From galleries to museums and heritage-hued National Historic Sites, Richmond is studded with diverse attractions for visitors planning a great day out. But there’s an additional camera-loving hot spot here that’s also worth exploring – and it may be the city’s most culturally immersive pit stop.

Visiting the International Buddhist Temple – one of the largest of its kind in North America – feels like stepping into Beijing’s ancient Forbidden City. Scented with aromatic incense, the kaleidoscopically-coloured complex of tile-topped halls, golden Buddha figures and fierce-looking lion statues began welcoming worshippers in 1983.

But ever since day one, the spectacular site has also kept its tall wooden doors fully open to non-Buddhist visitors curious about the symbols, philosophies and richly decorated architecture on display here. Entry is free (though donations are gratefully accepted) and it’s a deeply fascinating destination to dive into for an hour or two.

International Buddhist TempleInternational Buddhist Temple | Photo credit: Tourism Richmond/John Lee

What to see

Authentically replicating Chinese imperial architecture, flare-roofed halls and pavilions dominate the walled site. But beyond these grand red-painted buildings and lofty waves of yellow porcelain tiles, smaller details wait around every corner: this is the kind of place to slow down and explore carefully if you want to spot curling painted dragons or tiny figurines acting like rooftop sentinels.

It’s hard not to exhaust your camera battery as you wander around. But keep in mind that photos are not allowed inside the site’s interior halls and rooms. These are the most sacred parts of the complex, home to serene golden Buddha figures framed by breathtakingly ornate interiors and quiet worshippers with bowed heads.

International Buddhist TempleInternational Buddhist Temple | Photo credit: Tourism Richmond/John Lee

Don’t miss the gardens

If your fortune reveals that travel is on the horizon, take a brisk stroll to the site’s garden area. The entire temple complex is studded with bonsai planters and flower displays but its adjoining formal garden echoes the deer park where Buddha is said to have delivered his first sermon. Like a classical Chinese garden, its pine and spruce trees punctuate ponds, fountains, gazebos and traditional limestone rock arrangements. It’s one of Richmond’s most delightful green spaces.

International Buddhist TempleInternational Buddhist Temple | Photo credit: Tourism Richmond/John Lee

Time to eat?

If symbolic horticulture doesn’t fully sustain you, it might be time to eat. The International Buddhist Temple has its own onsite vegetarian eatery. Located on the ground floor of the Thousand Buddha Hall, Taste of Zen fuses Chinese and Western approaches to create a gourmet menu of meat-free dining. It’s open from Thursday to Monday from 11:30am to 3:00pm for lunch-only, but it’s best to arrive off-peak to avoid the rush. Taste of Zen is cash only, and priced per head - $18 gets you an entrée and a small dish.

Essential info

The temple is open for visitors from 9:30am to 5:30pm every day. Keep in mind that this is a working place of worship and visitors need to respect some basic rules. Aside from keeping an eye out for "no photos/camera" signs in public spaces, you’re asked not to bring non-vegetarian foods onto the site. And keep in mind that guided tours are only available here for groups of 15 or more. Volunteers are always around to answer any questions you might have.

International Buddhist TempleInternational Buddhist Temple | Photo credit: Tourism Richmond

Want to explore more?

Richmond is home to many other places of worship that also welcome visitors. Many of these fascinating sites are located along East Richmond’s No. 5 Road – which is also known as the Highway to Heaven.