Looking for a late-summer, drivable getaway? One with a foreign flair that’s perfect for both kids and adults?
In a little over five hours from New York, across the Canadian border, you’ll reach the multicultural city of Montreal, an ideal destination for those who want a European twist to their vacation (you’ll hear plenty of French, of course).
Exploring Old Montreal, founded in 1642, is a delight. The central square offers a multitude of shops and restaurants, along with various street performers who add to the liveliness of the area. Take a horse-and-buggy ride through the narrow streets of the old city, passing by historic buildings like the old town hall and many art galleries. Enjoy a pedal boat ride on a lake at the historic Old Port, now an expansive park that includes the Montreal Science Center where kids can have a ball interacting with scores of exhibits.
Just minutes from downtown, in the stadium that was used for the 1976 Olympics, the Montreal Biodome houses recreations of the four ecosystems found in the Americas with a variety of animals that live in each of the habitats — macaws in the Tropical Forest, lynx in the Laurentian Forest, penguins in the Arctic and Antartic, and various kinds of fish that inhabit the St. Lawrence Marine Ecosystem.
Right across from the Biodome, the entire family will enjoy walking through the 30 themed gardens that make up the Montreal Botanical Garden, one of the largest gardens in the world. There you will experience the beauty of the Chinese garden, the Japanese garden, and hundreds of varieties of flowers that bloom in every season of the year. Within the Botanical Garden there is the Insectarium displaying both live and dead bugs, the largest collection in North America.
A super special outing for kids (and definitely grownups) is the Exporail/Canadian Railway Museum. It’s one of the world’s most important railway museums and the largest of its kind in Canada. You need to drive a half hour to get there but it is well worth the trip. You’ll not only see 44 old railway cars in the Angus Pavilion — including a locomotive, a dining car, a mail car, and a school car — but you can also board several of the trains to experience what travel used to be like. In addition, you can take an old-fashioned streetcar that winds its way around the immense site of 160 cars, and the whole family can ride a miniature train throughout the park.
A very special treat is a visit to the Jean-Talon Market, a produce market several stops on the Metro from downtown Montreal. The market is frequented more by residents than tourists, so the prices are reasonable and the range of produce is wide. The fruits and vegetables are so fresh you will want to sample them all — and you can as you walk down aisle after aisle of peaches, strawberries, plums, melons, pineapples, and every vegetable you can think of. Around the market are food stalls featuring cheeses, fish, pastries, olives, crepes, maple syrup, sushi, and frozen desserts to sample before buying. Definitely come hungry.
If you’re museum minded, pay a visit to the Musée des Beaux Arts, the oldest and finest museum in Montreal, with prestigious collections of ancient culture, European art, Canadian art, Inuit and Amerindian art, and contemporary and decorative arts. Admission to the museum’s permanent collections is free. You can reach the museum through the underground city of Montreal, 20 miles of well-lit aisles with shops and eateries, all connected to subway stations, hotels, and downtown attractions.
Montreal has one of the largest Jewish communities in Canada, second only to Toronto. The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, the first synagogue in Canada and one of the oldest in North America, traces its history back to 1760. The Sephardi synagogue’s congregation serves over 700 families who come from almost every country in the world, many of them French-speaking from North Africa and the Middle East. Visitors are welcome all year round, and it is an easy reach by metro, located in the multicultural neighborhood of Cote-de-Neiges, where there are many kosher restaurants in addition to a variety of ethnic cuisines.
The city’s oldest Ashkenazic synagogue is the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount, close to downtown Montreal. Those seeking Jewish food particular to Montreal must sample its amazing smoked meat sandwiches and distinctive bagels — not quite up to New York standards, but delicious in their own right.