When it came time to introduce our children to international family travel, we set our sights on Montreal for two reasons. First, my husband was going there on business anyway. Second, it is only a 5-hour drive from our home in New York. We found this small, bilingual city in the Canadian province of Québec to be an ideal and engaging destination for our two kids, ages 10 and 3. Our visit was the perfect combination of fun and cultural immersion. No matter what your child's interest, there's an attraction they will find très magnifique!
Thrill Seekers in Montreal
The Montréal Tower in Olympic Park, built for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, is the world's tallest inclined tower. The fun part of this attraction is the ride in the funicular cabin, which paces up, up, up at a 45-degree angle to an elevation of 574 feet. At the top, you enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of the city from windows facing different directions. On a clear day, you can see the Laurentian Mountains. If there are sports fans in your family, take a guided tour of the Olympic Stadium next door.
If your crew prefers the thrills only a 175-foot high roller coaster can offer, head over to La Ronde amusement park -- part of the Six Flags family -- and ride the Goliath, or any of the other 40 rides and attractions available at this seasonal theme park.
Outdoor Adventures in Montreal
I had my doubts that the kids would be jazzed about the Montréal Botanical Garden, with nothing remotely virtual, electronic, or 4-D to offer. We all enjoyed it though, mainly because we didn’t try to push our luck to see all 180 acres, 10 exhibition greenhouses and 30 outdoor gardens. The Insectarium sits on the grounds, offering an up-close look at 160,000 insects, an art farm, bee hives and other vivariums. Outside the Insectarium is an “entomological discover space,” which was a huge playground with funky equipment and interactive educational displays.
The Insectarium is just a small part of the expansive gardens, so hop aboard the free tram to the outdoor cafe for lunch, then meander through the Tree House, the Alpine Garden to see the waterfall, and the Chinese Garden, complete with opulent walk-through pagoda.
Nearly 30 minutes of our visit to the Montréal Science Centre was spent at a hydropower exhibit, trying to construct a waterway with a current strong enough to generate electricity to power a city. If that sounds like something your kids would also enjoy, set them loose in this modern, two-story facility. There are plenty of interactive exhibits and educational activities with a scientific and technological flavor, including an IMAX theater. A temporary exhibit, “Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology,” will be featured this summer.
The Biodôme is another popular science-related attraction. Although it was closed during our visit, this expansive nature museum features a number of ecosystems from the Americas, each with its own climate and physical environment. The Planétarium de Montreal is another entertaining option, with shows offered in English and French. Although the current downtown facility is dated, a new planetarium is to be built near the Biodôme.
Montreal for Mom and Dad
The Science Centre sits on King Edward Pier, on the periphery of The Quays of the Old Port of Montréal, so park in its lot for the most convenient access to this area. The Quays, a 2.5-km-long recreational and tourist park along the St. Lawrence River, offers ice skating in the winter, and river cruises and remote-controlled sailboats in the summer.
Walking the historic dining and shopping district is an enjoyable cultural experience best suited for older kids. However, we did have a delightful French-inspired lunch in the outdoor courtyard at Jardin Nelson, and we were directed to Les Delices d'erable (“maple delights”) for the city’s “best” crème glacée (ice cream). It was truly delicious, and sweetened with organic maple syrup.
It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money entertaining the troops in Montréal. Our kids just loved riding “Le Metro” from place to place. As public transportation goes, this underground subway system is clean, convenient, reliable, and easy to navigate even if you don’t speak French. Sixteen stations tie in to the RÉSO Underground Pedestrian Network – a subterranean, weather-proof environment connecting 22 miles of malls and shops, hotels, restaurants, universities, the train station and the hockey stadium. Within Place Montreal Trust, one of the shopping centers, the Indigo bookstore has an extensive children’s section on the top floor.
Traci L. Suppa is a road trippin’ mom. She drags her small-town family to see a quirky array of the “world’s largest” attractions, and blogs about it at Go BIG or Go Home. Follow her on Twitter at @GoBIG_GoHome.