72 Hours in Montreal, Part One: Old Montreal and Amphibus Tour

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Historic first fire hall in Old Montreal
Montreal’s first fire hall. Taken in Old Montreal while on the Amphibus tour. Photo by Jody Moon

My family and I recently spent a few days exploring Montreal, something we’ve meant to do for a while. We’re a bit of distance away (we live in London, Ontario) but have passed through or close to Montreal on a number of occasions; we felt it was finally time for a stop in Canada’s second-largest city. Established in 1642, the Francophone city has a wealth of history to explore, as well as some family-friendly attractions. The first part of my account covers the time we spent in Old Montreal and the Amphibus Tour.

My wife was already in Montreal earlier in the week for a conference, so we decided to keep the hotel and the kids and I made the 10-hour drive to meet her. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and stayed until Saturday morning — not a whole lot of time, but enough to get a good feel for the city.

Port of Montreal
View of Montreal from on the water in the Amphibus. Photo by Jody Moon.

One of our favorite parts of the trip was old Montreal. Just a short walk from our hotel, the modern architecture, asphalt and chain stores quickly gave way to older buildings, narrow cobblestone roads and quirky little shops. Many are tourist traps, true enough (we must have passed a half dozen in five minutes featuring faded bottles of maple syrup and tee-shirts sporting polar bears or a moose), but the atmosphere quickly changes from bustling metropolitan center to a more laid back, old European vibe. And while wandering the streets and exploring the shops is a great way to spend hours at a time, nothing beats an Amphibus tour to get the bigger picture.

Montreal amphibus
The amphibus waiting to load up. Photo by Brad Moon

I love these aquatic buses. Whenever we visit a city, the Amphibus (or equivalent) is one of the first things we scope out. We’ve done Toronto, Charlottetown, Ottawa and now Montreal (we would have gone on one in Boston, too, but ran out of time). When you have kids in tow theses things are just tough to beat.

  1. They are buses that plunge into the water to become boats. That’s just plain cool. It’s like a ride at an amusement park.
  2. They are a shaded place with padded seats to sit and take a break for an hour or so on what can often be a long day with a lot of walking. Takes the pressure off parents, helps the little ones to regroup.
  3. You learn a lot. The tour guides are usually very informative and the bus typically does a circuit through a historically significant part of the city so you get a pretty good feeling for your surroundings.
  4. You always get a waterfront view that, in many cases, you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.

Montreal’s Amphibus Tour ran for just over an hour and they offered a family rate (It was around $110 for the five of us). I highly recommend going if you plan on visiting the city, but we’ve learned through experience there a few things you should keep in mind with any of these tours. Get there early to buy tickets in advance, show up 15-20 minutes before the official boarding time (otherwise you’re liable to be scattered throughout the vehicle), make sure kids use the bathroom beforehand (once you’re on one of these things, there’s no turning back and there are no on board facilities), and bring a jacket — even on sunny days, being on the water is often chilly.

Old Montreal
A view of Old Montreal, bustling even on a weekday. Photo by Brad Moon

Old Montreal was a hit. Our kids may not have been overwhelmed with the historical aspect of the area, but the bright, colorful and trendy shops, the cobblestone streets, the waterfront and the food certainly caught their interest. And while French is the primary language spoken in the city, we never had any problems with communication (something I was a little concerned about with my extremely rusty high school French) — I suspect they’re pretty used to tourists.

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