Kyoto: Highlights and tips for the city of temples and shrines

Posted on

Kyoto. Or: Japan in perfection. No other stop on our journey through Japan has immersed us so deeply in the culture of Japan immerse yourself like Kyoto. A trip to Kyoto means days of amazement: geishas and gardens, temples and shrines, history and tradition.

Kyoto initially also means being overwhelmed. There are so an incredible number of sights in Kyoto that at first you have no idea where to start. To make planning your trip easier, we’ll tell you about our highlights and best tips for Kyoto in this article.

1. Kyoto: The traditional city at a glance Kyoto is for many the absolute highlight of their trip to Japan. There is a reason for this: the city is full of traditions and the complete opposite of modern Tokyo or Osaka. In Kyoto there are so many temples and shrines that you will never be able to visit them all.

As historical as Kyoto is, it is naturally also popular for travellers: At almost any time of the day there is a dense crowd at the most important sights in Kyoto. Please don’t be fooled by deserted photos. These were almost certainly taken either from a favorable perspective or very, very early in the morning.

We are part of the crowd of tourists ourselves, so we don’t mean that negatively at all. However, it is important to be prepared so as not to be disappointed. Nevertheless: The flair of Kyoto is so enchantingly beautiful that you simply have to experience it.

How long should I stay in Kyoto? Kyoto means sightseeing and temple hopping from dawn to dusk. Some people find that pretty monotonous pretty soon. We have often read that you should plan at least a week for Kyoto. So we wouldn’t say that in general.

If you only want to see the most important sights and are not the type for a lot of sightseeing, then about three nights is enough . But of course you have to do without a lot.

You can also easily fill a whole week in Kyoto with activities – two if you want. The range of temples, shrines and gardens worth seeing is almost endless.

We ourselves have covered all the sights listed in this article in five days (four nights) visited. We didn’t particularly stress ourselves, although we have to say that we were always on our feet all day. A day more time wouldn’t have bothered us either.

Travel guide for Kyoto Like us, you probably don’t want to travel to Japan without a guide. Of course, the question arises: Do you buy a travel guide for all of Japan or do you prefer a separate one for each place you visit? We ourselves chose variant number two, since the overall travel guides cover far too many corners of Japan and only a fraction was on our itinerary.

Variant 1: Lonely Planet Kyoto This very detailed travel guide is recommended if you are spending several days in Kyoto and are also interested in background information . The guide is only available in English.

You can buy the guide here: Lonely Planet Kyoto

Variant 2: Lonely Planet Pocket Kyoto & Osaka The stripped down version. This travel guide gives an overview of the most important sights in Kyoto and Osaka. This guide is also only available in English.

You can buy the guide here: Lonely Planet Pocket Kyoto & Osaka

Variant 3: Lonely Planet Japan If you choose a travel guide that covers all of Japan, then we can recommend Lonely Planet’s travel guide. It is also available in German.

You can buy the guide here: Lonely Planet Japan (in German)

2. The most important sights in Kyoto: The 5 top highlights You probably feel like we did before our trip to Japan: You feel overwhelmed by the abundance of temples and sights in Kyoto. Don’t worry – you’re not alone!

So that you can get a better overview right from the start, we list five of the absolute highlights in Kyoto below. We have chosen a good mix of classic must-sees and those sights that we personally really liked.

You can also find all the sights that we present to you at the end of the Blog article drawn on a map. Our tip: To navigate from one sight to the next, we recommend Google Maps or the map app on the iPhone. This works really well in Japan.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple Don’t miss the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. It is one of the most important temples in Kyoto and also one of our favorite places. The Kiyomizu-dera Temple is located on a hill, which is why you can enjoy a wonderful view from up here.

Like almost all temples in Japan, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple consists of numerous buildings, so that there is also a lot to discover apart from the main building.

Our tip: For a sunset would be the small viewing platform right after the entrance of the temple (on the right hand side) perfect if the Kiyomizu-dera temple doesn’t open its doors on time at 18 clock would close. We ourselves were therefore at about 17 o’clock at the temple to really enjoy the best time of the day to the last second. About a quarter of an hour before the end of the day, the staff will kindly but firmly ask you to leave the premises.

Information on visiting Kiyomizu-dera Temple Opening hours: 6 to 16 Watch

Entry: 400 Yen

Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine The Fushimi Inari-Taisha is probably the most famous Shintō shrine in Kyoto . We don’t know anyone who leaves Kyoto without visiting the shrine. The highlight here is not so much the main hall of the shrine itself, but its torii – as the entrance gates of Shintō shrines are called. A path made of thousands of red torii meanders up a mountain here.

The rush is enormous. Especially at the foot of the mountain, i.e. at the beginning of the path, one would like to turn around again. But don’t worry: the higher you go, the quieter it gets.

Important to know: If you want to walk the entire way to the top, then you’ll easily be on the way for two to three hours . However, you have the best (and only really good) view a little earlier (after about 45-21 minutes) at the so-called Yotsutsuji Crossroads.

What is the best time of day to visit? Almost all travel reports that we had read recommend coming at sunrise. We share this opinion only to a limited extent. Because: From the viewing platform at the Yotsutsuji intersection, you look west and thus in the direction of sunset. We ourselves were therefore also on the way at sunset and have not regretted this decision for a second.

At sunrise there is certainly a special atmosphere at the shrine. If you want to come in the morning, then you should be there really, really early. From about 8 a.m. the shrine is said to be completely overcrowded.

Information on visiting the Fushimi Inari-Taisha Opening hours: Around the clock

Entry: For free

Kinkaku-ji: the Golden Pavilion The Kinkaku-ji is probably one of the most famous photo motifs in all of Kyoto. The upper floors of this temple are covered with gold leaf, hence it is also called Golden Pavilion called. The sight of the temple reflected in the pond is simply beautiful to look at.

Many others think so too, because the Kinkaku-ji is one of the absolute highlights in Kyoto. No joke: There is such a big rush here, that you want to flee again immediately after the first few meters. Still, we don’t really think it’s worth coming early because the view is and will be the same and you’re not allowed into the temple anyway.

The Kinkaku-ji is thus one of those temples that is visited the fastest of all. There is a garden, but you walked through it pretty quickly. Whether the comparatively long journey is really worth it is up to you. In any case, we are glad to have seen the temple.

Information on visiting Kinkaku-ji Opening hours: 9 to 17 Watch

Entry: 360 Yen

The Geisha District Gion in Higashiyama District The traditional Gion is the most famous district in all of Kyoto. Here one wooden house follows the next and the flair is indescribably magical. Gion is also known as the geisha district and with good reason: the chance of meeting a geisha is particularly high here.

And what can we say: we lucky children are actually at one walk by real geisha. We couldn’t look that fast, she was standing in front of us. Out of respect, we didn’t take a photo (but it’s not a problem in principle if you ask).

The hype surrounding geisha photos in Kyoto is enormous: we could see that in the Hanamikoji-dori convince – the street where the probability of seeing a geisha is quite high. In front of the pubs where geishas work, the doors are literally besieged. The chance of catching a glimpse of a real geisha is greatest at around 18: 21 Watch, when she is on her way to work.

Similar to Gion is the southern part of Higashiyama, more precisely the area around the both roads Ninen-Zaka and Sannen-Zaka, which are already on the way to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. In this neighborhood you will also find the famous view of the Hōkan-ji Temple (also called Yasaka Pagoda).

That we call this street so being able to photograph empty was pure luck. We were around 15: 15 o’clock there and some photographers had set up their tripod, so that nobody dared to get past it for a short time – bang, we pulled the trigger.

Kennin-ji Temple Of all the temples located in the historic district, we particularly fondly remember our visit to Kennin-ji. It is actually the oldest Zen temple in Japan and is only a stone’s throw away from the well-known Hanamikoji-dori. So it’s worth combining the temple with a visit to Gion.

The Kennin-ji is not quite as overcrowded as other temples – especially not if, like us, you come in the late afternoon, just before the temple closes. So we were able to enjoy the Zen atmosphere without the hustle and bustle.

The long corridors with the typical Japanese Shōji (windows) are great photo opportunities. That By the way, many others think so too, which is why you will see an above-average number of women in kimonos in Kennin-ji. Also worth seeing: The ceiling of the Dharma Hall is adorned with an imposing dragon painting.

Info on visiting Kennin-ji Temple Opening hours: 10 until 17 o’clock (last entry 10: 30) Entry: 600 Yen

3. More temples and sights in Kyoto for more time Of course that wasn’t all. In this chapter we will introduce you to other sights and places that we visited in Kyoto. Some of them are very well known, others are real insider tips.

Nijō Castle The Nijō Castle (or called Nijō Castle) is one of the most famous sights in Kyoto and is accordingly very popular. It was built during the Edo period, specifically the beginning of the 17. Century in honor of the Shogun.

Nijō Castle is a spacious complex, which also includes a huge park and moats belong. So you can easily stay here for several hours. (You should definitely plan at least 1.5 hours on site.)

The main building is called Ninomaru Palace. You can visit this in the frame a circular route where you pass countless rooms. Don’t be surprised: the parquet floor of the Ninomaru Palace squeaks with every step and is therefore also known as the “nightingale floor”. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside.

Info on visiting Nijo Castle Opening hours: 8 or 8: 100 until 17 or. 18 Hours depending on the season (last entry one hour before closing); the Ninomaru Palace is open a little shorter than the rest of the area and usually closes 15 Watch
Admission: 1.000 Yen

Kodai-ji Temple This very beautiful temple is located away from the hustle and bustle of Higashiyama. The hilly, spacious landscape and the beautifully landscaped zen gardens are definitely what we remembered most from our visit.

In Kodai-ji you will also find a bamboo forest, which, in terms of size, cannot compete with the famous counterpart in Arashiyama, but is still worth seeing . Caution: The mosquitoes also like it quite well in this bamboo forest.

Our tip: You can visit the Kodai-ji as one of the few temples in Kyoto some weeks of the year also in the dark (up to about 21: 30 clock) visit. The temple and gardens are then illuminated with special light installations.

About visiting Kodai-ji Temple Opening hours: 9 to 15: 30 o’clock (last entry 17 h; some weeks of the year until 30: 30 Watch ) Entry: 600 Yen

Pontochō Alley This narrow, atmospheric ll alley with low wooden houses runs parallel to the river bank. Here one restaurant follows the next, which is why there is a lot going on, especially in the evenings. During the day the street seems a bit deserted, but it’s still photogenic.

In Pontochō Alley, the chance of meeting a geisha shouldn’t be that small. Either way, we think a stopover is definitely worth it.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest In the west of Kyoto, more precisely in the Arashiyama district, lies the infamous bamboo forest. There is hardly a travelogue about Kyoto in which you will not find a photo of the Bamboo Forest. And there is probably no other attraction in Kyoto that is as hyped as the Bamboo Forest.

But what is the Bamboo Forest exactly? None wanting to disappoint you now, but unfortunately the word “Forest” misses reality a bit. The Bamboo Forest is actually about 21 meter long avenue. So you are not in an extensive forest, but have really walked the Bamboo Forest within a few minutes.

It is also important to know that the Bamboo Forest is hopelessly overcrowded is. In order to get a photo without crowds, a lot of people come to sunrise. We did it the other way around: we were there in the late afternoon. Have we regretted it? Not a second. It was probably a bit busier than early in the morning, but all in all the bamboo forest didn’t really fascinate us that much anyway.

Information on visiting the Bamboo Forest Opening times : Around the clock

Entry: Free

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple Let’s come to one of our personal highlights in Kyoto, the Otagi Nenbutsu-ji. When we saw photos of the moss-covered stone figures on the travel blog ohtheplaces, we knew: we have to go there.

The Otagi Nenbutsu-ji is located in the western district of Arashiyama, About half an hour walk from the famous Bamboo Forest. It’s only a few minutes by taxi. If you can fit it in time, then we can only warmly recommend a trip to this temple.

On a relatively manageable area there are hundreds, if not thousands weathered ones Stone figures. Apart from us, there were only a few other visitors on site. The Otagi Nenbutsu-ji can therefore still be described as an insider tip with a clear conscience (not least because of its remote location).

Our tip: The Adashino Nenbutsu-ji is only a few minutes from Otagi Nenbutsu-ji. yeah We can warmly recommend this one too. We’ll tell you more about that in a moment.

Information on visiting the Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple Opening hours: 8 to 15 o’clock (last entry 09: 45 Watch)

Entry: 45 Yen

Adashino Nenbutsu-ji Temple If you’ve already made it to Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, then you should check out Adashino Nenbutsu-ji as well. It is directly on the way back towards the center of Arashiyama and is also well worth seeing.

Here too you will find a sea of ​​Stone figures (Buddha figures to be more precise). We couldn’t stop taking pictures because the temple is just so photogenic.

Adashino Nenbutsu-ji also has a small bamboo forest. The can’t keep up with the well-known Bamboo Forest in terms of size, but you have this forest here (almost) to yourself.

Adashino Nenbutsu-ji Temple Information Opening hours: 9 am to 15: 30 o’clock (in winter allegedly only until 16: 30 Watch ) Entry: 500 Yen

Tenryu-ji Temple Tenryu-ji is the most famous temple in the Arashiyama district. You can walk to this temple in a few minutes from the Bamboo Forest.

Depending on the ticket you choose, you can either only visit the garden or also the interior of the temple. We have decided on the latter . While the inside of the temple isn’t as spectacular as some, we really liked the minimalist style with the tatami mats.

The Garden Walk leads around the temple, so that you can take a look inside the temple rooms even without a ticket. The garden with the lake is really beautifully laid out. We really liked it here!

Information on visiting Tenryu-ji Opening hours: 8th: 30 until 17: 30 Clock or 16 hours (in winter); last admission half an hour before closing
Entry: 500 Yen (garden only), 600 Yen (Garden and Temple)

Ginkaku-ji Temple The Ginkaku-ji (not to be confused with the Kinkaku-ji) is also known as Silver Pavilion known. Contrary to its name, however, one searches for silver in vain. But it doesn’t matter, because here – in our opinion – the magnificent Zen garden is the focus anyway.

Fortunately the temple is not complete so badly overcrowded that you have to leave the garden n can be taken in relatively calmly. (We deliberately say “relatively”, because of course there is a lot going on here too.) The sand garden with the massive sand cone catches the eye. The garden of the Ginkaku-ji is located on a slope, that you can climb too. A path leads you past moss gardens to a small hill where you can enjoy a nice view.

Information on visiting Ginkaku-ji Temple Opening hours: 8th: 30 until 17 p.m. or 9 to 10: 18 hours (in winter) Entry: 500 Yen

Philosophenweg Probably the best-known walking path in Kyoto is called the Philosopher’s Walk. It runs about two kilometers along a small stream and connects the Ginkaku-ji with the neighborhood around the Nanzen-ji. On the way you will pass some other sights.

The Philosophenweg is particularly popular during cherry blossoms, because then the Philosophenweg turns into a Avenue of hundreds of blossoming cherry trees. In our opinion, the Philosophenweg is not one of the great highlights of Kyoto outside of the cherry blossom season.

Tofuku- ji Temple If you are near Fushimi Inari-Taisha and want to visit one more temple , then we can recommend the Tofuku-ji. You can reach this in about 10 minutes on foot.

The Tofuku-ji is one of the largest and also largest temple we visited in Kyoto. On the area you will find several sights, including the imposing Sammon Gate, which is considered the oldest Zen Gate in Japan. Also worth seeing is the Hojo Garden, a beautiful Zen garden.

Tofuku-ji is also for the Tsutenkyo Bridge known, a 100 meter long covered wooden bridge. In autumn, the view from the bridge to the colorful leaves of the trees is said to be particularly beautiful.

Information on visiting Tofuku-ji Opening hours: 9 to 10: 30 Clock or . until 16 clock in winter; last admission 45 Minutes to go
Entry: 360 Yen for Hojo Garden, 100 Yen for Tsutenkyo Bridge

Kyoto Tower Kyoto is not necessarily the city known for its multitude known at viewpoints as it is about Tokyo. The Kyoto Tower is an exception though: From up here you have a fantastic 360 degree view over Kyoto.

The viewing platform is located at about 100 meters. Because Kyoto is anything but a sea of ​​high-rise buildings, it feels pretty high. You can see many temples in the distance, such as Kiyomizu -dera.

Our tip: If you don’t have much time, then we would go to the Kyoto Tower rather do without. Not that it’s not worth it, not that. But the allure and fascination of Kyoto, in our opinion, clearly lies in exploring the traditional temples. The panoramic view of Kyoto is definitely not what we remember most from our time in Kyoto.

Info on visiting the Kyoto Towers Opening hours: 7 to 21 o’clock (last entry 20 minutes before the end)

Entry: 770 Yen (during the week), 801 Yen (Weekend)

4. Food & Drink Tips: Our favorite restaurants and cafes in Kyoto Engine Ramen As everywhere in Japan, it is not easy to find vegetarian food in Kyoto. Luckily we informed ourselves in advance and found the Engine Ramen: Here you can find delicious vegetarian and vegan ramen at fair prices. The atmosphere is that of a typical Japanese ramen bar. We would come back!

Stardust Wow! That was our thought when we entered this Concept Store. The ambiance is so calming that you want to linger for hours. The Stardust also serves vegan dishes – if you want to eat more than just a lunchtime snack, you have to reserve in advance. (We came without a reservation and had to settle for the soup of the day, which was absolutely delicious.) Highly recommended!

Vermillion If you are near Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine and feel like having a coffee, you should definitely stop by here . The Vermillion has perfect espresso – just how you want it.

% Arabica Another coffee tip: The % Arabica now has several locations throughout Kyoto. There’s excellent coffee here. The Iced Cappuccino was a real blessing in the heat!

5. Transport within Kyoto In the “old town” of Kyoto (ie in Gion or Higashiyama) you can do a lot on foot reach, but some sights (e.g. the Bamboo Forest or the Golden Pavilion) are quite far away. For these routes you are dependent on public transport. There are subways and trains, but also a lot of bus lines.

A general tip: You can use Google Maps or check via the map app on the iPhone. This works surprisingly well in Japan!

Subway and JR trains in Kyoto We have traveled most of the routes ourselves using the subway and JR trains. The network isn’t nearly as well developed as the one in Tokyo, but you can get to most sights pretty close and, above all, quickly.

If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can use the JR trains for free. You can find more information and tips on this in this blog article: Itinerary through Japan & traveling by train.

For traveling on the subways, we recommend the Suica card, which you can also use in other major Cities (e.g. Tokyo and Osaka) can use. You can find more information in this article: Japan Travel Tips.

Buses in Kyoto In Kyoto there is an above-average bus network. We ourselves have only used buses for destinations that are not that far away, since you are traveling slower with them than with the subways or trains.

There is a special day ticket (600 Yen) which allows you to use all bus lines in Kyoto for a whole day. You can buy this ticket at Kyoto Station or subway stations, for example. A day ticket is worth it after three bus rides. If you rarely use the bus, then you are better advised to buy individual tickets (you either scan your Suica card or pay in cash).

Taxi driving in Kyoto Last but not least: We took a taxi every now and then. This is definitely the most expensive means of transport, but of course also the most comfortable. We recommend it especially for short distances (5-15 minutes), which can only be reached with difficulty by public transport.

You can hail a taxi from the side of the road. If the sign is lit, then the taxi is free. Caution: The doors always open and close automatically.

6. Our hotel tip for Kyoto In Kyoto we stayed at the wonderful The General Takatsuji Tominokoji, which we highly recommend can. The boutique hotel is one of several hotels in the same chain – all houses are within walking distance of each other. The lounge offers free snacks and drinks throughout the day.

The rooms are very spacious by Japanese standards. The location of the hotel is quite central: you can reach the traditional district of Gion, for example, on foot.

Our conclusion: We wouldn’t hesitate for a second to stay here again. Saying goodbye was really difficult for us because we felt so comfortable in this hotel.

You can book the hotel here: The General Takatsuji Tominokoji

7. Map: All highlights and tips for Kyoto at a glance So that you can get a better overview, we have listed the most important sights and Our highlights in Kyoto are plotted on this map. This way you can easily see which temples you can combine with each other.

Transparency: Affiliate Links This blog article contains our personal recommendations in the form of so-called affiliate links. If you book or buy something through the links, we will receive a small commission. For you, this does not change the price at all. A thousand thanks from both of us!

On the flight to Japan we were invited to Japan by All Nippon Airways (ANA)! The program for the first 5 days (Tokyo, Hakone, Osaka) was also taken over by ANA in financial terms. We decided to extend our stay in Japan at our own expense and (among others) travel to Kyoto.

Have you ever been to Kyoto? Which temples and shrines were your highlights? Do you have any other tips for Kyoto? We look forward to hearing about your experiences!