We had a delicious three days in Montreal! We ate our way through the city and walked about 9 miles a day in exchange. Montreal felt almost even more French than Quebec City, but much bigger and more modern. Erin captured it well when she said Montreal felt like New York City, while Quebec City was more like Florence. Whereas Quebec gave us the old, historic feel, our time in Montreal felt more like a weekend we might spend at home in Boston - but in French!
Here are our highlights!
The drive from Quebec City to Montreal took about 3.5 hours - it was a pretty easy drive, but we had more traffic along the way than we had expected. We arrived around 4:30pm, valet parked at the hotel, and took a little time to settle in while the kids played with the new toys they received when we checked in.
We headed off to our first destination, the Notre Dame Basilica.
We had 6pm tickets to the Aura light show in the basilica. We had read a few recommendations for the show and made a last minute decision to buy tickets (while sitting in traffic on the drive!) and it was definitely worth it. It was so cool!! The whole experience lasts about 45 minutes. You can walk around the basilica for the first 20 minutes or so - everything is lit up and they've done some crazy high tech things where the paintings have this amazing animation and things are highlighted in different ways. The second half is a music and light show, which was really neat. It is very loud and Henry got a little freaked out, but the woman at the door was so kind and let us watch from the chapel, where the glass windows dulled the volume but still let us see everything well. The girls thought it was so neat and Erin said it was her favorite part of the trip.
After the show, we walked to Jardin Nelson for dinner. We had read about the restaurant in a New York Times travel review, but didn't realize it was in such a cute little bustling square (Place Jacques-Cartier) in Old Montreal. It was the cutest little place and we got a kick out of sitting outside on the patio under the heat lamps. They had good options for the kids, but Erin and Ryan both ordered off the adult menu and that was good too. Zach went for a local recommendation - duck confit crepes - while Erin had a Caesar salad and Ryan got a different kind of crepes with eggs and sausage.
We struck out on finding gelato after dinner - for some reason everything was closed by 8pm - but we had a good walk back to the hotel and everyone was ready to fall into bed with promises of gelato the next day.
Our main attraction for the day was the Science Center! We walked down to the Old Port and stopped first at Olive et Gourmando for breakfast on the recommendation of friends. We way over-ordered but nothing went to waste! All of the pastries were to die for and we kept a few in our bag for snacking on throughout the day. Erin and I got the chia pudding, which was beautiful and filled with seasonal fruit (although she was not a fan of the addition of pumpkin puree).
The Science Center was awesome! Our favorite attractions were the human body exhibit, which the kids declared "less creepy" than Body Worlds and loved all of the interactive games and stations to play with, the sports and wellness exhibit, and the creativity center. This was like one big maker station and we spent almost an hour in there. There were about seven different challenge stations, each equipped with a ton of different materials and supplies to create with. We tinkered with the challenge of how to build something that can make it from one end of a clothesline to the other. We were all working on it, using all sorts of materials and weights and balancing tricks - until we looked over at one point and Henry had rigged up a simple contraption all on his own that accomplished the goal on his first try. Touche, little inventor man.
After a couple of hours in the science center, we walked along the waterfront and Henry spent some of his souvenir money to ride this cute little train.
We popped into Mlle Catherine for gelato for lunch and explored the adorable little shop next door.
We were all feeling a little vacationed out at this point, so headed back to the hotel for some down time. Zach and the little kids went ahead while Erin and I found a grocery store and shopped for some snacks for the room.
After some chilling out time, we headed off to meet up with friends from home who now live in Montreal. We played around in the park for a bit and no one minded the light rain, which helped us justify bringing the rain gear along! We went out to dinner at Universel where we all got our first taste of poutine.
One of the things the kids really wanted to do on the trip was eat breakfast in the hotel. (Why?!) We did this on Sunday morning and it was a pleasant surprise! We saw more kids than we had seen in the entire city up in the hotel breakfast room, which had quite a nice selection for a free continental breakfast.
We walked back to the Notre Dame Basilica for Mass (in French!). We love attending Mass at the beautiful, historic churches even if they aren't in English - we had done the same thing in Florence at the Duomo. Even if we can't follow along during the whole Mass, it's such a special way to see the churches and really enjoy getting a great look at all of their unique features while sitting there for Mass. You can notice things and enjoy them in a way that you don't during a regular walk-through visit.
After Mass, we headed back to the hotel to change into comfy clothes and plan our day. We also packed lunches with the provisions we had bought at the grocery store, which was a great decision. We jumped on the metro - which was one of the trickier experiences to navigate given that the ticket machines were mostly in French - and headed to the Olympic Stadium! We rode out to Station Pie IX and it was about a 10 minute walk from there, with well marked signs along the way.
The Olympic Stadium is on the outskirts of town so the metro was the way to travel. It is located in a huge complex, in the same area as the Biodome (which was sadly closed for renovations) and the Botanical Gardens. We could have spent twice as much time out there and still not seen everything there is to explore.
For this visit, we stuck with the Olympic Stadium and that alone gave us hours of entertainment. The first stop was the pool complex. There was an amazing ninja warrior type obstacle course going on in the pool and Nettie has declared that she'll be having her next birthday party here.
After the pool, we went into the Olympic museum. There were plenty of exhibits that were interesting for both kids and grown-ups and we took our time wandering around. We opted not to take the guided tour and still feel like we learned a lot and saw what we wanted to on our own.
We wandered up to the soccer stadium next, but you couldn't really get close to see inside it very well. But there was a big grassy area nearby so we took a break to eat lunch and rest our legs. And practice our Olympic jump shots, in Nettie's case.
While we opted out of the guided tour, the kids enthusiastically opted in to the funicular ride to the top of the Montreal Tower. I was nervous that it was going to be open air or really scary up there, but it was totally safe and really cool. It is the tallest inclined tower in the world and the views from the top were awesome. The ride took 2 or 3 minutes and we spent about 20 minutes exploring when we got up to the observatory.
They had a fun photo booth and a nice gift shop at the top as well.
We wrapped up our visit at the stadium and thought we might walk over to see a bit of the Botanical Gardens, but we started walking in that direction and basically hit a wall. Everyone's legs were tired, Ryan took a major wipeout on Henry's scooter, we were hungry and thirsty, and Nettie broke her newly purchased souvenir. We aborted the gardens plan and rerouted ourselves to Station Viau, which was not as close by as we had anticipated. Those subway seats never felt so good when we finally got on the train!
Our destination was Schwartz's deli, with hopefully some gelato along the way. We had thought we might incorporate our visit to Mont Royal in this same trip, but quickly realized that it needed to be its own adventure for a different day. We were done walking, let alone hiking a mountain! We did take the Metro to the Mont Royal stop and walked from there to Schwartz's, which was farther than we expected but in a cute, bustling area. Unfortunately cute and bustling did not come with a plethora of gelato shops and we were like camels in the desert looking for a mirage!
We finally got to the deli and Zach checked another local specialty off his list with the smoked meat sandwich. The kids and I also found a delicious homemade ice cream shop right across the street called Ripples, and ice cream has never tasted so good.
Because we were already at about 9 miles walked for the day and what's a few more, we decided it would be almost as close to walk the rest of the way back to the hotel rather than finding the Metro again. The unexpected bonus of this plan was stumbling upon the Dollarama, which was another of the kids' preferred destinations after hearing about it at dinner the night before. No better way to maximize your souvenir money than shopping at the dollar store!
Our legs were about to fall off when we got to the hotel, so it was the perfect night to crawl into beds and couches for some TV time and dinner in the room. Thank goodness for that grocery run!
We woke up Monday morning feeling refreshed and hungry to check the last thing off of our must-do list - Montreal bagels! There is an intense rivalry between Fairmount and St. Viateur bagels and sesame is the famous local flavor. Zach and I had eaten at St. Viateur on our previous visit to Montreal so we decided to try Fairmount this trip. Yum! The sesame bagels were fresh from the oven and still warm and we bought a dozen to take in the car for our drive home. They didn't last long - I think everyone had two before we had crossed the border! We would have bought more but it was cash only - and therefore the perfect way to use up the last of our Canadian money on our way out of town.
With bagels in hand, we hit the road for home, via Vermont and Ben and Jerry's! It was a fun, delicious visit to Montreal!