The Top 10 Sites of Kyoto
Kyoto is THE place to visit in Japan to experience historical districts, temples, and in my opinion, the best food in Japan. It would be impossible to visit the thousands of temples and shrines that dot the city, so review information and pictures and decide which sites speak to you. Also keep in mind, that since the top sites are scattered across the city...it would be wise to group the sites you'd like to see in areas as to not waste time commuting back and forth across the city.
Here are my favorite sites in Kyoto:
This gold-leaf covered Buddhist temple is visually stunning. Naturally, this iconic site is usually busy and so you'll deal with crowds most times of the day. It's located in Northwest Kyoto, and there's not a convenient train station nearby, but the bus will drop you off right outside the entrance.
Crowds are directed along a path and the flow allows everyone to get an unobstructed view of the golden pavilion. Be patient, and follow the direction from the guides. At the end of the path you'll find restrooms, a gift shop, and concession stands.
Kinkaku-ji is open from 9am-5pm and there is an entrance fee.
2. Fushimi-Inari Taisha
In Southeast Kyoto, you'll find another top, popular spot. The Shinto shrine of Fushimi-Inari is recognizable from it's thousands of red torii gates that travel up the mountain. You'll also notice a lot of stone foxes, a sacred figure to the Japanese.
Continue to walk up the mountain through the gates, the farther you go, the crowds will dissipate and you can find yourselves alone for great photo ops.
I couldn't find set hours for Fushimi-Inari, but it's generally open from dawn until dusk. There's a convenient train station nearby and no entrance fee.
The Gion area of Kyoto is the famous "Geisha district." While it is unlikely to see a true Geisha, an evening walk through these historic streets with the traditional buildings is a must-do activity.
The canals are lined with cherry trees and you should not miss the street Shimbashi-dori. The Gion district is located in Southern Higashiyama area.
4. Path of Philosophy
In the Northern Higashiyama area is the Path of Philosophy, another visually stunning walk in Kyoto, especially during cherry blossom season. This walk takes you along canals lined with cherry trees, and at the Northern end are two of my other top sites.
The path is along the Eastern mountains between Nanzen-ji and Ginkaku-ji. It usually is highlighted on tourist maps of Kyoto.
This overlooked Honen-in is a great escape from the crowds and located along the Path of Philosophy, on the Northern end. This Buddhist temple is free to visit, open 6am-4pm. The gardens set back in the mountains are gorgeous and peaceful.
This Buddhist temple started as a villa for the shogun, who intended for it to be covered in silver leaf. Upon his passing it was converted into a temple. The white sand gardens are raked perfectly, and still deserves a stop.
Admission hours are from 8:30am-5pm and there is a fee. A bus stop is nearby, and this temple is located at the Northernmost point of the Path of Philosophy.
Omen, a favorite udon noodle house is also nearby.
The entrance gate to this Buddhist temple is a showstopper, especially when lit up at night. It's the largest in Japan at two stories. The grounds are large, so they don't feel as crowded as other sites.
The grounds are free, but there is an admission fee to the inner buildings and garden. It is open from 9am-4:30pm. Chion-in is located in the Southern Higashiyama district.
This Buddhist temple is another popular site in Southern Higashiyama. This temple is perched on the hill, and a steep climb or bus ride to reach the entrance.
The woodwork supporting the main hall and verandah is impressive, so if you follow the path behind the temple, you'll get a good view of it as well as the city of Kyoto. Continue to follow the path as it winds back down the hillside. You just may get interviewed for the Japanese news too!
This site is open from 6am-6pm and has an entrance fee.
9. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Arashiyama is a suburb of Kyoto at the base of the Western mountains. From Kyoto's main train station, it's an approximate 30 minute ride. From the train station, follow the signs towards the bamboo grove "or forest," it took me about 10 minutes at a leisurely pace.
You'll find crowds in this beautiful forest, and cars are allowed to drive through, so be mindful. If you want a picture of yourself in the forest alone, it would be best to arrive very early in the morning.
It is free to enter, and the grove is North of the river.
10. Monkey Mountain
Ok, officially called Arashiyama Monkey Park...it would be a shame to miss this experience if you found yourself in Arashiyama. Even without children, I found myself having a great time and it was definitely a highlight of Kyoto.
Cross the bridge over the river and turn right, you'll see the cartoon monkey signs. At the trailhead, there will be a fee station. Pay a few Yen and start your hike up the mountain. It's not long nor strenuous, but there are a few benches you can rest on during your climb.
Along the way you'll be rewarded with cherry trees dotting the mountain and once you reach the top, let your eyes delight with the wild monkeys roaming free. Be careful, they are wild! But it's a unique experience to enter the "cage," buy some peanuts or fruit, and feed them. Hot tip: they seemed to prefer the apples and bananas to the peanuts. The babies were adorable and we absolutely loved this random spot in Kyoto.
Those are my favorite places in Kyoto. We stayed for 3 days at an Air BnB. As it was cherry blossom season, Kyoto hotels were expensive and booked out far in advance. During my trip in 2016, Kyoto was definitely the favorite destination.