Montreal for children
Exploring aquatic secrets at Montreal's Biodôme. (Guylain Doyle/LPI)
Children adore Montreal. As if running around in the snow, on the beach or in the woods all day was not fun enough, everywhere you turn those crafty Canadians have cooked up a hands-on learning experience, living history lesson or child-oriented theatre performance.
When to go
Festivals fill Canadian calendars year-round and most — like the popular la Fête des Neiges, Montreal’s winter festival of play — are very family-oriented. Unless the festival has an obviously adult theme, there are invariably activities and practicalities set up for children. The Montreal Jazz Festival caters to the anklebiter-set with play areas, stroller hire, children’s performances and face painting. There is also a festival solely for kids, Fête des Enfants, in August.
Fall is also a lovely time to visit if you can arrange it around your child’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. Visit Montreal.com for all event and festival listings.
What to do
Montreal’s Olympic Park area is the ultimate kid-friendly zone: the Biodôme is home to porcupines, penguins and other local and exotic critters, and the creepy crawlies at Jardin Botanique’s Insectarium are sure to provide plenty of gasps and tickles.
Budding scientists will have a field day at the Centre des Sciences de Montreal, which has dozens of interactive stations and video games, and space travellers can catch a show at the Montreal 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, La Ronde amusement park has stomach-churning roller coasters that are especially thrilling for teens. There is ice skating all year long at the grand Atrium, which offers special sessions for children 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 Montreal.
Most restaurants in Montreal 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 is great for steaks, L'usine de Spaghetti Parisienne offers value-oriented Italian, and Juliette et Chocolat will give the kids a much-loved sugar fix.
What to pack
Canada is very family-friendly, 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 is rain gear and bug spray. It is also a good idea to bring activities for lengthy car rides since getting anywhere else in Canada can involve very long distances.