But will we see a moose?
February 22, 2015 9:23 PM   Subscribe

I am planning a road trip from NJ to Mackinac Island, Michigan the first weekend of August. We are thinking about taking the long way home and stopping off in Montreal. Here's the catch. I know nothing about Quebec or Montreal. Hope me?

My kids are 10 and 12. We did a five day road trip last summer, so being survivors, we're attempting to extend the journey this time around.

The Mackinac Island portion of the trip is part of a Mini Cooper rally (as was last year's trip). It was fun seeing different parts of the country, and the girls have never been out of the US.

Montreal looks to be about 12 hours or so away. Are there absolute must sees? Places to avoid? Awesome restaurants? Tourist hell holes that suck? Finally, is there someplace different than Montreal that I should be considering that I haven't even considered?

I looked online and am honestly overwhelmed by the neighborhoods - they all look very close together. Old Montreal looks beautiful but the rooms obviously are smaller than the big chain hotels. It seems kind of a shame to go to such a pretty location and stay in a plain corporate chain that I can find here, no? Others that seemed cheaper were out by the airport but then looked like they would require the subway or some other driving. How bad is the traffic situation and parking? (I have an ankle injury that will prevent me from walking extensively.). Right now, I'm thinking about a three night stay for wherever it is we land, if that makes a difference - and it would fall during the week.

I already know about having to get passport cards (regular passports expired), as well as calling to get a Canadian insurance card for the car. It was also suggested by a friend that I call my insurance company to confirm that our healthcare is valid in Canada. Am I missing anything else?

Thanks so much!
posted by dancinglamb to Travel & Transportation around Montreal, QC (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Au Pied De Cochon

One of the best meals I have ever had, if you like (very) rich food.
posted by Cosine at 9:31 PM on February 22, 2015

Montreal is absolutely amazing, you guys will love it. It's not like any other city in north America. The food is great, the shopping is great, there are beautiful buildings and lots to see. The center is small and dense, stay somewhere you can walk around for sure, not out by the airport.
posted by fshgrl at 9:44 PM on February 22, 2015

Montreal Underground City!
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:49 PM on February 22, 2015

Best answer: Montreal is fantastic, especially around that time of year.

You'll want to stay in town somewhere, not near the airport (if you do stay near the airport, it will be a hassle to get anywhere interesting, although there is a bus from the airport itself to civilization if you'd rather park near the airport.

For example, here's a lovely place to stay near McGill and downtown areas; the proprietors are awesome and the place is excellent. One can park there (it is also very near the more or less finest business on earth, although this may be of limited interest for kids). I know a few people who have had good luck with Airbnb, mostly in various places around the Plateau, which is pretty optimal from a stuff-to-do perspective.

I haven't driven in Montreal, but have spent considerable time in other folks' cars. Mainly be prepared for some headaches involving one-way streets. (The drivers confine their overtly murderous intentions to cyclists.) Parking is probably un-great. Public transport is quite good; depending on your ankle situation, it might be optimal to stay in an interesting area where you can more or less leave your car and Metro/bus where you need to go (this will entail walking perhaps a few blocks at a time).

The mountain has stairs and a nice view but might not be great for ankle; it's okay, the surrounding park is nice.

Random stuff: Cafe Santropol, the Biodome (particularly the bit with insects), Marche Jean-Talon, the old port (there's a bunch of neat stuff along the river and in that general vicinity), Parc La Fontaine (I am a sucker for parks, I guess?). This may be of interest. There are museums.

The much-vaunted underground city is basically a shopping mall with no natural light and a lot of crowds.

Maybe the Osheaga festival is around then?
posted by busted_crayons at 11:25 PM on February 22, 2015

Best answer: As mentioned above, check out the Biodome if you have kids in tow.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:01 AM on February 23, 2015

We did this trip when I was a kid. Going out from NJ, we went through Chicago, and back through Canada. I remember it being really boring both ways. Canada is a slightly different color of boring than Ohio and Pennsylvania.
posted by smackfu at 5:39 AM on February 23, 2015

Best answer: Not just the Biodome, but the Insectarium and the botanical gardens are all in the same complex and they are all AWESOME. We didn't plan time to see the gardens and regretted it- they were huge and beautiful.

YMMV in August, but we went to the Biodome right when it opened , I think 9am, and had the place literally to ourselves for about half an hour.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:53 AM on February 23, 2015

I recommend staying at Auberge Les Bons Matins. It's not crazy expensive, and it's very, very close to a subway station. I don't recommend doing much driving in Montreal -- the drivers there are batshit insane.

You will not see a moose.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:06 AM on February 23, 2015

Although I do not live in Northern Ontario I have a large number of friends that do, especially around the Soo and they will not drive in the evening, night, or early morning because of the dangers of moose and the number of moose-caused funerals they have been to. So, yes, you may see a moose, but you really don't want to hit one. I am not a Northerner so I don't know how active they are in August, check with someone who actually knows.

Were you considering breaking up the 12 hour drive into two parts? If so, i would recommend that you head south at Sudbury to take a Hwy 60 through Algonquin Park. I you were looking for a place to stay overnight, you would be able to find several types of accommidations (shoutout to the Wolf Den Bunkhouse).

Montreal itself, is a great choice. Personally, I spend that little bit extra to stay at the Queen Elizabeth (see if you can get the room John and Yoko staged their bed-in for peace)

Have a great trip!
posted by saucysault at 7:10 AM on February 23, 2015

> Are there absolute must sees?

The Espace pour la vie has been mentioned – the botanical gardens, the Biodome, the Insectarium. There's also a new planetarium, brand new as of 2 years ago. An excellent day out, just make sure if you get tickets for a planetarium show that you've got the English narration. The botanical gardens are large and beautiful, and there's a sort of excursion train thing that goes around the whole gardens if you're not up to walking it.

The Impact is our major league soccer team, which plays at home in a stadium in that end of town. If your kids are into soccer you might want to check the schedule. Tickets are not hard to get.

Osheaga is mentioned above, but that's your basic two-day music festival, pitched more at people in their late teens and twenties.

Someone also mentions the underground city. This is not as exciting as it sounds. It's essentially a huge mall, with connecting tunnels. Can be handy if you hit a very rainy day, or if you need to shop, but you're looking at endless boutiques and food courts. As of now the Canadian dollar is down, but that's offset by generally higher prices in Canada.

Most visitors look at Old Montreal and maybe its churches (Notre-Dame is spectacular for anybody) and history museums. The science museum in the Old Port might turn out to have something more interesting for your kids. The Old Port site lists these, plus river excursions and other fun stuff you can do in that area.

You're coming after most of the big summer festivals are done, but there's still the Highland Games, which usually take place in early August, there's the interesting Matsuri Japon on August 15 – these are both one-day festivals – and then there's the hot air balloon festival in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, outside Montreal, August 8-16.

> Places to avoid?

In the sense of dangerous? No. Montreal's an astoundingly safe city and the few areas that are faintly marginal are way, way off the tourist track. But it's a big city so remain reasonably aware of where your belongings are. Thefts of laptops in cafés have been noted in the last year or two.

> Awesome restaurants?

Someone mentioned Au Pied de Cochon. That's a well-known place, but the food's expensive and very, very heavy for August. Depends what your kids like, but taking them to dim sum in Chinatown might be fun, and isn't an expensive venture.

I have a page of things to do with kids in Montreal.
posted by zadcat at 8:43 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

We stayed in the LHotel (website appears to be down but that's a link to TripAdvisor's reviews with hotel contact info) in old Montreal and our room was enormous. It was also very quiet despite being right in the center of the action. Highly recommend.
posted by something something at 9:42 AM on February 23, 2015

As everyone is mentioning, Montreal is an amazing city - definitely up there as one of the most extraordinary that North America has. Very international, lots of amazing restaurants, shops, and so on. We've often stayed at Le Appartement Hotel, which is on Sherbrooke, very close to a number of very cool neighborhoods.

Many, many places to visit - just make sure you include Fairmount Bagels as one of the places. In my opinion, they have the best bagels anywhere AND they're open 24 hours a day. My daughter moved away from Montreal several years ago, and I keep scheming about how to get some of those bagels here (by the way, if you're driving by San Francisco after your journey, could you drop some all-dressed by?).
posted by jasper411 at 2:45 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Totally suggested going, I was on Mackinac last summer and it was amazing and I toyed with doing the Canadian drive and didn't. I live a few hours from Montreal and love it.

Am I missing anything else?

Yes. Your US cellphones will work in Canada but they will be on a different network that will charge crazy rates. Avoid this at all costs. Either set your phones into airplane mode when you are there or get a cheap SIM card (basically turning your phone into a pay as you go phone, will only work if your phone is unlocked. If you ask your cell phone carrier about this they will try to sell you international phone packages which might be okay but are probably more than you need to pay. Legally they have to unlock your phone if you're going to another country - this thread has some advice) for the short time you are there or buy a trac phone. Not a huge deal and not an insurmountable hassle but could be a bad surprise if you weren't expecting it. I hope you see a Moose, Canada is great. Look me up if you're driving down through Vermont and need a pit stop in Central VT.
posted by jessamyn at 2:57 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers - *especially* Jessamyn. I never even considered the cellphone situation. I've been trying to research that and it seems that I can add on an international plan for a month with Sprint that isn't too spendy, but it doesn't include texting.

Somethingsomething, I was booked at Lhotel and then decided to change it so that we could add on a day in Connecticut at the end of the trip. Always a next time, right?

We've decided to add on Vermont (only for a few hours to go get ice cream, though), Maine and Connecticut. Wheeee!

Will let you know if we see a moose.
posted by dancinglamb at 11:56 AM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

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