5 Places to Find Zen

With all the hassles at the airport, packed itineraries and luggage to worry about, it's easy to get through a vacation without having a moment to just stop, breathe and take it all in. And what, after all, is a vacation if you can't relax and experience at least a moment or two of complete Zen -- where time stops, beauty prevails and life is just…good. Sometimes it takes a peaceful environment to inspire those moments, so we've compiled this list of five places to find peace in Vancouver.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the first of its kind outside of China, is an authentic representation of an age-old garden tradition which reached its peak in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The Garden is characteristic of the private spaces within a Ming scholar's residence. With its asymmetrical arrangement of rocks and plants, its winding paths and corridors, and the vistas that overlook its courtyards, the Garden emulates the rhythms of nature. Ming Dynasty scholars, the elite of their time, lived and worked in their garden, sharing these enchanting spaces with friends and family of all ages. Like any home, a scholar's garden was filled with energy, but also offered quiet moments for contemplation.

Nitobe Memorial Garden at UBC Botanical Garden

Named after Inazo Nitobe, a pioneer who helped bridge East and West, the Nitobe Memorial Garden is perhaps the best example of an authentic Japanese tea and stroll garden in North America. In fact, it's rated among the top five Japanese gardens outside Japan. Like the best of these, this garden cultivates harmony and peace by placing each stone, tree and shrub in a deliberate, thoughtful place. As a whole, the various elements of the garden mirror the idealized representation of nature and a balance of masculine and feminine energy. The treasures of the seasons are evident throughout the year: cherry blossoms in the spring, irises in the summer and maples in the fall.

Christ Church Cathedral

Zen isn't limited to the Eastern traditions. Right in the middle of downtown, Christ Church Cathedral cultivates an environment of peace with its ceiling beams of Douglas fir, stained-glass windows and awe- inspiring organ. Although it's named a Class A heritage building, its spiritual life remains dynamic, featuring choral performances every Sunday evening. Sung by both men and women in the Gregorian tradition, the service is a quiet and meditative experience.

Spanish Banks West at Low Tide

It's an obvious choice to head to the ocean and the beach for some peace, but you'd be hard-pressed to find it at Vancouver's busier beaches (Kitsilano, for instance). Enter Spanish Banks, known for its distinct un-crowdedness, as well as its unspoiled view of downtown Vancouver and the surrounding mountains. At low tide, you can walk 10 minutes out towards the water and literally stand in the middle of the ocean. You'll find silence and the occasional blue heron cooling itself off, and if that isn't peaceful, we don't know what is.

International Buddhist Temple

Located in Richmond, the International Buddhist Temple draws a quarter of a million visitors a year with its classical Chinese garden, twin gazebos and serene lily ponds, as well as the world's longest Buddha mural. All of the temple's highlights are distinctive for the intricacy and care put into them, whether it's the hand-carved stone lanterns lining the entrance or the bronze incense burner—a stunning replica of those found in the Forbidden City. But ultimately it's the sense of peace that makes the temple special. With monks and nuns practicing Chinese Mahayana Buddhism since its opening in 1983, the temple resonates with spirituality, providing a haven for visitors looking for a quiet, contemplative space.