If you’ve never been to Kyoto, Japan, you’re truly missing out. A city steeped in history and culture, Kyoto is one of the most popular destinations for visitors from around the world. With its stunning temples, delicious cuisine, and breathtaking gardens, it’s easy to see why so many people choose to visit.
In this blog post, we’ll be exploring 20 of the top tourist attractions in Kyoto, giving you plenty of reasons why you should add this beautiful city to your travel bucket list.
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The central part of Kyoto City
1. Kyoto Imperial Palace & Kyoto Gyoen – Visit Kyoto
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Kyoto is the Kyoto Imperial Palace and its accompanying Kyoto Gyoen. The palace served as the residence of the Japanese emperor and his court until 1868 when it was moved to Tokyo. It’s a great place to explore the traditional architecture of Japan while also marveling at the beautiful gardens surrounding the palace grounds. The lush Kyoto Gyoen garden is a peaceful sanctuary in the middle of the city, offering visitors a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. In addition to taking in the breathtaking views, visitors can enjoy various activities like cycling around the park, having a picnic, or attending one of the events held at the palace throughout the year.
2. Kyoto Station – Visit Kyoto
Kyoto Station is a major railway station located in the city of Kyoto, Japan. It serves as an important hub for both JR West and Kintetsu Railway, with most regional and long-distance trains stopping at the station. With a wide array of shops, restaurants, and attractions around the station, it’s no surprise that Kyoto Station is one of the most visited places in the city.
The main attraction within Kyoto Station is the Isetan Department Store, which features seven floors of high-end retail outlets and restaurants. In addition to shopping and dining, the station also houses a movie theater, an art gallery, and a Shinto shrine. The south side of the station is where visitors can catch buses to nearby sightseeing spots such as Arashiyama and Kinkakuji.
With its unique architecture and convenient location, Kyoto Station is an iconic landmark in the city and an essential part of any visit to Kyoto. Make sure to make a stop here during your next trip!
3. Nijo Castle – Visit Kyoto
Nijo Castle is one of Kyoto’s most popular tourist attractions and the home of the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. This castle was built in 1603 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The impressive Ninomaru Palace inside the castle walls is decorated with stunning gold-leaf covered walls, ornate sliding doors, and tatami-mat rooms. The Nightingale Floors are another highlight as they were designed to squeak like a bird when someone steps on them to alert those inside the palace of intruders. Visitors can also enjoy strolling around the beautiful Ninomaru Garden and admiring the moat and stone walls surrounding the castle.
4. Nishiki Market
Nishiki Market, located in the heart of Kyoto, is a bustling market that has been around since the 17th century. It is known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen” and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The market spans over 400 meters and consists of more than 120 different shops and stalls. At Nishiki Market, you can find an amazing selection of fresh seafood, vegetables, pickles, traditional Japanese sweets, and local specialties. The variety of food available here is vast, so there’s something for everyone!
You’ll also find a great selection of traditional Japanese souvenirs, including pottery, tea sets, fans, and kimonos. The atmosphere at Nishiki Market is lively and vibrant with people of all ages milling around. As you wander through the market, take some time to sample the tasty treats on offer and explore the unique sights and sounds of this fascinating part of Kyoto.
North part of Kyoto City – Visit Kyoto
5. Kinkakuji Temple
Kinkakuji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kyoto. It is an iconic symbol of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is located in the northeast part of Kyoto and stands majestically on a lake surrounded by lush gardens.
The temple was originally built in 1397 as a retirement villa for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Later, it was converted into a Zen temple and is now maintained by the Zen Buddhist sect Rinzai-shu. The main hall of Kinkakuji is covered entirely in gold leaf, giving it its famous name “Golden Pavilion”. It is a beautiful sight to behold, both during the day and at night when it is illuminated.
Visitors can take a stroll around the temple grounds or take a boat ride on the lake to get a different perspective. There are also shops nearby that sell souvenirs and snacks. Kinkakuji is a must-see destination in Kyoto and is well worth visiting!
6. Kurama Temple and Kifune Shrine – Visit Kyoto
Kurama Temple is a secluded shrine located in the hills of Kyoto, about an hour away from the city center. The shrine was founded in 770 AD, and it is one of the oldest shrines in Kyoto. This shrine is best known for its vibrant red torii gates that line the entrance to the shrine grounds, making it a popular spot for photographers. Inside the temple grounds, visitors will find several historical buildings, a peaceful pond, and a large bell tower.
Kifune Shrine is another popular site in Kyoto and is dedicated to the god of water. It is believed that this shrine has been around since 717 AD, but it was only made public in 1751. The grounds of this shrine are stunning and visitors can explore a variety of monuments, including the main hall with its bright red roofs and a museum dedicated to the history of Kifune. The most famous feature of this shrine is the large “Kifune no Torii” gate that stands on the edge of a nearby mountain. Visitors can also enjoy traditional Japanese cuisine at the
7. Ryoanji Temple – Visit Kyoto
Ryoanji Temple is one of the most iconic sites in Kyoto. The temple was built in the late 15th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is renowned for its Zen-style garden, which features 15 stones arranged in five distinct groups. The stones are placed so that they are not visible from any single viewpoint, creating a sense of mystery and awe as visitors stroll around the garden. The beauty and tranquility of Ryoanji Temple make it a popular spot for both locals and tourists alike. Make sure to bring your camera to capture the stunning view of the garden and pond, as well as to enjoy the unique atmosphere of the temple grounds.
South part of Kyoto City – Visit Kyoto
8. Tofukuji Temple
Tofukuji Temple is one of the oldest temples in Kyoto and one of the most popular tourist attractions. It was founded in 1236 by a priest from Nara and consists of several impressive buildings and gardens. The temple is home to the main hall and Sanmon Gate, both of which are national treasures. The temple grounds offer wonderful views of the cityscape, and visitors can take a stroll through its beautiful gardens. Tofukuji Temple also houses several statues and artifacts, making it a must-visit spot for any traveler interested in learning more about Japan’s history and culture. Visitors should also note that there are guided tours available at the temple, allowing them to learn more about the site and its rich history.
9. Fushimi Inari Shrine – Visit Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kyoto and a must-visit for anyone interested in Japanese culture and history. The shrine is dedicated to the god of rice and sake and consists of over 10,000 red torii gates that form a tunnel leading up to the main temple complex. It is believed that walking through the tunnel of torii gates brings good luck and fortune. The view from the top of the mountain is said to be quite breathtaking, as it provides an excellent view of Kyoto’s cityscape. Visitors can also enjoy exploring the hundreds of small shrines, paths, and trails located on the grounds of Fushimi Inari Shrine.
10. Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum – Visit Kyoto
Located in the heart of Kyoto, Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. As the birthplace of sake, Japan is filled with breweries, but this museum is unique in that it allows visitors to learn about and experience the art of sake-making firsthand. Upon entering, visitors can explore the history of sake through artifacts, photographs, and other materials. In addition, visitors can view a real-time sake brewing demonstration, taste samples of different types of sake, and purchase souvenirs from the gift shop. Whether you’re a seasoned sake connoisseur or just looking for an interesting cultural experience, Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum is a must-see for anyone visiting Kyoto.
Higashiyama Area – Visit Kyoto
11. Sanjusangendo Temple
The Sanjusangendo Temple, also known as Rengeo-in, is an impressive Buddhist temple in Kyoto. Located just a short walk from the Kyoto Imperial Palace, this temple has been standing since 1164 and is home to 1001 statues of the goddess Kannon, each standing at a towering height of 33ft. The temple also houses the longest wooden structure in Japan at 390ft. Visitors can take in the beauty and solemn atmosphere of the temple, with its soaring columns and delicate golden sculptures. The main hall of the temple is said to be one of the most photographed structures in all of Japan, with its hundreds of statues looking out onto the courtyard. Even if you don’t have time to visit the other temples on this list, make sure to include the Sanjusangendo Temple in your itinerary!
12. Kiyomizudera Temple
Kiyomizudera Temple is a historic Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. It was built in 798 AD and is considered one of the most important temples in Japan. The temple is located on the eastern side of the city, high above the Otowa River valley, offering breathtaking views of Kyoto below. Visitors to the temple can explore its many buildings and structures, including its impressive main hall, which is supported by 139 pillars.
At Kiyomizudera Temple, you can visit the shrine to the deity of mercy Kannon and observe the ritual of throwing coins from the veranda into the river below for good luck. There are also three sacred waterfalls – Otowa no Taki – located on the premises, and visitors can take part in the ritual of drinking from these falls for good health, longevity, and success.
The temple also hosts many annual events, such as a famous cherry blossom viewing event, during which visitors can view the hundreds of beautiful cherry trees that line the Otowa River valley. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of modern life or an opportunity to connect with ancient Japanese traditions, Kiyomizudera Temple is a must-see attraction in Kyoto.
13. Gion District – Visit Kyoto
The Gion District of Kyoto is one of the most iconic areas of the city. Known as an old geisha district, it’s a great place to explore and soak in the atmosphere. During the day, visitors can stroll through the streets and admire the traditional wooden buildings and stores that line the roads. At night, they can witness a more lively side of Kyoto when the geisha come out to entertain in their brightly colored kimonos. In addition, Gion is home to some of the city’s best restaurants, teahouses, and theaters. Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in culture or just take a stroll through one of Japan’s oldest neighborhoods, Gion District is the perfect place to explore.
Arashiyama Area – Visit Kyoto
14. Bamboo Groves
If you’re looking for a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, the Bamboo Groves in Kyoto is the perfect spot to visit. These lush groves are located just outside the city center and are a great way to reconnect with nature and relax. The towering bamboo trees create a calming atmosphere, and you can spend hours just walking through the paths and admiring their beauty. You can also take a boat ride down the Hozu River which runs through the groves and marvel at the view from a different perspective. No matter how you choose to experience the Bamboo Groves, it is sure to be an unforgettable experience.
15. Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Located on the western outskirts of Kyoto, Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama is a must-visit attraction for animal lovers and nature enthusiasts alike. The park is home to over 170 Japanese macaques, which roam freely around its spacious grounds. Visitors can observe the primates in their natural habitat and may even feed them some snacks. The park has observation platforms that are set amidst a serene forest where visitors can watch the monkeys play and interact with each other. Guided tours are also available for those who wish to learn more about these animals and their behavior.
16. Togetsukyo Bridge – Visit Kyoto
Togetsukyo Bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks in Kyoto, located in the Arashiyama district. The bridge, whose name translates to “moon crossing,” was built in the early Edo period, and stretches over the Katsura River. It is a popular place for visitors to take photos and admire the stunning landscape. During the cherry blossom season, people come from far and wide to take in the incredible sight of the blossoms framing the river below. The bridge also features in several classic Japanese films, adding to its allure. Whether you come for the scenery or to explore its fascinating history, Togetsukyo Bridge is an essential part of any visit to Kyoto.
Hidden parts of Kyoto – Visit Kyoto
Uji is a city located to the south of Kyoto, and it is well known for its high-quality tea. Uji is home to some of the most renowned tea houses in Japan, where you can sample different varieties of tea. The city is also home to some of Kyoto’s most important cultural sites, such as Byodo-in Temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is famous for its Phoenix Hall, and it’s worth a visit if you’re interested in traditional Japanese architecture. Uji is also home to several historical sites, such as Ujigami Shrine, which is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. If you’re looking for a place to relax and enjoy some tea, Uji is the perfect destination.
Located on the Japan Sea coast in the southwest corner of Kyoto Prefecture, Ine is a small fishing town with a unique charm. Home to a distinctive style of traditional architecture known as ‘funaya’, Ine is renowned for its beautiful views of Umino-Oike, a vast sea of boats. A funaya is a two- or three-story wooden house built on stilts over the sea, and they are scattered along the coast of the bay. Take a boat tour around the bay and observe the numerous funny, or even stay overnight in one! Ine is also known for its fresh seafood, particularly the local delicacy ‘buro-su’, salted and grilled Buri (yellowtail). Visit Ine for an unforgettable experience of a true fishing village and its delightful scenery!
19. Amanohashidate – Visit Kyoto
Amanohashidate, also known as the Bridge to Heaven, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kyoto. The breathtaking view from this pine-covered sandbar is something you can’t miss! Take a romantic stroll across the bridge that connects the two shores of this picturesque sandbar, while taking in the breathtaking views of Miyazu Bay and its surrounding landscape. The breathtaking view has been said to be even more beautiful than the famous view of Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture. In addition, the natural beauty of the sandy beach provides an ideal spot for a refreshing dip in the cool ocean waters. No matter how you choose to enjoy Amanohashidate, it will surely be a memorable experience!
Mysterious spots of Kyoto – Visit Kyoto
20. Yokai Street
Yokai Street, otherwise known as the “Ghost Street” of Kyoto, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The street is lined with traditional shops and restaurants, offering visitors a unique glimpse into Japan’s past. The street is home to several of Kyoto’s most beloved yokai (ghosts or supernatural creatures) and is often visited by those who wish to catch a glimpse of these mythical creatures. Visitors can find items related to this yokai, such as hand-painted scrolls and souvenirs, at many of the shops. Whether you’re looking for some Japanese souvenirs or simply want to experience a bit of traditional Japanese culture, Yokai Street is a great place to visit!
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