As a city of considerable size and history, Kyoto is packed with many sights worthy of a visit. It’s easy to spend a month in Kyoto without ever getting bored, but if you have only a short while to visit, you must include these twelve wonderful destinations on your Kyoto holiday.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Located on the outskirts of Kyoto, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of the most photographed attractions of Japan itself. But no picture can capture the tranquility and the air of mystery pervading this forest of majestic, towering bamboos. It’s easy to forget the time while standing still in this grove.
Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine
Fushimi Inari-Taisha is the main shrine of the Shinto god Inari, god of fertility and agriculture. Located on the base of Mount Inari, the shrine is famous for its winding tunnels formed by torii gates leading to the inner shrine and other smaller shrines up the mountain.
Also known as The Silver Pavilion, the Ginkaku-ji is a Zen temple originally meant to be the retirement home of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the shogun who ruled Japan in the late 1400s. While the temple itself is stark, the manicured sand garden and reflective pond within the temple grounds make a magnificent scene.
Gion is a district in Kyoto where geisha culture is most strongly preserved. Here you will find geiko (women of art) and maiko (apprentice geisha) engaged in traditional forms of Japanese entertainment, which include dancing, playing the shamisen, and tea ceremonies. The district is also well-known for its ancient but well-maintained traditional architecture.
Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is the much grander cousin of the Silver Pavilion. The Zen temple is so named because its top two storeys are covered with pure gold leaf. A World Heritage Site, Kinkaku-ji is famous for its classical Japanese garden complex, which features bridges, ponds, and rock gardens inspired by Chinese and Japanese literature.
A World Heritage Site, the Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple known for its main hall, which is entirely made of wood and constructed without the use of nails. Beneath the hall’s large veranda is a waterfall; the veranda itself offers magnificent views of Kyoto.
Kyoto Imperial Palace
The Kyoto Gosho, or the Kyoto Imperial Palace, is the Japanese Emperor’s official residence in Kyoto. The palace as it stands today is a reconstruction; the original palace was destroyed by fire centuries ago and has been rebuilt many times since. You’re required to fill up an application with the Imperial Household Agency before you can enter the palace, but it’s worth a visit for its historical treasures and classical architecture.
Kyoto International Manga Museum
If you’re a lover of Japanese pop culture and particularly of Japanese comics, known as manga, then a visit to the Kyoto International Manga Museum is a must. This former high school building contains shelves upon shelves of manga titles, both well-known and obscure. You can stay here to read manga too if you want.
Maruyama-koen Park, a small park located between two temples at the base of Mt. Higashiyama, contains ponds, streams, gardens, and the most beautiful cherry trees in Kyoto. This is the place to go for cherry blossom viewing in springtime.
Previously the home of period actor Okochi Denjiro, the Okochi-Sanso Villa is now a sprawling public garden. Built in the classical Japanese style, the villa features gardens showcasing the four seasons, along with shrines and a teahouse. The observation platform in the villa offers views of Mt. Hiei, the Hozu River, and the Kyoto cityscape.
The Ryoan-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple known for its minimalism and its rock garden. The rock garden is considered to be the best example of dry-garden style. The garden is designed with 15 rocks, only 14 of which can be seen at one time. It is said that you can only see all 15 rocks simultaneously if you attain enlightenment.
The Path of Philosophy
The Path of Philosophy, or Philosopher’s Walk, is a walking path that follows a canal lined with cherry trees. The path is named after 20th century philosopher and Kyoto University professor Kitaro Nishida, who is said to walk the path as part of his daily meditation. The Philosopher’s Walk is lined with temples worth visiting; the northern end of this path is at the base of the Silver Pavilion.
Seeing every sight worth seeing in Kyoto can take you weeks, but if you don’t have weeks to spend in Kyoto, these twelve destinations will give you a taste of the city’s rich culture and beauty. Book your Kyoto holiday today.