Travel Tips for a Montreal Vacation
Sample the European flavor of Montreal, with help from our insider's planning guide.
What to Expect:
International flair, fantastic food, and beaucoup de museums, parks, and festivals make Montreal a great family destination. Just bear in mind: Canada is a foreign country, and visiting requires a little extra planning.
Document check: Passports are required for everyone except kids under age 16, in which case a valid birth certificate suffices (travel.state.gov). If you're bringing someone else's child (or traveling solo with your own), you'll also need a certified letter from the absent parent or guardian.
Cell service: Roaming rates kick in at the border, but many carriers offer affordable, short-term, international plans.
Money matters: Many shops and restaurants accept U.S. currency, but you'll get a better exchange rate by withdrawing cash at a Canadian ATM. Ask your bank and credit card company ahead of time about foreign transaction fees and let them know you'll be using your card outside the United States. (Note: Canadian prices are denoted here by C$.)
Where to Stay:
Parents will appreciate Le Westin Montréal's convenient location -- a short walk to Vieux-Montréal and across from a metro stop -- and kids will love the indoor glass-bottom pool on the fourth floor, which looks straight down into the hotel entryway. (Rates start at C$229; westinmontreal.com; 866-837-4262)
The grand Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth is just upstairs from Central Station, making it a prime choice if you're traveling by train or you have a railroad fanatic in your family. Other pluses include an indoor pool and a location in the heart of downtown. (Rates start at C$249; fairmont.com/queen-elizabeth-montreal; 866-540-4483)
There's no need for your car once you're settled in Montreal. Public transportation is efficient, clean, and easy to use. For short itineraries, buses are a good option; those on the St. Laurent street route traverse the popular thoroughfare every ten minutes, making them convenient for sightseeing as well. Via metro you can cover more ground faster. (Both buses and the metro are C$3 one-way; the summer Family Outings program lets each paying adult take along up to five kids under age 12 for free; stm.info.)
Locals are biking fanatics, and the city's 347 miles of bike paths offer a great way to see the sights, especially along the Lachine Canal and through the Old Port. Ça Roule Montréal (Montreal on Wheels) rents bicycles, tandems, and trailers. (C$8 per hour and up; caroulemontreal.com/en)
Where to Eat:
To sample local family favorites in this foodies' paradise, head to Jean-Talon Market in the heart of Little Italy (marchespublics-mtl.com/Jean-Talon) and to the walkable Mont Royal neighborhood. The first has everything from fresh-boiled corn to chocolate croissants. On offer in Mont Royal: hot-from-the-oven bagels at Fairmount Bagel (fairmountbagel.com), diet-be-darned smoked meat (corned beef's Canadian cousin) at the classic Schwartz's Deli (schwartzsdeli.com), and more than 30 varieties of poutine, the city's beloved gravy and cheese fries, at La Banquise restaurant (labanquise.com).
- Click here to see more on Jean-Talon Market
- Click here to see more on Fairmount Bagel
- Click here to see more on Schwartz's Deli
- Click here to see more on La Banquise
In the charming historic district of Vieux-Montréal, dozens of outdoor cafés serve kid-friendly dishes, such as crepes, frites, and croque monsieur (grilled ham and cheese), while street performers and outdoor art displays in the squares add to the lively ambiance.
How to Save:
If you're staying for several days, consider a Montreal Museum Pass (C$60), which admits you to 38 key attractions. Add unlimited metro and bus rides for just C$5. (museesmontreal.org)
5 Family Favorites:
1. The newly rebuilt Quartier des Spectacles in the heart of the city houses a host of cultural arts centers. During festivals, its streets are closed to cars, and the Place des Festivals is hopping with free performances, especially during the popular jazz and comedy fests in July. (quartierdesspectacles.com)
2. Part aquarium, part indoor zoo, the Montreal Biodome invites exploration of four fascinating ecosystems. Located in Olympic Park, it's part of the Space for Life complex, home to the Insectarium, Planetarium, and Botanical Garden as well. (C$18.75 adults, C$9.50 kids 5 to 17, free under age 5; family pass C$52.50; espacepourlavie.ca/en)
3. Spanning the length of one of the Old Port's piers, Montreal Science Centre has a range of interactive displays, plus an impressive Imax theater. (C$14.50 adults, C$13 teens, C$8.50 kids 4 to 12, free under age 4, family pass C$39.50; montrealsciencecentre.com)
4. Originally built for Expo '67 and now operated by Six Flags, La Ronde amusement park offers everything from massive roller coasters to boat rides. Summer highlights include a six-week fireworks competition. (Prices not available at press time; laronde.com)
5. Get a bird's-eye view of the city (and La Ronde's fireworks) from Mount Royal Park. This lush mountain preserve in the middle of Montreal has hundreds of grassy acres to play on, a lake, and horse-drawn carriage rides. (lemontroyal.com)
- Frommer's Montreal and Quebec City: Opinionated reviews of hotels, restaurants, and attractions, with maps and itineraries. ($19.99;
- Tourisme-montreal.org: Click on "Blog" for great tips and up-to-the-minute suggestions.
- Bonjourquebec.com: Activities and events for Montreal and greater Quebec.
- Montrealfamilies.ca: Goings-on-about-town for families, with hour-by-hour calendar listings.
Originally published in the June/July 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine.