Japan is always a favourite travel destination for many. It is one of the most advanced Asian countries that was able to rise on its own after the Great Wars. Although Japan is a technologically superior country, they are also known for their rich culture and history. Kyoto was once the capital of Japan, which is one of the many reasons it showcases Japan’s tradition and culture extremely well.
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1. Kiyomizu-deraCredit: Sam Ng via Flickr
Kiyomizu-dera is recognized as one of UNESCO’s heritage sites. It was built in 798 on a hill overlooking the Otowa waterfall. The name Kiyomizu-dera literally means “Pure Water Temple”, which is derived from the purity of the waterfall. It is associated with the Hosso sect of Japanese Buddhism and is now one of the most famous temples in the city.
Once you’re there, take some time to study the three-story Pagoda. After that, walk towards the Otowa waterfall, which is located on the base of the main hall. Just take your time and enjoy the natural beauty of nature. Tourists are also allowed to taste the waterfall but if you want to do this, keep in mind that most of the time, there is always a long line.
Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes and appropriate attire because you’ll be climbing up many steps to get up to the temple (think of it as an exercise). But trust me, the view from the temple is worth the journey! Take your time and don’t feel pressured as if you need to race to the top. Once you reach the temple, you’ll be able to get a bird’s view of Kyoto city.
If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to have some food, milk and snacks in hand. They can get easily tired even before climbing up the stairs to the temple.
1-294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku
Keihan line to Kiyomizu-Gojo
Kyoto City bus 206 to Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka
2. Fushimi inari-taishaCredit: Unsplash
The Fushimi Inari shrine is located in the south of Kyoto. It’s an important Shinto shrine and is popular for its thousands of torii gates, which are painted in red, located behind Honden (the main building). These gates lead to a beautiful forest. The whole area consists of five shrines. There’s also a 4km path up the mountain which many hikers enjoy taking.
When you walk around the area, you will find there are many stone foxes. They represent Inari, the God of cereals. It’s quite an enjoyable walk so I recommend that take your time here.
68 Yabunouchi-cho, Fukakusa, Fushimi-ku
JR Nara line to Inari
Keihan line to Fushimi-Inari
3. Nishiki MarketCredit: Goodwines
Nishiki Market is known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen” because you can literally find everything you need when it comes to food and cooking. The market is comprised of five narrow shopping blocks, lined with more than a hundred shops and restaurants. Here, you can find any type of local food from sweets to dried seafood and even sushi. You will also come across cooking utensils. So if you’re a food enthusiast like me and just love to witness what locals eat, you will definitely enjoy Nishiki Market.
604-8054 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Nakagyō-ku, HigashiuoyachōOpening hours:
Usually 9am – 6pm
Wednesday or Sunday, depending on the store
Walk 5 minutes from Shijo Station on the Karasuma Subway Line or; from the Karasuma or Kawaramachi Stations on the Hankyu Line
4. Kurama-deraCredit: Life’s Time Out
Located in North of Kyoto on top of a beautiful mountain, Kurama-dera is one of the most enchanting temples as it still retains its spirituality despite the fact that the area experienced terrible fires through out its time. Many of its statues have been preserved and are now regarded as Japan’s treasures.
Credit: Third Stryker
To get to Kurama, you will need to take the Eizan line to the Kurama Station. The train ride is worth being awake for because you’ll get to observe the beautiful scenery that Kyoto has to offer. The entrance of the Kurama-dera is just a walk up a hill from the station, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes (and I mean sneakers or sport shoes!) Alternatively, there is also a tram that goes up to the entrance for ¥100 but I suggest that you should just hike up there, since it will not be too hot.
1074 Kurama Honmachi, Sakyo-ku
From 9 a.m to 4:30 p.m
Eiden Eizan line from Demachiyanagi to Kurama
5. Tofuku-ji TempleCredit: Kzaral via Flickr
The Tofuku-ji temple is the oldest and largest temple in Kyoto. It is also the main temple of the Tofukuji School of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. This temple was also destroyed by many fires several times through out its existence since 1236.
Credit: Kimon Berlin via Flickr
The temple got its unique name from a combination of Todaiji and Kofukuji temples in Nara. The best part of the temple is the architecture and the size of the gate- at 22 meters tall, it is one of the largest gates in Kyoto. The Zen gardens are also the highlight of the temple, as there are four different gardens with their own unique designs.
15-778 Honmachi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
9am – 4pm
Train: Head towards Tofuku-ji station or Keihan electric railway station
From Shijo-karasuma: Bus 6 and 16 to Kyoto Station (the temple is 1.6km southeast of the station)
6. GionCredit: David Offf
If you’re tired of visiting shrines and temples at this stage, Gion has a different story to tell. Gion was built in the middle ages, situated not far from the Yasaka shrine. The special part about Gion are the traditional wooden Japanese houses and shop lots. It gives you the feeling that you’re being brought back in time. Sometimes you’ll be able to see a few Japanese women in their traditional kimonos. Most people come to Gion to see the famous geishas (or also known as Geiko or Maiko). Geishas go to a special school to learn Japanese culture such as traditional music and dance, tea ceremony and flower arrangements.
Keihan line to Gion-Shijo
7. Sanzen-in TempleCredit: M-Lois via Flickr
The Sanzen-in temple is one of the tourists’ favourite sights because it’s so peaceful and beautiful. Some even say that it’s like “a slice of heaven”. If you go in the summer, the hydrangeas will be in full bloom, which will give you such a breath taking view. Its moss garden is also something that tourists love to see.
Credit: Matteo StaltariAddress:
540 Ohararaikoincho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 601 -1242
8. Maruyama ParkCredit: Hidetsogu Tonomura via Flickr
Maruyama Park is a really beautiful public park next to the Yasaka Shrine. During the spring, the cherry trees are in full bloom, making the park a favourite destination among locals and tourists. There is also a cherry blossom viewing party where people get to sit down and just enjoy the beauty of the cherry blossoms.
Credit: Jaime Perez via FlickrAddress:
605-0071 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Higashiyama-ku, Maruyamachō, 473
From Kyoto station, take bus no 100 or 206 and stop at Gion stop
9. Chion-inCredit: Mariana on The Move
Chion-in is the main temple for the Jodo sect of Buddhism. It is one of the most popular and busy temples in Kyoto. It was built in the thirteenth century, not far from the Maruyama Park, which is the oldest park in Japan. Its wooden gate is the biggest in the country and is regarded as a national treasure. At this temple, you’ll also find a giant bell that weighs 70 tonnes that is rung by the monks during New Years Eve.
: Visitors are not allowed to wear shoes as you walk up the wooden steps. You’re only allowed to walk in your socks. So don’t forget to bring an extra pair just in case! Also, be careful of those steps!
Credit: Norio NakayamaAddress:
400 Rinka-cho, Higashiyama-ku
9am - 4.30pm
Tozai line to Higashiyama
10. Nijo CastleCredit: Throgers via Flickr
The Nijo Castle is one of the few remaining castles in Japan that still retains traditional Japanese architecture. From the outside, you might not even believe that this is actually a castle, as its architecture is not as grand as what we would normally imagine. This is because the Japanese prioritize more on the defence of the castle, rather than its aesthetics.
The most popular attraction at the Nijo Castle is the Ninomaru Palace. It functioned as a residence as well as an office for the head of the military back in the day. The Nijo Castle was a designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1994.
Credit: Olivier Lejade via FlickrAddress:
541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8301
8.45 am – 5.00 pm
From Kyoto Station: Karasuma Subway Line to Karasuma-Oike Station and transfer to the Tozai Line to Nijojo-mae Station.
Kyoto City Bus numbers 9, 50 or 101
11. Daitoku-ji TempleCredit: Kevin Yank via Flickr
Daitokuji is the head of the temple of the Rinzai sect’s Daitokuji school of Japanese Zen Buddhism. This complex consists of almost 24 smaller temples. So if you are not planning to visit many temples, I suggest visiting Daitokuji as you’ll be able to see many different sub-temples. You’ll also be able to enjoy the many Zen gardens and traditional architecture. In this compound you’ll come across rock gardens, which is an integral part of the Japanese culture.
53 Murasakino Daitokujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 603-8231
9 am – 5 pm
12. Kinaku-ji Temple (Golden Temple)Credit: Manability
Also known as the Golden Temple, the Kinaku-ji temple is the most famous temple in Kyoto. Here, you’ll find large crowds of tourists who are eager to visit and learn about the many temples and shrines that Kyoto has to offer. The recent structure such as the one in the picture above was reconstructed in 1955, after a distraught monk burned down the temple. Most visitors enjoyed the beautiful architecture and how the Golden Temple is situated near a like, where you can see its reflection during the daytime.
1 Kinkakuji-cho Kita-ku
9am – 5pm
Kyoto City bus 205 from Kyoto Station to Kinkakuji-michi
Kyoto City bus 59 from Sanjo-Keihan to Kinkakuji-mae
We hope that this guide for first timers will help you enjoy your experience exploring Kyoto. Be sure to share you comments and ideas below!
P.S. Don't forget to download the HHWT Travel Planner app, available on Google Play for Android and App Store for iOS, to plan your trip to Kyoto?