Montreal: A European City Just a Short Ride from Brooklyn

May 31, 2011

Montreal's City Hall. Photo by @TripAdvisor

If you’d like to take your kids to Europe this summer but are freaked out by the new airfare hikes, the exchange rate or even the long flight, why not consider Montreal?  A trip to Montreal is certainly easier: you can either drive there in seven to eight hours or take a short 60-minute flight from a NYC airport.  In addition, you can introduce your kids to everything that you love about France without actually taking them there.  Montreal is the 2nd largest French-speaking city in the world with some of the most delicious French cuisine. Think of all those French pastries- from morning croissants to evening crepes!  It is a city full of history and stunning architecture,  so you can slip a little education in too. You will come back to the U.S. feeling like you’ve entered a world far, far away but was actually very close to home.

"Maisons" in Montreal- sweet!

The Habitat 67 condo complex built 35 years ago by Architect Moshe Safdie

Air Canada offers daily non-stop flights between Laguardia and Montreal, as well as between Newark and Montreal.  You will need to make sure that your kids are passport-prepared before you leave NYC.  In terms of when to go, summer is a brilliant time to go with kids.  There are festivals galore, including the Fireworks Festival, Montreal Grand Prix, the Fringe Festival, the Montreal Circus Arts Festival (July 7-24)and the quintessential Jazz Festival (June 25- July 4th)….and so many others. Winters can be quite cold, but you can take your kids skiing in the Laurentian Mountains which are breathtaking.

The International Circus Festival put on by Cirque de Soleil, la TOHU and the National Circus School

Montreal's fireworks competition is held every summer

Cabs are easy to get, and bikes are popular options for getting around the city, as well.  The city has a well developed bike path system so it’s very easy to ride around.  They have recently adopted the public BIXI bike system,which is a word that combines “bicycle” and “taxi”.  They are inexpensive and easy to take out and are available at self-service stations all over the city.  For longer bike rides, and to make certain you get a child-friendly bike, Ca Roule/Montreal on Wheels is your best option.  They offer extensive tours or you can take the bikes out for a whole day.  They are the biggest rental shop in Montreal, located in the Old Port area.  They change their bikes out every year, so they’re in good shape and are very comfortable.  They offer kid’s bikes and trailers.

BIXI bike station in Montreal

The city itself offers countless possibilities for children.  The Olympic Park houses the Biodome, an indoor zoo with four eco zones including a tropical forest, polar world, Laurentian Forest and St Lawrence marine eco system. Nearby you have the Botannical Gardens and an Insectitarium.  The Old Port houses the Montreal Science Centre which currently has the Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology exhibit to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film’s debut and will not be in the U.S. for another six years.  Nearby you have Shed 16 Labyrinth, an indoor maze, Pointe-a-Calliere, Montreal’s Museum of Archaeology where they have a fantastic multi-media film that tells the history of Montreal’s development, bicycle and quadricycle rentals, boat rides, and outdoor winter skating rink. Other kid-friendly destinations are the Montreal Planetarium, La Ronde (amuseument park), Atrium Le 100 (indoor skating), jet boating and rafting on the Lachine and really good shopping if your children are on the older side.

Biodome Museum with 4 ecosystems.

La Ronde is a 146 acre (591,000m2) amusement park on St Helen's Island

Pointe-a-Calliere's 18th century market event is in August- outside the museum

Here are a few tips to know before you arrive:

  • Public transportation is free for kids on weekends (up to 5 kids) and is very reliable.
  • You can get a museum or attractions pass ( 30 museums plus popular city attractions and access to the public transit network are all covered.)
  • The permanent exhibits at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts are always free.
  • Space for Life (which houses the Biodome, Insectitarium, Botanical Gardens and Planetarium) has a 3 for 1 ticket which saves you money.
  • There are plenty of parks all over the city for when your kids need a break from sight-seeing.

So, don’t forget about Montreal when planning an upcoming family vacation.  It’s literally just a car or plane ride way.  It’s a combination of the old and the new, the coming together of two cultures, and it has something to offer everyone.

To get to Montreal:

By car: 684 North to Taconic State Parkway to Adirondacks.  From there, take the I-87N.

By plane: Air Canada
Disclosure: Visit Montreal was responsible for the cost of this writers’s trip, but all opinions are her own.

Holly Rosen

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Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Holly Rosen Fink has spent the last 15 years in NYC working in all facets of media, from MTV to the world of traditional and online publishing.  Now working as a consultant  in Westchester, she blogs about travel, theater, film, art, books, advocacy and more at The Culture Mom . She has two children, ages 5 and 7, who share her culture addiction.
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