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Kinkakuji Temple, The Golden Pavilion, Kyoto

15 Places That Every First Time Visitor To Kyoto Must See

by Tsvete Popp

Located in west-central Honshu, Kyoto is the center of traditional Japanese culture for more than a thousand years. Nowadays, Kyoto is one of the most historic and interesting cities to visit in the whole world. If you are planning to visit Kyoto for the very first time, don’t worry –  I know exactly how you feel because I had the same struggle this year! … Struggle, beceause you will have to choose between more than 1650 temples, 400 Shinto Shinto Shrines, 800 shrines, a castle, 3 palaces, and countless city parks and gardens during your stay in Kyoto!

 
Kyoto Shinto Temple
 

Well, that’s an overwhelming project! Despite the fact that Kyoto is smaller than Tokyo, it actually has much more to offer to its visitors when it comes to historical and natural sites. For example, the former capital is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (out of 46 in Japan) and another 4.000 historical monuments! Kyoto is famous for its temples, shrines, and nature and is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world! 

 

There is so much to explore in the city of Kyoto that you probably will need a month just to see a small percentage of all temples and shrines. Therefore, I have put together my top 15 must-see places for first-time visitors to Kyoto, especially if you are going to stay for 4 to 6 days in the city. Enjoy!

 
Kyoto
 

Kinkakuji Temple ~ The Golden Pavilion

 

When you search for Kyoto on Google, there is no way you won’t find some pictures of Kinkakuji Temple in the very first rows. Kinkakuji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is the most famous site of Kyoto which was built in the year 1397. In 1397 the Saionji family bought the villa and transformed it into the Kinkakuji complex.

 

The Golden Pavilion is a famous Zen temple. Its both upper stories are wrapped in gold leaf. That’s also the reason why the Temple is called the Golden Pavilion.  And yes, Kinkaku-ji is a very touristy place to visit as basically every tourist who visits Kyoto, visits Kinkakuji Temple too. Of course, we decided not to skip it and came here very early in the morning. After arriving, we realized that the temple opens its doors at 9:00, so we had to wait more than one hour in order to get inside. The masses started to arrive at 8:30, and at 9:00 there were hundreds of people waiting in front of the gates. But still, it was a much better idea to come here as early as possible!

 

If you are on a budget you can travel from Kyoto City Center to Kinkakuji Temple by bus number 101 and 205 for about 230 Yen and the ride takes about 40 minutes. Of course, you can grab a taxi too, but it won’t be cheap for sure.

 
Opening Hours: 9:00 to 17:00, from Monday to Sunday

Admission: 500 Yen (ca 4.20 €)
 

Kinkakuji Temple, The Golden Pavilion, Kyoto

Kinkakuji Temple, The Golden Pavilion

Kinkakuji Temple, The Golden Pavilion, Kyoto

Kinkakuji Temple, The Golden Pavilion

Kinkakuji Temple, The Golden Pavilion, Kyoto

Kinkakuji Temple, The Golden Pavilion

Kinkakuji Temple, The Golden Pavilion, Kyoto

Kinkakuji Temple, The Golden Pavilion

 

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

 

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is one of the most important Shinto shrines and one of the top attractions in Japan! Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is located in the southern part of Kyoto, at the base of 233 meters high Mount Inari.

 

The shrine is famous for its thousands of red Torii gates and fox statues located across the narrow pathways that lead to the top of the mountain. The sacred Mount and Shrine Inari are dedicated and named after Inari – the Goddess (in Japanese “Kami”) of rice. The fox statues “Kitsune” are considered to be the “messengers” of Inari.

 

Fushimi Inari Taisha was founded in the year of 711 and was elevated to the highest rank for Shinto shrines in 942. This makes the shrine one of Kyoto’s oldest and most important landmarks in Japan.

 

More than ten thousand red Torii gates form a Torii tunnel that connects all the trails with the smaller Inari Shrines. The sacred path is more than 4 km long and the hike takes approximately 2 hours to walk up and down.

 

The shrine is located in the southern part of Kyoto (8 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Kyoto Fushimi-ku, Kyoto Prefecture), just outside of Inari Station on the JR Nara Line. You can travel via JR Nara Line for just 5 minutes and 140 ¥. After getting out of the train, just follow the crowd!

 

Opening Hours: Fushimi Inari is always open for its visitors

Admission: Free

 

Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

 

Kiyomizudera Temple

 

Kiyomizudera Temple is one of the 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto which is also one of the most important historic sites in Japan. Kiyomizudera Temple was built in the year 780 which makes it one of the oldest buildings you can visit nowadays in the land of the rising sun.

 

Kiyomizudera Temple is located in the eastern Higashiyama area overlooking Kyoto from above. The temple is surrounded by forest and cherry trees, which makes it a perfect place for visiting during cherry blossom or autumn, but during the summertime, the site was beautiful too!

 

Kiyomizudera Temple is a mystical place, home to the Jishu Shrine and the “magical” Otowa Waterfall, the water of which promises success, love, and a long life. 

 

! Did you know that ...
Not a single nail was used to construct the 13 m high terrace!
 
You can travel from Kyoto station by bus number 100 and 206. The journey takes about 15 minutes and costs 230 Yen. 
 
Opening Hours: 6:00 to 18:00, from Monday to Sunday

Admission: 400 Yen (ca 3.30 €)
 

Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

Kiyomizudera Temple

 

Ginkakuji Temple

 

Ginkakuji is another famous Zen Temple in Kyoto mainly known as the Silver Pavilion. But different to the Golden Pavilion which exterior is wrapped in gold leaf, the Silver Pavilion is not covered by silver. Ginkakuji was previously known as Rokuonji and was the villa for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (a retired shogun). 

 

The Silver Pavilion was built in 1482 in the northeastern Kyoto and refers to the culture of Higashiyama. Ginkakuji is a good example of traditional Japanese aesthetics called wabi-sabi: its beauty is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. 

 

You can travel from Kyoto Station to Ginkakuji Temple by bus number 5, 17 or 100. The ticket costs 230 Yen and it takes about 40 minutes to get there. 

 

Ginkakuji can be accessed by direct bus number 5, 17 or 100 from Kyoto Station in about 35-40 minutes and for 230 yen one way. 

 
Opening Hours:  8:30 to 17:00, fro Monday to Sunday 

Admission: 500 Yen (ca 4.20 €)
 

Silver Pavilion Kyoto

Silver Pavilion

 
Ginkakuji Temple, Silver Pavilion

Ginkakuji Temple, Silver Pavilion

 

Yasaka Pagoda

 

Located in eastern Kyoto, Yasaka Pagoda is part of Cityat Hokan-ji Temple and is the number one result if you search for Kyoto on Google Images. And for a good reason: Hokan-ji Temple is one of the most prominent and most photographed pieces of architecture in Kyoto!

 

Yasaka Pagoda is the oldest pagoda in Kyoto which was built in 592. Nowadays the visitors can occasionally enter the pagoda up to the 2nd floor but mostly the pagoda can only be viewed from the outside.

 
Opening Hours: 10:00 to 16:00, from Monday to Sunday

Admission: 400 yen (ca 3.30 €)
 

Yasaka Pagoda, Kyoto

Yasaka Pagoda

Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto

Yasaka Shrine

 

Gion

 

There is no better place to dive into the atmosphere of Kyoto than in Gion! Gion district is Kyoto’s entertainment district well known for its Geishas and Maikos, theaters and art corners. While walking through the streets of Kyoto, you will see many people wearing traditional Japanese clothes, but the chance to meet an “original” beautifully dressed Geisha or Maiko is much higher in Gion than in any other place in Japan.

 

What you can visit in Gion district is the Minamiza Theatre famous for its Kabuki shows, or Hanami-koji Street, famous for its many dining locations. If you are looking for souvenirs you can find as many as you want between Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine.

 

Gion is also well known for its well-preserved Machiya houses and the government frequently finances their restoration which maintains Kyoto’s original beauty, tradition, and charm.

 

Gion, Kyoto

Gion

Gion, Kyoto

Gion

Gion, Kyoto

Gion

Gion, Kyoto

Gion

Gion, Kyoto

Gion

Sanneizaka Street Kyoto

Sanneizaka Street

 

Kamogawa River

 

London has Thames, Paris has the Seine, Bangkok has Chao Phraya, and Kyoto has Kamogawa River! Like every iconic city, Kyoto has an iconic river too. Kamogawa translated means “duck river”. This is a favorite spot of locals and youngsters who want to relax and have a city break from all the crowds in Kyoto. Sometimes, you can also spot Geisha or two, walking on the riverbank. The best time of the year to visit the riverfront is during the summer months as all restaurants and cafes open their outside terraces looking out onto the river so that the guests can enjoy the breeze. In Japanese, there is a word for a floor that is placed over or beside a river to welcome customers in summer – “Kawadoko”!

 

Not far away from Kamogawa River, you should visit Pontocho street famous for Kyoto’s most atmospheric dining areas. No matter what you are searching for – Pontocho has it all! Business hours along Pontocho vary, but most of the restaurants are open from 17:00 to 23:00.

 

Kamogawa River, Kyoto

Kamogawa River

Pontocho Alley, Kyoto

Pontocho Alley

Pontocho Alley, Kyoto

Pontocho Alley

Kamogawa River, Kyoto

Kamogawa River

 

Arashiyama

 

Located in Northern Kyoto, Arashiyama is the second most important sightseeing district in the city! The district has so much to offer – I could even imagine coming here for several days and explore Arashiyama on its one.

 

You can choose from dozens of beautiful temples and shrines, the most famous Bamboo Grove on Instagram, the Hozu-gawa area, the Monkey Park in Iwatayama, the surrounding mountains, the Kameyama-koen Park, the Katsura River, the most iconic for Kyoto Togetsu-kyō Bridge and many more.

 

Arashiyama, Kyoto

Arashiyama

 

Bomboo Grove

 

The most Instagrammed place in Arashiyama and probably in Kyoto too is the Bamboo Grove. The Grove runs between Tenryuji Temple and Okouchi Sanso Garden. Well, the Bamboo Grove is absolutely touristy! Get up as early as possible, and by early I mean REALLY early… of course, if you don’t want to share your photo motive with thousands of tourists and locals.

 

We came here at 07:30 and a dozen people were already there. Only 1:30 hours later it looked like the queue in front of the Vatican!

 

Bamboo Grove, Kyoto

Bamboo Grove

Bamboo Grove, Kyoto

Bamboo Grove

Bamboo Grove, Kyoto

Bamboo Grove

 

Sanjusangendo Temple

 

The most unique temple of all we visited during our stay in Kyoto is the Sanjusangendo Temple! And of course, when I really like something, taking photographs is not allowed … This was one of the few places in Japan (including the Nijo Castle) where photography was strictly forbidden.

 

What was so unique about this place? Sanjusangendo is famous for its one thousand incredibly detailed statues of the God Kannon! It took more than a hundred years to finish all these statues … What you can see inside the main hall is the huge statue of 1000-armed God Kannon and 500 statues of human-sized 1000-armed God Kannon on each side. It doesn’t matter if you are religious or not, the main hall will leave you speechless!

 

You can travel from Kyoto Station to the Hakubutsukan-Sanjusangendo-mae bus stop by bus numbers 100, 206 or 20. The drive takes about 15 minutes and costs 230 Yen.

 

Opening Hours: The temple is open daily from 8:00 to 17:00 (April to October), and from 9:00 to 16:00 (November 16 to March)

Admission: 600 Yen (ca 5 €)

 
Tofokuji Temple, Kyoto

Tofokuji Temple, Kyoto
 

Handmade Knives Kyoto

Handmade Knives Kyoto

 

Giouji Temple

 

Giouji Temple has found a place in my top 15 Places for first-time visitors as it has the most magical garden I’ve ever seen in my life! When I think about perfection and minimalism, Giouji Temple creates a new dimension to it!

 

Giouji Temple is nestled into the forest and is one of the finest sights in Arashiyama. The temple and is famous for its moss garden and tall maple trees. Inside the temple, you can find the statue of Dainichi Nyorai – the Buddha of Light.

 

Opening Hours: 9:00 to 17:00, from Monday to Sunday

Admission: 300 yen (ca 3.30 €)

 

Giouji Temple, Kyoto

Giouji Temple

Giouji Temple, Kyoto

Giouji Temple

 

Jōjakkōji Temple

 

Jōjakkōji Temple is a small, overlooked treasure located in Ogura Mountains of Arashiyama. The temple was built in 1596 during the Keicho Era and offers some stunning views over Kyoto! The eyecatcher of Jōjakkōji was the steep stairway that leads to the temple’s main hall and Tahoto Pagoda. The main hall is home to the Buddhist image of Myokendo.

 

Opening Hours: 9:00 to 17:00, from Monday to Sunday

Admission: 400 yen (ca 2.50 €)

 

Jōjakkōji Temple, Kyoto

Jōjakkōji Temple

Jōjakkōji Temple, Kyoto

Jōjakkōji Temple

 

Nishiki Market

 

It doesn’t matter if you want to go shopping or not – Nishiki Market is a must visit place in Kyoto. The market is so big that you can spend a whole day exploring it! Here you can find sooooo many interesting things to eat including seafood, dumplings, cakes, yakitori, Sashimi, etc. If you are looking for some authentic Japanese food, the 5th block long market is an excellent place to check out!

 

Nishiki Market is open daily from 9:00 to 18:00 but some of the stalls are closed on Wednesdays or Sundays. There is no admission for visiting the market.

 

Nishiki Market, Kyoto

Nishiki Market

Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine, Kyoto

Nishik

Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine, Kyoto

Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine

Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine, Kyoto

Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine

 

Nijō Castle

 

The Nijo Castle was built as a residence by the powerful Tokugawa family in 1601. Nijo Castle is divided into three areas: two fortifications (the outer and the inner defending walls) and Honmaru palace, the Ninomaru Palace and the surrounding gardens. The Ninomaru Palace is absolutely unique and is a fine example of arts and architecture of that time.

 

Nijō Castle is located in Nakagyo Ward of central Kyoto. You have many options if you want to travel by public transport e.g. by Tozai Line (Subway) or by bus numbers 9, 12, 50 and 101.

 

Opening Hours: from 8:45 to 17:00 (October to June), from 8:00 to 18:00 (July and August), and from 8:00 to 17:00 (September)

Admission: 600 Yen (ca 5 €)

 

Nijō Castle, Kyoto

Nijō Castle

Nijō Castle, Kyoto

Nijō Castle

Nijō Castle, Kyoto

Nijō Castle

 

Kyoto Imperial Palace

 

Kyoto was the second capital of Japan until 1868 and the Imperial Palace was the seat and the home of the ruling Emperor of Japan until the end of the Edo period (1603-1868). The Imperial Palace was built in the Heian shinden-zukuri style with large courtyards and a small pond garden.

 

Together with Sento Imperial Palace, the Kyoto Imperial Palace is located in Gyoen Park (the park is free to visit). You can travel from Kyoto Station with Karasuma Subway Line for about 6 minutes and 260 yen.

 

Opening Hours: from 9:00 to 17:00 (April to August), from 9:00 to 16:30 (September and March), and from 9:00 to 16:00 (October to February)

Admission: Free

 

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

 



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Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

 

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