When you’re driving from Quebec through New Brunswick, you quickly realize the expanse of treed beauty this province has to offer. By hour 5, however, you’ll come to the realization that if you’ve seen a billion trees, you’ve seen them all, and as Moncton rolls into view, you’re keen to reacquaint yourself with civilization. This you will find in Moncton, and you will not be disappointed.
Moncton is a small city with all usual conveniences of a major city. With a population just under 70,000, it’s been labelled by Reader’s Digest as Canada’s “most polite and honest city”. As you make your way from the Trans Canada into the city centre, you’ll pass Magnetic Hill and the Magnetic Hill Zoo, which are surrounded by fast food options and hotels. You’ll pass the big box stores like BestBuy (where we picked up an indispensable piece of iPhone gear), and eventually you’ll whirl around the giant roundabout which will spit you out on the main drag. Downtown Moncton is where you should find your home for your visit.
Both quaint and hip, the main street is lined with pubs, eateries, patios, coffee spots, and shops, but also hosts a few hotels which make staying walking distance from the fun a cinch.
We stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn, which was freshly renovated and a huge hit with us and our kids. Our two-bedroom suite provided the first sleep without kids in the room in days — a welcome change when we rose in the morning to the sound of silence, instead of Teen Titans, or whatever show the kids were binge watching on Netflix at the time.
The hotel’s large saltwater pool was a hit with the kids, and there’s plenty of lounging area around it. (And a hot tub off to the side.) The hotel gym is well-equipped, too.
If you’re planning a longer stay (and you should!), the kitchens are amazing in the suites. Seriously, this was the kids’ favourite stop on the entire trip. Free breakfast is included, and is something we always enjoy.
Just a block off the main drag you’ll find Riverfront and Bore View parks, both of which highlight the main feature of Moncton: the Petitcodiac River, which is host to the city’s famous tidal bore. Twice daily, the water flows back upstream in one wave.
The bore, as it turns out, isn’t nearly as exciting as it was before a causeway was built in 1960 which caused silt to build up in the river mouth and dramatically reduce the ferocity of the bore. Apparently, prior to 1960, the bore was 1-2 meters tall, and rushed in so quickly it created an audible roar. Now it’s not hard to make puns about the “bore”. It’s still a fascinating sight: muddy (silty, actually) river bottom one moment, and water-filled river the next. Try to get a hotel room that overlooks the river if you can. It does make for a nice view over morning coffee.
Walking the streets of Moncton, you’ll find a bustling, friendly community, with free wifi throughout the downtown area. This is a nice touch for our American friends looking to avoid roaming charges, or for kids dying for a little internets to feed their Pokemon Go addiction.
If you’re there for just one night, there’s no question as to where you should eat: The Tide & Boar Gastropub. This hip pub serves great beers on tap, and features inspired, well-crafted meals.
Tide & Boar was where we had one of our best meals of our entire trip. Classics like the fish and chips, burger, and poutine are anything but rote, and subtle seasoning and flavour changes will leave you craving a return visit for days. The seafood chowder, for example, didn’t just satisfy the need for traditional New England-style chowder, but laid waste to all other chowders that ever came before it.
The kids’ meals are H-U-G-E and delicious, too. No dry chicken fingers in this joint.
The burgers are divine, too.
Fish & chips is a solid choice, with the breading being light and the fish portion giant.
Patio at the Tide & Boar is lovely, with the added bonus of smelling the delicious odours from their outdoor meat smoker.
Our daughter is somewhat of a poutine connoisseur, and raved about this the whole trip.
Pop across the street for a Starbucks, and you’ll find yourself in the comfort of familiarity. This is Starbucks, afterall, you come here for consistency. Our experience was augmented by a staff who was clearly excited to be there, and we ended up trying a coffee from the Clover machine, a specialty coffee machine that is as much about making a flavourful cup of coffee as it is about the theatre of preparing it. Moncton is home to the only Clover machine in New Brunswick, the staff was eager to tell us. It’s clear that Monctonites pride themselves on being a city that’s a step hipper than the rest of us.
Head from the hip centre of Monton, home to beautiful old architecture out to the tourist hotspot that is the Magnetic Hill Zoo area, and you’ll find Moncton does touristy the same way they do hip downtown – with a laidback feel.
Magnetic Hill is one of these experiences you want to rationalize your way out of believing. Sure, we all know there isn’t a physics-defying gravity well conveniently located 20 minutes from downtown Moncton, but as you drive to what most definitely feels like the bottom of a hill and throw your car into neutral, you cannot help but feel amazed.
You can hear the skepticism in our kids’ voices. . . they couldn’t believe we were rolling uphill. The Magnetic Hill experience is short, and you get to do the run just one time, so if you plan to record it, prepare while you’re in line waiting.
Whenever we go through Moncton, a visit to the zoo is a must. There are animals from around the world (jaguars, lions, ostriches, lemurs) and right here at home (rabbits, ducks, swans, goats, guinea pigs), and it’s a beautiful place to walk. There’s a huge playground for kids, lots to see and do, and the animals have large, beautiful enclosures.
I think the biggest hit at the zoo might have been the huge guinea pig exhibit. Despite having had guinea pigs in the past, our kids found these ones hilarious (and so did we). We watched them popcorn around for ages, and you can hear everyone’s giggles in this video we took:
If you’ve got the time (sadly, we did not), you should also schedule a visit to Resurgo, a hands-on science and transportation centre. Learn local history in the Moncton Museum, and experience the fun at the Transportation Discovery Centre.
This is definitely a city we’ll return to, to hopefully explore more of the beauty and culture there. Until next time, Moncton!
Disclosure: We were given complimentary entrance into Magnetic Hill and the Magnetic Hill Zoo, and accommodations at the Marriott Residence Inn. Our opinions are, as always, our own.