Every year, Kyoto receives a flood of overseas visitors who come seeking temples, shrines, and the historic atmosphere of Japan. There is definitely more to the quaint streets, lined with traditional style shops, than meets the eye. From world-renowned historical attractions to more contemporary outlets like markets and manga museums, Kyoto has something for everyone to enjoy. Here are the top 10 attractions in Kyoto to add to your itinerary:
1. Kyoto Tower (京都タワー)
One of the famous recent landmarks of Kyoto, right beyond the doors of Kyoto station, is this observation deck. Mounted to the top of a large hotel, Kyoto Tower boasts some of the best views in this historical city. You can see far off into the mountains or get a bird’s eye view of the nearby Higashi Honganji Temple and more. If you go at night, you get to see the beauty of a glittering Kyoto—but daytime is just as impressive.
2. Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社)
Known for being a shrine with paths lined with torii gates and kitsune guardians, Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of the most visited Shinto shrines in all of Japan. The main grounds are expansive and dotted with souvenir shops, food stalls, and natural beauty. If you wish to climb father up Mt. Inari to visit the several larger shrines circling the mountain, the hike takes about 40 minutes in total. Be prepared for a lot of steps! However, the lookout points from Mt. Inari give you break-taking views of Kyoto.
3. Higashi Honganji Temple (東本願寺)
The first thought you are guaranteed to have upon seeing Higashi Honganji Temple is that it is huge and somewhat intimidating. Yet, the grounds of the temple, belonging to the Shin Buddhist sect, are vast, full of unique buildings, and quiet. You are free to wander around the outside of Higashi Honganji, so be sure to stop by and admire the details in the architecture and the incredible size of the main hall.
To the west, you will also find the sister temple, Nishi Honganji, where more beautiful sites await.
4. Shosei-en Garden (渉成園)
A short walk from the main grounds of Higashi Honganji is a stunning Japanese Zen garden known as Shosei-en. For a small “donation” of 500 yen, you get an unlimited amount of time to walk this quiet garden as well as a fantastic pamphlet (offered in multiple languages) featuring details about everything you see here. There are preserved buildings, two gorgeous bridges, flowers, and more. Even in the dead of winter, the garden is lively, bright, and way less crowded than other attractions.
5. Kenninji Temple (建仁寺)
Located within a very popular vicinity near Gion Corner on Hanamikoji-dori, the grounds of Kenninji Temple are dotted with smaller temples and pagodas. A walk around Kenninji might not take very long, but the perfectly manicured landscape, old wooden Buddhist temples, and peaceful atmosphere make it quite the sanctuary. Plus, there are plenty of picture opportunities to be had. Also, since it is near the Gion District, you might be lucky enough to spy a geisha or two!
6. Kyoto National Museum (京都国立博物館)
Being that the Kyoto National Museum is one of the major art museums in the entire nation, it is definitely a worthwhile venture. Not only is the main building’s facade awe-inspiring, the exhibits held within cover a broad range of artwork. The focus is pre-modern Japanese artwork, so you will see pieces from the Heian period as well as the famous collection of Japanese sutras. There are also sculptures, paintings, pottery, fabric, and important archaeological and historical items on display.
7. Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺)
Having opened in 778 AD, Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist Temple that is also part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the reasons Kiyomizu-dera is awesome is because the main temple, the one of the mountainside, was constructed without using a single nail. The other reason is that same temple has a lookout that gives you a near 360-degree view of Kyoto and the surrounding mountains. Around the bottom of the temple, you will find shopping streets, food stalls, and historical paths.
8. Ninenzaka Path (二年坂)
One of the two preserved housing districts in Kyoto (the other being Sannenzaka), Ninenzaka is lined with charming architecture, cherry blossom trees, souvenir and food shops, and sometimes even rickshaws carrying geisha. Though this pedestrian thoroughfare can be quite crowded at times, it does leave you feeling as if you have been transported back in time.
9. Maruyama Park (円山公園)
Not to be confused with Maruyama Park in Sapporo, this park in Kyoto is home to more than just incredible foliage throughout the year. The popular sight is in the spring, when the weeping cherry tree gets lit up. Also around New Years, there are a number of events. With the main entrance to the park being through Yasaka Shrine, another famous point, and the other opening coming from the Gion District, Maruyama Park is a wonderful attraction to see anytime you find yourself in Kyoto.
10. Nijo Castle (二条城)
For the history lovers! Slightly different in design from other castles you might see in Japan, Nijo Castle is a must. Built in 1676 by the Tokugawa Shogunate, Nijo Castle has a number of fortifications, gates, walls, and other structures that will amaze you. On the grounds, there are two gardens, moats, and more to snap pictures of. Or you can wander the halls of the two palaces: Nihonomaru and Honmaru.