Children adore Montréal. As if running around in the snow, on the beach or in the woods all day wasn't fun enough, everywhere you turn those crafty Canadians have cooked up a hands-on learning experience, living history lesson or child-oriented theatre performance.
Most restaurants in Montréal are adept at dealing with families, offering booster seats and child-friendly servers as soon as you steer your progeny through the door. As an alternative to chicken fingers and burgers on the kids menu, you can usually ask for a half-order of something from the adult menu. Gibby’s are great for steaks, l'Usine de Spaghetti Parisienne offers good value and family-friendly Italian and Juliette et Chocolat will give the kids a much-loved sugar fix.
When to go
Festivals fill Canadian calendars year-round and most are very family-oriented such as the popular la Fête des Neiges, Montréal’s winter family festival of play. Summers are the most festival-heavy times, from the Montréal International Jazz Festival, food and drink extravaganzas of the 18th Century public market to the Fringe Festival's colour and anarchic joy. Unless it is obviously an adult theme, there are invariably activities and practicalities set up for children. The Montréal International Jazz Festival knows how to cater to the anklebiter-set with play areas, a Little School of Jazz show, performances, face painting and raft of child-friendly services, including stroller hire. There’s also a festival solely for kids, Fête des Enfants, with many free attractions and activities.
Fall is also a lovely time to visit if you can arrange it around your children’s school schedule. At this time the trees are changing colours, daytime temperatures are still manageably warm and most of the crowds have gone home.
For more information, visit Montreal.com for event and festival listings.
Hotels and motels commonly have rooms with two double beds. Others can bring in rollaways or cots, usually for a small extra charge. Some properties offer “kids stay free” promotions so check on the web. B&Bs may refuse to accept pint-sized patrons while others may have special “family suites”. Make sure to ask when booking.
What to pack
Canada is very family-oriented, so anything you forget can probably be purchased during your trip. Most facilities can accommodate a parent and child’s needs; public toilets in airports, stores, malls and cinemas usually have diaper-changing tables.
What you will need is layered clothing for everyone since it can get spontaneously cool during summer months and very, very cold during winter. Sunscreen is a must – you would be surprised how much you can burn on the greyest of days – as are rain gear and bug spray. It is also a good idea to bring activities for lengthy car rides since getting anywhere in Canada can involve very long distances.
What to do
The Olympic Park area is the ultimate kid-friendly zone: the Biodôme, home to porcupines, penguins and other local and exotic critters, is a sure winner, and Jardin Botanique’s creepy crawlies at the Insectarium are sure to provide plenty of gasps and tickles.
Budding scientists will have a field day at the Centre des Sciences de Montréal, which has dozens of interactive stations and video games, and space travellers can catch a show at the Montréal Planetarium. Many museums have special kid-oriented workshops and guided tours.
On hot summer days, a few hours spent at the Plage des Îles, a big beach on Île Notre-Dame within Parc Jean-Drapeau, will go a long way toward keeping tempers cool. On nearby Île Ste-Hélène awaits La Ronde amusement park, where the stomach-churning roller coasters and other diversions are especially thrilling for teens. There is ice skating all year long at the grand Atrium, which offers special kids’ sessions on Sundays until 11:30 am. In winter, you can take a spin on the frozen Lac des Castors in Parc du Mont Royal or on the popular Patinoire du Bassin Bonsecours outdoor rink in Old Montréal.
Holidays aren't just for kids’ business, though. Many hotels can provide referrals to reliable, qualified babysitting services so you can take some time out and get a break.