Canada // Montréal and Southwest Québec //

Parc Olympique and Espace pour la vie

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 twenty-minute drive on rue Sherbrooke. The Parc encompasses several main sights, including the striking Stade Olympique and the sprawling Espace pour la vie (Space for Life) complex, which includes the lush Jardin Botanique, the environmental centre Biodôme and the Planétarium Rio Tinto.

Stade Olympique

The Parc Olympique’s main attraction, the Stade Olympique, is known by Montréalers as the “Big O” for several reasons: its name, its circular shape and the fact that it took the city thirty 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, 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.

Rio Tinto Planetarium

In 2013, the Rio Tinto Planetarium celebrated its splashy opening, unveiling not one but two state-of-the-art circular theatres. The permanent exhibit, EXO, Our Search for Life in the Universe, is filled with kid-friendly interactive displays on everything from space exploration to mighty meteorites.

Biodôme de Montréal

The Biodôme de Montréal, 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 both entertaining and educational, for kids and adults alike.

Jardin Botanique

The grounds and greenhouses of the Jardin Botanique 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. Also popular are the well-curated temporary exhibits. 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.

Parc Exalto

This soaring aerial adventure park – the first of its kind in North America – offers a wide range of high-altitude acrobatic attractions, with gorgeous views of Montréal to boot. Among the highlights are an aerial obstacle course, zip lines and a junior acrobatics area.

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