For a family vacation, we absolutely adore Montreal.
Quebec’s largest city is a stellar place to travel with kids. (It’s superb choice for a romantic weekend or singles getaway too, though for different reasons.) We’d place Montreal among the likes of Paris, Sydney and San Francisco as one of the world’s top urban family travel destinations. However, unlike all the other cities that would be on that list, Montreal doesn’t really have any iconic, world-famous sights. There’s no Montreal equivalent of the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House1 or Alcatraz Island.
Do not be put off. While Montreal might lack that one must-see attraction, the city makes up for it with its depth of offerings and range of special events and festivals. Especially the festivals. Montreal’s unofficial moto is “Any excuse for a party.” The city almost always has something fun happening, something officials will gladly close streets and divert traffic for. And the best part for families traveling on a budget: Montreal’s festivals tend to be are partly, or completely, free!
Tourisme Montreal recently hired Spot Cool Stuff to come check out their city. We took the opportunity to learn about Montreal’s wealth of family travel attractions, activities and special events. Below is the list of our favorites.
Check those out before moving onto our three in-depth looks at cool Montreal family travel ideas:
A Visit to the Montreal Biodome
The Living Sculptures at the Montreal Botanical Gardens
Montreal’s Medieval-Themed L’Auberge du Dragon Rouge Restaurant
Select Year-Round Montreal Family Travel Ideas
Old Montreal — The heart of Montreal is part European-style cobblestone village and part open-air museum. Grab a crepe. Pop into boutique-y shops. Gawk at Notre Dame Basilica. Watch street busker performances. There’s something for most every age and interest here. (Our formal walking tour of Old Montreal was not particularly family friendly; we suggest wandering around on your own instead).
Montreal Science Centre — An interactive, kid-friendly museum in a world class facility. During our trip they featured a special exhibit on sharks. Our long time readers might remember our review of their Indiana Jones attraction. Whatever is on offer, you are almost guaranteed that it will be well done at one of Spot Cool Stuff’s top six science museums in the world2.
Mount Royal Park — No structure in Montreal is allowed to be taller than the rounded 234-meter high peak of Mont Royal, making it a superb place to get a vista of the city. Mount Royal is to Montreal what Table Mountain is to Cape Town. You won’t have to work too hard for the view either — from the parking lot it’s a gentle, stroller-friendly 10-minute jaunt to the top.
Taken with a Sony Nex on Panorama Sweep mode. Click to see full image in a new window. Warning: big file!
Insectarium — You’ll hear “Oohs and ahhs” along with “Ewws and ahhs” at this museum with exhibits on more than 160,000 living and naturalized insect specimens. Also cool is the playground out back where kids can, among other insect-themed fun, climb on an over-sized spider web (made of rope) and slide down an ant hill.
Écorécréo — Pedal, scoot, ski and motor around Old Montreal with this outfit located on the waterfront. They run Segway tours and rent all manner of fun transportation including electric bikes, paddle boats and four-wheel scooters. In the winter they offer cross-country skiing, sledding and ice skating.
Putting Edge — Techno music plays as really bad miniature golfers dance and laugh their way through a neon-colored, black light-lit putting course.
At the Archeo-Adventure, in the Pointe-à-Calière Museum, kids brush away sand to reveal urns, vases and plate shards in a mock archeological dig. They can also see the unearthed remains of a real archeological excavation — the museum sits on the sight of where the first European inhabitants of Montreal settled.
Marché Jean-Talon — This scenic farmer’s market in the middle of Little Italy is open year round but most active from June through October. The produce stands have little plates where you can sample the fruits and vegetables for sale. There are also bakeries, crepe stands and shops selling cheese, olive oils and food products from all around Quebec. Altogether, a scenic and sweet-smelling place to go for a family lunch.
Amphi Tours — An unholy amalgamation between a boat and bus, the Amphibus is the most fun way for families to tour Montreal.
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve — When it’s not being used during the Montreal Grand Prix, you can bike, walk or rollerblade around this Formula One racetrack with city views. There’s a nearby swimming beach too. Altogether, a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Select Annual Family-Friendly Montreal Events
Here’s our selection of five Montreal events worth making a special trip for. See Tourisme Montreal’s database of festivals for other.
Montreal International Jazz Festival — The world’s largest jazz fest isn’t in New Orleans or Nice. It’s the one in Montreal. We argue that Montreal hosts the world’s best jazz fest too. And about two thirds of the festivals 800-ish concerts are free! June
Just For Laughs — Chalk up another “world’s largest” for Montreal’s annual event lineup: The world’s largest comedy festival. More than two million visitors come for this month-long series of films, stand-up acts, stage shows and street performances. In general, the first half of the festival is domaniated by French-langauge acts while the second half is more in English.
Montreal en Lumière — A mid-winter festival of lights, live music, food, fun, sports and performance art. It culminates on the last night, Nuit Blanche, when the activities (including many family-friendly) start at 6pm and run until dawn. Late February
Piknic Electronik — A picnic combined with DJ-spun electronic music might sound like the sort of event that draws university students. (And it does.) But the audience includes everyone from babies to grandparents there for family-friendly fun. A Montreal treat, not to be missed when the weather is nice. Every Sunday during the summer
Montreal Complètement Cirque — In most cities, the phrase “downtown is a circus” would be used to describe heavy traffic. In Montreal, there are two weeks every year when that phrase is literally true. That’s when Quebecois circus troops juggle, dance, twirl, spin, trapese, tightrope walk and unicycle ride their way through a non-stop schedule of indoor and outdoor performances. July
1 Random aside: To Spot Cool Stuff’s travel eye, the Sydney Opera House is very much overrated. Sydney’s coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee has a much higher WOW-factor.
2 The San Francisco Exploritorium, which we previously reviewed, is another top choice. We’ll detail our full list of best science museums in a future post.