Best things to do in Kyoto; Top 10 sights in Kyoto

Fushimi Inari-Taisha

17 January 2019

Best things to do in Kyoto; Top 10 sights in Kyoto

City guide Kyoto

One of my favorite cities in Japan was Kyoto. It’s a great mixture of old and new. This city has about 1800 temples and shrines, well maintained Zenn gardens, historical buildings and streets, but most people have just a few days to explore the city. In this city guide I’ll give you my favorite sights and activities of Kyoto.

1. Fushimi Inari-Taisha

The temple complex Fushimi Inari-Taisha is famous for the long rows of red Torii gates. There are around 1000 torri gates all along the 4 kilometers footpath. When you start at the entrance of Fushimi Inari Taisha there is a large shrine, but this is not the only shrine. Along the footpath you can find many more.

The trails go up the mountain which is about 233 meters high. Most people with a normal fitness level can do this trail.

It’s easy to access from Inari station and only a few minutes walk to the entrance. The shrine is open 24 hours and there is no entrance fee!

I recommend going early to avoid the crowds. When we arrived around 11 AM it was packed, but the further you walk uphill on the trail it will be less crowded and sometimes you might be even alone for a moment.

2. Arashiyama bamboo forest

In the Western outskirts of Kyoto you can find a touristy district called Arashiyama. This area is well visited during cherry blossom and the fall colors, not only for the beautiful surroundings but also for temples and Togetsukyo Bridge.

The most famous is the Arashiyama bamboo grove. Standing between the large bamboo will make you feel small! I think it cannot be captured in a photo. The walk between the bamboo I think was rather short, maybe a 100 meters. At the end of the forest you can either return or continue to the beautiful temple Jojakkoji. Especially in Autumn you will be amazed by the colors!

3. Jojakkoji temple

At the base of Arashiyama’s mountain you’ll find the serene Jojakkoji temple. This small temple has a few pagodas which overlook Kyoto. During fall and cherry blossom this temple is particularly well visited. During my visit there quit a few people, but not too busy and I was really charmed by the Autumn foliage.

After your walk in the Arashiyama bamboo forest, this temple is well worth a visit!

4. Kinkaku-ji temple (Golden temple)

Kinkaku-ji temple is settled in the North of Kyoto and is easily combined with Arashiyama bamboo forest on one day. This temple you can reach by bus (101 or 205) or on foot from Kitaoji Station.

The impressive 2 floor building is covered in gold, therefor it’s also known as the Golden Pavilion. The building overlooks a large pond, which gives in the right circumstances, a mirror reflection.

After you have paid the entrance fee (500 yen), you just follow the foot path which leads you along the best sights of the buildings and garden. This temple is one of the most visited in Kyoto and most ideal is to go on a weekday, early morning or just before closing, to avoid the crowds.

5. Nishiki market

Nishiki market is a narrow covered street which shops selling all kind of fresh food products. The best traditional and fresh food is bought here, so we tried all kind of things. Most of it, we didn’t even know what we tasted. Sushi was our number 1 favorite! Super fresh!

The Nishiki market runs parallel to Shijo Avenue, one block north of the avenue. And it is close to the metro station Shijo, just a few minutes walk.

Fun fact: Eating while walking is seen as impolite in Japan. So eat your food on the spot and give your garbage back to the shop owner, or buy your food as take out and eat your meal at your hotel.

6. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

In the district Higashiyama you’ll find Kiyomizu-dera temple (Pure water temple) on Mountain Otowa. The temple was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall and it is named after the Pure water that flows from the waterfall.

Most famous aspect of this temple is the wooden stage made of 168 pillars. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see it, as I didn’t actually enter this building. I soaked up the view from the shrine but didn’t expect to see this. So definitely pay the entrance fee and go see it yourself!

7. Higashima district with Yasaka Pagoda

Walking around in Kyoto we soon found ourselves wandering in the narrow lanes with wooden buildings and traditional shops, restaurants and tea houses. Most iconic landmark is the Yasaka Pagoda which seems to pop up out of nowhere and is very photogenic with the wooden buildings. For about 2 kilometers you can walk up the Mount Otowa to Kiyomizu-dera temple. During the day the narrow streets are very busy but somehow, this made it more fun to me.

8. Yasaka shrine

At the end of Hanami-koji Dori you can see the main gate of Yasaka Shrine (also known as Gion Shrine). Once you have entered at the main gate (no entrance fee), there are several shrines. The most important building is the Honden (spirit hall). Warshippers wake up the God with a rate of the pan shaped bells and then pray for the altar.

The Hadden (offertory building) is a roofed ceremonial stage for religious ceremonies.
Next to the shrine grounds you’ll find Maruyama park.

9. Eikando temple

Eikando temple has a long history and there are a variate of buildings, a garden around a pond. This temple is very famous for its Autumn colors, and I totally can see why. When I entered the complex I was amazed by the bright red and orange colors, with a mixture of the emerald green moss.

One of the most recognizable buildings is the Tahoto pagoda, which is on the hillside. You’ll get a nice view over Kyoto.

To enter the building you have to take of your shoes and a bag is given so you can take your shoes. The exit is at the other side of the complex building.

It took me a while to see all the complex and garden, because there was a lot to see and I couldn’t top taking pictures!

10. Spotting Geisha in Gion district

‘Look at this picture!' and my husband Timo shows me the picture. And then I realized I just passed a beautiful Geisha, without seeing her! I was too busy with my camera settings. We are in the charming and historical district Gion. In this district you might be lucky to spot a Geisha.

Hanami-koji street is one of the famous touristic streets in Gion district. Wooden houses, shops and restaurants dominate the streets.

The Shirakawa channel is picturesque and with a lot of local people dressing up in a Kimono it’s a photo genetic spot.