a peek inside the fishbowl

14 Feb, 2011

A family road trip to Old Montreal

Posted by andrea tomkins in: travel talk

A few summers ago Mark and I spent a weekend in Old Montreal to celebrate our tenth anniversary. We fell in love with this lovely part of the city and promised to return someday with kids in tow. So that’s what we did.

We left Friday night and returned last night. I’m still recovering. There was a lot to see:

Montreal mosaic

1. Old Montreal, 2. DSC_0883, 3. DSC_0906, 4. Cupcake!, 5. DSC_0901, 6. Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal, 7. Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal, 8. Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal, 9. Palais des Congres, 10. Palais des Congres, 11. Old Montreal, 12. Frogs at the Montréal Biodôme, 13. Fish at the Montréal Biodôme, 14. Puffins at the Montréal Biodôme, 15. DSC_0904

On Saturday we set out for Le Biodôme de Montréal. It is a neat place to visit. It’s essentially a cross between an indoor animal habitat and nature museum, divided into eco-zones. My favourite was the sub-Antarctic. I could have sat and watched the penguins and the puffins for a long time.

A suggestion for you: wear a sweater! The Antarctic zone is ok, and it’s hot in the tropics… but rather chilly in the Laurentians right now. (I’m not kidding.) Also, don’t leave without checking out the extensive “touch and learn” area near the coat check downstairs. It’s sooo worth visiting with kids, yet so easy to miss.

After our visit we returned to our home base, the Intercontinental Montreal, so we could park the car and browse around the old town on foot. It’s very difficult to drive and park in that part of town… we’re talking about very old cobblestone streets and super narrow sidewalks, but that just adds to its charm if you ask me.

I should mention that the hotel was fantastique. It was perfectly situated for us (it’s right on the edge of Old Montreal) and very modern and beautiful. It’s a great deal in the off-season too. I totally recommend it if you’re looking for a place to stay.

It was a unique experience to visit this time of year. Some of the stores and restaurants were closed but there was still a lot to see and do. We had lunch at Van Houtte’s because there weren’t that many options. Still, it was very good. The girls had homemade chicken soup and flaky croissants and I had a grilled vegetable and goat cheese panini. (It is clear to me that I must obtain a sandwich press of my own.)

Old Montreal is a wonder. It is a part of town that is full of contridictions. I spent much of the time just looking up:

Old Montreal

I’m amazed I didn’t walk into a signpost, or step into traffic. :)

Montreal itself is pretty amazing to me. At every corner I kept thinking: WHY CAN’T THEY DO THIS IN OTTAWA? Take the Palais de Congres for example, and its indoor orchard of hot pink tree trunks. Public art rules here.

After lunch we went to see the Notre Dame Basilica (official website here). If you’re in Montreal this is a must-see. It is breathtaking, inside and out. There is an admission fee ($5 for adults, $4 for kids 7-17) but  it’s worth every penny (do note you can attend services for free). I can’t describe how deeply beautiful it is. And don’t forget to visit the chapel.

Afterwards we enjoyed cupcakes at Les Glaceurs (453 rue Saint-Sulpice), and they were divine. Emma had peanut butter and chocolate. Yum.

After lots of walking around we went back to the hotel for naps (me) and a bit of swimming (Mark and the girls).

We had an early dinner was at Tokyo Sushibar at 185 (rue St-Paul Ouest). It was, AMAZING – inexpensive and crazy-deliciously fresh. We followed THAT by a tour of the Milky Way at the Montreal Planetarium. The girls were pretty impressed. The planetarium website seems to be down right now, but it’s at 1000 Saint-Jacques Street West.

Sunday was a blur of walking and exploring around the old port, part of which is open for skating right now, which is cool. (See The Quays Skating Rink for more info.)

Skating at the old port in Montreal

One of the highlights of our Sunday was a visit to Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History. If you visit Old Montreal you must include a visit. It’s basically a museum built over a very significant 1000-year old archaeological site. You can read more about it on their website here. I really recommend you take a couple of hours to wander and learn how this site evolved from a Native settlement to what it is today. (Pictured here!) It is totally fascinating to be standing next to ruins of old buildings (mind you, it’s all indoors) knowing that it was the centre of so much history. It gives the visitor an unprecedented sense of realism and connection that just wouldn’t happen otherwise.

After we checked out on Sunday afternoon we drove around downtown and up Mont Royal, which seemed to be home to a hive of winter activity right now. Before we knew it, it was time to head home to Ottawa.

Some of you may be wondering, why the focus on the old part of the city? Why not the fabulous wining and dining and shopping? What about Schwartz’s Deli? And Sainte-Catherine Street? Things that Montreal is famous for? Well, there’s a reason for that. We’re saving it for summer. :)

It was a really great trip, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

If you’re keen, you can look at the rest of my Montreal photos over here.

9 Responses to "A family road trip to Old Montreal"

1 | Just An Ottawa Dad

February 14th, 2011 at 11:52 am


I was raised on Schwartz’s smoked meat. Still travel back once a year or so for some. And anytime family is visiting Montreal, it’s considered bad form to return without some for everyone.

There is actually a musical about Schwartz’s that is supposed to debut this spring too… It’s based on this book: http://www.vehiculepress.com/titles/404.html

2 | Laura

February 14th, 2011 at 5:29 pm


I’m embarrassed to say we’ve lived in Ottawa 5+ years and haven’t visited Montreal with the kids. After your wonderful review and gorgeous photos I want to book something for March Break. Thanks Andrea. :)

3 | Sherry

February 14th, 2011 at 8:58 pm


I’m so glad you all enjoyed my city. :) You visited some of my favorite places in Montreal – I’m in love with the Notre Dame Basillica (though I haven’t been in awhile, I had no idea there was an admissions fee now, used to be free!), Pointe-a-Calliere is my favorite museum around here (though next time I also highly recommend the Marguerite Bourgeoys museum), and I could pretty much live at the Biodome.

I used to work in Old Montreal and I just loved having a reason to be down there on a daily basis.

When you come back, the Chinatown is small in comparison to a city like Toronto or Vancouver but it’s wonderful and has some delicious food. My favorite is Beijing. You can also get great stuff in the little shops for excellent prices.

Finally, thank you for mentioning the hotel. People have asked me before to suggest one but I live here; I have no need to know anything about the hotels so I’ve always been at a loss. Now I’ll have a good one to name!

4 | mrsgryphon (Sarah)

February 14th, 2011 at 10:39 pm


Lovely recap, Andrea – so glad you had a great weekend! As you know, I’m hoping to be in Montreal in May and have bookmarked this post for reference :)

5 | binki

February 15th, 2011 at 3:37 pm


One of our Montreal highlights is a trip to the Jean Talon market (usually on the way out of town). Amazing food haven. Fresh everything for sale, small restaurants and foodie stuff. A great place to taste amazing Quebec cheeses. Love the fresh fried calamari and smelts at the Greek fishery.

Agree with all of the highlights you mentioned. LOVE the live penguins at the Biodome (you can see them up close above and under water).

6 | Sasha

February 15th, 2011 at 11:06 pm


Thanks for the tips, had no idea “old”
Montreal had so much to offer! My trips to the city never took me far off the DeCarie. I want to take S somewhere on the train, methinks Mtl might fit the bill!

7 | andrea

February 16th, 2011 at 10:33 am


Sherry – I forgot this was your town! I should have asked for your recommendations before we left!

binki – I had heard abuot the Jean Talon market but it totally fell out of my brain. Next time for sure….

Sasha – Montreal has a TON of great things going for it, and it’s actually not that far. Mark and I hopped on VIA Rail to Montreal on our anniversary and it was totally worth it. I love taking the train… and someday I hope to make it a family trip.

8 | Alina Muresan

February 16th, 2011 at 3:10 pm


This is such a wonderful post. I do hope to visit Montreal one day and I will keep in mind all your suggestions. Thank you.

9 | Jonas

June 1st, 2015 at 12:11 pm


Great posts. You have fun as I do too. Thanks for sharing :)

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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