A selection of must-see Vancouver greenspace that doesn't begin with ‘Stanley.’

By Guy Saddy
October 14, 2015
Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Garden
Credit: © Design Pics Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

Often described as the jewel in Vancouver’s crown, Stanley Park—at 1,000 acres, it’s almost 20 percent larger than Central Park—is one of the major natural attractions in a region that certainly has no shortage of them. Since its creation in 1888, the city’s first park has been a go-to destination for tourists; today, about eight million visitors wander its dense forest trails, or roller blade along the expansive sea wall walk, each year.

Set against the high-rise towers that surround it, Stanley Park’s serenity seems almost surreal. But when it comes to local parks, it’s not the only contender.

Queen Elizabeth Park

Spread over 130 acres, Queen Elizabeth Park began seventy-five years ago as an urban reclamation project. Originally a quarry—the rock mined here was used to build Vancouver’s first roads—today, the former eyesore is a city showpiece, with its manicured lawns and immaculately kept flower beds its main draw. (Along with the park’s Bloedel Conservatory, a geodesic-domed arboretum.)

At 500 feet above sea level, the park’s summit is the highest point in the city, so views to downtown and the North Shore Mountains are spectacular. After wandering the gardens, check out Knife Edge—Two Piece, a massive bronze by sculptor Henry Moore, then grab a patio table at Seasons in the Park Restaurant, where you can order wines by the glass and take in the panoramic cityscape.

VanDusen Botanical Garden

And if you’re not done with gorgeous natural landscapes, take a five-minute drive west to VanDusen Botanical Garden. Built in 1975 on what was once a golf course, the park encompasses fifty-five acres of plants native to seven distinct ecosystems, as well as rose and rhododendron gardens, a waterfall, wood and metal sculptures, and a modestly challenging maze.

While you can easily kill an afternoon wandering the paved paths—or tuning into your seventh chakra in the Meditation Garden—at least one of the main attractions is man-made: the flowing, curved walls and living roof of the Visitor Centre. (Designed by Perkins + Will and legendary local landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander, it evokes a sort of low-key, back-to-nature Frank Gehry.) The park is open year-round, but the rainy months see considerably less traffic—unless you happen to go during December, when the Festival of Lights, a Vancouver tradition that sees the park draped in glowing decor, is on.

Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Garden

In Vancouver’s historic Chinatown, Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Garden is unique among Vancouver’s urban sanctuaries, and not just because it peacefully coexists with the downtown Eastside and its many drug users. Begun in 1985, all the materials, literally down the to the pebbles, were imported from China—as were fifty-two master craftsmen from Suzhou, who were joined by local trades to work on the project. The result? A Ming Dynasty oasis of tranquility, complete with accurate recreations of 15th century Chinese pavilions.

Tours are included with the price of admission ($7 to $9), but if you decide to explore on your own, make sure you check out the exhibits. In the past, artifacts from Vancouver’s Chinatown have included a pair of shockingly tiny shoes (foot binding was still practiced) as well as an early 20th century opium pipe—fittingly, considering the urban context today. Plus ca change.

Guy Saddy covers the Vancouver and other beats for Travel + Leisure.