Kyoto has approximately 1600 Temples, Shrines and even a Castle so there is no way you could visit them all in a lifetime, let alone a short stay. It can become so overwhelming if not pricey that it can be hard to know where to start.
Below I have compiled a list of my favourite 5!
This temple was our first while in Kyoto as it was in walking distance from where we were staying. (Ibis Kyoto) Built to pray for peace and tranquility the five story pagoda is the highest in Japan reaching 56.4 mt and is a prominent feature of the temple. Other features included many large statues of Buddha and beautiful gardens. Entry is 500 yen but to be honest, you can still get a great view for free of the pagoda by walking around the outside of the fenced of area. It is an easy walk from Kyoto Station.
This Castle is a UNESCO world heritage site, built in 1603. The Castle is surrounded by tall stone walls and a moat and contains some beautiful gardens, especially in Spring and Autumn. It is easy to navigate, you just follow the crowds and path as it winds you throughout the whole compound. When entering the Ninomaru palace you have to take off your shoes and follow the corridors leading to the various rooms. On display are many walls paintings and keep an ear out for the squeaking floorboards that are said to sound like Nightingales and protected the residents from intruders. We walked from Kyoto Station but it was a bit of a hike and you need a reliable map, otherwise you can access it from the Tozai subway line, Nijojo -mae station. Entry price is 600 yen.
Otherwise known as the water temple, Kiyomizu – dera is situated high on a hill with the main building supported by giant wooden pillars. It was busy when we went and it scared me how many people were congested on the veranda space that was suspended over the edge but the buildings, views, gardens and the Otowa Waterfall (used for purification) are all attractions that make this a worthwhile visit. The shops that line the streets that lead to the temple are also worth ducking into especially for the icecream, crepes and milk tea. Access is via bus from Kyoto station (#206 ) and entry is 300 yen although you can access half the temple area for free.
Mostly known as the Golden pavilion and probably one of the most famous of Kyoto’s temples. The pavilion, which was built as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga, glows in the sun and the best photos are from the other side of the lake. Yet again another crowded Temple but worth a visit, if only to say that you have seen it…maybe try early in the morning to beat the crowd. Following the path you wind around past behind the pavilion, through the gardens before exiting, from this point you can re-enter if you chose. There is also a tea house onsite, although we didn’t go. Access is on the bus (#205) from Kyoto station and entry is 400 yen.
This is my favourite site in Kyoto. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is well known for its thousands of Tori gates that wind their way up the hillside and therefore can be very crowded with Tourists. I visited twice, both times in the evening (in Dec the sun went down around 4.30pm) and there was barely anybody there, sometimes I had the trail to myself. The first time I went, I under estimated how far up it was and turned around, confused by the maps which were not to scale. The second time seemed easier, maybe because I knew what I was up for and wasn’t stopping to take as many photos! I would factor in at least two and a half hours to climb the stairs up and back down the mountain under the Tori gates, which would allow for rest breaks and photo opportunities. Another major draw card is that this site is free and easily accessed by train from Kyoto station, on the Nara line, hoping off at the Inari Station.
Hints when visiting;
Some areas you may have to take off your shoes.
Be respectful in what you wear, no skimpy outfits and some places donor allow shorts and top without shoulder coverings.
Most places don’t allow photos within the temple.
Speak quietly, be respectful of where you are.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of the temples, shrines and castle of Kyoto!
Have you visited any temples and shrines in Kyoto? What’s your favourite?