I present this updated article due to its popularity last year. There are some additions and changes to the restaurants in the city and there is a new suggestion of what to do with kids or adults for that matter. Again, especially with the exchange rate which works so well for Americans in Canada you cannot go wrong to choose Montreal as your easy-to-get-to vacation destination.
The summer is upon us and families are considering different options of fun and easy destinations to visit. In my mind, Montreal is a no-brainer of a great place to visit, with opportunities for everyone in the family to have a good time.
Montreal is six hours away by car for a couple alone, but with children in the car I think that one would have to consider more stops along the way. For sure seven to seven and a half hours should do it. Of course there is always flying. It is a one-hour flight but the hassle nowadays of airports and security make it so much more comfortable to drive. Everything and anything can be thrown into the car and you are off.
Cities passed on the way that might be of interest are Albany, Saratoga and Lake George. Great Escape Six Flags is in Queensbury, NY, 58 miles north of Albany. At exit 20 on the Northway for shoppers there are tons of discount stores in the Lake George Shopping Outlet.
Keep in mind that once on the Northway after Lake George until Plattsburgh there are very few services on the road. Thruway type of rest areas do not exist on this route. Be sure to fill up with gas before you leave and also once before you get to Canada, as close to the border as possible, as gasoline is outrageously expensive in Canada. It is also sold by the liter—not the gallon. Keep in mind that one gallon is 3 ¾ liters. Recently a liter cost C $1.05—multiply by that almost by four and that would be your price! WOW!
There is good news for all of you with US Dollars to spend in Canada. The US currency is very much in your favor. One US dollar is approximately 1.30 Canadian. That cannot be beaten!
Before crossing the border make sure that everyone has a passport and for young children their birth certificates are accepted as well. Once you have crossed the border all speed limits are listed in kilometers. One hundred kilometers per hour is 60 miles per hour. Montreal is approximately 45 minutes from the border.
Suddenly all of the signs will be in French. You are now in another country and in Quebec French is the primary language; nevertheless, especially in the city English is spoken by all. Once crossing the border the road to Montreal is totally straight. The only word that we can think of that might be tricky for everyone is the word pont which means bridge. In order to get into Montreal you must go over the Pont Champlain. There are no tolls in Quebec, which is a great relief considering where we are coming from.
Where should you stay once you get there? There are many choices and I will make this as simple as possible. For families who want economy and convenience and are not looking for luxury, I would suggest the Quality Hotel Midtown. Again, this is not a luxurious hotel, and it is not downtown. However, nothing in Montreal takes long to get to and downtown by car from this hotel is a mere 15 minutes. It is extraordinarily convenient in many ways. With accommodations at the hotel is a free kosher breakfast each morning. There is also a kosher meat restaurant on the premises and the biggest plus for many families with kids (and without) is that they are approximately 50 feet from the famous Kosher Pizza Pita. Pizza Pita is open most nights until 2 a.m. They have a drive-through and are extremely child friendly. Their menu offers a variety of many dairy dishes aside from a variety of pizzas and felafel. Salads, pasta and fish are just a few of the items on their menu. The most important dish that they serve is poutine, which is a Quebec favorite. It is definitely the overwhelming favorite of dishes served there. Poutine is French fries with a cheesy gravy on top. I am wondering how many dishes they sell per day.
The Quality Suites is in very close proximity to shuls. A daily minyan at the Congregation Shomrim Laboker is a mere two blocks from the hotel. The Lubavitch Yeshiva, with many minyanim, is also two blocks from the hotel. Kosher Quality bakery is a mere eight blocks away and there is nothing that you cannot get there. They have an enormous variety of take-out food and delicious danish and challah.
For those who would prefer something closer to the center of the city (Centre Ville) there is a myriad of hotels to choose from. The Sofitel on Sherbrooke Street is upscale and was built by the well-known David Azrieli. As a result they have a number of rooms that would allow one to use a key on Shabbos. The closest place to daven while staying downtown would be at the Chabad of Westmount. They have a daily minyan as well as a minyan on Shabbos where everyone is treated to a yummy lunch.
Very close to the Sofitel is the Cantlie Suites, which is more conducive to family stays. There is also the Chateau Champlain, the Bonaventure, the Queen Elizabeth and tons and tons of other hotels. Take your pick.
Parking is nowhere near the cost of what it is in this area. The hotels all have parking arrangements, but many times you can arrange to park your car on the street overnight. Be sure to check the signs carefully. (Remember they use the 24-hour clock.)
Once in this fantastic city, what is there to do? There are tons of free festivals throughout the summer. Find out where and when they are. This year in particular the three weeks is so late that we are able to participate in the festivities without hesitating. The Comedy Festival and the Jazz Festival are probably the best known. Although many of the performances have a cost, so many do not. As well, a must, would be to visit Old Montreal and walk along the cobblestoned streets and watch the street performers. Rent bicycle buggies that can seat as many as six (maybe eight) and drive along the streets along the water. Regular bikes are available to rent as well. Artists are on call for caricatures and portraits. Don’t forget the Amphi-Bus tour, which leaves from Old Montreal as a regular bus and then proceeds to become a boat and goes into the water. Lots of fun for kids!
There is a kosher Ben and Jerry’s in Old Montreal. The City Hall with its huge fountains in front of the building and the Palais de Justice (Courthouse) are situated there as well. Treat yourself to a caleche ride (horse and buggy), where the driver will definitely entertain you.
Downtown as well there is the Science Museum, the Art Museum and the McCord Museum. Directly in the middle of the city is the campus of the famous McGill University, and wherever you look when you are downtown you will see the mountain way up in the center of the city. Mount Royal, which is where Montreal gets its name from, is looking down upon you. It is possible to drive up the side of the mountain from two different directions and once at the top there is a lookout where you can see as far as New York State on a clear day. Notice the cross at the top of the mountain indicating that Montreal has always been a Catholic City, which is what it means if you hear someone say they are French Canadian. A French Canadian is a person who is from Quebec and Catholic.
Visit the Biodome with children where they are able to walk through four different seasons and ecosystems—one minute they are freezing in the Arctic and the next they are in the Tropics. From the Biodome one can walk over to the Olympic Stadium and Tower. Tickets can be purchased including both facilities if so desired. The Botanical Gardens are also very close to these properties.
Montreal has several different Jewish areas. I can say quite emphatically that I never experienced any type of anti-Semitism while living there. The Yeshiva Community is located off Van Horne and de Vimy. The Chassidish community (Montreal has the second largest population of Chassidim in North America next to New York) can be found between Park Avenue and de Vimy and between Van Horne and Ste Catherine. The majority of sephardim live in Cote St Luc or St Laurent where they have their own schools, shuls, kollels, shteibels etc. (and delicious bakeries).
The majority of the frum kippah srugah community lives in Hampstead/Cote St Luc. That community is found by driving on Fleet towards Cavendish Blvd on both sides and then continuing on Cavendish all of the way to Westminster Avenue. The Cavendish Mall now has five kosher restaurants in their food court. Nowhere else can this be found anywhere in the world apart from Israel. There is a pizza store, a sushi restaurant, a deli, a chinese food establishment and a falafel/shwarma restaurant. The IGA(large supermarket) in the mall has a kosher bakery, take-out department, meat department and fish department under hashgacha. It is worth checking out. Also, in the same mall is a kosher butcher store called J and R.
I will list separately all of the restaurants (and there are many) as well as some exceptional bakeries.
For those who like to shop and are in the downtown area, Simon’s Department Store would be a worthwhile stop. They have fashionable reasonably priced skirts and tops and are known for their great men’s department. There is an underground city that links blocks and blocks of buildings, making it possible in the winter for people to actually never have to go out in the cold if they so choose. The underground city is covered with stores everywhere. For serious shoppers who are looking for “good deals” for children’s clothing and some ladies’ clothing there are factories that are well known in religious circles where most of the children’s clothing sold in the Monsey, Lakewood and Brooklyn communities is made.
These companies are all open to the public. Some take credit cards and others do not. Best known is probably Lolly Pop; Aritex; Un, Deux, Trois and Petit Bouffon. These are all factory stores without any great amenities. Be sure to check out their hours. Nicole Hats for ladies, where they will adjust and add on to the hat of your choice, as well as Hats by Ophelie, are also made in Montreal and the factories are open to the public. All stores are open in Montreal on Sunday. When visiting the “factories” it is definitely in your best interest (perhaps not your diet’s) to visit Chesky’s bakery on Bernard. It was written about in Gourmet magazine for its amazing yummy rugelach and cheese crowns. Everything there is scrumptious.
For those who would prefer to be in the mountains, Mt Tremblant in the Laurentians offers many family vacation packages and is approximately two hours from the city. Jet boating, boat rides, mini golf, go-carting and great hiking trails are just a few of the features there. There is an active Chabad in Mt Tremblant with a minyan and a delicious lunch served to all on Shabbos.
It is possible to rent a condo in Tremblant as well as many, many hotel rooms. The Fairmount is one of the most deluxe properties there. The Marriott Residence Inn and the Homestead Suites are all there as well. No question that families would have a great time here.
There is so much to say and one can see that I am extremely passionate about this city. I would be happy to help anyone plan a family trip. Do not hesitate to be in touch at [email protected].
By Nina Glick