The Parc Olympique lies east of the city, an easy hop on the Métro to either Pie-IX (pronounced “pee-nuhf”) or Viau or a 20-minute drive on rue Sherbrooke. The Parc encompasses several main sights, including the striking Stade Olympique, the environmental centre Biodôme and the lush Jardin Botanique. Note that the Parc’s planetarium, open for more than 45 years, closed in late 2011; the new Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, with two theatres and a permanent exhibit on the universe and cosmos, is due to open in 2013.
The Parc Olympique’s main attraction, the Stade Olympique (parcolympique.qc.ca), is known by Montréalers as the “Big O” for several reasons: its name, its circular shape and the fact that it took the city 30 years to pay for it. The main facilities for the 1976 Summer Olympics were designed by Roger Taillibert, who was told money was no object. The complex ended up costing $1.4 billion (over $2 billion with subsequent interest and maintenance) – and it was not even completed in time for the games. After the Olympics, it was used sporadically, and in a continuing attempt to pay off debts, the schedule featured everything from football to trade shows. But, the area around the stadium is being improved, most notably with the esplanade at the western end. Once relatively overlooked, the esplanade is being transformed into an urban park and user-friendly public space, with a surprisingly varied series of events, particularly in the summer, including outdoor Latino dance parties, classical music concerts, family-friendly circus shows and a weekly gathering of the city’s best food trucks. The highest inclined tower in the world, the stadium’s 175m tower was erected to hold a retractable 65-tonne roof, but the retraction process never really worked properly. The main attraction here is the funicular that takes you up the tower to an observation deck with 60km views and an exhibition of historic photos of Montréal. Also here is the Centre sportif (Sports Centre), with five pools, from a water-polo pool to a diving pool, along with two smaller ones for kids. You can also visit the Stadium and Sports Centre on daily guided tours.
Biodôme de Montréal
The Biodôme de Montréal (biodome.qc.ca), housed in a building shaped like a bicycle helmet, started life as the Olympic velodrome. Now it is a stunning environmental museum comprising a variety of ecosystems: tropical, Laurentian forest, St Lawrence maritime, Labrador coast and polar. You can wander freely through the different zones, which are planted with appropriate flourishing vegetation and inhabited by the relevant birds, animals and marine life. It’s all highly educational and good fun, managing to appeal both to kids and adults.
The Jardin Botanique (ville.montreal.qc.ca/jardin) contain some thirty types of garden, from medicinal herbs to orchids. Highlights include a Japanese garden, its ponds of water lilies bordered by greenish sculptured stone and crossed by delicate bridges, while the nearby Chinese garden is especially resplendent during the autumn lantern festival. The bug-shaped Insectarium forms part of the same complex and features insects of every shape and size, from brightly coloured butterflies to ink-black, fuzzy spiders.