Montreal is a fabulous city for families. From museums to playgrounds, there is something to satisfy children of all ages. The city, whose customs, culture and vibe is predominantly French, also provides a unique opportunity for American children to experience something new.
On our long weekend in town, my children played with the locals at the park, learned about electricity, saw some old fossils and got a taste of the Montreal lifestyle. Read on to learn more about our journey, as well as pick up some pointers for your own trip.
Our first excursion took us down to the Old Port, home to Voiles en Voiles. Have you ever wanted to scale a pirate ship? Well, if you have older kids, or you are a climber yourself, this is the perfect place. Equipped with helmets and harnesses, participants are challenged by rope ladders, shaky walkways and more as they navigate their way across the life-size pirate ship. Unfortunately, I could only observe, as I needed to be with my small children, but I enjoyed watching them play and climb on the numerous inflatable structures and ride on the carousel. I look forward to returning when the kids are older and we can all explore together.
*Know before you go: For less crowds and more spontaneity, visit on a weekday when crowds aren’t as bad. However, on weekends, and on busier summer days, reservations are highly recommended.
Montreal is home to many museums, and given our short time in the city, I knew we couldn’t do them all. Because of their ages (three and five), I focused on visiting places my kids would truly enjoy, and would be fun for me as well. At the top of my list was the Montreal Science Centre, also located in the Old Port.
My kids had a wonderful time learning about physics, electricity, gravity and other scientific concepts through hands-on exhibits and interactive displays. We spent more than three hours inside, and still managed to miss some things, which should give you an idea about how much there is to do here.
*Know before you go: If you travel between now and September, be sure to check out the museum’s DreamWorks exhibit, where visitors can work on their own animations and meet some of the studios most famous characters.
While perhaps not as kid-friendly, I am glad my children got to visit the Redpath Museum and the McCord Museum. The Redpath is housed at McGill University and is home to a decent collection of gems, fossils and other artifacts. If you have a handsy toddler, it can be a tough visit, but its price (free) means you won’t sweat it if you need to bail early. Just across the street, you will find the McCord Museum, which showcases the people and cultures who shaped the city. Again, some maturity is required, but I appreciate the museum’s efforts to engage youngsters with crafts and scavenger hunts.
While my kids may not have had the attention span to spend much time inside the McCord, the both loved the museum’s outdoor Urban Forest installation, and even took turns playing on the piano located in the middle of the closed off street.
*Know before you go: Many of Montreal’s museums, including the Science Centre and the McCord Museum are free on the last Sunday of every month.
The gorgeous May weather was perfect for a short jaunt up to Mont Royal park. This beautiful green space is where we found the Salamander Playground. A relatively new addition to the park, the playground was thoughtfully designed with a metallic palate, clean lines and thoughtful integration with its natural surroundings. My kids loved climbing, spinning and splashing with some local children, who were kind enough to switch to English for the benefit of my brood.
*Know before you go: As my family discovered, getting a taxi from the park can be tricky, but bus service is fairly frequent.
If you are familiar with Montreal, you may be wondering why we left out the Biodome. This popular attraction is currently under renovation and won’t be open until next summer. In addition, we never made it to Mile End or the Olympic Village, but that just means more to do next time.
Montreal is first and foremost a French city. French is always the first language spoken, and often menus will be in that language as well. Museum guides, hotel concierges and restaurant front-of-the-house employees all tend to speak English well. However, surprisingly, the city’s taxi drivers tend to only speak French, so if you don’t know a few key phrases, be sure to have a very clear address for your destination.
While the city is walk-able, it isn’t always stroller friendly. Especially in Old Montreal, you will have to navigate many narrow sidewalks and cobblestone streets. I also found many of the restaurants are located up at least two or three staircases. If you do need a stroller, pack a light one.
Museums, especially on free Sundays and other special days can get very crowded, so go early.
Have you traveled to Montreal? Tell me about your trip, and share your tips below.