Few cities manage to blend the old and the new together as well as Montreal, a place where kids will be captivated by both original red sandstone colonial houses and ultra-modern geodesic domes. Montreal's rich history as a port city of major importance during the settling of the New World combined with its fearless embracing of all things new and a thriving immigrant culture make it a place that families love to visit over and over again. Put on your walking shoes or don your most fashionable stilettos (both styles fly in everything-goes Montreal) and let the adventure begin.
Montreal is well equipped to deal with any kind of weather, making it a great city to visit in any season. Though winters are cold and snowy, the city takes on a winter wonderland feeling and you can enjoy ice sliding on rented inner tubes at Parc du Mont Royal and more than 20 miles of below-ground shopping and activities in the Underground City. Starting in May when the weather warms up, even the animals in the Biodome get feverish with the coming of summer, Shed 16 Labyrinth unveils their new adventure quest, and Jetboating the Lachine Rapids starts up its motors. In the summer millions of tourists flock to the city's myriad summer festivals and Old Montreal comes alive with performers at Place Jacques Cartier. In the fall the changing leaves rival the best scenery in New England.
Don't expect the weather to cooperate when you visit Montreal, as this city's weather is anything but predictable. It can be unpleasantly hot and humid one summer day and balmy with a chill in the air the next. What you can expect is this: winter is cold and long (the average temperature in January is 16.0° F/-8.9° C; February: 19.0° F/-7.2° C; March: 29.8° F/-1.2° C), spring is sublime and mostly chilly (the average temperature in April is only 44.6° F/7.0° C; in May it's 58.1° F/14.5° C), summer is usually hot and humid with thunderstorms and an ever-changing sky, and fall weather is pleasantly cool with temperatures averaging 60.3° F/15.7° C in September and 48.6° F/9.2° C in October. By November winter is upon you and the unforgiving cold begins anew. If you go in spring, summer, or fall you'd be smart to bring an umbrella. But if you forget yours, don't worry: every museum boutique in town and most of the hotels have them for sale.
Montreal has two international airports, although only the Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (abbreviation YUL, also known as Dorval Airport) has commercial passenger flights. The airport is the headquarters for Air Canada and Air Transat, a discount Canadian carrier, and you can often find affordable Air Canada co-shares with American carriers and inexpensive tickets to other places in Canada and Europe on Air Transat. The airport is a 25 to 35 minute cab ride (for a flat fee of $35) from downtown Montreal, depending on traffic and your destination. You can also take a bus ($15 per passenger) to the center of town. Amtrak offers rail service from New York City to Montreal, and Greyhound buses leave regularly from the Central Station to cities in Canada and the U.S.
By car, Montreal is about six and a half hours from New York City, about five hours and fifteen minutes from Boston, and just under two hours from Burlington, Vermont.
Passport requirements for travel between the United States and Canada were changed in July of 2008 -- visit the U.S. Department of State's website for current requirements.
Driving in Montreal is like driving in New York City or Boston -- Montrealers are known for their unpredictability and aggressiveness and this undertaking is not for the faint of heart. If you choose to drive, do so with caution and good humor -- you'll need a good deal of both to navigate the poorly marked and one-way streets and the honking taxis. Also keep in mind that it will often take you as long to find parking as it does to arrive at your destination. For these reasons, most visitors (even Canadians coming from out of town) choose to leave their cars parked and walk, take taxis (which are plentiful), or take the Metro, which is a feat of urban planning, efficiency, and cleanliness. One and three-day Tourist Cards are convenient and offer cost savings; a weekly unlimited use pass is also available. Children under 5 ride for free; children ages 6 to 11 qualify for a reduced fare.
Tourisme Montréal has an excellent website with information about Montreal, as well as up-to-date listings of attractions and events. You can also reach them by phone from the Montreal area at (514) 873-2015; toll-free from Canada and the U.S.A. at (877) BONJOUR (266-5687); and toll-free from the United Kingdom at 0800 051 7055. In person they have a helpful staff in offices loaded with information and brochures at 1255 Peel Street, Suite 100 (corner of Sainte-Catherine Street West) and in Old Montréal at 174 Notre-Dame Street East (near the Champ-de-Mars Metro). The weekend section of the Montréal Gazette also has listings of family friendly activities and events around town.
Montreal is not an inexpensive city by any means, but many of the things that will have your children's eyes sparkling with delight, like Parc Jean Drapeau and picnicking at Beaver Lake, are free, and there's usually a way to pay a discounted admission price to popular attractions. The Montreal Museum Pass gives holders unlimited access to 32 participating museums within 3 days of purchase for $45 (taxes included); unlimited public transportation can be added for $5 extra. Many attractions and hotels offer a AAA discount (bring your card) and coupons of all kinds can be found in "Passport POM," a free leaflet available at most hotels. Finally, many hotels offer their own deals and discounts, so make sure to ask when you check in.
People who live in Montreal are called "Montrealers." Montreal has Canada's largest multicultural and bilingual workforce and is the second largest Francophone city in the world after Paris.
Montrealers have a predilection for outer staircases, thought to have first become popular when people had such large families they need to shoo the children outside onto the steps. But in 1940 outer staircases were banned because the continuing trend of making them in all shapes and sizes was thought to be distasteful. The ban was lifted in 1994.
More than 450,000 trees stand in the city, including 108,000 on Mont Royal itself and 10,000 in the Botanical Garden.