During these tough economic times for many families it’s just not financially feasible to take a vacation across the pond in France. But luckily there is a way to experience the essence of Paris right here in North America. Often overlooked by Americans as a vacation destination, the city of Montréal is an excellent place for a family vacation.
While winters can be downright frigid in the Québec province, summer days and nights can be exquisite. And the beginning of July is the perfect time to visit and take advantage of great sights and sounds. For example, last year we visited the city during the first week of July with the purpose of attending The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, but we also enjoyed the city-wide festivities celebrating Canada Day and Quebec Day, all in one week. These made for an exciting, fun-filled adventure.
Montréal, originally called Ville-Marie, is Canada’s second largest city and is truly cosmopolitan. Its mix of centuries old architecture in Vieux-Montréal (Old Montréal) in contrast with the modern landscape of Centre-Ville (downtown) and Parc Olympique, offer an unforgettable experience.
Some of the great “must-see” attractions in Montréal include the truly grand Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, located adjacent to the Place D’Armes, a square located in Vieux-Montréal that is the second oldest public site in Montréal. A fan of Gothic Revival architecture, I found the basilica to be one of the most magnificent structures I’ve come across while traveling through North America. The colors that illuminate the interior can be summed up as “breathtaking.”
Surrounding the basilica are the narrow streets of Vieux-Montréal. There you’ll find art galleries, shops, and one-of-a-kind cafes, many of which feature outdoor seating during the warm summer months. You can take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the streets to see all of the historic sites.
The epicenter of Vieux-Montréal is Place Jacques-Cartier, which fronts the Vieux-Port (Old Port) and is surrounded by such sites as the Montréal City Hall, Bonsecours Market, as well as preserved colonial mansions such as the Château Ramezay and the Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site of Canada. Across from the historic structures that line the port is the ultra-modern Centre des Sciences de Montréal.
It was at Place Jacques-Cartier where we encountered the Canada Day and Quebec Day celebrations, which included live music, food, fireworks and much, much more.
The Parc Maisoneuve is located just northeast of Centre-Ville and Vieux-Montréal and is home to the Jardin Botanique de Montréal, Montréal Insectarium, Biodôme de Montréal and Stade Olympique, which together make for a great day trip. The 185-acre botanical garden is great for a scenic stroll. The Japanese and Chinese gardens in particular and worth visiting. The insectarium offers a wide variety of creepy, crawly creatures that both children and bug enthusiasts are sure to enjoy. The biodome was one of the best we’ve ever visited. It contained four different climatic regions and was filled with a variety of live animals, from penguins to fish to birds. The only problem we faced there was the large crowds of summer camp groups.
Another great park to visit is the Mont Royal, located north of Centre-Ville and offering Spectacular views. The nighttime panorama is especially worth experiencing to see the lights of the city.
If you plan your trip for summer, you absolutely can’t pass on the world-famous Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. This year the festival celebrates its 30th year and is sure to wow visitors. Taking place from June 30 to July 12, the festival offers free and ticket-entry performances by artists from all over the world at locations through the city. However, the main festival area is located at the Place des Arts. More than two million people experience the festival each year, attracted to its electric atmosphere and diversity of shows. Children can enjoy the festival too, with areas set up just for kids. It’s a can’t miss.
Now, where to stay? Hotels throughout the city range from low-budget to luxury. During our vist last year we stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn on Rue Peel in Centre-Ville. It was affordable and conveniently located near the Peel Metro Station. Montréal’s Metro System is top-notch and has stations located at or near all of the top tourist attractions, so I definitely recommend choosing a hotel near a station.
As you can see there is much to see and do in Montréal. Actually, there’s more than I can ever write about in one post. I encourage you to plan your summer family vacation to Montréal and make your own great discoveries. You won’t regret it.
And, finally, don’t be scared by the French language. Most people we encountered in Montréal also spoke English, although all of the signs were in French. However, it’s amazing how quick and easy you pick up common phrases. The only challenge was the fact that the Metro announcements we’re only in French and could be hard to hear and understand. Just remember to pay close attention or you may miss your stop.
All photos by Jason Roth.