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Best attractions in Kyoto: Top 30

Every tourist should find out in advance what to see in Kyoto. Even if you intend to go sightseeing in Kyoto with an experienced guide.

What to see in Kyoto first?

Listing all the interesting places in Kyoto could be endlessly long. Therefore, we have compiled our rating, considering the most popular and booked by travelers excursions in Kyoto:

1. Fushimi Inari Shrine

Rows the bright red torii gate at Fushimi Inari Shrine

The shrine is on the list of “Japan’s top attractions“, and makes one leave only the most rave reviews about it. Its trademark is the numerous torii gates, which form endless corridors several kilometers long. The main building of the sanctuary, as well as the main entrance, is located at the foot of the mountain. In the middle of the hill is the inner sanctuary, accessed by hundreds of trails and paths.

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2. Golden Pavilion

The Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion is a Kyoto Buddhist temple

Few sights in Kyoto, for all their splendor, can boast the same splendor. The golden temple serves as a repository for Buddhist relics, and is a true symbol of the city and the entire national culture of Japan. The location of the exquisite three-story structure is the shore of Mirror Lake. Your trip here will be unforgettable, including the fact that the pavilion is surrounded by small and large islands covered with ancient pine trees.

By the way, the name of this attraction in Kyoto was given by the expensive finish of the outer walls - gold leaf (for protection it is covered with a special varnish urus). After seeing the temple building and walking around its well-kept grounds, you can go to the Sekkatei tea house or the nearby pond. We also recommend that you toss a coin at the ancient statues adorning the garden - according to legend, it brings good luck.

3. Sagano Bamboo Grove

A beautiful bamboo path in Sagano

Sagano Bamboo Grove can safely be included in list of the most beautiful places on the planet. The form of this Kyoto landmark is a beautiful avenue consisting of several thousand bamboo trees of various kinds. They are arranged in a strict order, and are mesmerizing in their extraordinary statuesque beauty. If you do not know what to visit in Kyoto, but like active outdoor walks, go here. You will be offered a bicycle rental or “rental” rickshaw. In the latter case, in addition to the ride throughout the grove itself, you will get an opportunity to hear fascinating stories about the creation of this protected place. Such guides in Kyoto as rickshaws can tell you a lot of interesting and not all known facts.

4. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera temple among autumn nature

We continue our review with a story about a wonderful temple perched on a mountain. One of its key features is the unique construction of the wooden platform. It is as if it is hovering above the ground, being at a height of 13 meters. This extraordinary effect is achieved thanks to a significant slope of the mountain. If you are thinking about what to see in Kyoto in 1 day, you should come here: you will enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. Our recommendations will not disappoint even those who are not fans of natural beauty.

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5. Nijo Castle

Honmaru Palace at Nijo Castle in Kyoto

In earlier years, the mission of this Kyoto landmark was to serve as the fortified residence of the Tokugawa shoguns. The territory of the castle complex, measuring 275,000 squares, is represented by several flowering gardens and a huge number of buildings. The central point is the magnificent Ninomaru Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Be sure to watch this beautiful video about Kyoto!

6. Byodo-in Temple

Phoenix Pavilion of Byodo-in Buddhist Shrine in Uji City

Inside the shrine are several chic halls, each with its own attractions. In the Phoenix Hall, for example, you can see a gilded statue of Amida and a golden halo of 20 bodhisattvas behind her. There are also ancient depictions of celestials and equally ancient frescoes. At the back of the temple complex is the Homotsu-kan Treasury, which houses the phoenixes that once adorned Amida’s temple, the bell, and the original images of the bodhisattvas. This is the best thing to visit in Kyoto for lovers of ancient history and architecture.

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7. Silver Pavilion

The Ginkaku-ji Silver Pavilion and Pond in Kyoto

On a par with the Golden Pavilion, the Silver Pavilion is erected on the shore of a beautiful lake. Through its sliding walls one can see the wabi-sabi style garden area. As well as unique gardens of sand and moss.

8. Ryoan-ji Temple

The dry garden or rock garden at the Ryoan-ji Buddhist Temple

Your trip to Kyoto would be incomplete if you did not pay a visit to this temple. Its own main attraction is a rectangular-shaped platform measuring 10 meters by 25 meters. What could be interesting about it? Every day, workers level the gravel, pieces of moss and rock debris on the site with a special rake, creating original images.

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9. Sanjusangen-do Temple

The long, narrow structure, the Sanjusangen-do Buddhist Temple, in Kyoto

If you have come to Japan to admire the unique statues, what to see in Kyoto should be clear to you without words. You can see, among other things, the country’s longest sculpture made of wood (over 100 meters high). In the central part of Sanjusangen-do stands this giant Kannon, with half a thousand smaller (but also human-sized) statues on each of its four sides. Book hotels in Kyoto in January and you can visit the famous Willow Rite held here.

10. Heian-jingu Temple

Main Gate of Heian-jingu Shrine in Kyoto

You can reach the large square of this temple by passing the country’s tallest gate, Oten-mon. Every year, mass festivities are organized at Heian-jingu: hundreds of Japanese and guests of the state wear the costumes of past centuries and organize solemn processions. They accompany the remains of Emperors Komei and Kammu from the Imperial Palace to Heian-jinggu. It is believed that in this way the spirits of the nobles can visit the temple complex belonging to their memory. The temple grounds are surrounded by four gardens spread over 33 thousand squares. Each garden has not only its own ponds, but also its own unique “chips”. So, in the South Garden you can find a streetcar - a monument to the opening of the first streetcar tracks in the city.

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11 The Imperial Palace in Kyoto

Kyoto-Gosho Imperial Palace Gate

A suggestion for the most discerning tourists who don’t know where to go in Kyoto. The luxurious palace complex is surrounded by a wall “guarding” several structures and gardens. The attraction includes many sites, including a pond, the Kogosho Small Palace, the Empress’ Palace, the halls of members of the imperial family, and the main hall of Shishin.

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12. Nanzen-ji Temple

Sanmon Gate at Nanzen-ji Temple in Kyoto

The date of construction of the temple complex is 1291. The building is included in the list of the city’s five largest temples. In addition to the shrine itself, there are unique gardens, which have kept their appearance almost unchanged since the 14th century. Tourists are especially interested in the Oriental rock garden located in front of the main hall. The fact is that the shape of its stones evokes associations with playing tigers and tigers. As for the southern garden, it is more suitable for tranquil walks. You can go to its two beautiful ponds. The way to Nanzen-ji is through an aqueduct.

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13. To-ji Temple

To-ji Temple Pagoda in Kyoto

The five-tiered pagoda, which adorns the To-ji Buddhist temple complex, could be included in the list of “best attractions in Kyoto” on its own. Today, rising 57 meters to the sky, it is still one of the tallest wooden buildings in the city. Another unique treasure of the temple is its main hall. This is the largest room of the complex, which carries the honorary title of “national treasure” of Japan. Inside are treasures from various eras, such as a statue of the Buddha Yakushi Nyorai. Other rooms also contain precious statues, some of which were created from wood some 1,200 years ago.

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Kyoto sights: what else to visit in Kyoto?

We have listed the main attractions of Kyoto briefly. However, it is not only them that deserve your attention, but also such fascinating objects of architecture, culture and history as:

14. Ninna-ji Temple

Garden of stones next to the former palace buildings of Ninna-ji Temple

The interior halls are decorated with beautiful paintings and other masterpieces of art. The area of the complex is divided into sections by means of high walls. In the northern area are the main hall of the Kondo, the cherry orchard, and the five-tiered pagoda. In the west-south area are pavilions with ancient treasures and a pond. There is also an ikebana school on the grounds.

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15. Gion

Geishas among the traditional wooden houses in the Gion Quarter

A famous area of the city that was developed in Kyoto as far back as 656. At one time geisha lived and worked here. Now Gion is known for its numerous restaurants of national and Italian cuisine. In the local shops you can buy kimono accessories, incense, kanzashi and other memorabilia. Most of the buildings in the area are tea houses made of wood. But some of the streets have modern shopping malls and clubs.

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16. Nishiki Market

Nishiki ichiba market in Kyoto Bevis Chin

A narrow street with hundreds of boutiques and cafes concentrated in its square. Many of the stores and restaurants here are owned by generations of the same families. Stop by the market to buy vegetables, seafood, rolls and sushi, condiments, sweet products, traditional pickles, and many other processed and fresh foods and products.

17. Gekkeikan Sake Museum

Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum in Kyoto 663highland

If you want to learn the history and technical intricacies of sake production, head to this museum. Among other things, tourists are invited to enjoy the beauty of the Horikawa River nearby.

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18. Sannen-zaka Street

Yasaka Pagoda and Sannen Zaka Street in the morning

Today this street is part of the historical quarter with the same name. It consists of stone steps and sidewalk. The houses built on it have been preserved in their historic form since ancient times. Sannen-zaka is littered with many scary legends. So, according to one of these legends, a person who stumbled on this street, will die in the next two or three years. If you are not afraid to walk along the sidewalk, you can visit the national stores and stores selling various souvenirs and food.

19. The Ponto Teo Quarter

Ponto-cho district street decorated with lanterns Wolfolf from Pontocho street in Nakagyo

Kyoto has long been the political, cultural and religious capital of Japan, so it is not surprising that thousands of temples and shrines have been built on this land. But what is there to see in Kyoto other than temples to make the trip more educational and varied? For example, you can go to a typical Japanese geisha quarter called Ponto-teo - actually a street that stretches for half a kilometer from north to south. Geisha establishments and tea houses are everywhere, alternating with bars and inexpensive eateries. But among other things, the area is known for the traditional buildings that have survived since ancient times, such as the Kaburenjo Theater, which now operates as a venue for geisha demonstrations of their art - here since the late 19th century, twice a year geisha shows are held, which is a peculiar combination of dancing, singing and playing traditional musical instruments.

20. Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower and panoramic view of Kyoto city and mountain range

To capture the best of Kyoto in a short trip, you can, without going further afield, start in the city center, where you cannot miss the towering spire of the Kyoto Tower, the tallest structure in Kyoto with an observation deck at a hundred meters. The giant structure is installed on the roof of the building, which houses a five-star hotel. This tower was purpose-built as an observation tower, so it has no function such as a TV tower or a radio mast. It was erected in 1964 and was originally designed to resemble a Japanese candle. Structurally, the tower consists of 2 parts, of which the first is a steel trunk, up which you can take one of 9 elevators, and the second is the building that supports the trunk. There is a three-level restaurant at the top, and the observation deck offers a 360-degree panoramic view of all of Kyoto.

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21. Samurai and Ninja Museum

Samurai armor at the Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Museum

Kyoto has been associated with samurai throughout its history. The Samurai and Ninja Museum seems to bring ancient history to life, providing a glimpse into the lives of these brave heroes. With two days in Kyoto at your disposal, you should definitely take the time to visit this colorful place where the spirit of the samurai, characteristic of traditional Japan, is still alive. Touring the museum you can see the oldest artifacts, hundreds of ancient swords, armor, other weapons, replicas of armor, items of samurai life, as well as explore the exhibits devoted to ninja. You can also try on a samurai helmet, armor, kimono or yukata and take a commemorative photo. In the museum you can also take part in a tea ceremony, attend Zen meditations and watch costumed sword fights. There is a souvenir store where you can buy authentic samurai swords, warrior armor and other paraphernalia.

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22. Kyoto International Manga Museum

Visitors to the Kyoto International Manga Museum Peat Bakke
Exhibition Hall at the Kyoto International Manga Museum Olivier Bruchez

Manga culture is the real pride of the Land of the Rising Sun. Its design, content, and artistic value have allowed it to win worldwide recognition and gain many fans. The characters of the legendary Japanese comics are remembered for their distinctive features and, above all, for the size of their expressive eyes. It is for connoisseurs of manga it is recommended to visit the Kyoto Manga Museum. In its collection of about 300 thousand books devoted to the mango culture, the collection is constantly growing and being translated into other languages. Of these, about 50,000 are available for study - you can take a volume or two and look through. The museum has a cafeteria where you can take a real course in drawing mango comics - the process is very interesting and draws those interested in it. The Kyoto Manga Museum goes beyond art as an everyday entertainment and is distinguished by its thorough approach to the study of manga technique as a special culture.

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23. Kyoto National Museum

Copy of Auguste Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker" in front of the Kyoto National Museum Yoshio Kohara

Winter trips to Kyoto have a unique atmosphere, especially on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. A leisurely stroll through the snow-covered winter city is full of magic when the evening lights come on. And in winter in Kyoto is a huge number of exhibitions covering a variety of topics - history, art, food and more. In museums you can learn more about Japanese culture and shelter from the winter cold. Among the first places to visit is the National Museum of Kyoto, located in Higashiyama County. Its main focus is on the art of Japan in the era of isolation, as well as Asia in general. The museum opened as far back as 1897, and originally the collection displayed treasures that used to be owned by temples, imperial palaces, and private collections. Today, the exhibit includes sections of fine art, handmade objects and archaeological artifacts - about 12,000 objects in all.

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24. Kyoto Railway Museum

Locomotives in the main building of the Kyoto Railway Museum in Kyoto Toshinori baba

The Kyoto Railway Museum in Kyoto introduces visitors to the rich and varied history of Japan’s railroads. The main exhibition features several dozen exhibits of the most authentic trains - from the oldest locomotives of the Meiji era to the most ultra-modern high-speed trains. Each exhibit has an explanatory card with information in different languages. The local library has 34 thousand copies of books and magazines on railways and other modes of transport. The park area of the museum is the most interesting for young visitors - here there is an opportunity to take a ride on miniature cars or test yourself as a driver on the driving simulators. There are stores with numerous themed souvenirs, restaurants and even special model trains inside which you can have lunch.

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25. Togetsu-kyo Bridge

A cherry blossom in the background of the Togetsu-kyo Bridge and Mount Arashiyama in Kyoto

Traveling on your own in Kyoto, you can take a city train to Arashiyama station, where you can reach a beautiful man-made object surrounded by picturesque nature at the foot of Mount Arashiyama - the Togetsu-kyo Bridge, built during the Heian period. It is about 200 meters long, and remarkably enough, the river is called Katsura on one side and Hozu on the other. In ancient times, nobles walked across the bridge, especially popular were night walks, during which entire performances were staged. The structure magnificently complements the views of Mount Arashiyama, and nowadays masses of tourists flock to Togetsu-kyo to enjoy a romantic stroll in an atmosphere of peace, harmony, and tranquility. The very name of the bridge, which means “Moonlight Crossing,” comes from antiquity - back in the 13th century, Emperor Kameyama, strolling here under the night sky, noticed that the moonlight seemed to pass through the bridge.

26. The scenic Sagano Railroad

The Picturesque Sagano Railroad along the Hozu River Valley in the colorful autumn season

The railroad service in Japan is incredible - you can take a silent super high-speed train from Kyoto to explore the sights of Tokyo, or you can instead dive into antiquity and take a ride along the Sagano Rail Trail, observe the magnificent natural views, see the bamboo forest, admire the cherry blossoms or the colorful autumn leaves, depending on the time of year. It is worth noting that the Sagano Tourist Railroad is a section of the Sagano Line Railroad a little over 7 kilometers long, taken out of regular operation back in 1989, and it uses diesel traction instead of electricity. The line runs through the picturesque Arashiyama section, through the Hoju Valley, and the open cars of the train offer a great view of the surrounding beauty. During the stops, you can walk through Arashiyama, visit the beautiful suspension bridge, or visit the ruins of Kameoka Castle.

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27. Maruyama Park

The Maruyama Park area is a popular place for walks and photo shoots Gavin Anderson

If the sights of Osaka are an amazing contrast of historical castles, Shinto and Buddhist shrines against the ultra-modern architecture of Japan’s economic center, Kyoto is a charming park composition, blooming tsadas, cozy little squares scattered in different parts of the city. Fans of blooming cherry trees should go to Maruyama Park, where there are about seven hundred Japanese cherry trees. Especially beautiful views of the garden in the spring, when all this splendor blooms, covered with lush delicate pink blossoms. In April, many visitors and locals come here to watch the cherry blossoms and take part in the hanami festival. At night, the park is lit up with a mesmerizing array of lights. Ponds, waterfalls, hills, and tea houses built here and there under sprawling cherry trees enhance the landscape.

28. Iwatayama Monkey Park

Wild primates at Iwatayama Monkey Park in the Kyoto suburbs Andrea Schaffer
Feeding time in Iwatayama Monkey Park Noneotuho (talk)

Going to Kyoto with kids, you can’t miss an entertaining place that will please not only young travelers, but also anyone who is tired of the excursion rush, the flickering of countless temples and other ancient monuments of authentic Kyoto. Iwatayama Monkey Park is located in the picturesque mountains of Arashiyama, which can be easily reached in half an hour to an hour by train. To tell the truth, you have to walk uphill a little more from the station, but it’s worth it. The park is home to a hundred and fifty funny monkeys, which are a special kind of “snow monkeys” that live only in Japan. Climbing up to the park, at the end of the route you can get to a platform with a beautiful view of the city and the surrounding nature. After contemplation, you can go to the pets after buying special food for them. Monkeys gladly take treats from their hands and even pose for the camera. Each of the individuals has its own name, features and character.

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29. Kyoto Botanical Garden

The greenhouse complex of the Kyoto Botanical Garden in Kyoto

Tourist preferences of travelers sometimes differ greatly - while some people are interested in architectural monuments and advanced achievements of engineering, others aim closer to nature and beauty. Choosing where to go representatives of the second category, it is worth recommending an incredibly beautiful piece of nature - the botanical garden in Kyoto. Japanese parks are famous for the landscape art, which expresses a worldview and a whole philosophy. Kyoto garden is no exception, there are about 120 thousand plants, which bloom, fragrance, alternating with the whimsical stones, gravel and running streams. Here each plant has its own unique hue and character. The entire area of the park is divided into different themed zones, and separately there are greenhouses, which are a huge complex divided into galleries. A lake, a large river and a Shinto temple complete the beautiful landscape.

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30. Philosophy Trail (Tetsugaku-no-michi)

Philosophical Path along a stone-lined canal at the foot of Mount Higashiyama Luca Mascaro

To complete your vacation in Kyoto, you can add a touch of philosophy and meditation by taking a walk along the Philosopher’s Path, a stone-paved road at the foot of Mount Higashiyama. The trail owes its original name to the famous philosophy professor Nishida Kitaro, who is rumored to have liked to walk this route to Kyoto University, meditating and meditating. The trail stretches along a small canal for about two kilometers. Along it today are many cafes, small restaurants, and stores where you can buy gingerbread cookies. There are also art galleries on both sides of the trail. The trail becomes a real center of attraction during the cherry blossom season, and in the fall, the forest on the opposite side of the canal lights up in magical colors.

We hope that the attractions of Kyoto, whose names and descriptions you have just seen, will arouse your interest. For a trip to Japan to be as educational and fascinating as possible, you should hire a qualified guide. He will tell you a lot of interesting facts about the city and its best tourist sites. Tokyo, Japan’s capital city, is only a 2.5 hour drive from Kyoto. While in Kyoto, consider visiting Tokyo. Read about Tokyo attractions and get inspired for your next trip to Japan!

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