Spring break in Montréal: Getting out and about as a family

Martine Rhéaume

Martine Rhéaume is a strategic writer. The texts she writes or edits are elegant yet precise, direct yet pleasant. Martine first got a degree in musicology before getting an advanced graduate diploma in Marketing Communications (HEC Montréal, 2016). She worked as an editor, then an advertising copywriter for TC Médias Livres from 2011 to 2016. Since 2017, Martine is editor in chief at C2 Montréal.

The kids are home from school, full of energy and, like it or not, in need of some refreshing screen-free activities. Spring break is the perfect time to discover the city’s charms together, venture into unfamiliar neighborhoods and revisit the places you love. Here are some suggestions for fun activities for families during Québec’s March break.

All around Montréal

Get to know another neighborhood better on professionally guided walking tours for family bubbles of four: architecture, history, murals and even ghosts are sure to brighten up your family walks. Located throughout the island of Montréal, 28 winter stations (designed by the Bureau du Design de Montréal in collaboration with numerous creative collectives) are ready to welcome visitors at a friendly social distance, of course. Children aged 6 to 11 get free rides on the STM during March break when accompanied by an adult with a valid transit pass. Add free parking downtown on weekends and you won’t break the bank while exploring the city with your family.

Le Vieux-Montréal

Anyone with young children might have already explored Come Aboard! Pirates or Privateers?, Pointe-à-Callière museum’s seafaring interactive adventure, but a complete redesign has made the exhibit an exciting new experience. For older children, temporary exhibition A Railroad to Dreams demystifies a time-tested mode of transport that has changed the face of the world. Buy your tickets online (without a reserved time slot) to take advantage of economical family and child rates, and be sure to consult the guidelines for visitors.

Located along the St. Lawrence River, the Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum invites families to explore a unique heritage site. For spring break, the museum has put together fun activities for families, including a rally around the chapel and “seek and find” games in the exhibition halls. So many ways to explore the museum and make new discoveries! (Make sure to climb up to the tower to get a glimpse of the magnificent view of the river.)

See the spectacular ice on the St. Lawrence River and Montréal’s snow-covered skyline from a whole new perspective on La Grande Roue de Montréal: the observation wheel is open to the public, admitting one family bubble per cabin. As the wheel goes 'round, make a game of how many church bell towers, bridges and other landmarks the kids can count! Winner gets extra marshmallows on their hot chocolate or can pick whatever delectable snack they want from Délice Érable & cie, a bistro boutique with enticing take-out fare a few steps away on Saint-Paul Street.

On weekends, strap in and soar above the Old Port at MTL Zipline as you take in the spectacular scenery.

The Château Ramezay is also open for spring break and presenting the eye-opening temporary exhibition Montréal Landscapes - Power Corporation of Canada Artworks Collection in addition to its permanent exhibition, Life at the Château - Splendor and misery in New France. The family rate of $25 for up to three children makes a visit to this historic site a great budget option.

Want to stop somewhere nearby for a hot beverage or even come home with dinner already in the bag? Mélisse restaurant offers soups, sandwiches, salads, fresh pasta, grilled meats, stews and desserts. Anti-frozen-feet tip: order in advance to cut down on the wait outside. The fab Italian restaurant Un po di più and the famous Olive + Gourmando welcome take-out orders too. Add to your take-out list the heavenly pastries from Maison Christian Faure and dishes from trendy Holder brasserie.

Downtown

Reconnect with the pleasure of strolling through shopping centres as a family, in search of a little something that will make each of you happy (or in search of pants that reach past the ankle, because even in a pandemic these kids are growing fast!) From east to west along Sainte-Catherine Street, choose your stops among Complexe Desjardins, Eaton Centre, Place Montréal Trust, Les Cours Mont-Royal and the versatile Alexis Nihon. Immerse your senses in an experience designed to connect to what matters today through powerful visual projections and stunning sound at OASIS immersion. Along the way, order vegan take-out dishes from LOV on Rue de la Montagne. In cold weather, stop in at every mall – your teens might not even realize they’re walking the day away.

A little further south, Place Ville-Marie welcomes visitors during its visionary transformation. A few steps away, pick up fresh and prepared delicacies at Marché Artisans, located in the lobby of Hotel Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth (also accessible by the underground).

In the heart of the Quartier des spectacles, the Loop art project invites everyone to hop in and pedal: as the speed increases, the 12 giant zoetropes spring to life with a soundtrack and images by Quebec illustrators, inspired by literary works by Joséphine Bacon, Dany Laferrière and Wajdi Mouawad.

Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Olympic Park

Nature is never far away in the urban Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood. With the reopening of the Biodôme, the lynx, monkeys, exotic birds and famous penguins are settling into their new habitat and ready for visitors. Up the hill, the Botanical Garden outdoor paths are free to roam (or cross-country ski) in winter or opt for a ticket to the tropics in the garden’s nine greenhouses.

Nearby, Parc Maisonneuve features an ice rink as well as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails that will have everyone craving a good hot chocolate. Regulars buy it at Arhoma on Place Simon-Valois, at the Hoche Café east of Pie-IX or at the Atomic Café, a little further west. Third-wave coffee lovers are eagerly awaiting the reopening of Hélico Café, scheduled for March. For a sustaining and definitely festive family meal, visit the take-out counter at the aptly named Les Affamés restaurant.

Lovers of well-kept secrets meet at the small ice rink in Parc Lalancette, a stone's throw from the Joliette metro station. And for a low-speed change of scenery, the Parc National des Îles de Boucherville offers bikes with oversized tires (yes, the famous “fatbikes”), as well as snowshoes and cross-country skis – buy passes online in advance and reserve your rental equipment over the phone.

From the Plateau to Villeray

Near Beaver Lake on Mount Royal, lace up your skates and try a few tricks on the refrigerated ice rink. With on-site rentals of ice skates, cross-country skis, snowshoes and snow tubes you can fully enjoy winter on the city’s beloved mountain. To discover the mountain in a whole new way, challenge your family with the Mysteries of Beaver Lake winter rally (download the instructions in advance) or develop your inner urban ornithologist by following the bird feeder circuit.

Hundreds of city skating rinks dot the Montréal landscape, including in several large parks, such as Parc Jarry and Parc La Fontaine, where you’ll also find sledding hills. For hot chocolate, check out Montréal’s indie coffee shops or go into état de shock (shock or not, you’ll probably come out with a box of chocolates to enjoy later). And don’t come home empty-handed for dinner: pick up an Italian dish at Fiorellino (Laurier) or a bistro classic at Les Enfants Terribles (Bernard).

Parc Jean-Drapeau island getaway

With the right winter boots, there’s nothing quite as invigorating as a family winter hike on the 25 km of trails in Parc Jean-Drapeau. For a little more speed, bring your sleds and go sliding down the free slope near Espace 67. Practice arabesques on the refrigerated skating rink Radio-Canada OHdio or their newest oval-shaped rink, or help your kids refine their cross-country skiing on the island’s beginner (Île Sainte-Hélène ) and intermediate (Île Notre-Dame) trails. The fat bike hype has indeed reached Parc Jean-Drapeau too – and it’s an ideal place to experience what this winter bike and its giant tires can do in the snow. Sneak some history lessons into the day on a new snowshoe trail created by the Stewart Museum. Don't forget to warm you up around the elaborate mitt-warmer!

Quartier du canal and Pôle des rapides

Real sledding enthusiasts know to head to the city’s Southwest. Parc Le Ber in Pointe-Saint-Charles boasts a sledding hill that is rarely overrun with sledders (easy access from Ash Street, bring your own sleds).

For warm-up breaks head to Café Bloom on Center Street and Le Trou north of the Canal for take-out beverages. Continue your visit west along Rue Notre-Dame to taste the exquisitely delicious creations of Patrice Pâtissier or the charming cereal bowls and brunch dishes at Barley. A little further, by car, metro or bus, Newman Hill at Parc Ignace-Bourget features several sledding corridors where you ride your own sled for free or rent snow tubes (online, the day before) – an outdoor adventure at a low cost.

West Island wildlife

Discover an array of Québec wildlife in a natural and enchanting setting, without even leaving the island of Montréal. About 30 minutes from downtown, the Ecomuseum Zoo is home to otters, ducks, wolves, foxes, owls and more animals. No car to get you to the West Island? Make it a train getaway (around 30 minutes from Vendôme station; budget for a short taxi ride on arrival). As with many outings this spring break, remember to buy your tickets in advance! And have fun!

All aboard for family fun

From March 3 to 7, Exporail, the Canadian railway museum in Saint-Constant just south of Montréal, will be welcoming visitors for spring break from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with strict sanitary measures in place. Families can discover an immersive space with 400 railway artifacts, view magnificent archival images, explore the permanent exhibition and even access some railway vehicles.

Martine Rhéaume

Martine Rhéaume is a strategic writer. The texts she writes or edits are elegant yet precise, direct yet pleasant. Martine first got a degree in musicology before getting an advanced graduate diploma in Marketing Communications (HEC Montréal, 2016). She worked as an editor, then an advertising copywriter for TC Médias Livres from 2011 to 2016. Since 2017, Martine is editor in chief at C2 Montréal.

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