Montreal is known for many different things. It’s known for its unique blend of Anglophone and Francophone culture. It’s known for its harsh winters. And it’s known for its poutine, bagels and smoked meat (which I’ll cover in a future blog post). But when you’re traveling to Montreal with a little one, the attraction that tops many lists is the Espace pour la vie, which translates to A Space for Life in English.
Located in the Olympic Park area, about a 30-minute metro ride outside of downtown Montreal, Espace pour la vie is made up of the Biodome, the Botanical Garden (Jardin Botanique), the Insectarium, and the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. With the exception of the Botanical Garden, these can all provide some refuge from the elements when Mother Nature isn’t being too cooperative.
Last week, I took you on a quick tour of our hotel room in Montreal. This week, we can explore the beauty and the wonder of the natural world through Montreal’s Space for Life.
Biodome: Four Ecosystems Under One Roof
In some sense, the Biodome can be thought of as an indoor zoo and aquarium. It’s much more accessible by transit than the Granby Zoo or the Ecomuseum, which is great for when you want to take the kids to see some plants and animals. The Biodome consists of four self-contained ecosystems, each mimicking a different part of the world.
The tropical rainforest is the most immersive with its heat and humidity, but I particularly enjoyed the Gulf of St. Lawrence with its two-level presentation. The lower level offers insight into the aquatic life of fish, while the upper level takes you to the airborne life of seabirds.
It doesn’t take you all that long to complete the self-guided circuit of the Biodome (give yourself a couple of hours for a very leisurely pace), since this is far smaller than any outdoor zoo. Don’t go in expecting anything like the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, for example. You’ll get mostly birds and fish, with more of a sense of how the ecosystems differ from one another,.
About a ten-minute walk from the Biodome is the surprisingly expansive Botanical Garden (Jardin Botanique). It is similarly split up into several sections, like the Chinese Garden, Alpine Garden, and Rose Garden. We found that most of the flowers weren’t quite in bloom yet during our mid-May visit. While the Botanical Garden at Espace pour la vie is open year-round, you’ll likely get the most from your visit during the late spring or into the summer.
We spent most of our time in the quiet tranquility of the Japanese Garden, surrounded by the beautiful sakura blossoms, the series of streams and waterfalls, and several places to sit down and rest your feet. It was disappointing that the koi weren’t in their pond while we were there, as that would have really completed the picturesque setting.
Admission to the Botanical Garden is bundled in with the admission to the Insectarium, which is located just inside the main gate of the Botanical Garden. The small and dated building may feel quite gloomy on the inside, but it may have been one of the most fascinating parts of Espace pour la vie, at least for me.
Many of the creepy-crawlies are of the dead and mounted variety, but this still gives you a great look at a huge variety of beetles, butterflies and more. The live specimens are even more intriguing, including a “family” of walking sticks and leaf bugs.
In the upstairs area, they even had an open-air display that connected two small trees… and leaf-cutter ants were marching their way between the two, several of which hoisting tiny bits of leaf above them as they did.
More Space for Real Life in Montreal
While I wasn’t as impressed with Espace pour la vie as I had hoped I would be, I still think it’s a worthwhile destination for people who want to get a healthy dose of nature while visiting Montreal. The Biodome can be a lot of fun for the kids (Adalynn love pointing out the fish and the birds) and the Botanical Garden is certainly worth a leisurely stroll. We skipped the Planetarium, as we figured our little one was still too young to appreciate it.
General admission to the individual Espace pour la vie attractions is $19.75 for adults, with discounts offered if you bundle two ($34.25) or three ($48.75) of them together. For more, watch my quick Biodome video below, as well as the larger photo album on Flickr. And yes, for families traveling with babies or toddlers, the entirety of our visit was very stroller-friendly.
Disclosure: I was provided complimentary media passes for the Biodome, Botanical Garden and Insectarium. I received no other compensation or special treatment. Opinions are my own.