It’s like going to Europe—, except closer. That’s the beauty of a trip to Montreal. You get the foreign ambiance of quaint cobblestone streets, bustling cafes and dazzling museums, without having to fly over the Atlantic.
This month our family of four flew on Air Canada from NYC to Montreal to experience the city for ourselves. Mr. Momtrends has been to the city decades ago, for the rest of us, it was a first-time affair.
Less than a hour from wheels up to landing, the flight between the cities was a breeze. After a quick cab ride from the airport we were whisked to our home for four days and three nights the Hilton Bonaventure. Our Hilton was smack in the middle of everything. We were a few blocks away from the Jazz Festival HQ and also a short hop to the Old City and waterfront—a great home-base for families.
Our trip briefly overlapped with the world-renowned Montreal Jazz Festival. Mostly free, the music festival attracts thousands of visitors from around the world to experience music in vast open spaces with very appreciative and engaged listeners. For the little fans of jazz, the venue has a kids area set up. We wandered over to the festival on our first night in the city and soaked in the vibe and some great Brazilian jazz. Get the scoop on next year’s festival atwww.montrealjazzfest.com
Culture is definitely a huge part of the Montreal experience. With dozen and dozens of offerings, visiting a museum of two should definitely be on your list. The Chihuly glass exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts is dazzling.
While there is a lot to show the kids at art museums, you wont’ want to miss out on the vast indoor/outdoor cultural landscape at the site of the Olympic Stadium. Montreal hosted back in 1976 (think Bruce Jenner in the decathlon). To recoup some of the money spent and to continue to attract tourists, the city planners turned the stadium into a host of fun spots for kids. There’s a planetarium, biodome (kind of an indoor zoo) and our favorite the Botanical Garden and Insectarium. Did you know the dragonfly’s wings flap 20-40 times per seconds and they help control the insect population (got to love that they are major mosquito predators).
We loved the Mosaicultures International Montreal. The huge topiary sculptures (check out this grand piano) impressed even our well-traveled kids. My youngest (5) is a huge fan of bugs. I think she’s got the makings of a Biologist. Checking out the Insectarium was a must on our list. And it turned out this part of the agenda was a favorite of the entire family. The girls raced from case to case exclaiming “Mom, Dad check this out!” We learned a ton about dragonflies at a show hosted by one of the staff members and my budding scientist got to hold a stick bug. The displays are bright, engaging and perfect to both teach and entertain.
A family could spend DAYS just checking out the exhibits at this part of Montreal. Head to montrealspaceforlife.ca for all the details. TIP: be sure to book your tickets for the Rio Tinto Planetarium ahead of time. NOTE: Shows are not always done in English (the main language is French).
Montreal is all about performances. The folks at the tourism offices helped select a show for us called SMASHED. They chose well. The hour-long juggling show was part comedy, part dance all amusement. It was part of Montreal Completement Cirque. Get more details www.montrealcompletementcirque.com
The show was held in the lovely Outremont community. After we left we strolled through the charming neighborhood checking out all the colorful shops and cafes.
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What else is a must-do on your trip? A boat ride. Seeing a city via the sea is one of my favorite ways to get oriented and to soak in some local history. We were delighted with our hour-long cruise on the Petit Navire. The zero-emission boat was a great find. Relatively noiseless there were no fumes to battle with—we could just enjoy the ride and the views. Expect to pay about $38 Canadian for a family of 4. Pick up the boat at the Quai Jacques Cartier.
TIP: give yourself a bit of time to explore the waterfront. We rented a multi-pedaled bike to scoot up and down. The kids loved it.
Part of our VIP experience was getting a tour from a local professional and history buff. Annique works for the tourism department and is a well-studied expert on the art and architecture of Montreal (leave me a comment if anyone wants her direct contact details). She gave us a great lay of the land and drove us up to Mount Royal—the park that overlooks the city. It was fascinating getting the founding story of the city—most of the city is made up of three-story buildings (a dictate from the very influential Catholic church—things are slowly loosening up—we did see a few high-ish rises popping up). The relative short-statured city makes it feel intimate and manageable—even for newbies. Annique turned us on to the Burgundy Lion in the Atwater District where we had a nice outdoor lunch.
The Notre-Dame basilicawas another favorite spot. Annique pointed out the unique stained glassed windows that depict important historical moments of the city. Check out the grandness of this beautiful church.
We had some great meals too. The lovely Marie Jose (also from Montreal Tourism) treated us to dinner at Reuben’s. We took the girls out for special dinner at Beaver Hall (it was a birthday dinner for our oldest daughter—she turned 8 on the trip).
It wasn’'t all kid-centric. One night we hired a sitter so we could grab a more adult dinner. We started with drinks on the roof of the Nelligan and then with dinner at Garde Mangera restaurant from Chuck Hughes. Don’t miss the chance to sample oysters here.
When we weren't soaking in the sites we were splashing in the pool at the Hilton, Mr. Momtrends loved swimming laps in the pool and the girls were delighted to meet new friends while splashing. As part of our stay we were able to access the Bonaventure Club—this exclusive room served complimentary breakfast an cocktail hour snacks. Be sure to upgrade your room at the Hilton so you can take part in this extra bit of pampering.
As we were packing up after our lovely three days, my husband and I were already plotting our next trip. It’s perfect for the kids OR a romantic getaway. We might alternate years. But this I know, …we were charmed and we will be back.
1073 Cote du Beaver Hall
1116 Sainte-Catherine Street West
900 de la Gauchetiere Street West
Momtrends was not paid for this post. Tourism Montreal facilitated travel fees for the trip. There were very few out of pocket expenses on this trip. Underwriting the travel fees allows us to get out and experience new cities and bring recommendations back to you.