What To Do In KyotoWhat To Do In Kyoto
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What To Do In Kyoto

 

What To Do In Kyoto

 

One of the most common questions we see at Travel Panda is: “What should I do in Kyoto?” It seems easy enough, just show up at the city and go.  Your hostel will provide you with plenty of recommendations and a map, but once you start exploring the ancient capital you can start to feel overwhelmed by the mass amounts of awesome.  We decided it is time to make a list of our recommendation of what you should definitely see and do in Kyoto.  Keep in mind that you would need roughly a week in the city to see and do everything we are recommending, but hopefully this will help you figure out what to do in Kyoto.

 

 

What To Do In Kyoto

Temples / Shrines / Nature / Villas and Castles / Culture

Temples

 

When you think of Kyoto, what comes to mind?  History? Geishas? Well for us, Kyoto is all about the temples.  Kyoto has a seemingly endless supply of ancient and beautiful temples, and almost all of them have some pretty good reasons as to why you should check them out.  Well unless you also have an endless amount of time to spend visiting them all, you will need to enter Kyoto with a strategy and an idea of which you want to see.  To help you figure out what to do in Kyoto, we put together a list of our six favorite temples for you to check out.

 

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Kinkaku Ji

Kinkaku Ji, or the “Golden Pavilion,” was a Zen Buddhist created in 1397.  The temple is a three story pavilion that is best known for its gold paint that covers the building.  There is a solid gold rooster on top of the pavilion that has become the symbol of Kinkaku Ji.  The pavilion sits in the middle of a pond that is surrounded by a beautifully kept garden that is perfect in any season.  Kinkaku Ji has become one of the most iconic attractions in all of Japan and is a must see while in Kyoto.

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Kiyomizu Dera

Kiyomizu Dera is one of the largest and oldest temples in Kyoto.  The temple was founded in 778 on top of a hill overlooking the city.  The buildings that are currently standing were created in the early 1630s and were made without using a single nail.  The temple is famous for clean, wish granting water as well as the trees surrounding the temple.  Depending on the season, the trees give the temple a completely different look, which makes the temple worth coming back to.

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Ginkaku Ji

Ginkaku Ji also known as the “Silver Pavilion” is one of the better known sights in Kyoto. The temple’s impressive and pristine gardens surround the pavilion, and offer a path that gives a tremendous view of the temple grounds. Despite the name, the “Silver Pavilion” is not actually silver, but a wooden temple.  The grounds also contain a fantastic tea house, some beautiful rock gardens, as well as a few ponds.  Although not nearly as flashy as its brother the “Golden Pavilion,” the “Silver Pavilion” tends to be the favorite between the two and one of the better sites in Kansai.

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Ryoan Ji

Kyoto has several spectacular stone gardens spread out throughout the city that are absolutely worth seeing.  Out of the numerous stone gardens Ryoan Ji’s stone garden is the oldest and most historic.  No one actually knows when this ancient garden was constructed, but it has been around for a rather long time and has been the inspiration for of the country’s most famous pieces of poetry.  The temple grounds has a fantastic tea house and traditional garden as well.


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Tofuku Ji

Another terrific stone garden can be found at Tofuku Ji which has a far more interesting temple complex than Ryoan Ji as well as a much larger rock garden.  That being said, Tofuku Ji was created in the past century and does not have the history that Ryoan Ji has.  Tofuku Ji may lack in history, but the grounds are massive and are famous for their fall colors.  So if you are looking for history check out Ryoan Ji, but if you are looking for something a little bigger then you should take a look at Tofuku Ji.

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Kokedera

Kokedera, meaning moss temple, is one of Kyoto’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is one of our favorite temples to visit.  The temple is a bit out of the way and can be a little more difficult than the typical Kyoto attraction to get to, but the trip is well worth it.  The grounds are completely covered in a green moss which makes up one of the country’s better traditional gardens.  The grounds have a very tranquil feel to it and the more you walk down the historic paths the more you feel as if you are entering a dream.  It is simply magical.

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What To Do In Kyoto

Temples / Shrines / Nature / Villas and Castles / Culture

 

Shrines

 

Kyoto may be known for its temples, but the city’s got some pretty fantastic shrines that are definitely worthy of your time.  The best part?  Some of them are completely free.  Aside from looking just absolutely stunning, the shrines have a great deal of historic value that you can learn about online or through the information shared at the actual shrine.  Keep in mind, you are bound to run into several people worshiping at these shrines, so be respectful.

 

Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine is the main shrine of the god “Inari.”  The shrine is located at the base of Mount Inari, and is known for its long winding trails lined with large orange “Torii” gates.  Traditionally, merchants would pray to the god Inari, god of rice, for prosperity in the coming year.  Now businesses donate the orange “Torii” gates and have their names engraved in the back.  The shrine is a short train ride out or the city, and is one of the most traveled to attractions in Kyoto.  The “Torii” gates line the trails that lead hikers for miles up Mount Inari.  After a 30-40 minute hike, travelers will reach a clearing where they can enjoy a tremendous view of Kyoto.  Hikers rarely continue hiking past the clearing due to the repetition of the gates, but it is still one of the best attractions in all of the city and is definitely one thing you should do in Kyoto.

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Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine, also known as Gion Shrine, is one of the oldest and most famous shrines in all of Kyoto.  Located right at the Gion Bus Stop and next to a fantastic park makes the shrine a wonderful addition to any Gion tour.  The shrine is at the center of attention during the ever popular Gion Festival throughout all of July.  If you are lucky enough to be in Kyoto on July 17th be sure to head to Yasaka Shrine to see all of the Gion floats get paraded down the adjacent street.  The shrine is especially famous for its enormous cherry blossom tree, and is an incredibly popular place for hanami viewing.

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Heian Shrine

Compared to the other attractions mentioned on this list of what you should do in Kyoto, Heian Shrine might be considered relatively new, but what the shrine lacks in history it more than makes up for in awesome.  The shrine was built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto becoming the capital of Japan.  The shrine was created to honor and remember the spirits of the first and last emperors who ruled the ancient capital.  Heian Shrine is filled with some absolutely epic monuments, enormous orange torri gates, and one of the best gardens in all of Kyoto.

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What To Do In Kyoto

Temples / Shrines / Nature / Villas and Castles / Culture

 

Nature

 

Kyoto may be one of the country’s largest city’s, but the area has quite a bit of stunning natural scenes that you should not miss.  The city is one of the most famous places in the country to take in the fall colors, get up close and personal with monkeys,  and if you are willing to take a quick jaunt out of the city you can see one of the nation’s top views.  While walking through all of the historical buildings it is easy to forget how beautiful the surrounding nature is, but we recommend taking a moment and appreciate what is around you.

 

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Arashiyama

Arashiyama, a district found in western Kyoto, is an area abundant in history as well as natural beauty.  The Arashiyama area contains numerous attractions including a monkey park a top of a mountain, several unique and ancient temples, and a stunning bamboo grove that is sure to please any who make it this scenic district.  Arashiyama may not be covered by the bus pass, but the natural beauty makes it well worth the couple hundred yen.

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Iwate Monkey Park

As mentioned earlier in Arashiyama you can find a monkey park at the top of a mountain.  This park will allow you to not only get close to the monkeys, but also lets you feed them.  That’s right, you can feed the monkeys.  Have you ever fed a monkey??? No?  Well make sure you get yourself to Iwate Monkey Park.  The park also offers a phenomenal view of the city.  Oh just be sure to not make any direct eye contact with any of the monkeys… that is if you want to avoid a skirmish.

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Philosopher’s Path

The Philosopher’s Path is a short walk along a canal that leads to the famous Ginkaku Ji.  The path is famous year round for its tranquil atmosphere and scenic surroundings, but is also one of the most popular areas for cherry blossoms in early spring.  Being that it is near Ginkaku Ji, many people enjoy combining the two to make for one incredible walk.  If you can try to make it when the sakura are in bloom, but keep in mind that it will be crowded.

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Amanohashidate

Although not in Kyoto City, Amanohashidate is a pine tree covered sandbar that spans across Miyazu Bay and is one of Japan’s Top 3 Views.  The name Amanohashidate can be translated as “the Bridge in the Heavens” and is often viewed by turning your back to the bridge then bending at the waste to look at the sandbar between your legs.  It might be weird, but its just how the locals have been viewing the sight for over a thousand years.  It is best viewed from a hill on either side of the land bridge.

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What To Do In Kyoto

Temples / Shrines / Nature / Villas and Castles / Culture

Villas and Castles

 

Having been the nation’s capital for centuries, Kyoto racked up several villas and castles to serve its imperial family.  Unfortunately Katsura Villa as well as the Imperial Palace will need you to make reservations and take a tour, but the experience is worth the trouble and planning.  Nijo Castle on the other hand does not require any type of tour or reservation, and offers a spectacular view of the area.  Be sure to spend time at each of these and enjoy the history.

 

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Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle, a flatland castle located in central Kyoto, is one of the most visited castles in all of Japan.  The castle is made up of massive surrounding walls, beautiful blue moats, some phenomenal gardens, and of course the historic castle buildings.  The castle has many features that makes it special including two fortifying walls as well “Nightingale Floors” that mimic the chirps of a mockingbird when stepped on.  Overall the Nijo Castle is a phenomenal attraction that should not be missed.

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Imperial Palace

Once the Imperial residences of the emperor of Japan, the Imperial Palace has become one of Kyoto’s most important and toured historical attractions.  The palace grounds is massive and holds ponds, gardens, a shrine, and numerous palace buildings that are waiting to be explored.  Unfortunately, you must take a guided tour to get inside and see anything, but the surrounding park is free for anyone to visit and is a common place for locals to come and relax.

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Katsura Villa

Katsura Villa is one of Japan’s greatest examples of traditional gardening.  The villa is absolutely exquisite and will certainly be a highlight of any tour of Kyoto.  Unfortunately this imperial villa comes with a great deal of restrictions.  You can only visit Katsura Villa on guided tours, and you are only allowed to take photos in designated areas.  The villa is a highly protected piece of history, and certainly worth your time.

photo credit: Christian Kaden via photopin

 

 

What To Do In Kyoto

Temples / Shrines / Nature / Villas and Castles / Culture

 

Culture

 

Japanese Traditional Arts and Culture can be tough to understand and learn about if you are just making a short trip to the country.  Certainly if you live here long enough you will be able to pick up on them well enough,  but if you are just here for a couple weeks, you may miss out on the cultural experiences all together.  That is why we have added a couple of experiences to what you should do in Kyoto, so that you can learn all about the traditions and arts of this ancient country.

 

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Gion Corner

Gion Corner, found in (you guessed it) Gion, put on not one, not two, but seven performances that show different traditional arts.  Gion Corner holds 2-3 performances every night and is a fantastic way to spend the evening.   The ticket price is about 2,500 yen, but is a small price to pay to see professionals perform these historic arts.  You can see more at their website HERE.

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Kimono Tour

What better way to explore Kyoto than in a traditional Japanese Kimono.  Walking through all of the city’s most historic sites while wearing a kimono completes the experience and gives you a better sense of the history.  Plus it will make for some fantastic photos.  You may even get asked to have your photo taken.  There are several rental shops out there, but check out Yume Kyoto to help make your Kyoto Experience complete.

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What To Do In Kyoto

Temples / Shrines / Nature / Villas and Castles / Culture