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Kyoto, which was the Imperial Capital of Japan for over a thousand years, is home to some of the country's best-preserved history and traditions. "The City of Ten Thousand Shrines" certainly lives up to the hype: Kyoto dazzles with its temples, shrines, gardens, and tea houses, and visitors can walk amongst geisha, maiko, and Zen Buddhist monks while they explore everything from nature to night markets. The city's history paints a colorful backdrop for visitors to interact with, and this guide will help you optimize your time in a place that can easily overwhelm with its wonderful options.

Good for
  • History Buff
  • Art and Architecture Lover
  • Nature Lover
  • Foodie
  • Peace and Quiet Seeker
  • Thrifty Traveller

16 Places

5 City Tips

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Map

16 Places

Day 1

Ginkaku-ji Temple

Sacred & Religious Sites

Philosopher's Walk

Scenic Walking Areas

Nanzen-ji Temple

Sacred & Religious Sites, Gardens

Yasaka Shrine

Sacred & Religious Sites, Historic Sites

Gion Corner

Theatres

Kasagiya

Restaurants

Day 2

Kyoto Station Building

Architectural Buildings, Shopping Malls

Todai-ji Temple

Historic Sites, Sacred & Religious Sites, Monuments & Statues

Nara Park

Nature & Wildlife Areas, Parks

Kasuga Grand Shrine

Sacred & Religious Sites

Pontocho

Neighbourhoods

Day 3

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Parks, Historic Sites

Nijo-jo Castle

Castles

Kinkakuji Temple

Sacred & Religious Sites

Ryoanji Temple

Sacred & Religious Sites

Arashiyama

Scenic Walking Areas, Points of Interest & Landmarks

Madison S's City Tips

  • Rental bicycles in the city offer a 1-day pass which allows for fee-free parking at many of Kyoto's best sites, including Kinkakuji and other nearby temples.
  • Be aware that if you plan to visit an onsen during your stay in Japan, most do not permit tattoos. If you have a small tattoo that is easy to hide, wrap it in a bandage beforehand.
  • You can buy an all-day city transport pass from Kyoto station, which extends to popular locations like Kinkakuji.
  • In Japan, tipping restaurant staff is considered very rude. Even if you feel a tip would be polite, please refrain, as the server will return it to you.
  • Note that at some establishments, you may be asked to take your shoes off! This trip may not be the time to mismatch your socks ...
    Day 1
  • Save
    Ginkaku-ji Temple
    Sacred & Religious Sites
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    Take your first steps into the realm of Kyoto's shrine-and-temple culture at Ginkaku-ji, the 'Temple of the Silver Pavilion.' Built by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa in 1482, the Zen temple was originally meant to be encased in delicate silver foil – a plan never realized before the Shogun's death. Despite its ill-fitting monicker, the temple's natural and rock gardens boast glorious beauty, and the building itself is a wonderful introduction to Kyoto's traditions and classic architecture.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Though never fantastically crowded, it is a popular site. The best time to enjoy the grounds quietly is either in the very early morning or before closing.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #27 of 1,382 things to do in Kyoto
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Beautiful temple and fairly quick to visit 21/07/2018
    • Doesn't quite have the wow factor of Kinkaku-ji, but still beautiful 17/07/2018
    • Ginkaku-ji Temple
    Address:
    2 Ginkakuji-cho Sakyo-ku
    Kyoto 606-8402
    Kyoto Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 75-771-5725
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    8:30 AM - 5:00 PM
    Other:
  • Save
    Philosopher's Walk
    Scenic Walking Areas
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    Named for a Kyoto University scholar Kitaro Nishida, who used to stroll the path daily, the Philosopher's Walk runs along a canal lined with pink-budded cherry blossom trees. The walk can be picked up right outside of Ginkaku-ji, where it ambles past shrines and temples. The atmosphere and the antique feel of the buildings along the way may have you slowing to enjoy a moment of meditation, just like Nishida once did.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Hidden Gems
    • History Buff
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • The cherry blossoms along the Philosopher's Walk come into bloom in April. If you are visiting then, consider taking a picnic lunch out to eat beneath them, a traditional 'hanami!'
    • On August 16th, the holiday 'Daimonji' takes place, where a huge bonfire illuminates Chinese characters along Kyoto's mountain faces. Parts of this walk offer great views by night.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #54 of 1,382 things to do in Kyoto
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • things to do 22/07/2018
    • It will lead you to some interesting temples and shrines 22/07/2018
    • Philosopher's Walk
    Address:
    Sakyo-ku
    between Ginkaku-ji and Nyakuoji-jinja
    Kyoto
    Kyoto Prefecture
  • Save
    Nanzen-ji Temple
    Sacred & Religious Sites, Gardens
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    Just after the Philosopher's Walk, find yourself at Nanzen-ji Temple: former residence of Emperor Kameyama, and now a center of Zen Buddhism. Surrounding the temple are the Hōjō gardens, whose leaf-scattered ponds and Meiji-era aqueduct lend it an old world charm, making it a nationally recognized Place of Scenic Beauty.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Though the gardens are a popular spot, don't forget to head inside the temple. The second-floor views of the surrounding city and nature are stunning.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #30 of 1,382 things to do in Kyoto
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Not much to see 22/07/2018
    • Outstanding place to spend a day in nature 18/07/2018
    • Nanzen-ji Temple
    Address:
    86 Nanzenji Fukuchicho, Sakyo-ku
    Kyoto 606-8435
    Kyoto Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 75-771-0365
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    8:45 AM - 5:00 PM
    Other:
  • Save
    Yasaka Shrine
    Sacred & Religious Sites, Historic Sites
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    A top Shinto location, visit Yasaka Shrine to get a bit of a different flavor on your first day in Kyoto. Once called Gion, the bright vermillion buildings and gates welcome visitors, and the verdant natural setting offers paths and gardens ripe for exploration.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Throughout July, this is the site of the Gion Festival, where lanterns light the Shrine and parades with wooden floats and traditional dress take place on specific dates.
    • During many days in July, the streets leading up to Gion are closed to automobiles, and instead become crowded by vendors selling street food.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #82 of 1,382 things to do in Kyoto
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Yasaka Shrine in Gion 17/07/2018
    • Worth visiting - for the location to the Gion area alone 17/06/2018
    • Yasaka Shrine
    Address:
    625 Giommachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku
    Kyoto 605-0073
    Kyoto Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 75-561-6155
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    12:00 AM - 11:59 PM
    Other:
  • Save
    Gion Corner
    Theatres
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    Gion is the most traditional district in Kyoto, where young women still train to be Geisha while professionals put on artful performances in music and dance at local 'ochaya.' The streets of Gion, lined by restaurants, tea houses, and old wooden mercantile houses make it a spot worth visiting for the culture, and staying for a bite to eat.

    Good for
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Though usually hired only for private events, Geisha performances can be viewed by visitors at the Gion Corner Theater at Yasaka Hall from March-November (7pm and 8pm daily).
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #416 of 1,382 things to do in Kyoto
    • Typical tourist trap! 22/07/2018
    • Japanese performance art culture in a nutshell 03/07/2018
    • Gion Corner
    Address:
    570-2 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku
    Yasaka Hall
    Kyoto 605-0074
    Kyoto Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 75-561-1119
    Price range:
    US$0 - US$0
    Hours:
    Fri - Sun
    5:30 PM - 8:00 PM
    Other:
  • Save
    Kasagiya
    Restaurants (Japanese)
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    End your day on a sweet note at Kasagiya, maker of 'wagashi' and 'namagashi' Japanese confections since 1914. Today the pleasant staff serve tea and sweets to guests surrounded by historic architectural beauty. There's always room for dessert – even at midday, if you happen to arrive early!

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Must See
    Tips
    • The O-hagi at Kasagiya, a rice and sweetened red-bean combination, is served hot. A rarity that seems to make it extra delicious!
    • Don't worry if you cannot speak Japanese. A menu provided for travelers has photos of each dish, to avoid any confusion.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #191 of 8,159 restaurants in Kyoto
    • A little gem sweet stop 05/04/2018
    • Tradicional place to take a dessert(red beans) with tea 19/03/2018
    • Kasagiya
    Address:
    349 Masuyacho Higashiyamaku
    Kyoto 605-0826
    Kyoto Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 75-561-9562
    Price range:
    US$0 - US$9
    Hours:
    Wed - Mon
    11:00 AM - 5:30 PM
  • Day 2
  • Save
    Kyoto Station Building
    Architectural Buildings, Shopping Malls
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    Not just a train station, the Kyoto Station Building is an ultra-modern city within a city, including in its 15 stories numerous trendy shops, restaurants, government facilities, a hotel, a movie theater, an art museum, and an Isetan department store. A good place to start your day off with breakfast and a great jump-off point to get to nearby Nara.

    Good for
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Shopping Fanatic
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • You can make your way to Nara, a popular day-trip destination, from either the Kyoto Station Building (East) or Kintetsu Station (West).
    • Tokkyū trains to Nara leave Kyoto twice an hour, taking 35 minutes to reach Nara. Avoid the Kyūkō train, which is more frequent but slower and often involves a train change.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #31 of 1,382 things to do in Kyoto
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Huge and cool! 22/07/2018
    • Awesome station 22/07/2018
    • Kyoto Station Building
    Address:
    Higashishiokojicho, Shimogyo-ku
    Kyoto 600-8212
    Kyoto Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 78-261-0681
    Other:
  • Save
    Todai-ji Temple
    Historic Sites, Sacred & Religious Sites, Monuments & Statues
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    Nara, a short day-trip by train from Kyoto, is a popular destination and a must-see for any visitor to Kyoto. Scenic and historic, the natural first stop in Nara would be the Todaiji Temple. Its main building, Daibutsuden, is one of the largest wooden structures in the world and houses an enormous bronze statue of the Buddha of Infinite Light, built starting in the year 747 AD. It's so massive, in fact, that the width of the statue's nostril hole is cut out of one of the beams supporting the structure, and children (or very brave adults!) can crawl through for good luck. Who “Nose!” It might really work.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • On the walk up to the temple there are many street vendors selling delicious food for both you ... and the deer! Deer are populous in this area, and they're happy to be fed.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #2 of 230 things to do in Nara
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Impressive 22/07/2018
    • Ranked #1 during our vacation 22/07/2018
    • Todai-ji Temple
    Address:
    406-1 Zoshicho
    Nara 630-8211
    Nara Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 742-22-5511
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
    Other:
  • Save
    Nara Park
    Nature & Wildlife Areas, Parks
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    Nara Park at the base of Mount Wakakusa is home to over 1,200 wild sika deer and is a nationally-recognized 'Place of Scenic Beauty.' Deer, once considered sacred and now an official national treasure in this area, are populous – an old legend says that their divinity came from the blessing of a local Shrine God after he appeared riding one in an old legend.

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • At the park's entrances, rickshaw services can be found to either Tōdaiji Temple or Kōfukuji Temple.
    • Shika-senbei, or deer crackers, can be bought and fed to the deer. However, do watch out – some bite, if you attract a competitive crowd!
    • The Nara National Museum can also be found on the leafy park grounds.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #3 of 230 things to do in Nara
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Good but over rated 22/07/2018
    • Must visit! 21/07/2018
    • Nara Park
    Address:
    469 Zoshicho
    Nara 630-8211
    Nara Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 742-22-0375
    Other:
  • Save
    Kasuga Grand Shrine
    Sacred & Religious Sites
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    Kasuga Grand Shrine is a site of historical Shinto architecture, housed deep in Nara forest, and built originally in 768 AD. Famed for the stone lanterns that line the path up to the shrine, and the bronze lanterns that contour its interior, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with well over 3,000 lanterns on display. The surrounding forest grounds also house a botanical garden, and yes, you guessed it – more messengers of the Shinto gods, deer!

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • The stone lanterns are lit up during February and August – a wonderful time to visit this site, especially in the evening.
    • The shrine contains a small room lit entirely by candlelight. It may be tricky to find, but go on a search to be well-rewarded by the ambiance!
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #8 of 230 things to do in Nara
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Beautiful and in a great location 20/07/2018
    • Lots & Lots of Lanterns 18/07/2018
    • Kasuga Grand Shrine
    Address:
    160 Kasuganocho
    Nara 630-8212
    Nara Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 742-22-7788
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    6:30 AM - 5:00 PM
    Other:
  • Save
    Pontocho
    Neighbourhoods
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    This long, cobble-stoned alley on the western bank of the Kamo river is the famous sight where kabuki began. Geisha still practice here, in the many tea houses, for the twice-yearly river festival in the Kaburenjo Theater. Besides the traditional forms of entertainment, there are various restaurants with riverfront seating and delicious fare (some are admittedly quite expensive — check the menu ahead of time). A good place to take in the atmosphere over a meal — especially after spending all your time in Nara, feeding the deer!

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Like a Local
    Tips
    • Best to go at night – the many lanterns on the street are lit then, and many establishments open for dinner only after 5pm.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #5 of 82 things to do in Nakagyo
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Atmospheric street - try and spot a Geisha! 22/07/2018
    • Lovely streets 22/07/2018
    • Pontocho
    Address:
    Ponto-cho, Nakagyo-ku
    BetweenKamogawa and Kiyamachi-dori
    Nakagyo, Kyoto
    Kyoto Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 75-241-1636
    Other:
  • Day 3
  • Save
    Kyoto Imperial Palace
    Parks, Historic Sites
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    The Kyoto Imperial Palace is the former seat of Japanese rule, where the country’s Emperors have resided since 1867. Today, tours of the grounds are offered daily, and the garden grounds are open to the public. Even though the palace saw little use as a residence, it was the site of coronations for generations, and its stoic grace and old-style beauty have been enchanting visitors for years. An interesting place to delve into the historical politics of the old capital.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Please note, visitors are only allowed inside the Palace on two days a year: January 2nd (for the New Years Greeting) and December 23 (for the current Emperor's birthday).
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #1 of 23 things to do in Kamigyo
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • GREAT place, much better than most touristy sites in my opinion 21/07/2018
    • Do not be late 19/07/2018
    • Kyoto Imperial Palace
    Address:
    3 Kyoto-Gyoen Kamigyo-ku
    Kamigyo, Kyoto 602-0881
    Kyoto Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 75-211-1215
    Hours:
    Tue - Sun
    9:00 AM - 4:20 PM
    Other:
  • Save
    Nijo-jo Castle
    Castles
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    Southward of the Imperial Palace lies Nijō Castle, where a heavily fortified palace (and the remains of an elder citadel) sit among gardens and revisionary buildings, originally for an array of support purposes. Commissioned by the Tokugawa Shogunite, and funded by forced donations by his feudal lords to show their loyalty to his patronage, the impressive castle is one of Kyoto’s seventeen designated Historic Monuments of the ancient city, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Complimenting the historical tale that the Imperial Palace begins to tell, the castle is surely a must-see.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Open only until 4pm, a tour is suggested to take in the full effect of the castle and its little-known historical tidbits, including exploration of the nightingale floors.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #4 of 82 things to do in Nakagyo
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Expected more 22/07/2018
    • UNESCO World Heritage Site 22/07/2018
    • Nijo-jo Castle
    Address:
    541 Nijojo-cho, Horikawa-nishiiru
    Nakagyo, Kyoto 604-8301
    Kyoto Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 75-841-0096
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    8:45 AM - 4:00 PM
    Other:
  • Save
    Kinkakuji Temple
    Sacred & Religious Sites
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    Glittering in the minds of all who conjure up a picture of Kyoto is Kinkaku-ji, 'The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.' Though its true name is Rokuon-ji (Deer Garden Temple), this center of Zen Buddhism attracts visitors by the thousands annually for its facings of pure gold leaf and its reflective seat upon a lake – which seems to cause it to glow, and brings the temple effortless light and elegance in all seasons. One of Kyoto’s seventeen Historic Monuments of the ancient city, it is also notable for the surrounding gardens, which are in the style of the Muromachi. As such, the gardens integrate the beauty of the natural foliage and the sophistication of the architecture, to create one unified landscape.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Please note that visitors are not allowed inside the temple – however, the outside and surrounding grounds are the true stunners here.
    • It is a popular sight and thus, typically very crowded. While this isn't problematic for photos (as it borders a lake), go very early or late if you want a shot at avoiding a line.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #3 of 1,382 things to do in Kyoto
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • VIsit at sunset and the Kinkaku-ji becomes the sun itself! 22/07/2018
    • META REVIEW: The 34 Haters and their "1-star" reviews 22/07/2018
    • Kinkakuji Temple
    Address:
    1 Kinkakujicho, Kita-ku
    Kyoto 603-8361
    Kyoto Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 75-461-0013
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
    Other:
  • Save
    Ryoanji Temple
    Sacred & Religious Sites
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    Ryoanji, or 'The Temple of the Dragon at Peace,' is another stunning example of Zen architecture. Its gardens are considered the greatest example of 'dry landscaping,' with sweeping rock formations, smooth and patterned to inspire peace and mindfulness for onlookers and meditators alike. Yet another of Kyoto’s seventeen ancient Historic Monuments and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple was originally the 11th century estate of the Fujiwara family, and has served as the grave site of the Hosokawa Emperors, whose 'Seven Imperial Tombs' are still there. It is a wonderful wrap-up to a tour of Japan’s history, culture, and Zen concepts.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Ryoanji Temple charges an entry fee, which is best spent in the early morning, when – you guessed it! – the spot is largely deserted.
    Plan to stay:
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #71 of 1,382 things to do in Kyoto
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Peaceful and relaxing Zen garden 17/07/2018
    • Absolutely Mesmerizing Place 16/07/2018
    • Ryoanji Temple
    Address:
    13 Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho
    Kyoto 616-8001
    Kyoto Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 75-463-2216
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    8:30 AM - 4:30 PM
    Other:
  • Save
    Arashiyama
    Scenic Walking Areas, Points of Interest & Landmarks
    See more photos
    Madison S Says:

    A designated 'Place of Scenic Beauty,' Mount Arashi (Arashiyama), is breathtakingly beautiful by anyone's standards, and filled with options for visitors to explore and entertain themselves with. There is a gorgeous bamboo forest walk with tall stalks, the 'Moon Crossing Bridge' with spring views of the cherry blossoms in bloom, a 'Lanterns and Flowers' lane during the winter, and a Monkey Park, plus shrines, temples, ancient graves, and gardens (naturally!). The area also includes seven hot spring facilities overlooking the area (definitely worth a visit to relax your weary bones at the end of a walking-heavy trip!)

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Careful, couples! Many Japanese lovers visit the area to break up. Make sure your relationship is solid before daring to make the visit ...!
    • You have the option of taking a Hozu River Cruise from this area, leaving at 9am daily (10am in winter) from a port a 10-minute walk from JR Kameoka Station. Trips vary in length.
    Plan to stay:
    More than 3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #36 of 1,382 things to do in Kyoto
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Beautiful bamboo grove! 22/07/2018
    • Arashiyama is a wonderful place to visit and get out of the busy city 22/07/2018
    • Arashiyama
    Address:
    Togetsukyo, Saga, Ukyo-ku
    Kyoto 616-8383
    Kyoto Prefecture
    Phone:
    +81 75-861-0303
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