If there is one city in Japan I wish I could spend more time exploring it’s Kyoto. Being an avid lover of traditional culture, Kyoto is the epitome of everything I love about Japan.
I think Japan is a very unique country for many reasons. One of the biggest being that Japan is fortunate to have not only a very strong traditional culture that is still alive today, but also a second evolving modern culture. If you’re looking to explore Japan’s modern culture I recommend Tokyo with its big city lights…. but if like me you’re looking to immerse yourself in the more subtle traditional culture, than Kyoto is where you’ll find what you seek.
Kyoto is home to more than 2,000 religious sites such as temples and shrines, and there are hundreds of beautiful gardens in addition to that! You could spend a month here and still have things to see! All in all, it can be quite daunting for a traveller to decide which places to visit, especially with only limited time to explore.
I have traveled to Kyoto six times now since I arrived in Japan two and a half years ago. I wish I knew then what I know now. It would have saved me a lot of stress when planning to visit this maze of temples with family and friends. This is why I’ve complied a list of the best things for Kyoto visitors to experience. I wanted to share my recommendations so that you too can see the best Kyoto has to offer.
Top 10 Places To Visit in Kyoto
#1) Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社) – Choosing my #1 recommendation for Kyoto was tough. This one was the winner because it’s not just a beautiful place to see, it’s also an experience like no other in Kyoto. Nothing can compare with the magical atmosphere felt walking up the mountain passing under the orange torii gates for what feels like a small eternity. (More info here)
#2) Kinkakuji Temple (金閣寺) – The Golden Pavilion is hands down the most beautiful structure in all of Kyoto and absolutely can not be missed if visiting. (More info here)
#3) Kiyomizudera Temple (清水寺) – One of the most popular temples to visit in the heart of Kyoto. The streets and shops leading up to it are very quaint. Also, the trees surrounding the temple are breathtaking in spring during cherry blossom season & in autumn with the fall colors. (More info here)
#4) Explore the Arashiyama area – There is SO much to do here, it’s the perfect day trip to escape the chaos of Kyoto. Be sure not to miss the bamboo grove! Check out the monkey mountain and some of the beautiful gardens if you have a whole day to spare.
#5) Kenninji Temple (建仁寺) – Located in the heart of the Gion district, Kenninji has the most breathtakingly beautiful dragon ceiling and its calm, relaxing atmosphere makes it one of my favourite temples to wander around. (More info here)
#6) Gion Street At Night – Gion is the oldest district of Kyoto, the area you’re most likely to catch a glimpse of an elusive ‘maiko’. At dusk (just after the sun’s gone down and the lights come on) is the best time to take in this area’s splendor.
#7) Sanjusangendo Hall (三十三間堂) – A stunning hall filled with 30,000 golden deity statues is sure to wow any visitor to Kyoto. I love this temple because it’s very different from all the other temples and there’s nothing else like it in Kyoto, perfect for anyone who’s feeling a little “templed-out” or “over-shrined”
#8) Nishiki Market (錦市場) – This is a large covered market area with lots of local goods and foods (tempura chocolate anyone?). Grabbing lunch here one day is sure to be an adventure, and an excellent place to do a little shopping.
9) Shopping in Kyoto Station + Malebranche Cafe – As powdered green tea is one of Kyoto’s specialties, visitors often want to try matcha and matcha sweets. My favourite hideout is the Malebranche Cafe which is located on the bottom floor of Kyoto Station. These desserts are seriously Kyoto’s best kept secret. It’s the perfect place to recharge after a little shopping in one of Kyoto’s coolest shopping centers, all of which is underground and therefore perfect if the weather’s not the nicest!
10) Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺) – This temple, whose name poetically translates as “The Temple of the Dragon at Peace”, is home to one of Japan’s most beautiful rock gardens. It’s one of Kyoto’s quieter and less busy temples, so feelings of zen and great tranquility can be felt here as you sit gazing out at the garden.
If you have any other recommendations, or special little gems in Kyoto you’ve stumbled upon, I’d love to here them! I’ll be going to Kyoto for one last visit in May and I’m already excited!