Tradition and modernity come together in Japan’s ancient capital, Kyoto. Explore it through our unique list of places to see in Kyoto.
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Kyoto is one of the most exciting cities in Japan. Save three to four days of your tour in Japan and let yourself be carried away by the magic of its temples, the charm of its streets and the gastronomy, which is the great queen not only of Kyoto, but of the whole country.
Here are 10 places to see in Kyoto to enjoy an experience of honor.
It’s probably the best place to see in Kyoto and it’s just outside the city. So much so, you have to take a train and everything. Fushimi Inari-Taisha is a temple built in the 8th century to honor Inari, the Goddess of rice, agriculture and fertility. The temple is made up of paths filled with thousands of red or orange toriis.
Visiting the Fushimi Inari-Taisha is one of the best experiences you can have in Japan. Admission is free and the temple is open 24 hours a day. The best thing you can do is to take a long walk through the winding tori aisles at sunrise or sunset, when there are fewer people. And don’t forget to get to the top, the views are amazing!
Gion, the ‘old town’ of Kyoto
If there’s one place to visit in Kyoto, it’s Gion, the ‘old town’. Gion is the district of the Geisha (known as Geiko in Kyoto). It is also the area where you will find traditional Japanese style wooden houses and where you will feel like you are in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. Especially if you come across one of them during your walk.
Another place to see in Kyoto is Pontocho Street. This alley is full of traditional houses, tea houses and small restaurants that preserve the charm of traditional Japan. If only for a walk, you can’t miss this street.
The Gion neighborhood is perfect to attend a tea ceremony, one of those unique experiences you can have in Japan.
Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion
Better known as The Golden Pavilion, this temple was built at the end of the 14th century, but was rebuilt in 1955 after a fire. The Golden Pavilion is a Zen temple covered with gold leaves or gold leaf. It is surrounded by a pond and a Japanese garden. It is one of the most beautiful places to see in Kyoto.
If you want to take a pleasant walk in Kyoto, you have to walk along the Philosopher’s Walk or Philosophy Path. It is a journey of just over two kilometres that owes its name to Nishida Kitaro. This Japanese philosopher meditated daily on this walk on his way to Kyoto University. The route runs parallel to the Shishigatani canal and, along the way, you will find detours to numerous temples. If you have time, you can stop at some of them. The Philosophy Trail ends at Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion Temple.
Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion
This temple was established to imitate his older brother, Kinkaku-ji, but it could not be completed because civil war broke out. The idea was that the pavilion would be covered with silver panels, but it remained as we see it today, and yet it is one of the most beautiful places to see in Kyoto. It is surrounded by beautiful Japanese gardens and a very pleasant walk through streams, ponds and a dry garden of white sand.
If you haven’t noticed by now, Kyoto is the city of temples. Kiyomizu-dera is the temple of pure water and was built in 778. It is well known for its beautiful pagodas and pavilions, and for being one of the best viewpoints to see in Kyoto. But it gets its name from the waterfalls in the complex, whose water comes down from the nearby hills. We recommend visiting it early in the morning, when it is quieter.
The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Arashiyama is one of Japan’s must-see sights and one of the must-see places in Kyoto. But if what you expect is a big forest, nothing could be further from the truth. It is a short route in which you will walk among more than 50 varieties of bamboo perfectly aligned. And, if you get to be alone with these magnificent plants and the wind blows a little, you can hear the special sound they make when they sway. It’s magic!
The Arashiyamat Bamboo Forest is also one of the most touristy places to visit in Kyoto, so we recommend that you visit it outside of the busiest hours.
The Higashiyama district
If you’ve already been to Gion and still want to see more traditional places to see in Kyoto, you need to go to Higashiyama. It is very close to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, so you can combine your visit to both places in one morning. In this neighborhood we recommend Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka streets, which preserve the traditional essence of Japan and Kyoto. Legend has it that if you fall into Sannenkaza, you will die in three years. If you fall in Ninenkaza, you will die in two years, so be careful not to trip!
If you feel like seeing more temples, one of the places to see in Kyoto is Ryoan-ji. It is a temple that stands out for its Zen garden and for being a minimalist space with few decorative elements. It is ideal for meditation. As with other temples in Kyoto, it is also surrounded by ponds and gardens.
Heian-Jingu is a shrine known for its large red torii at the entrance. The garden area is known for having been in the film Lost in Translation (in the video you can see it from minute 2) and it is a space that invites to calm and meditation.
The shrine is the venue for one of the most important festivals to be seen in Kyoto, the Jidai Matsurio Festival of Ages, held in October.
Did you like this article? Keep reading about Japan for inspiration and to better prepare your trip:
Tokyo Travel Guide
The perfect route through Japan
Japan’s 10 Most ‘Instamatic’ Places
10 Japanese landscapes you must know
10 unique things to do on your trip to Japan
Japan in bloom: the best places to see cherry blossoms
10 foods you should try in Japan