Best Kyoto Temples, Japan

Fushimi-Inari shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Fushimi-Inari shrine.

Fushimi-Inari Taisha, the boss shrine of more than 40, 000 Inari shrines throughout the country, this is one of oldest in Kyoto. A pathway through hundreds of red torii (photo here) is quite an experience.

Best design Kyoto temples

Best Architecture

Hoo-do (Phoenix Hall), Byodo-in temple, Uji, Kyoto, Japan

Hoo-do (Phoenix Hall), Byodo-in temple, Uji. Photo by 663highland

Katsura Rikyu, an Imperial villa with a fine teahouses and outstanding classical Japanese garden. This exquisite Japanese structure shows how Kyoto buildings could coexist with nature. Advance bookings only!

Sanjusangen-do (do=hall) temple is known for its 1, 001 wooden statues of Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy), and for the 100-meter main hall which houses the statues, Japan’s longest wooden structure.

Byodo-in, a building resembling a Phoenix (featured on the 10 Yen coin), is one of the few remaining Heian period pieces. The temple, reflected in a pond, is one of Japan’s most magical man-made sights.

Best gardens

Hoji-teien's 'Leaping Tiger Garden' in Nanze-ji, Kyoto, Japan

Hoji-teien’s ‘Leaping Tiger Garden’ in Nanze-ji. Photo by Daderot.

The world-famous rock garden of Ryoan-ji is the absolute masterpiece of dry landscape style. It’s also known as Dais en zen garden, Ryogen zen garden and Leaping Tiger Garden.

Next in line is the imperial court garden of Tenryu-ji; the unique chequered moss garden and rock garden of Tofuku-ji; Nijo Castle’s Seiryu; finally, Katsura-rikyu’s strolling garden is always enjoyed to the max.
Also for the night view, Kodai-ji offers great garden light-up in spring and autumn.

Best hidden treasures

Moss garden at Saiho-ji, Kyoto, Japan

Moss garden at Saiho-ji. Photo by Andreas Tack

Sanzen-in Temple, located in the quiet town of Ohara (10 km north Kyoto) has a moss-covered Yusei garden surrounded by cedar trees, one of Japan’s most photographed gardens.

Saiho-ji, also known as the Moss Temple since its garden is covered with a mossy carpet, is truly a gem, but unfortunately viewing is by tour reservation only and requires plenty of time and money. However, nearby Jizo-in, known as the bamboo temple, has a similar ambience but no entry fuss.

Best museums

The Kyoto National Museum is the place to see fine Japanese art – including more than 200 National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties.

If you are Otaku or a comic lover then Kyoto International Manga Museum is the one to impress with a collection of 300, 000 Japanese comic books; but no sukebe manga (erotic comics).

Best cherry blossom sights

Maruyama Koen in Kyoto during the short cherry blossom season, Japan

Hanami party at Maruyama Park. Photo by Japanexperterna. Is that gaijin having a hay-fever attack? !

Also popular are:

Ninna-ji Temple with its five-storied pagoda.

Kamigamo Shrine, a Shogun favourite.

Daigo-ji with 1, 000 cherry trees including sacred weepers.

Kodai-ji, near Kiyomizu-dera, is popular for its illuminated garden on spring and autumn evenings.

The 90, 000sqm Maruyama Park with its enormous shidarezakura (willow-like cherry tree), is a popular venue for hanami (blossom viewing) parties.

Amazing Haratani-en near Kinkaku-ji, is a private and pricey garden open only in cherry blossom season.

Best autumn colour

A view from Nanzen-ji's super-size gateway, Kyoto, Japan

A view from Nanzen-ji’s super-size gateway, designed for super-sized shoguns, neh. Photo by Takeshi Kuboki

Jakko-in, one of the oldest temples in Kyoto is a favoured spot when its maple leaves go red in the autumn. It was built by Shotoku-Taishi, a 6th century prince.


Nanzen-ji, a zen temple with a massive San-mon gate.

Tofuku-ji, the largest zen temple in Kyoto.

Some more of the best views of maple leaves can be seen at Eikan-do temple, Manshu-in or Koetsu-ji.

Local Japanese favourites are Jingo-ji or Kozan-ji in the Takao district.

Kyoto Activities


Maiko (junior geishas) in the early evening before heading off for work, Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto maiko (junior geishas) in the early evening before heading off for work. You too can dress like this and shuffle round town with no shape, no stride and a pancake face after a Geisha makeover. Photo by Flowertourism.

Kyoto offers a host of traditional Japanese cultural activities such as:

Geisha/Maiko makeover (yup, guys too).

Experiencing or learning the tea ceremony ritual.

Calligraphy (drawing Chinese characters).

Ikebana (flower arranging).

Origami (paper folding).

Japanese cookery.

Zazen (zen meditation).

The city has many theatres and halls for traditional dramatic arts such as Buto, Kabuki, Nō or Geishas. If you didn’t get to sleep the night before then these will help!
If you are a movie fan, touristy ‘Toei Uzumasa Movie Village’ park, an open-air samurai movie studio, maybe of interest.


An example of Kaiseki-bento (lunchbox), Kyoto, Japan

An example of Kaiseki-bento (lunchbox). Photo by 663 highland

Kyo-ryori (Kyoto cookery) is regarded as one of Japan’s gourmet centres.
Healthy Yu-dofu (hot pot tofu dish) particularly near Nanzen-ji zen temple, is a winner – even with carnivores – especially in cold winter months.
If you are confident in Japanese table etiquette and carry a fat wallet, try Kyo-kaiseki (Kyoto haute cuisine) distinguished by the use of purely seasonable ingredients. Its quality and delicacy is the ultimate in Japanese cuisine, but intimidating even for Japanese people.

Arts and crafts

Kiyomizu-yaki, one of Japan’s distinguished ceramics developed in Kiyomizu-dera area.

Nishijin-ori, glorious silk weave textile, known for its lavish gold brocade.

Kyo-washi (handmade paper).

Kimonos decorated with Yuzen dye, and so on…

Try the Kyoto Handicraft Centre, the best place for souvenirs.


Aoi Matsuri in May, Kyoto, Japan

Aoi Matsuri in May. Photo by Japanexpererna

• 15 May, Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) with a procession of the ox carts and 600 costumed folk that dates back to the 6th century. The 700-metre parade usually start at 10: 00 am from Imperial Palace. It goes from Shimogamo Shrine and ends at the Kamigamo Shrine.

• mid July for the main event, Gion Matsuri (Gion Festival), a parade of around 30 massive, traditional floats in one of Japan’s three most beautiful festivals. It takes place in Kawaramachi rather than in the Gion District, the opposite side of the Kamo River.

• mid August, Obon Daimonji (Festival of the Dead), setting fire to five hillsides in the shape of Buddhist symbols.

• October: Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages), a marvelous procession of some 1, 700 people in historic costumes.

• November, 2nd Sunday: Arashiyama Momiji Matsuri (Arashiyama Maple Festival) celebrates fall colours with traditional dramatic arts around the scenic Togetsukyo Bridge.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

One of Kyoto's many National Treasures, Toji five-story pagoda, Kyoto, Japan

One of Kyoto’s many National Treasures, Toji with the five-story pagoda, the highest in Japan. Photo by Nekosuki

Castle: Nijo-jo

Shrines: Kamigamo-jinja, Shimogamo-jinja, Ujibami-jinja

Temples: Byodo-in; Daigo-ji; Enryaku-ji; Ginkaku-ji; Kinkaku-ji; Kiyomizu-dera; Kozan-ji; Ninna-ji; Nishi Hongan-ji; Ryoan-ji; Saiho-ji; Tenryu-ji; and To-ji, with the highest five-story pagoda (57m).

Nijo-jo's garden, Kyoto, Japan

Nijo-jo’s garden. Photo by Jacob Halun.

Nijo-jo (jo=castle), its brooding exterior and glorious garden was the Tokugawa Shogun’s Kyoto residence. The interior is highly acclaimed, especially sliding paper doors decorated by Kano School artists.