If you’re following along on our summer trip to Canada, check out the first post in this series covering the trip segment from Raleigh to Philadelphia and the second post covering our visit to New York City. The third part of the trip report covers settling into our apartment in Montreal. In this fourth part of our trip report, I cover sightseeing in Montreal.
Montreal is well suited to sightseeing by car, on foot, by bike, or by transit. The subway runs through the metro area and bus routes were plentiful as well. We ended up driving everywhere partly because transit fares add up quickly for a family of five, and partly because it was more convenient for us with young children to take the car. If we flew in to Montreal, I doubt we would have rented a car and we could have made do with the excellent public transit.
Driving was a pain at times since the frequent work zones and road closures required detouring constantly. I quickly learned that “barre” meant “closed” in French. Orange signs were plastered all over with that unfortunate phrase. We had GPS on my phone, and the streets run generally on a north/south and east/west grid pattern, so navigating wasn’t that hard even with the detours. Just tedious at times.
The traffic in general wasn’t that bad since we tended to miss the rush hours. On street parking was plentiful outside of the downtown core and relatively cheap or free. I think $3/hr was the most expensive on street parking I saw, and $1/hr was typical. I even found a free spot in the center of downtown Montreal! We also parked in surface lots in downtown a few times and paid $10 or $12 for all day parking.
This may be a summer thing (we were in Montreal in July) but bicyclists were EVERYWHERE. We had 3 young kids in tow, so renting a bike for the day wasn’t very practical however it looks like an easy way to get around. The cost was $7 per day, and you could pick up and drop off your bike at one of the hundreds or maybe thousands of bike rental racks around the city.
Most of the tourist destinations in Montreal are near the downtown or a few miles away. We were staying a couple miles north of the center of downtown, so we didn’t have to drive very far on our sightseeing trips in town.
We had no problem finding a huge variety of restaurants around Montreal. Asian and middle eastern cuisines were very common in addition to the North American staples of sandwiches and pizza. We chose “Le Roi du Wonton” (The King of Wonton), a hole in the wall Chinese restaurant, for lunch one day. I was the only non-Asian person in the entire restaurant, so that says something about the authenticity. We each tried different dishes like beef lo mein, beef stir fry, wonton soup, and roasted chicken. The older lady running the restaurant brought us some homemade butter cookies on the house.
After paying the $40 bill, we chatted with the owner for a minute as she doted on our children. Before leaving, she gave us a few free sodas for the kids because “they reminded her of her grandchildren” who, for all we know, live 8,000 miles away in China. What a nice gesture from her!
Montreal was founded hundreds of years ago, and like many cities from that era, there are plenty of beautiful churches around the city. The Basilica Notre Dame is the most popular church in town and had a beautiful facade. We skipped the interior tour since they charge an entrance fee and we were “churched out” by the time we visited the Old Montreal section of town where Notre Dame is situated. There are many other churches open to visitors for free or very little (like Saint Joseph’s Oratory that charges $5 for parking but no admission fee).
The Botanical Garden of Montreal (Jardin Botanique) is definitely worth a visit. The admission fee for the whole family was $50 and included admission to the adjacent Insectarium. Parking was an extra $12 but I skipped that by dropping the family off at the ticket booth and driving a couple blocks away to park on a nearby neighborhood street about 5-10 minutes walk away.
We enjoyed the Chinese Garden the most, so I would recommend starting your visit there. By the end of the day we were worn out from walking so much, so we didn’t have enough energy to really appreciate some of the later planting beds and landscaping. There were around 10 to 15 different thematic gardens around the entire property.
On our last day in Montreal we decided to take it easy and pass the day at parks near our apartment that we had driven by but never stopped to enjoy. The goal of the day was to do as little as possible. Mission accomplished!
The Fontaine Park was under a mile from our apartment. We chose to drive to the park instead of walking. That was a mistake. Detours due to road work and the resulting traffic jams combined with one way streets and parking restrictions meant we spent a long time getting to the park and we still had to walk from our parking spot. Fontaine Park was a beautiful urban park and offered a small lake with a fountain and walking path around it on the south side. On the north side, the kids enjoyed playing on a few different playgrounds. If they would have brought a change of clothes they could have splashed in the wading pool and spray grounds. We chose a shady spot near the lake, spread out our picnic blanket, and dined on steak sandwiches. Nice way to end our stay in Montreal!
We passed by this cool looking park with huge green lounge chairs a few times. I think our trip would have been incomplete if we didn’t stop and let the kids try them out. They were even larger up close!
We visited the Redpath Museum at McGill University. It’s free and open to the public. It felt a little like Indiana Jones stocked it with his personal finds while traversing the jungle. The museum itself is worth a visit for a couple of hours. It offers a comprehensive exhibit of rocks and gemstones from around the world (my daughter’s favorite exhibit). Walking around McGill University itself is a treat with all the substantial and imposing stone buildings lining grassy courtyards.
Montreal offered a lot of different museums but we didn’t visit many (kids have a short attention span). The art museum is supposed to be world class.
While touring the Old City, we stopped by the City Hall building (called the “Hotel De Ville”) which offers free tours during a few fixed time slots each day. The tour started in the City Council chambers, then passed to the back balcony where we saw the foundation for the original city wall from the 1600’s.
The Jean-Talon Market offered a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. It gets busy on the weekends but during the week we didn’t see any crowds. We stopped by to grab some produce and found a neat human-propelled carousel just outside of the market.
Montreal was a wonderful place to visit. We had seven full days in the city and that felt like enough time to see most of the top spots around town. Since we stayed in a residential neighborhood a couple miles outside of downtown, the pace of life wasn’t very hectic once we returned to our little oasis in the city each evening.
I could see us returning to Montreal at some point in the future for a longer stay. The weather in July was excellent compared to what’s on offer in the southeastern United States. Most days it was around 70 to 75 degrees F, with no noticeable humidity (compared to 90F+ in North Carolina in July). Maybe we’ll start “summering” in Canada!
Next up on our summer road trip is our visit to Quebec City. Find out what happened to persuade us to cut our vacation short!
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