourists alike take advantage of the paths for biking, walking and rollerblading. The Biosphere is here -you can’t miss it- it’s the gigantic dome that was the U.S.A. World Fair pavilion during the 1967 expo. It now houses an environmental museum that’s worth visiting. And if your kids insist that a vacation requires the thrill of roller coasters, there’s La Ronde, a Six Flags amusement park. www.parcjeandrapeau.com
9) Cirque du Soleil – Montreal is the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil, which started here in 1984 as a group of 20 performers. Now it’s a household name synonymous with creativity and jaw-dropping performances. You can take a tour of its headquarters or better yet, see a hometown performance. www.cirquedusoleil.com
10) Science Centre – Located right at the Old Port, kids love the multi-media interactive games and live science demonstrations. Here you can play mind soccer where you can move a ball into your opponent’s court using the power generated by brain waves. If only I could use that technique to convince the kids to practice their French. www.montrealsciencecentre.com
Of course, there’s plenty more for families to discover and while the kids enjoy the dynamic attractions, parents can soak up the chic ambiance of this island city, making it a family holiday to suit everyone.
For more information about Montreal visit www.tourisme-montreal.org.
Jennifer Merrick is a freelance writer specializing in family travel. She feels blessed to be able to experience new places through the eyes of her two curious and energetic children.