The 22 best places to visit in Kyoto

 

Believed to date from the mid 15th century is the Ryoan-ji, meaning 'The Temple Of The Dragon At Peace', a Zen temple whose garden holds within it what is considered the finest surviving example of kare-sansui, meaning 'Dry Landscape.' The art of kare-sansui is a refined type of Japanese Zen temple garden design generally featuring larger rock formations arranged within a sweep of smooth pebbles, raked into linear patters that are purported to facilitate meditation. As Japan's most famous rock garden, attracting visitors from across the world, The Ryoan-ji is part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site.

22. Ryoan-ji

 

Established in 1606 AD is the Kodai-ji, formerly known as the largest sub temple of the Kennin-ji branch. The temples main gate and Spirit Hall have been designated Important Cultural Assets, with the traditional gardens nationally designated a Historic Site and Place Of Scenic Beauty.

Pictured is the Ryozen Kannon, unveiled in 1955 it commemorates those who died in the Pacific War. The shrine features a large statue of the Bodhisttva Avalokitesvara, made from white concrete, the statue measures 24 metres (79 ft) high and weighs around 500 tons.

21. Kodai-ji

 

First completed in 1594 AD, Fushimi Castle, also known as Momoyama Castle, only lasted two years before being destroyed by an earthquake in 1596 AD. Dismantled and demolished in 1623 AD, what stands there today is a modern rebuild dating from 1964. As a full replica of the original 16th century fortress, this new structure still makes for a fantastic sight.

20. Fushimi-jō

 

Founded in 1236 AD at the behest of the Fujiwara Clan is the large Zen Buddhist temple of Tofuku-ji, one of the so called Kyoto Gozan, or 'Five Great Zen Temples Of Kyoto'. Historically one of the principal Zen temples in Kyoto, and head temple of the school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, the Tofuku-ji is probably most famous for its incredible autumn colours. From mid to late November, visitors come from across Japan and the Asian Pacific region, with the most spectacular view to be had coming from the Tsutenkyo Bridge, and the other coming when viewing the bridge.

19. Tōfuku-ji

 

Founded in 788 AD during the early Heian period is the Enryaku-ji, a Tendai monastery located on Mount Hiei, overlooking the centre of Kyoto. At its height in the 10th century, the complex was vast, containing as many as 3,000 sub temples housing an army of warrior monks. Having been mostly destroyed in the mid 16th century, most of the current structures date from the late 16th to early 17th centuries, reflecting more Edo period details. One of the most significant monasteries in Japanese history, the Enryaku-ji and its surviving 8th century main hall known as the Konpon-chudo is a Japanese National Treasure and part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site.

18. Enryaku-ji

 

Founded in 678 AD in the north of the city is the Kamigamo Shrine, an important Shinto sanctuary on the banks of the Kamo River. During the early Heian period the shrine was among a select number of establishments to be granted a divine seal for use on documents, signifying the importance of the building. At over 1,350 years of age it is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan as well as being designated part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site.

17. Kamigamo-jinja

 

Completed in 1490 AD is the Zen temple of Ginkaku-ji, meaning 'Temple Of The Silver Pavilion', one of the major representations of the Higashiyama Culture of the Muromachi period. Located along Kyoto's eastern mountains, the complex today houses the Silver Pavilion, a few other temple buildings, a moss garden and a unique dry sand garden, all easily viewed from a circular walking route through the grounds.

16. Ginkaku-ji

 

Founded in 886 AD during the early Heian period by Emperor Uda is the Ninna-ji, also known as the 'Omuro Imperial Palace', it is the head temple of the Omuro school of the Shingan sect of Buddhism. Ravaged by war over the centuries, the oldest buildings on the site date from the beginning of the Edo period in the early 17th century, these include the Golden Hall, the Kannon Hall, the Niom-on Gate, the Chumon Gate and the five storied pagoda. The Ninna-ji is part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the Golden Hall.

15. Ninna-ji

 

Dating from the 6th century is the ancient Shimogamo Shrine, formerly known as the Kamo-mioya Shrine, traditionally linked with the Kamigamo Jinja they make up some of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. Having become the object of Imperial patronage during the early Heian period, its historical importance has designated it part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site.

14. Kamo-jinja

 

Dating from 1591 AD is the temple of Nishi Hogan-ji, the head temple in the school of Pure Land Buddhism. With many surviving buildings from the Azuchi-Momoyama and early Edo period, a total of seven structures in the complex have been designated Japanese National Treasures, these include the karamon, Goei-do and Amida Hall, the Flying Cloud Pavilion, Sho-in and the Black study Hall among a few others. The historical importance of the Nishi Hongan-ji has designated it part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site.

13. Nishi Hongan-ji

 

Founded in 1164 AD for the cloistered Emperor Go-Shirakawa is the Sanjusangen-do, meaning 'Thirty-Three Ken Hall', though officially known as the Rangeo-in, meaning 'The Hall Of The Lotus King'. The temple is most famous for its hugely long hondo or main hall, dating from the mid 13th century during the Kamakura period. Housing a collection of sculptures, including 1,001 standing Thousand Armed Kannon, 28 standing attendants, a statue of Fujin, a statue of Raijin and a large seated statue of the Thousand Armed Kannon. Such is the importance of the temple and the sculptures, the Sanjusangen-do has been designated a National Treasure of Japan.

12. Sanjūsangen-dō

 

Reconstructed after the fire of 1855 AD in the large Kyoto Gyo-en, or 'Imperial Park' is the Kyoto-gosho, meaning 'Kyoto Imperial Palace, the former ruling palace of the Emperor Of Japan. Enclosed by long walls, the complex consists of halls, gardens, the Sento Imperial Palace and the Kyoto Imperial Palace among a number of other attractions. The Palace lost much of its function at the time of the Meiji Restoration, when the capital functions were moved to Tokyo in 1869 AD, with the palace and its surrounding grounds opened to the public all year round.

11. Kyōto-gosho

 

Completed in 874 AD during the Heian period is the Shingon Buddhist temple of Daigo-ji, its name literally meaning 'Ghee', used as a metaphor for the most profound part of Buddhist thoughts. Located to the south east of central Kyoto, the temple grounds include an entire mountainside, with the main temple grounds at the base connected via hiking trails to several more temple buildings around the summit. Within the grounds is the five storey pagoda, built in 951 AD it was one of the few buildings to survive the Onin War in the 15th century, making it the oldest building in Kyoto. Several structures, including the kondo and the five-story pagoda are National Treasures Of Japan, with the whole Daigo-ji temple designated part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site.

10. Daigo-ji

 

Built in 1679 AD and used all the way up to 1939 is the Nijo Castle, a flatland castle within two rings of fortifications, each consisting of a wall and a wide moat. The enormous complex houses within it the Ninomaru Palace with its incredible and imposing karam-on, or main gate, the ruins of the Honmaru palace, various support buildings and several gardens. After the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867, Nijo Castle was used as an Imperial Palace before being donated to the city and opened to the public as a historic site. Its palace buildings are arguably the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture from Japan's feudal era, and as such it has been designated part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site.

9. Nijō-jō

 

Inside the famous Kiyomizu-dera, literally meaning 'Pure Water Temple' is a viewpoint worthy of a mention on anyone's Kyoto list. From the high vantage point on the temple steps, looking west towards the centre of the city, the view of the Nion-on, back dropped by thousands of rooftops and the distant mountains is undoubtedly one of the finest spots in the city.

8. Kiyomizu Niōmon

 

Completed in 796 AD during the early Heian period is the To-ji, meaning 'East Temple', a Buddhist temple that once stood alongside the Sai-ji, 'West Temple' and the Rashomon, the gate to the Heian capital. With much of the complex rebuilt in the 19th century during the late Edo period, the most prominent feature of the temple is the five storey pagoda. Built around 1643 AD it stands 55 metres (180 ft) high, making it the tallest wooden tower in Japan and a major symbol of Kyoto. Despite its 17th century restoration, the To-ji has been designated part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site.

7. Tō-ji

 

Completed in 1052 AD, south from the centre of the city in Uji is the Byodo-in, a late Heian period Buddhist temple. Burnt down during a civil war in 1331 AD, the only surviving building is the Amida-do, popularly known as the Hoo-do or 'Phoenix Hall', a Japanese National Treasure which along with its Chinese influenced garden is supposed to represent the 'Pure Land Paradise In The West'. The Phoenix Hall is regarded almost the sole example of what remains from the Fujiwara Regent Period, also considered as one of the most important cultural assets of Japan. Arguably one of the most picturesque temples in Japan, its significant historical importance has designated it part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site.

6. Byōdō-in

 

Originally built in 589 AD, within the beautiful old Kyoto neighbourhood of Higashiyama is the Hokan-ji Temple, also known Yasaka-no-to, the 'Yasaka Pagoda'. Popular as one of the most picturesque areas in the city with its wonderfully well preserved and charming street scapes, the last remnant of the Hokan-ji Temple is the most visible and recognisable landmark in the district. Measuring 46 metres (151 ft) high, the pagoda isn't always open to the public, but when visitors are allowed in the second storey offers great views of the Kyoto skyline.

5. Hokan-ji

 

In the north west of the city in the Arashiyama District is one of Kyoto's most famous natural sights, the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, also known as the Sagano Bamboo Forest. Free to enter, the site consists of several pathways for visitors to walk their way between the giant forest of bamboos, with many considering it one of the most iconic Japanese sights in Japan.

4. Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

 

Dating from 711 AD is the Fushimi Inari Taisha, the head shrine of Kami Inari, the Shinto God of foxes, fertility, rice, tea, sake, agriculture, industry, of general prosperity and worldly success. Famous for thousands of vermillion torii gates which straddle a network of trails behind the main buildings, the trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari. The highlight of the shrine are these rows of torii gates, known as Senbon torii. Each of the torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha has been donated by a Japanese business hoping for wishes to come true, with this custom to donate a torii starting the Edo period. Today the sight of row upon row of these black and orange torii is one of the most iconic sights in Japan.

3. Fushimi Inari Taisha

 

Completed in 1397 AD, burned to the ground during the Onin War of 1477 AD is the Kinkaku-ji, meaning 'Temple Of The Golden Pavilion', officially named Rokuon-ji, literally 'Deer Garden Temple'. The Golden Pavilion itself is one of the most popular buildings in Japan, and the only building to have survived the Onin War. Unfortunately, in 1950 the pavilion was burned down by a novice monk who was attempting suicide, with the building that stands there today completely reconstructed in 1955. Kinkaku-ji is an impressive picturesque structure built overlooking a large pond, designated a National Special Historic Site, a National Special Landscape and part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site.

2. Kinkaku-ji

 

Founded in 778 AD during the early Heian period is the independent Buddhist temple of Kiyomizu-dera, meaning 'Pure Water Temple', one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. Best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, it is raised 13 metres (42.5 ft) above the hillside below, offering visitors a great view of Kyoto in the distance and the large number of cherry and maple trees that bloom in Spring and Autumn. Inside is the temples primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon. Arguably the single most important structure in Japan, designated part of the Historic Monuments Of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kiyomizu-dera made the twenty strong shortlist for the New 7 Wonders Of The World.

1. Kiyomizu-dera

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