The altars and sanctuaries of Kyoto offer an uncommon connection between cutting edge life in the city and its exceptionally aged past. The Shimogamo Shrine dates to the sixth century and appears suspended in time. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and free to the public. Visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine, the journey under the red gates is spectacular. The meticulously planned Okochisanso Garden overlooks a wide view over the surrounding rooftops.
Not to be missed is the breathtaking Golden Pavilion where Japan’s love of nature is exceptionally presented. As devoted followers of Shinto (a form of Buddhism), the people of Kyoto, Japan worships the spirit of trees, rocks, mountains, rivers, and other forces of nature. It manifests itself in the simple beauty of Japanese architecture, gardens, art, and ceramics.
When To Go:
There are two times of the year that is deemed ideal when visiting the city of Kyoto. The second week of March or early April is generally economical and you have the opportunity to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Wherever there are cherry blooms present, expect a thick crowd of tourist but it is an encouraging sight. Another perfect time is around late October or early November. At this point of the year is the fall season and when most tours and flight deals offer discounted rates. December or the cold winter months is not an ideal time to go because most springs are frozen, but lodging rates and packaged tours are much lower.
Here are the places to see and
things to do
when in the city of Kyoto…
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine
is an absolutely stunning and free temple. Be sure to come here during every trip to Kyoto. Unfortunately, it is not well known and it is not always possible to find even in the guidebooks.
Perhaps because it is located at a far distance from several major attractions. But it is worth to come and devote a whole day of walking (or at least half a day) to explore its surroundings. They sell a lot of original amulets and charms not similar to other temples in Japan. They offer lots of interesting souvenirs. Around the shrine there is a multitude of cafes, including one shop where you can sample a local dish of partridge.
In a rather old, but well-groomed park many stone statues of foxes can be found here. Inari is considered as the goddess of rice, foxes, and agriculture, the whole temple complex is dedicated in her honor. Sometimes this place looks similar to the cemetery, perhaps because of the abundance of markers and headstone figures. Near the temples hung bunches of paper cranes left by pilgrims, apparently to fulfill someone else’s desires.
Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion)
The temple of the
is one of the most famous buildings in Japan and stands amid beautiful, landscaped gardens in the historic city of Kyoto. It was built in 1394 as a Buddhist temple. Today, it contains a rich collection of art treasures and is more of a tourist attraction than a place of worship. Buddhism is the main religion in Japan with more than 90 million followers. It is a really impressive landmark and a mandatory visit when in Kyoto. You can take lots of photographs from different angles of the pavilion. Most of the visitors here find it nice to admire the beautiful creation of the Japanese masters.
The surrounding landscape of the temple is very ideal and emphasizes its natural beauty. It is very surprising and everyone gets struck by how harmoniously the Japanese people were able to combine natural and man-made attractions in one place. You can take the bus to get to the Golden Pavilion. In Kyoto they have this simple and clear scheme of discounted urban transport routes that can be obtained when purchasing travel tickets (you can purchase it at the Tour Center). You need to come as early as possible, when it is likely to be less crowded. The cherry blossoms offers stunning views, but in all its glory were the rhododendrons and irises. This place is one of the official symbols of Kyoto.
If you are interested in Buddhist sculpture, a visit to the
is a must. What’s particularly interesting about this site is it is the longest wooden pavilion in Japan. This main shrine has the goddess of mercy called the Kannon and her own sculptures (1001 wooden Buddha statues) that differs in every detail and presentation. You can scrutinize the faces of the statues – they are fine. Unfortunately, taking pictures inside the ancient wooden temple is strictly prohibited. The temple was founded in 1164. In the central hall are placed rows of identical luminous figure of the goddess of mercy.
At the center of the hall, there is a large statue of Thousand goddess Kannon, which sits on a lotus flower. It is worth seeing. The temple is built of wood and its gracefully sloping. The tiled roof is built in the traditional Japanese style. It is one of the many fine historic buildings in what was once the country’s capital. Plan and book your ticket and visit in advance to avoid the huge outpour of the crowd especially on weekends.
is a set of temples on the top of the mountain. Warn. A beautiful view of the distant city offers a nice background for your photo memories. It is very touristy but really fun to do. It is sublime and impressive, there is much to do, and has a very nice shopping aisle. The temple is too quiet and the nature walk and a tour of the other temples are nice. The view of Kyoto from here is beautiful. If the weather is nice, you will see a Japanese kimono. Access to the temple is through a pedestrian street and a row of souvenir shops, and snack kiosks that sell cookies and ice cream. The place looks magical especially when the blooming cherry blossoms come out in April all the way to the fall season when the leaves start to change its color. Be careful when you enter the temple because there is a lot of stairs to climb but it is well worth a look.
is a very interesting area of Kyoto. There is almost a “village” within its premises. You can get there from the train station to the center of JR Saga Arashiyama or by bus from the city center. You should definitely go to the bamboo grove and look for the Tenryu-ji Temple – one of the most beautiful gardens. On the way to the Tenryu-ji there are many small temples. The street along the temple is literally stuffed with restaurants. It is worth a try to taste the green tea ice cream that is being sold by shops from here.
The complex is a great place for walking. It is desirable to go there for a day in the early morning, because it gets too crowded before lunchtime. You can visit a temple, take a walk in the garden, pass through a bamboo forest (there’s a wild crowd of people) and then ride on the romantic train to the station. This train ride goes through the mountains, the river and the bottom (on which for a fee, you can raft on the boat) of the mountain. It is very beautiful, but if you’re coming in a cool time, dress warmly.
is a beautiful example of ancient Japanese architecture. It provides a wonderful opportunity to travel back to several centuries ago and see how they lived during the time of the most powerful Tokugawa shoguns. The castle is famous for its “nightingale” floors and painted screens designed by the Kano school of artists. Taking pictures and smoking inside is not allowed, and you also need to take your shoes off at the entrance as the castle wants to maintain cleanliness of their preserved ancient wooden floors.
Around the castle, you can stroll through the beautiful gardens, the main drawback in that the hot season is the lack of shade – it is better to walk and explore this castle on a cloudy day.
It is a sufficiently large building made of wood and paper, with lots of rooms and creaky floors. When you walk on it, what immediately comes to mind are images of samurai films. The castle is surrounded by high stone walls and moats filled with water. Around the castle park is like being inside a real shogun adventure where you can see a variety of flowering shrubs and trees, parks, rocks, carp and Koi ponds. In the Seiryu-en garden, you can take part in the famous tea ceremony.
Shugakuin Rikyu (Imperial Villa)
To get to the
(formerly the Imperial Villa) you should come with your passport and join the group to visit the office of the Imperial Palace (the western side of the complex). The best time to visit this place ids during the autumn season in November, when the maple leaves turn red. It is certainly one of the finest & most private gardens of Japan. An audio guide in English is possible and totally free but an authorization from the imperial office is required. The typical Japanese garden is wide and most guests enjoy the idyllic scenery from the hill.
The Okochisanso is a stunning garden on a hillside with incredible views of Arashiyama. Although it has an expensive ticket (1,000 yen), but with it comes a gift card you can use on this garden and a ticket to a traditional Japanese tea cake. The
is awesome and very well planned, it has a neat and paved walkway, allowing everyone to bypass all in one go (a lot different than many other gardens in Japan).
It has endless descents and ascents because the garden is located on the mountain, but in the midst of an incredibly beautiful garden the access can be hard for people with bad knees. The garden is located directly behind the famous Arashiyama bamboo forest where a serving of tea and the windows open directly into the forest. With the ticket you will be given a card and voucher for tea paired with the local traditional sweets. After a walk, you must exchange it at the cafe to snack and sit in silence with a garden view while enjoying a moment of peace and silence.
is a beautiful temple complex that is especially impressive in November, when the maple trees turn red. There is a large pond, which dramatically reflects the image of the pagoda. This the beginning of the path of the philosopher, in a complex where a group of temples is connected by corridors. It has a beautiful lake and garden.
The climb to the top of the pagoda is essential to see and admire the great views of Kyoto. This temple radiates a feeling of balance, faith, culture and history. It is a Buddhist temple built with tons of wood, a true ode to the consecration of human art of man with nature. Do not miss the paintings and statues that are in the inner parts of the temple.
attracts everyone who at least once heard about geishas and wants to see them once in Japan. You should definitely come here to walk around the old streets of this ancient city. In the small alleys you can find an apprentice geisha in complete traditional costume and makeup. This district became popular because this is the exact location where “Memoirs of a Geisha” was filmed.
It is a very picturesque area that has retained its medieval charm. If you’re lucky, you can find a true geisha. There are fine restaurants in the area and historic buildings. The place itself looks deserted and everything happens behind closed doors. But there is something special about the atmosphere of Gion. The place is beautiful, historical, and tranquil. Be sure to visit this mysterious place when in Kyoto.