Montreal needs no introduction. It’s Canada’s second largest city and consistently ranked as once of the most liveable cities in the world for good reason.
There’s no shortage of culture, arts, food, sport and entertainment. Montreal is a magnet for family vacations, and the toughest part of our visit was narrowing down the endless list of attractions and eateries.
During our 1-week visit Erin flew to New York for a blogging award, so as a (temporarily) solo dad, I navigated the city with 2 kids having a blast.
Without further ado, here’s our list of favourite things to do during summer in Montreal.
1. Redpath Museum
This free museum (donation optional) is located inside McGill University in the centre of Montreal. Spread over 3 floors, Redpath contains wide ranging exhibits including dinosaurs, world cultures, minerals, and even Egyptian mummies. While it’s not huge in size, 2 hours spent meandering around flew by. What surprised me the most is how many local folks from Montreal never heard about it before. A true hidden gem!
2. La Ronde Amusement Park
What kid doesn’t love theme parks? And this is definitely a world-class attraction, but surprisingly close to the centre of Montreal considering it’s the largest in Quebec. Opened as part of Montreal Expo '67, La Ronde has now expanded to over 40 rides (including 10 roller coasters). We left this until our last day in Montreal so Erin would be back – she didn’t want to miss out on Goliath - one of North America's highest and fastest roller coasters.
Our kids favourite ride hands down was Le Splash, a log-style ride that not only gave passengers a big splashdown, but observers standing on an overpass bridge. Double win!
The park is open from mid May to late October, so check their website (link above) for the latest hours and ticket prices. Like other Six Flags parks, they offer a Baby Swap service for parents with kids who are too small to take on the bigger rides.
La Ronde isn’t a cheap day out, but here are a few tips to stretch your dollar further and make the most out of your visit:
a) You can’t bring food in (other than baby food) – bags are inspected at the main gate. However lockers are available (for a small price) nearby which is perfect for storing your food - don’t leave food in your car, the car park is at least a 15-minute walk from the main gate. We ate at “Saloon” inside the park and it was very expensive for tiny portions and average quality.
b) Near the main gate is a grassed area with a few wooden benches. Make the most of this and enjoy a picnic lunch. Just ensure you ask for a re-entry stamp on the way out.
c) Parking is CA$20 per day (access via Jacques-Cartier Bridge) so if you are travelling on a budget the 767 and 769 buses go past the park.
d) Bring an extra change of clothes for the kids if they want to go in the “Aqua Zone” (splash pad). Oddly enough, rules dictate that children must wear shirts and shoes, and not bathing suits. That doesn’t really make any sense for a splash pad.
3. Montreal Insectarium & Botanical Garden
If you (or your little one) love creepy crawlies, then this may just be your highlight in Montreal. Montreal Insectarium is one of the largest insect museums in North America, with over 250,000 specimens on display.
Located within the Botanical Garden, you can also wonder around 20 thematic gardens spread out over 75 hectares.
The only downside was lunch at the Botanical Garden Restaurant was expensive – 2 mini quiches and 1 toasted cheese sandwich cost CA$28! So bring your own food, or wait until you get back to downtown.
While you’re here, #4 and #5 on the list are located in the same area, so knock all 3 off your list on the same day.
The Pie-IX metro station (green line) is closest to the Botanical Garden entrance. While Viau is on the doorsteps of the Olympic Stadium, making it the better station for departing after your visit.
4. Montreal Biodome
Originally used as the 1976 Olympic Games velodrome, visitors can now walk through replicas of 4 ecosystems found in the Americas. Our kids enjoyed the exhibits, touch screens and even built-in slides. And since it’s indoors (like many of Montreal’s attractions), it’s open all year round. Just ensure you wear layers since it was very warm inside.
5. Voiles en Voiles - family adventure park
Located in the heart of Old Port of Montreal, this park has an undeniable "wow factor" with all 10 aerial courses fixed between 2 spectacular life-sized pirate ships. Younger children will feel comfortable at the low end, just 2 feet off the ground, and more adventurous tots can safely scale as high as 35 feet! The site was created with kids in mind, but even adults will have fun climbing across the giant ships. Voiles en Voiles also houses a Pirates Movie Theatre, climbing walls, a carousel, inflatable games, and a totally safe foam archery tag arena. You could easily spend hours here.
For the holiday season in December and January, Voiles en Voiles transforms into a Winter Park with a range of cold-weather activities like tube sliding and snow scooter in addition to the aerial courses.
There is no restaurant on-site (the park sells snacks and slushee) however food trucks are located near and the park and re-entrance is permitted. Since you must empty your pockets before climbing the courses, paid lockers are available for a modest fee ($0.50 for small and $2 for large).
While you can get there by car, parking in the Old Port of Montreal is expensive. It’s best to use the subway and stop at Champ-de-Mars station on the orange line. From there it’s a short 11-minute walk (850 meters) through one of Montreal’s most historic neighbourhoods.
6. Montreal Tower & Olympic Stadium
Designed by French architect Roger Taillibert, this impressive, grandiose structure drew public controversy when it was built for the 1976 Olympic Games, but remains an iconic Montreal landmark.
At 165 metres, Montreal Tower is the tallest inclined tower in the world – sloping a whopping 45 degrees. Don’t worry about climbing any stairs; a glass-encased funicular holding up to 76 passengers scales the tower in 2 minutes.
7. Montreal Science Centre
This science centres consists of a combination of permanent exhibits and regularly changing ones, so you’ll get a different experience each time you visit. It wasn’t the biggest children’s science centre we’ve been to, but each exhibit was created with notable attention to detail. The building and facilities are very modern, and very easy to get around.
Caius’ favourite exhibit was “Clic!”. While Mia attempted “Fabrik”, a series of creative challenges requiring hands-on invention, it was better suited to kids over 8 years old.
Entry for kids under 4 years old is free – and they’ll still love the “Clic!” exhibit. Be aware that not all exhibits open at the same time, and vary on weekends. So check the latest times before you go.
And if you’re hungry afterwards, a food court located in an adjacent building to the north of the science centre, is a handy stop for lunch.
8. Hop On Hop Off Bus
Even after 3.5 years of nomadic travel, I still love a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. It’s the easiest way to get an overview of a city, a feel for it’s history and culture and dig into a deeper understanding of what makes the locals tick.
I took the red loop around Montreal, which covered the most popular attractions. A ticket being valid for 2 days allows you to cover a lot of ground.
The starting point is on Dorchester Square near corner of Rue Metcalfe (inside the tourism information building). My favourite stops were:
Mount Royal – a large park area overlooking downtown Montreal. If it’s a sunny day, the kids will have fun playing around Beaver Lake.
St Joseph Oratory (on Mount Royal) – Canada’s largest church attracting over 2 million pilgrims and visitors each year. Climbing the stairs to the entrance is no easy feat, but well worth it. The chapel full of discarded walking sticks and frames was the most emotional experience I had in Quebec. Evidence of Brother Andre’s healing miracles lined the walls, humbly representing thousands of lives that had been changed forever.
9. Just For Laughs - Comedy Festival
The number of festivals in Montreal during summer is mind-boggling. Founded in 1983, Just For Laughs is now the largest international comedy festival in the world. 1,700 artists from 19 countries put on 1,600 performances. You’re bound to find something the whole family will enjoy.
I dragged Erin along to see the legendary Weird Al Yankovich perform at Place des Arts in a FREE concert with our old friends Flashpacker Family. And it wasn’t just a couple songs – I’m talking about an hour and a half of non-stop entertainment. This guy is a machine! But we were on our feet and it did rain, so be prepared for Montreal’s temperamental weather.
10. Splash Parks
When the weather is warm, the best free way to cool off is one of the splash parks scattered around Montreal (also called “water play modules” by locals). It never ceases to surprise me how long our kids will be occupied at a splash park. Check the above link for a list of locations.
We visited a splash park located within Parc Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. And while you’re in the neighbourhood, you must check out the next destination on our list…
11. Bagels at St-Viateur Bagel & Café
Any visit to Montreal would not be complete without a bagel. The large Jewish community in Montreal gave rise to the city’s reputation as a hotspot for bagel lovers.
This landmark bagel shop attracts hoards of locals and tourists alike. Every bagel is made with simple ingredients and hand-rolled before being boiled and cooked in a wood-fired oven. Our kids were fascinated to see the bagels being made in the back of the shop, prepared with nimble hands like the bakers were moving at double speed.
Cinnamon & Raisin was a firm favourite. Grab a small tub of cream cheese from the fridge in the café to complete your bagel nirvana.
Bonus: Ta Pies
Last but not least… this Aussie-style pie shop is unknown to most tourists visiting Montreal. And while it’s not a very central location (at the north end of Mount Royal), it’s well worth the pilgrimage.
The pie pastry is buttery and flaky, and the filling is perfectly seasoned, bursting with flavour. And you can even take away frozen pies for later enjoyment.
Don’t just take my word for it. Hugh Jackman has publically claimed these are the best meat pies in the world. Which is really saying something since he’s Australian… and Wolverine.
Where to stay
We stayed for 2 nights at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, centrally located in downtown Montreal close to shopping, restaurants and the metro. This classic, yet luxurious hotel is well known as the location of John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s 1969 Bed-in for Peace.
We spent the remaining 5 nights at an Airbnb apartment about 10 minutes west of the city centre (near the orange metro line).
Getting around Montreal by car, train or foot is relatively easy. As with most large cities, parking is pretty expensive. However we did find free street parking for a couple hours on a Sunday morning, so keep an eye out for the signs.
The underground Metro system gets you to most destinations very quickly and ticket prices are quite reasonable (CA$6 for a return trip).
Montreal is known for it’s massive underground city – the largest in the world! Many buildings are connected underground as well as with the metro system, which means you can navigate the city in winter without freezing. But for the uninitiated it can be a bit disorientating. Here’s a map to get you started.
Locally it’s called RÉSO so just look for these signs to identify one of the 120 exterior access points. From its humble origins in 1966, the underground city has grown to be used by 500,000 people every day.
I thought I might be intimidated getting around Montreal considering French is the primary language. But every person we met could communicate in English just fine and most signage was dual lingual.
Montreal in the summer is a unique experience to behold. There’s no shortage of things to do with kids – this list could have been much longer if we had spent a couple more weeks here. But I like these kinds of cities – there’s always a good reason to come back and explore more, and re-visit a couple favourites. First on my list: one of those tasty meat pies!
Reader Comments..."I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" - Josh Bender
Great post Josh! You're making me miss Montreal in the summer.
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