7 Best Sights in The Islands, Montreal

Parc Jean-Drapeau

The Islands Fodor's choice
Parc Jean-Drapeau
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Île Ste-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame now constitute a single park named, fittingly enough, for Jean Drapeau (1916–99), the visionary (and spendthrift) mayor who built the métro and brought the city both the 1967 World's Fair and the 1976 Olympics. The park includes La Ronde (a major amusement park), acres of flower gardens, a beach with filtered water, the Formula 1 Grand Prix Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, performance spaces, and the Casino de Montréal. There's history here, too, at the Old Fort, which was built by the British to protect the country from a possible invasion by the United States. In winter, you can skate on the old Olympic rowing basin or slide down iced trails on an inner tube.

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Nothing captures the exuberance of Expo '67 better than the geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983) as the American Pavilion. It's only a skeleton now—the polymer panels that protected the U.S. exhibits from the elements were burned out in a fire long ago—but it's still an eye-catching sight, like something plucked from a science-fiction movie.

Science of a nonfictional kind, however, is explored in the special environmental center the federal government built in the middle of the dome. It focuses on the challenges of preserving the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River system, but it has lively and interactive exhibits on climate change, sustainable energy, and air pollution. Kids and others can use games and interactive displays arranged around a large model of the waterway to explore how shipping, tourism, water supplies, and hydroelectric power are affected. The Biosphère is now managed by and forms part of Espace pour la Vie, based in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and which endeavors to bring together art, science, and citizen action.

Casino de Montréal

You have to be at least 18 to visit Montréal's government-owned casino, but you don't have to be a gambler. The casino is currently home to three bars and four restaurants, ranging from deli style to gourmet. You can even come just to look at the architecture—the main building was the French pavilion at Expo '67. But if you do want to risk the family fortune, there are more than 3,000 slot machines, a keno lounge, a high-stakes gaming area, and 120 tables for playing blackjack, baccarat, roulette, craps, and various types of poker. There is also music, including cabaret.

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Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

Île Notre-Dame

In early June you can join the glitterati of Europe and America in the grandstand to watch million-dollar Formula 1 cars shriek around the 4.3-km (2.7-mile) track—if you're lucky enough and rich enough to get a ticket, that is. This is the kind of crowd that uses Perrier to mop up caviar stains from the refreshment tables. During the off season, the track is accessible to everyone. Locals spend sunny summer weekends cycling, rollerblading, and taking walks around this world-famous circuit.

La Ronde

Every year, it seems, this amusement park, at the eastern end of Île Ste-Hélène, adds some new and monstrous way to scare the living daylights (and maybe even your lunch) out of you. The most recent addition is Vipère, a free-fly roller coaster that lifts you 107 feet up and subjects you to unexpected drops, vertical free falls, and 360-degree somersaults. Chaos is a single loop that takes you forward, backward, and upside down while sitting face-to-face with other riders. Titan, a giant swaying pendulum will have you—or the kids—soaring and spinning 148 feet above the park, traveling at speeds up to 70 mph. Demon, an extreme, high-speed ride, twists you, twirls you, and turns you upside down, then douses you with water jets. The park also aims to terrify with such stomach-turning champions as the Endor, the Goliath, the Vampire, Monstre, and Vol Ultime. For the less daring, there are Ferris wheels, boat rides, and kiddie rides. The popular International Fireworks Competition is held here on Saturday and Wednesday in late June and July.

Plage de l'Île Notre-Dame

Île Notre-Dame

The dress code at the neighboring casino might ban camisoles and strapless tops, but here anything seems to go on warm summer days, when the beach is a sea of oiled bodies. You get the distinct impression that swimming is not uppermost on the minds of many of the scantily clad hordes. If you do want to go in, however, the water is filtered and closely monitored for contamination, and there are lifeguards on duty. A shop rents swimming and boating paraphernalia, and there's a restaurant and picnic areas.

Stewart Museum

The Islands

Housed in the arsenal of Île Ste-Hélène's 1820s Old Fort, the Stewart Museum encompasses two floors full of interesting historical objects. The permanent collection has close to 27,000 artifacts consisting of military objects, images, rare books, maps, and pieces of weaponry, all of which document the history of Montréal, l'Île Ste-Hélène, and the surrounding area, from the early First Nations to today. Open year-round, the Stewart Museum is definitely worth a visit for those interested in the history of New France.

20 chemin du Tour-de-l'Îsle, Montréal, H3C 0K7, Canada
Sights Details
Rate Includes: C$15, Wed.–Sun. 10–5; Summer Tues.–Sun. 10-5, Closed Mon.