The sophisticated and artsy city of Montréal stole my heart immediately. After spending a few blissful days there, here are some of my family’s favorite spots to eat, explore and practice your French.
Our apartment in the city was in a colorful and quaint neighborhood: Le-Plateau Mont-Royal. In the mornings, our family of four rushed around, dressed and added our own bit of yelling to the agreeable neighborhood racket surrounding our Airbnb. Our excitement was palpable as we strolled down uneven sidewalks, taking in the neighborhood around us. A small child called down daily from her balcony, “Bonjour! Bonjour!” We waved and shouted our morning “Salut” in return.
Around the corner was a brunch restaurant, L’Avenue. The first morning of our visit, we sat together in a cozy booth, surrounded by graffiti on every wall, and tucked in to an absolutely enormous breakfast. We feasted upon stacks of pancakes with Nutella, strawberries and fresh cream, eggs Benedict with caramelized onions, goat cheese and maple-glazed bacon.
With our bellies full, we ventured out into the day. To get around, we walked and used the Metro, which was clean, efficient and very appealing to the kids, who gazed wide-eyed out the windows at the brick walls speeding by until we arrived and climbed the steps up to each destination
Old Port of Montréal
Our first day in the city, we spent several hours in the Montréal Science Centre. The center is a modern building with expansive windows on King Edward Pier in the Old Port of Montréal. The Port has been in use since 1611 and stretches along the St. Lawrence River. Montréal Science Centre is large, with imaginative areas for younger kids, creative building challenges, immersive science and human evolution displays. The center also has a 3D theater with a rotating selection of nature documentaries.
Afterwards, we walked along the water, past food trucks and vendors to La Grande Roue de Montréal, the largest Ferris wheel in Canada. The Ferris wheel was built to celebrate the 375th anniversary of the city. The impressive height made riding up an experience all about catching the gorgeous bird’s eye view of the city, which opens up as you ascend in comfortable, gondola-style cars.
More memorable meals
I cannot list all the marvelous food we experienced in Montréal. Some spots I still dream about. At our neighborhood bakery, Pâtisserie Au Kouign Amann, we loaded up on fresh croissants, pain au chocolate and their namesake Kouign-Amann, a rich, buttery cake with a perfectly caramelized bottom.
For dinner, we found the truly tiny but cozy café, Patati Patata Friterie de Luxe, which served up their version of poutine that included a hearty amount of sliced mushrooms and fresh peppers nestled among the perfectly comforting fare of gravy, cheese curds and hot fries. Our kids were silent and ravenous, downing tiny Montréal style burgers and hot dogs, while folding paper airplanes out of the menus.
Montréal’s green spaces
The weather was so beautiful during our spring visit that we spent as much time as possible outside. One particularly sunny, hot day we wandered through the Montréal Botanical Garden. Walking towards the blanket of green, you can see the Montréal Tower in the distance. The tower is an impressive half-arc building with wires flowing out in tributaries to the dome below. The tower is part of the Olympic stadium and is the tallest inclined tower in the world.
The botanical gardens have over 22,000 species of plants. Gardens and greenhouses are diverse in both plantlife and style. We walked through the collections of stark, arid, desert plants, rose gardens, and fascinating gardens inspired by First Nations history before we found the Chinese garden. This area was a group favorite. We were charmed by the architecture, detailed carvings and tiny black tadpoles swimming in vibrant blue-green water. The Chinese garden gave way to an open area with different sorts of shelters, vibrantly painted logs with ladders inside to climb, elaborately skeletal moth cocoons to lie within, big birds’ nests and half-cracked massive eggs. Our kids really seemed to come to life and my husband and I sat under the huge trees with rough, deep-grooved bark while they played happily with shouts of, “Let’s pretend that…”
Another memorable outdoor space in the city is Mount Royal Park. The park surrounds a small mountain just west of downtown Montréal. One evening, we climbed up the slow incline through the park and past the lawn, filled with crowds of people flipping skateboards, throwing balls and lounging. The kids were so excited at the idea of climbing a mountain. We went off the main trail, which was full of quick moving bikers and one particularly memorable man wearing space-age sunglasses and riding up the trail on a hover board with loud techno music playing. It was cool, green and lush off on the wooded trail, a true respite for our eyes after days of busy travel within the city.
At the peak of the mountain is the Chalet Du Mont Royal. The sprawling stone building, with two layers of stacked patio, was filled with people who pressed towards the front stone barriers to gaze over the evening view. There were people lounging in wooden chairs out in the evening air and wandering around inside the cavernous interior of the chalet with the half-dropped mouths of tourists. Inside the chalet, the columns were decorated with squirrel totems holding an acorn, repeated the length of the long space. The view of the city and architecture was sublime.
In order to come down the mountain, we joined a long line of people on the steps. It was a dizzying experience to trudge down one at a time, each stair worn smooth and soft in the center with the pummeling of thousands of feet. Older people stopped at a few points to rest and we flowed around them, rivers around a stone. We sat to rest on a rock wall at the bottom. The kids balanced on the edge of a rough foot bridge across the stream of water we followed all the way down the mountain. As sunset opened its arms behind the city, our youngest found an ant hill and she talked to the ants and told them she was their queen.
Montréal is brimming with delicious food, open spaces, fascinating history and architecture. A destination for every season, the city hosts festivals and events all year including upcoming Igloofest, an outdoor winter music festival. À bientôt, Montréal!
If You Go
Fly direct from Austin into Montréal or, if you have time, try what we did: fly into New York City and road trip through Vermont on your way north.
Stay at the Hotel Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth for a luxury hotel with a rich history located downtown. https://www.fairmont.com/queen-elizabeth-montreal/
Montreal Science Centre, https://www.centredessciencesdemontreal.com/
La Grande Roue de Montréal, https://www.lagranderouedemontreal.com/en/home
Montreal Botanical Garden: https://espacepourlavie.ca/jardin-botanique
Patati Patata Friterie de Luxe, https://menu.restaurantpatatipatata.ca
Mount Royal Park, https://www.lemontroyal.qc.ca/en