With fun activities like ice-skating, visiting an unusual biodome science center, boat tours, eating crepes, and admiring 17th-century architecture, the city of Montreal in Quebec province, Canada knows how to keep the entire family entertained.
Montreal, an island city founded on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, is one of North America’s most vibrant destinations. With a wealth of classic architecture, towering Gothic cathedrals, hundreds of sidewalk cafes and an Old Town of narrow cobblestone lanes, it comes as close to Europe, culturally and physically, as Americans will get without a transatlantic flight. You might even learn a little French along the way.
Tip: Museum buffs should invest in a Carte Musées Montreal, a pass good for three days of admission to 30 museums over a 3-week period priced at CAN$75, including tax. For general information contact Quebec Tourism at Tourism Montreal (800/BONJOUR). In the meantime, let FTF guide you on a family trip that will leave everyone smiling, even in winter, when we recommend some special activities.
Great Fun for the Kids
(Toddler to Age 8)
The Montréal Botanical Garden
4101 Sherbrooke Street East, East Island
Montréal, Québec H1X 2B2
The Montreal Botanical Garden has grown to be one of the largest in the world since it was created in 1931. Visitors are often surprised by the impressive selection of 10 exhibition greenhouses and more than 30 outdoor gardens. The sculpted rocky landscape and pagodas in the Chinese garden are especially fun to see. Children can study the work of their peers in the Jardins-Jeunes near the main entrance, or stroll over to the fascinating Insectarium (see below) in bad weather. Take the miniature sightseeing train to escape to a remote corner of the garden or simply to get to another site faster with little ones. The outdoor cafe is open year-round.
L’Insectarium de Montréal
4581 Sherbrooke Street East, East Island
Montréal, Québec H1X 2B2
Your kids will absolutely love all of the strange and creepy bugs (most preserved, but many live scorpions and tarantulas, too!) to be seen at the indoor zoo-style Insectarium. Older children will also enjoy the many computer games that enable them to ‘piece together’ creatures with their choice of attributes and learn if they’ll survive in their native habitats. For souvenirs, there’s a great gift shop.
Canadian Railway Museum (Exporail)
110 Saint-Pierre Street West
Saint-Constant, Quebe J5A 1G7
If your kids love trains, come visit this amazing collection of railway, tramway and steam-locomotive equipment. The museum is located in suburban Delsen/Saint-Constant, so it’s necessary to drive from downtown. Visitors are treated to a train ride on Sundays; during the week there are tram rides.
Fun for Older Children
(Up to Age 18)
The Biodome de Montréal
Espace pour la Vie / Space for Life
4777 Pierre-De Coubertin Avenue
Montreal, Québec H1V 1B3
The highlight of the Space for Life complex is The Biodome, where more than 5,000,000 visitors have walked over its well-labeled ‘exploration trail’ through four of the most beautiful ecosystems of the American continent. In this silent white dome under the Expos baseball stadium, you can observe thousands of plants and small animals in re-created environments: tropical forest, the Laurentian forest, the Saint-Lawrence marine environment and the polar world. Biodome lies just minutes away from downtown on Montréal’s East Island, within walking distance or a free shuttle away from the Botanical Gardens and Insectarium (see above.) Of particular interest are the live and playful otters in the marine area and the frisky penguins in the polar habitat.
La Ronde on Parc des Iles or Expo Islands
Notre-Dame and Sainte-Hélène
First developed for the 1967 World’s Fair, these islands now host seasonal festivals, bike paths, a riverside beach, the posh Casino (2,700 slot machines and 105 gaming tables), the Buckminster Fuller-designed Biosphere (514/283-5000) environmental station and museum, and the old-fashioned La Ronde amusement park whose Ferris wheel can be seen from the old quarter. Small navettes or ferries leave regularly from the Old Port for the 10-minute ride.
859 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal, Quebec H3A 0C4
This natural history museum features exhibits of modern and prehistoric animals, crystals and precious stones, and glimpses into the daily life of ancient and remote cultures.
1000 de La Gauchetiere Street West
Enjoy the rare experience of indoor ice-skating on a hot summer day at this unique skating rink kept at an ideal temperature. Kids and grownups are welcome and the music is just right. The rink is open year-round and equipment rentals, fast food counters and rest areas are conveniently available.
This part of the city contains some of Montréal’s best shopping centers and tourist attractions (such as the Biodome and Botanical Gardens, see above). East Island houses the Olympic Park, site of the 1976 Olympic Games, as well as the world’s tallest inclined tower which has a cable car that carries visitors up to an observatory on the top floor.
Fun for the Whole Family
Via Camilien Houde Parkway (from the east)
Via Remembrance Road (from the west)
Looking for a place to picnic or stroll in the sunshine on a beautiful day? Be sure to visit this stunning park, which was designed by the landscape architect who also created New York’s famous Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted. In winter, it’s the city’s favorite spot to go sledding or on a horsedrawn carriage ride. During the city’s many winter festivals, you’ll find ice skating and guided snowshoe tours (ages 12+) as well.
Located along the Saint-Lawrence River, Old Montréal provides the pedestrian sightseer with beautiful 17th and 18th century European-style architecture. Although signs of 19th century architecture are also evident, Old Montréal is virtually untouched by the modern downtown core. Yet the city’s architectural innovation is best exemplified by the Pointe-à-Callière, which houses the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History at 350 Place Royal (514/872-9150), and the old Customs House, now surrounded by a multimedia presentation. It really brings the old city to life in very clever ways for all ages.
The Old Port of Montréal – Le Vieux-Port
Montreal, Quebec A2N 2Z6
Old Montréal overlooks one of the largest refurbished ports in the world, which is still undergoing an enormous renovation. The Marché Bonsecours (514) 872-7730) at 350 Saint-Paul Street East is a 19th century public market capped by a silver dome and winged angels. Although renovated into a food court/boutique heaven, it’s a good place to begin a strolling tour of the waterfront. If you climb the 192 steps up the old Clock Tower, you’ll learn a bit about the city’s maritime history and get quite a view of the Saint Lawrence River. Other attractions include an IMAX theater, summer street performers, and ice skating and ice sculpture displays in winter. The Centre Des Sciences de Montreal (514/496-4724) is a state of the art interactive Science Center located on King Edward Pier.
Montréal Harbour Cruises
The Old Port of Montreal
King Edward Pier
Montreal, Quebec H2L 4K3
Let AML Cruises take your family through 20 miles of history and attractions including: the Old Port, the Parc des Iles, the landscapes of Boucherville and the beautiful marine life of the St. Lawrence River. Have dinner on board and be swept away by the glorious Montréal skyline as you savor a varied buffet. Francophiles may prefer to hop on an imported Bateau-Mouche (514/849-9952) which plies the river with bilingual guides from mid-May to mid-October.
1564 Saint-Denis Street
Montreal, Quebec H2X 3K2
Attention film buffs: Inside the National Film Board of Canada’s center, guests are provided with instant access to 55 years of NFB films. Introduce your child to dozens of wonderful shorts made with NFB funding and designed to enrich your child. Using robot-created images, its Cine-Robotheque also relates Canada’s history through thousands of animated shorts, documentaries and feature films.
All images courtesy of Tourisme Montreal.
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