5 years, 9 months ago
Words by Anna Tobin of Ciaobambino, exclusively for HouseTrip as part of our #housetripping series.
This may surprise you, but children actually want to get the same from a holiday as most adults. Think about it: they want to relax; they want to have fun; and, they may not know it, but they enjoy soaking up new experiences too. We’ve just come back from a city break in Montreal with our eight-year-old and five-year-old and we accomplished all of this.
credit: AV Design
Okay, so the kids did want to do the having fun part at 5.30 in the morning, a couple of hours earlier than normal, because they were jet-lagged. They did want to relax in front of the TV watching the novel Canadian programmes right after lunch, just as we had mustered up the energy to cycle a quadricycle – a four-wheeled pedal bike that can hold up to six – around Old Montreal. But, when we finally headed down to the old part of town later in the day, they were so enthused about riding a quadricycle for the first time that they both wanted to ride up front and take control of the steering!
Keeping in mind that you and your children want the same things from a holiday, but might just have a different order of achieving them, here is my top five checklist to ensure that everyone has a great time.
1. Have a flexible schedule
Get your children involved in the holiday planning and spend time discussing with them what they’d like to do once there. Point out along the way the places you’d like to visit and why, to see if you can get them excited about those places too. If you have older children, give them a map of your destination and ask them to list each place of interest and group them into geographical areas to see which you can do on the same day.
We went through a photo-heavy guidebook with our two on the flight to Montreal and got them to write down where they fancied going, what food they’d like to try and what activities they’d like to have a go at during the trip.
2. Give yourself time
Kids don’t want to pack as many sites as you can drag their tired feet to into a day. Opt for no more than two activities a day and be prepared for lots of fun restaurant and snack stops.
We spent three days in Montreal, one of which was spent eating the infamous Montreal bagels and scooting around Mount Royal, the park that the locals call ‘the mountain’ as it towers above the city. Another day was centred around Espace pour la vie Montreal, an area given over to an Insectarium, botanical garden, Planetarium and Biodome. The Biodome is a series of huge climate-controlled dome spheres where you can watch 4,500 creatures interact with each other in four perfectly recreated American ecosystems. It’s amazing. The last day was spent exploring Old Montreal, hanging out at the port and visiting the Museum of Archaeology.
There was lots more we could have packed in, but we would have sacrificed the children’s holiday spirit and unpacked a stream of moans if we’d attempted anything else. This taster gave us all enough to talk about and made us all want to go back. Something we plan to do one day, hopefully timing our next visit for one of the many festivals that Montreal is famous for.
3. Base yourself in a family neighbourhood
If you’re on a city break, or plan to do a lot of sightseeing in your chosen destination, I always find that it’s preferable to stay in a local, family-centred neighbourhood, rather than be bang in the centre of town. These areas tend to have parks, where kids can just be kids; family-friendly eateries, including good takeaway joints; and, to be close to other amenities such as skating rinks, cinemas and bowling alleys, which are useful to have nearby if the weather turns against you.
With or without kids, I wouldn’t want to stay in the centre of Montreal – it’s too built up, both over and underground. I asked a Quebecer about the best area to stay in before booking and I was advised to limit my search to the neighbourhoods in and around the Plateau Mont-Royal or Mont Real, as the local French speakers call it, and in particular St-Viateur Street, known for its buzzy restaurants, enticing grocery stores and cool shops. It turned out to be ideal.
4. Opt for multi-bedroom accommodation
If you’re together all day, you don’t want to be cramped in one room at night. Look for properties that have at least two bedrooms; a living room where you can chill when the children are in bed and where you can send them to watch TV when they wake up too early; a decent sized bathroom, with a bath as well as a shower if your kids are young; and, laundry facilities. You don’t want to spend hours in the laundry room, but it’s nice to be able to have a regular stream of clean clothes and to know that you won’t have to return home to a pile of dirty washing. Plus, it means that you don’t have to go for that extra suitcase.
I let my children help in the accommodation search. I find that if they are happy and a little familiar with a place before we’ve arrived, it means they settle into it quicker. We began scouring HouseTrip.com for family properties around Plateau Mont-Royal.
We narrowed it down to these two houses:
A four-bedroom property, including a colourful child’s room full of toys; spacious open-plan living area and a garden – the sort of house that you would like to transport to your home city and move in to.
A three-bedroom house, which was slightly smaller, as reflected in the price, but just as practical and inviting.
The kids were scouring the photos for innovative toys to play with, bunk-beds and a TV room. Bunks hold a magical allure to kids who don’t have bunks at home. We went for the smaller property, as we didn’t need the extra room and it was a great base.
5. Grill the locals
The people who know how you will get the best out of a city are the people who live in it with similar interests.
Our property host met us on arrival and directed us to the local organic grocery store, the famous St-Viateur bagel bakery and the local park and playground. She also told us which of the numerous restaurants welcomed families and served the best food.
When we got to that park, we sat on a bench whilst the kids played, and got chatting to a few mums and dads who lived just along the block. They told us to get to the Biodome early to avoid the queues, about the best bus to take into town and to book for the simulated archeological dig experience at the Montreal Museum of Archeology and History. Meanwhile, the kids had got chatting to their kids and begun practicing their very limited school French.
Featured image by schilfregen.