The largest city in the Province of Quebec, Canada and the second largest in Canada, the French-Canadian metropolis of Montreal is diverse and exhilarating with so much to see and do. Our list of best things to do in Montreal with kids aims to give you some ideas and inspiration while you plan your family vacation to Montreal.
Here are the few interesting and cool facts to know about Montreal that place it head and shoulders above the others. Did you know Montreal is –
- the second largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris. Though French is its official language, Montrealers speak English as well as French. They are bilingual.
- where the sun sets in North.
- an island on the convergence of two rivers, St. Lawrence and Ottawa.
- has Mount Royal park designed by the same architect (Frederick Law Olmsted) as Central Park in New York.
- named after Mount Royal hill in the city.
- is a UNESCO city of design.
- is warmer than the rest of Canada.
Bonjour, Welcome to Montreal.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN MONTREAL WITH KIDS IN 24-HOURS
The first thing that catches your eyes are the French signboards. With some guessing and translation, we begin our quest. The best place to start your Montreal exploration is the Mont Royal park.
Mount Royal Park (Parc Du Mont-Royal)
The 200-hectare park is the best place to relax and get beautiful aerial views of the city. The lookout points – Kondiaronk Chalet and Camilien-Houde give you panoramic views of the city from different directions. The Kondiaronk lookout is the most famous as it overlooks the Downtown and with views of skyscrapers, St. Lawrence River and multiple bridges over it, iconic Olympic stadium leaves you mesmerized. At the Kondiaronk plaza, one can’t miss the magnificent grey stone building with large red overhanging eaves – The Mount Royal chalet. With a huge courtyard and steps leading to the chalet, it’s a great place to sit and enjoy the cool breeze and the views. We even experienced a group doing yoga, with good postures healing the body and live piano music soothing the mind.
Walking our way back from the lookout point, past Smith house, eyes sight many stone structures in the sculpture garden. Further ahead is man-made Beaver lake. Perfect place to just relax and read a book, or enjoy a barbecue with friends, boat ride on the lake, or just walk around and indulge in the freshness. While you relax, the kids can have extra fun at the playground near the lake. But in winters this lake freezes and is popular among skaters. Wanna swizzle???
Parking at Mount Royal
There are 3 paid parking lots available around the park – Smith House, Lac-aux-Beaver Pavilion and Mount Royale Chalet. We parked near the Smith House which houses the Information center also. Feed it enough to last while you explore the park.
There are maps available both in English and French which are helpful while exploring. Depending on the time, you can further explore the park.
Are you still scratching your heads wondering “How can the sun set in the North and not East?” Montreal uses an unconventional orientation, considering the mountain Mount Royal as North and river St. Lawrence as South. Thus all the directions are with respect to the new compass orientation.
Montreal, a city of spires has a history that is around 375 years old, with beautiful architecture and charm to the city. And to experience Montreal’s intriguing history and culture head over to Old Montreal (Vieux-Montréal.) From cobblestone streets to slender spires, from statues to beautiful buildings you are in for a feast to the eyes.
Notre Dame Basilica
Notre dame refers to Mother Mary. This basilica is a replica of Notre-Dame Paris.
Entering the arched interiors illuminated by dim blue light, you will be awed by the beauty of Montreal’s oldest church. The blue color represents Mother Mary. Walking down the aisle, towards the altar is the spiral wooden staircase to the left and stained-glass windows on both sides. The glass windows depict different stories from the history of a basilica. The ornate carvings on the wooden staircase are magnificent.
There are guided tours of the basilica both in French and English that divulge all about the history and architecture of the basilica. It is interesting to know that the altar and crucifix from the old church are still present.
A look at top of the entrance, you might sight huge pipes. These are a part of a musical instrument called “The Organ” which is made up of about 7000 big and small pipes and is played with 4 keyboards. We were lucky to have witnessed the playing of that organ and amazed by the beautiful rhythms.
Walking at the back of the church is a chapel, where you are not allowed to photograph. I guess the divinity that you feel while sitting there cannot be captured by lenses.
At the front is a huge bronze sculpture made up from different panels built in England. There is a contrast to the colors and light from the basilica. Glowing in the natural light the golden color stands out. Perfect place to connect to the supreme power.
Admission fee to the basilica is $6 for adults while $4 for kids (7 and above.) The ticket is valid for the whole day.
Notre Dame can also be experienced by Light and sound multimedia show – AURA at night. Separate tickets are available for the same. Do check the schedule before booking.
The square outside the basilica is a perfect place to view the beautiful facade of the basilica and the statues in the square. You might experience a live musical treat while you sit and relax.
Pro Tips for Notre Dame Basilica:
- Be prepared for long queue during summer or special days.
- The chapel might be closed for a wedding or funeral ceremony, so you can return later in the day to re-enter with the same ticket.
Jacques Cartier Plaza
Montreal seems to have art, music, architecture all in abundance. You would experience this spirit everywhere you go. A perfect example is the Jacques Cartier plaza within walking distance from the Notre Dame Basilica. This lively square is the perfect place to relax and unwind yourself.
Restaurants are lined along both sides of the plaza with balconies adorned with colorful flowers. In summer, this place is an open art gallery with artists brimming every nook and corner. There are caricature artists, painters, musicians all displaying the best of their art. You can even buy or get a caricature made to remind you of the beautiful times in Montreal.
The plaza offers so much variety choose from and eat that you find yourself in quandary. From restaurants to street food to homemade ice creams, you got it all taken care of.
Live music, artists displaying their art, yummy food, lovely flowers, classical architecture all add up to elevate your spirits.
World’s Largest Art Productions
Evenings add more charm to the place with music and events all over. The various buildings in Old Montreal act as a canvas to project the videos of the history of the city. In fact, trees are also not left behind.
The building opposite to Notre Dame, the wall opposite to city hall in Jacques Cartier Plaza are a few options to check. This is a collaborative venture called ‘Cite Memoire‘, and the audio for the same can be accessed by downloading the free app Montréal en Histoires.
Listen as you walk towards the next spot to live the complete experience. We were unaware about the app, so missed the audio along. Do check the schedule before.
This is the world’s largest art projection and must not be missed.
Walk the St. Paul Street (Rue Saint-Paul)
Yet another cobblestoned street? Is that what you are thinking?
Yes, but it is the oldest street in Montreal with buildings singing some old sagas. The street is lined with restaurants, cafes, galleries, and boutiques.
Old Port (Vieux-Port)
Walking down the road downhill from Jacques Cartier plaza is the waterfront and Jacques Cartier Pier. Along the St. Lawrence River, is the long walking path at the Old Port.
You could choose to walk, ride a bike or quadricycle, rent a Segway. The mode doesn’t matter. This is one place for all ages.
There is a kids playground, adventure thrill from zip line or Ferris wheel. There are food trucks lined along the pier offering from the famous Poutine to burgers and ice cream. Grab a bite or a cup of coffee and sit by the riverside to relax.
Another way to explore Montreal is on water. Various cruise options (60 or 90 minute, evening or dinner cruise) are available from the pier.
In summer, there are many events/concerts in the night. With music and lights, it feels like a party.
The name indicates that there is a city flourishing underground. The major offices, buildings, malls, universities, museums in Downtown Montreal and even the metro stations, bus stations are all connected underground.
This is very thoughtful to be functional even during the harsh and long winter. Nothing should come in the way of growth and prosperity. RESO(reseau) as commonly called in French meaning ‘network’ can be explored from many entry points – Eaton shopping center, Champs-de-mars metro station, Place Ville Marie, Les Cours Mont-Royal shopping center or Complexe Desjardins.
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT IN MONTREAL
Poutine – A trip to Montreal is incomplete without eating the Poutine. It is a typical version of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. We had it from a food truck at the pier. There are different versions of Poutine available with various toppings. Although the first look isn’t appealing, it tastes yummy. It was hard for us to resist and hence no photograph.
Smoked meat sandwich – The smoked beef meat is served with mustard over rye bread and people vouch for it.
Maple taffy – Maple syrup is synonym with Canada, producing around 70% of the world’s maple syrup. More than eating it is fascinating to watch it make by pouring maple syrup over snow. As the syrup begins to harden over the snow, it is rolled over a stick. You can try it at Jacques Cartier plaza. Hurry, start enjoying this chewy candy before it melts away.
How can the summer be complete without digging into yummy ice creams? And you are in for a treat if it’s a Double cone ice cream. Licking in two different flavors on this double cone was our kids favorite. After all, the more the merrier. You can try some fresh homemade ice cream at Jacques Cartier Plaza.
GETTING TO MONTREAL
Montreal is conveniently connected by land, air, and water to the rest of the world.
Montréal-Trudeau airport offers direct flights to more than 150 international destinations. The airport is conveniently located at a distance of a mere 20 minutes from the downtown, Montreal.
All the major airline carriers have regular flights from Delhi to major Canadian cities with a layover. Air India/Air Canada flight from Delhi to Montreal with a short layover at New York Airport seems a great deal.
If you are coming from the USA, Amtrak train has regular departures from major cities in the USA to Montreal. Montreal Central Station (Gare Centrale) and Montréal Bus Central Station have daily departures to major Canadian and American cities.
Many cruise lines offer cruises along the North American East Coast and St. Lawrence River to Port of Montreal from major American and Canadian cities viz. Detroit, New York, Chicago, or Toronto.
We traveled by road from Philadelphia to Canada via Champlain. Montreal is just 46 miles from the US Border and is located on the Trans-Canada Highway. A self-driving road trip to Canada is a great way to explore the beautiful country.
GETTING AROUND MONTREAL
Montreal is quite a walkable city. You can very well count on your feet to explore the city. It’s better to divide the city in neighborhoods to make the exploration easy.
Renting a bike in summer is a good idea. Bike lanes and paths are well-planned in Montreal. Rent a bike from BIXI, Montreal’s bike-sharing program.
Montreal on Wheels offers biking tours of the city. Check out different guided bike tours in Montreal.
Public transportation in Montreal is both comfortable and cheap. 68 Metro Stations and 220 Buse Lines make it all easy to use the heel-to-toe method to discover the city. Single fare costs around $2.50. It’s wise to buy an unlimited ride card for a day or two to save money and hassle. Options of the Unlimited Weekend pass and Unlimited Evening pass are also available if you are traveling Montreal on a weekend.
Public Shuttle Bus No. 747 runs regularly between the International Airport and Montreal Downtown. A single ride costs around $7.50.
Taxis are costly but are useful if you need to get somewhere quickly. A taxi from the airport to the downtown costs between $30 to $35. Uber is also available in Montreal.
BEST TIME TO VISIT MONTREAL
The best months to travel to Montreal are from June to September when the weather gets warm and is also the high tourist season. While it has it’s advantages of ample events and festivals, warm weather that you can enjoy walking around. There isn’t any bad time to visit this beautiful island city though. If you choose to travel during the shoulder season (spring or fall) you can save money as hotels drop their prices and enjoy walking the streets sans crowd.
WHERE TO STAY IN MONTREAL
Choosing where to stay would depend on what to desire. If you want to be close and in walkable distance of the fun, then staying in the Old Montreal area would be best. Also, the vintage feel would be an added bonus. From boutique hotels to the ones suiting your budget, there are a lot of options. Traveling with kids, we usually prefer hotels with kitchenette or free breakfast. Book SpringHill Suites by Marriot in Old Montreal that includes a kitchenette and breakfast buffet or Embassy Suites by Hilton Old Montreal.
Downtown Montreal also has many hotels to suit your pocket. Check Marriott Chateau Champlain for a luxury stay. Great option with kids would be Residence Inn by Marriot with free breakfast and a fully equipped kitchen. Another no frill choice would be Comfort Suites Downtown with free breakfast.
Staying close to the airport is another option if you are on a short trip. There are many hotels available with most of them having shuttle access to the airport.
MONTREAL TRAVEL TIPS
- Parking is a big issue in Old Montreal, especially during summer and holiday season. We had spent an hour circling Old Montreal in the evening to find a parking spot but in vain. There is metered street parking available generally for 2 hours. Parking lots are also available but are expensive. Evenings during weekends can be even harder.
- Parking meters don’t have instructions written in English so can be challenging. We figured out that holding the credit card for a while rather than taking it out instantly was the trick.
- Long queues expected outside basilica during holidays and popular events.
- Download the Montréal en Histoires mobile application to listen to the audio of the historical projection videos on the city buildings.
- Exploring Old Montreal is best on foot. So wear comfy shoes.
- Rue Saint Paul (Saint Paul street) is the oldest street of city and enjoyable to walk with cafes and shops lined on both sides.
COMMON FRENCH TERMS YOU MUST KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING TO MONTREAL
- Rue – Street. Most street names will be “Rue street name”
- Parc – Park
- Bonjour – Hello
- Merci – Thanks
- Au revoir – Bye
Au revoir Montreal, till we visit again…
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Featured image by Marc-Olivier Jodoin.