I just got back from a jaunt over New York’s northern border, and the trip reiterated one of my secret desires: to pack up and move to Montréal. The kids would learn French, the real estate is more affordable than Manhattan’s, and the whole experience would just be oh-so international (without having to ship my worldly goods overseas by container).
Because my husband and I are deeply rooted in the States though, a move to Canada unfortunately won’t be happening anytime soon. We do love to visit there though, and here are five reasons why you, too, should consider a sojourn in Montréal, Quebec’s largest city.
1. Easy in, easy out By car, Montréal is about 6.5 hours from Manhattan, 5.5 hours from Boston, 8 hours from Philadelphia, and about 10 hours from Cleveland. The direct routes and good highways make this drive an easy one for those who live on the East Coast. It’s a quick 2-1/2 hour flight from Chicago.
While valid passports are needed by US citizens when traveling by plane to and from Canada, enhanced driver’s licenses are acceptable when traveling by car.
And keep in mind that if you’re traveling alone with your kids, while not mandatory, it’s helpful to have a letter of consent from the parent not traveling. Go to travel.state.gov for specific international travel requirements.
2. Très cultural The allure and romance of this French-speaking city is unavoidable. There’s something intriguing about the French language. My kids love watching the road signs change from English to French while approaching Quebec…and they think using foreign money is very cool (although US dollars are accepted most everywhere).
While Montréal’s history is steeped in French tradition, there’s an international flair that permeates the city—it feels very European while still maintaining its North American integrity (perhaps much to the residents’ chagrin…do they still want to secede?).
From the Canadian Center for Architecture (founded by architect Phyllis Lambert, known for her work on New York’s Seagram’s Building and LA’s Biltmore Hotel) to the Museum of Fine Arts, Montréal has a huge network of museums, and many theater, music, and dance offerings.
3. Food, food, food Should I say it again? One of my absolute favorite reasons for traveling (if not the reason for traveling) is good food, and there is no doubt you will find an extraordinary array of cuisine in Montréal. While there are many French options, you’ll find restaurants serving fare from vegetarian to Thai, Moroccan to British.
A visit to Marché Atwater, a farmer’s market housed in a beautfiul Art Deco building, is key to understanding the city’s love affair with food. The pride and care for foodstuffs are evident in the presentation and quality of products here. The array of cheeses is breathtaking—it rivals Manhattan’s very best cheese shops.
A few Montréal must-haves: Bagels, tire (prounounced \tir\), and poutine.
The bagels here are not the doughy, over-inflated ones you’ll find in some US bagel shops. Instead, these smaller, hand-rolled rounds are baked in wood-fired ovens after they’re boiled, which creates a crispy crust around the dense, chewy interior. A Montreal classic, the St-Viateur Bagel Shop has become legendary for the thousands of bagels they sell every day.
Maple syrup is a national obsession in Canada, as it should be—they produce about 80% of the world’s supply, and most of it comes from Quebec. You’ll find maple syrup in cakes, pies, and even coffee. You’ll also see vendors pouring a strip of hot syrup on cold snow that is then lifted and rolled with a wooden stick.
This sticky, taffy-like candy is called tire. Maple sap is boiled past the point of syrup, but stopped before it turns to sugar.
(I wonder what they do in the summer? Is this a winter-only delicacy? I should have asked.)
One more not-to-be-missed Canadian comfort food: fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy. Yup, that’s right, fries and gravy. This quintessential carb-loaded guilty pleasure of Quebec is called poutine. The dish sounds like a big, greasy mess I know, but when prepared right, boy is it satisfying.
Forget local fast food joints when sampling poutine, head instead to Laurier in Outremont.
While the restaurant has gotten some bad press in the last few years (Gordon Ramsay was supposedly revamping the place, but is no longer involved), it still serves up succulent rotisserie chicken, hearty sandwiches, satisfying pot pies, and of course, poutine.The fries remain crisp under the savory gravy and the curds are delicate, not chewy like you’ll find at some spots serving the same dish.
The best part for the kids? Shirley Temples served in Mason jars rimmed with Pop Rocks (clever idea, eh? I’m trying that one at home).
The waitress even left some extra Pop Rock packs for the kids.
4. Old Montréal Okay, I’ll be honest, the heading of “4. Old Montréal” is a cover for one of my favorite spots in the city: Scandinave. I know it should probably be a museum or significant site in this area of town, but honestly, this spot on the historic district’s waterfront is transporting. Not that you need to escape the city, but this Scandinavian spa is sublime
My friend, Viviane, was desperate to take me there and I couldn’t understand why (I’m really not a big spa-goer)—until I was there.
The philosophy of this hydrotherapy spa is based on warming the body, ice cold submersion or rinsing, and relaxation. After soaking in warm waters, you plunge into a single-person pool that feels as shocking as a dip in the North Sea. Or relax in the sauna then refresh yourself under an (as my daughter would say) epic showerhead that deluges you with glacial-like waters.
Lots of beautiful blonde wood, tile, and rock adorn the spa’s soothing modern interior.
Of course there are many other reasons for visiting Old Montréal. It’s definitely worth spending a leisurely day in this part of town (especially if a few of those hours are at Scandinave).
5. Family appeal Traveling to cities with kids can be downright exhausting, unbearable at times. Montréal is different. It’s small enough to be manageable, but large enough to give big city appeal. The residents exude sophistication and approachability. There are many kid-friendly attractions, including the Montréal Science Centre. It’s a great starter city for kids who haven’t traveled to many others. And for those traveling without kids, I hear there’s plenty to keep you busy after dark.
Have you been to Montréal? Any recommendations?