72 Hours in Montreal, Part Two: Space For Life, Including Biodome (the Ultimate Hacked Building)

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Space For Life's Biodome with the inclined Montreal Tower in the background, part of the iconic Olympic Park. Photo by Brad Moon
Space For Life’s Biodome with the inclined Montreal Tower in the background, part of the iconic Olympic Park. Photo by Brad Moon

Last week, I wrote about a quick trip to Montreal and a few of the high points, namely visiting Old Montreal and taking an Amphibus tour of the area. This time around I’m focusing on a facility where we spent an entire day. Our kids absolutely loved it (well, almost all of it), and my wife and I found it fascinating as well. If you’re planning a visit to Montreal, Space For Life is a must-see. It combines indoor and outdoor activities, nature, science and some of the best views of Montreal available and includes the ultimate building hack: turning an Olympics velodrome into a Biodome housing five different ecosystems.

Space For Life is a sprawling facility housed at Montreal’s Olympic Park, site of the 1976 Summer Olympic Games. From our hotel downtown, it was a 10 minute subway ride with no transfers. As you emerge from the transit station, you’re greeted by the ultra-modern concrete structures making up the Olympic Park, including the iconic Olympic Stadium, the inclined Montreal Tower and the velodrome (which has been converted into the Biodome). Also on the site are a sprawling Botanical Garden, an Insectarium and a Planetarium.

Chinese Garden in Montreal
One view of the Chinese Garden located within the Botanical Gardens. Photo by Brad Moon

We started with the Botanical Garden, a 185 acre natural area with winding pathways and a series of feature gardens, including an elaborate Chinese Garden — the largest of its kind outside of China. We started here figuring that a few hours into the day, there would be no way we’d manage it with a trio of tiring kids. Of the features we visited the Botanical Garden is the one where the little crowd is most likely to grow bored, although there are plenty of rest areas and a playground.

However, within the Botanical Garden grounds is the Insectarium. It houses a collection of displayed and living insects that take up two floors. It’s not huge, but there was enough to see and do that we spent a good hour here.

From the Insectarium, it was a walk back to the big buildings for a ride up the Montreal Tower, the tallest inclined tower in the world (it’s 541 feet tall with a 45 degree incline). You ride up the tower in a large glass car that remains level for the duration of the trip, emerging in an enclosed observation level. From this deck, you have great views of Montreal, the Olympic Park and the waterfront. If you want to snap some photos of the city, this is a great spot to do it from. While the Montreal Tower isn’t technically part of Space For Life, you can add the tower visit to your Space For Life admission ticket.

The Biodome as seen from above.
View of the Biodome while riding up the Montreal Tower. Photo by Brad Moon

Lastly, was our tour of the Biodome. I find the story of the building itself fascinating. It started life as a velodrome built for the 1976 Summer Olympics. In 1989, construction started on a project to convert the former bicycle race track to a biodome, and in 1992 the Montreal Biodome opened to the public. It really is an impressive building hack — walking through the facility, which houses five different ecosystems (Tropical Rainforest, Laurentian Maple Forest, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Labrador Coast and Sub-Arctic Islands) — it seems as though the building has been custom built for the purpose. The illusion of being outdoors is boosted by the massive skylights, the expansive natural habitats and the 4,500 creatures that inhabit them, ranging freely within their areas.

The kids couldn’t get enough of the Biodome and we found it extremely well executed. Here’s a promotional clip from Space For Life showing a little more of what you can expect.

The four attractions took us most of one day. We could have added the Planetarium as well, but on our compressed schedule we wanted to get back to the hotel to head downtown for the evening so we had to pass on that one. However, I think it would be no problem to visit all five attractions: Botanical Gardens, Insectarium, Biodome, Planetaroium and the Tower in a single day.

If you have kids and find yourself in Montreal, Space For Life is a fantastic way to spend a day exploring and learning. Even without kids, it’s a great escape from the bustle of downtown.

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