Kyoto Sightseeing – Top 10 Attractions

Most of the popular attractions on a Kyoto sightseeing itinerary are close to the centre. We decided to look for good value accommodation with parking so that we could leave the campervan parked up in what is a relatively congested city. Having transport meant we could visit any attractions that were not within walking distance of the accommodation. We would spend a total of 2 nights in Kyoto.

Kyoto Sightseeing – Japan’s former capital and home to many temples

Before I list our top 10 Kyoto points of interest I should state that the order that they appear are not necessarily an indication of how much we liked them. For example a couple of the most popular attractions were heaving with tourists which does have an impact on how much Ewelina and I can enjoy a place. Also very often the way we rank a place is often based on how photogenic we found the place to be.

1. Kinkaku-ji

Also known as the Golden Pavilion this Zen temple was somewhere we visited on our last morning in Kyoto. It is a short drive from the city centre and there is a car park opposite the main entrance. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kyoto but due to the layout of the place you don’t feel too crushed. As the main attraction overlooks a large pond you are able to get a decent photograph without lots of tourists getting in the way. The image at the top of this article is Kinkaku-ji.

The temple was originally the retirement home of a shogun and became a temple on his death in 1408. Unfortunately the building is not the original as it has burned down a few times before, the last time in 1950 by a fanatic monk!

Each of the three floors is built in a different style. The lower floor is in the Shinden style. You cannot enter the building but can see inside this lower floor from across the pond if you look closely. The upper two floors are the ones covered in gold leaf. The middle floor is in the Bukke style whilst the upper, which is gilded inside and out is in the style of a Chinese Zen Hall. On top of the building sits a golden phoenix There are a number of paths behind the building that lead to other areas of the grounds. The grounds include a tea house, Fudo Hall and souvenir shop. Almost certainly a must see on anyone’s Kyoto sightseeing list.

2. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Some distance from the centre of Kyoto, this popular attraction to the west of the city seems to be on most people’s itinerary. It can be incredibly busy which is why we decided to drive there and arrive at sunrise to get the sense of peace and tranquility that is ruined once hordes of selfie sticks appear. Since we did a separate post about this place I won’t go into further detail here.

3. Fushimi Inari Taisha 

This shrine features in every Kyoto sightseeing itinerary you read about. There are a number of interesting buildings and statues within the complex but it’s the thousands of red Torii gates that the tourists seem to want to see. The congestion at these gates left Ewelina and I feeling quite claustrophobic and we were unable to really get any interesting photos of the gates because of the numbers of people. If we had more time we would have tried to visit this place first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds as it’s always open and there is no entry charge.

Kyoto Sightseeing - Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha

4. Tofuku-ji Temple 

A popular Kyoto sightseeing attraction famous for its autumn colours which were spectacular when we visited in November. It’s open to debate as to when the best time to visit Kyoto is but we certainly feel it would be hard to beat autumn. The temple was founded in 1236 and much of the temple grounds are free to enter.

5. Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market is a long straight shopping street famous mainly for the food stalls and shops. We visited on our first evening in Kyoto and found it a good place for street photography as there is plenty of artificial light even after dark. You will be surrounded by locals and tourists alike but this does feel more like where the locals might come and is certainly a nice change from all the temples you will no doubt be visiting.

6. Gion

Gion is Kyoto’s most famous Geisha district. Another popular location on the Kyoto sightseeing circuit. There are a number of shops, restaurants and tea houses. The tea houses are where the Geisha and their apprentices known as Maiko entertain. The buildings are mostly traditional wooden houses. It’s an interesting part of the city to visit and is one of the more popular things to do in Kyoto at night.

7. Kiyomizudera Temple 

A temple which was founded in 780 and is situated by Otowa waterfall and is popular for the views. There is a wooden platform above the hills below. The area is surrounded by cherry trees and maple trees which makes this a great place to visit both in the spring and autumn.

8. Philosopher’s Walk

This is somewhere Ewelina and I did not visit since it’s really a place to visit in the spring. The path follows a canal which is lined with cherry trees which makes it a Kyoto sightseeing must during spring when the cherry blossom is in full colour.

9. Kyoto Station

The city of Kyoto is mainly considered as being old fashioned or ‘traditional’ Japan. Certainly most of the tourist sights are somewhat historic and ancient. If you want some contrast though you could do worse than visit Kyoto station which was first opened in 1997. The futuristic design can be very photogenic, especially in black and white.

10. Nijo Castle

Built in 1603 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. It was the residence of the first shogun of the Edo period. Contains the main defence area, a secondary defence area and also some gardens. It costs 600 Yen to enter.

If and when you visit Kyoto you will probably have your own idea of what you want to see. I’m sure though that if you speak to anyone who has visited the city for more than one day they will confirm that at least half of the above list were places they visited on their Kyoto sightseeing trip.

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