A Beginners Guide to Montreal with Your Family

by Amanda Lee

The lively city of Montreal is built for year-round enjoyment by families. With chocolate crepes and poutine, hands-on museums, family-friendly festivals and outdoor parks – what’s not to love?  Here’s a few recommendations on where to stay, play and eat in this eclectic Canadian city. 

Where to Play

Don’t let the “M” word (museums) scare you away; many museums in Montreal have special child-friendly workshops and guided tours.  Take the Metro and spend a day at Espace pour la vie (Space for Life) in the Olympic Park where the Biodome, Botanical Gardens, Insectarium and new Planetarium are all located.

Unlike most museums, the animals in the Biodome aren’t stuffed and on display behind a glass case. The large Biodome takes you through five ecosystems in the Americas, including the Laurentian Maple Forest and Sub-Antarctic region, filled with exotic and home-grown animals.

Espace pour la vie Montreal

Kids will love watching these animals in a variety of habitats, whether it’s watching a beaver collect wood to construct a damn, or spotting monkeys play hide-and-seek in trees a tropical rainforest.

The recently opened Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium is a world-class facility. Admission includes access to two shows. Get schooled in astronomy with a guided tour of the solar system – offered in both French and English.

Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium Montreal

While, lying back on a bean bag in the Chaos Theatre, it’s easy to image you’re sitting under the stars, as you watch a film showcasing the interplay between art and science in the heavens.

Families can get back to nature year-round at Jardin Botanique (Botanical Gardens). With a reputation as one of the world’s greatest botanical gardens, it houses 22,000 plants species spread across 20 different garden and 10 greenhouses.  In the colder months, do as we did, and spend time in the tropical greenhouses, imagining you’re vacation in some sundrenched destination. It’s worth signing up for a free tour of the exhibition greenhouses, which is offered in both French and English.

biodome montreal

Our tour guide, Jean is a retired Principal who captivated my son with his wealth of knowledge. Kids will love touring the tropical plant greenhouse where everything from lemons, cinnamon, coffee, bananas, even jackfruit grows.

Even the youngest budding scientists will love the Centre des Sciences de Montréal, in the heart of Vieux-Port de Montreal.  In the permanent Science 26 exhibition, kids can experiment with blowing a bubble around themselves, building a water dam, or harnessing the ability of their mind to move an object. There are also interactive and interesting temporary exhibits and an IMAX theatre, playing films in French and English.

If you’re looking for some fresh air and to burn off some energy get outside and explore Mount Royal Park. During the spring and summer, bike, or rent a paddle boat and explore Beaver Lake.

Where to Eat

Sugar fixes guaranteed at Juliette et Chocolat! The smell of gooey hot chocolate infuses the air with more than 30 varieties of hot chocolate. While kids will love the more traditional “Grandma’s Style” milky hot chocolate (paired with a chocolate crepe), indulge in a plantation vintage hot chocolate, such as New Guinean 47% milk chocolate, along with savoury buckwheat crepes and salad. A word of warning: their decadent patisseries will likely catch your attention as you exit.

Juliette et chocolate montreal

La Banquise in the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood is an ideal place to get your poutine fix. With over 30 types of poutine on their menu, including T-Rex with ground beef, pepperoni, bacon and hot dog or L’Asterix with smoked meat, mushrooms, sour cream and pepper sauce. La Banquise also serves burgers, hot dogs and club sandwiches. Although the laid back restaurant is open 24 hours a day, arrive promptly for lunch or dinner to avoid lengthy lineups with the hipster crowd.

My son declared Mister Steer’s milkshakes are, “the best in the world!”  Mister Steer has been flipping burgers since 1958 and their freshly made Steerburger served along with their Suzy Q curly fries will be a hit. Grab a seat in one of their retro red boots.

Where to Stay 

When it comes to booking accommodation in Montreal, families are spoiled for choice! If you’re looking to stay in the Old Port with charming cobbled streets, spend a night in the stylish Westin Montreal. Kids will love swimming in their indoor glass bottom pool, set above the hotel’s grand entrance.

Stay downtown with easy access to the Metro, shopping, dining and museums. We loved our stay at the Marriott Château Champlain Hotel.  Literally steps from the city’s main rail station, our bright and spacious room boasts picture-perfect views of Mount Royal and downtown Montreal.

At the Delta Montreal, kids are greeted upon check-in with their own welcome kit and have plenty to keep them busy at the hotel’s Creative Centre, stocked with toys, games and arts and crafts.