Travel Guide – Kyoto, Japan – Top Attractions to Visit

   Kyoto has a total of 17 World Heritage sites, located in Kyoto and suburbs of Arashiyama, Uji and other places. It takes about 4 days to visit all the main attractions. As many of the attractions are far away from the rail transit routes, buying a public transit 1-day ticket is the most convenient option for exploring the city. From Kyoto to Arashiyama, Uji, Mount Hirakata, Ohara, Lake Biwa and other historical sites, you can ride the private tram service.

Here is a list of attractions that are must-to-see in Kyoto:

Kiyomizu-Dera Temple

Kiyomizu-Dera Main Gate
Kiyomizu-Dera Main Gate

Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) was built in the 8th century and has been destructed and rebuilt several times. Today’s building was built in the early period of Edo and is a World Cultural Heritage Site. Kiyomizu-dera Temple was built on the Otowayama mountain, so the full name of the temple is Otowayama Kiyomizu-Dera Temple. Kiyomizu-Dera Temple’ is best known for the hanging wooden stage,  from which you can overlook the streets of Kyoto. The main hall of the temple is dedicated to a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon who is famed as a blessing for financial fortune.

Inside Kiyomizu-dera Temple, you can also find the Otowa waterfall. The clear spring water from it is split into the three streams, each one of which stands for the “academic achievement”, “love achievement” and “longevity pledge”, the water is considered to have magical power. Legend has it that if one choose from one of these three springs and drinks the water, his wish will come true. But the tale also noted that drinking all the spring water will be counterproductive.

In addition, Kiyomizu-dera Temple has a small shrine called Jinsu Shrine. This is a very popular place, especially by women of all ages. In front of shrine there is two stones. The tale has it that if you can close your eyes  and walk from one to another, you will have good luck to find a loved one very soon.

Address: 294 Kiyomizu 1-chome, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0862, Japan


Fee: 300 yen for day time visit and 400 yen for night time visit

Opening hours: usually 6: 00-18: 00, night visit will be extended to 21:00

Contact: 0081-75-5511234

Time reference: 2 hours

Ninen Zaka / Sannen Zaka

Sannen Zaka

The Ninen Zaka and Sannen Zaka streets outside Kiyomizu-dera Temple are two streets with a unique Kyoto style.  Traditional Japanese style buildings lined both streets and there are many souvenir and git shops to visit. From time to time , you can see women wearing the traditional clothing walked by.

Because many expecting mothers took Sannen Zaka to Kiyomizu-Dera Temple to pray for a smooth birth, it is also known as street for good birth. Not only that, there is another old saying that “who falls in Sannen Zaka will die within three years,”. Although it is only a urban legend, Sannen Zaka is meandering and steep and can be hard to climb for some people, do watch your steps when climbing.


Yasaka-jinja Shrine

Yasaka Jinja, located on the northern side of Gion-cho, is a popular shrine and is loved by businessmen. The impressive shrine is one of the most well-known and oldest Shinto shrines in Kansai region. It was nicknamed “Gion Mura” only by Kyoto people. Built in 925, Shinto shrine is called “Garden of the Gadai” and is a unique Japanese shrine building. The numerous lanterns on the dance hall make the night beautiful. The cherry blossoms in spring and autumn leaves make the shrine more beautiful.

Address: 625 Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0073, Japan

Fees: Free
Opening hours: all day
Contact: 0081-75-5616155
Arrival Transportation: Take the 46,100,201,202,203,206,207 bus stop at Gion Station.
Time reference: 1 hour


Street of Gion

Gion (祇園) is the area between Yasaka Shrine, Kamogawa and Higashi-Daido, and is a traditional downtown neighborhood of Kyoto. It is famous as the Geisha (or Geiko in local dialect) district of Kyoto. It is divided into two district. Gion Kobu (祇園甲部) has the largest flower-viewing streets in Kyoto, and sometimes Geishas can be seen in the Hanami Lane (花見小路 flower-viewing-lane). Gion is home to many tea houses and kiosks. Traditional buildings and interesting shops are well worth stopping by. It is also a good place for nightlife, as well as kimono and bathrobes rentals. In addition, the Gion held the famous Gion Festival (祇園祭 Gion-Matsuri) each summer. At the festival, people play traditional music on huge decorated floats with flutes, gongs and drums, and parading through the streets. It is considered the most lively moments in Kyoto each year, with over 1 million people watching from the streets.

Hanami Koji

Hanami-Koji at night

Hanami Koji (花見小路 flower-viewing-lane) is the essence of the Gion area, mainly in the south of Shijō Street(四条通 Shijō-dōri).  It starts in the east from Ichiriki-tei, one of the most famous and historic ochaya (tea house) in Kyoto. And goes all the way to the Gion Kobu’s  Kabuki Theater. Flowers decorate the path lined with upscale restaurants and geisha performances Chaya. The street lamps are made into a flower-style lantern style. In the early evening, when the lights go on, it’s like a scene from a Japanese historical movie.

Nijo Jo

Main Palace of Nijo-Jo

Nijō Castle (二条城 Nijō-jō) is a World Cultural Heritage Site. It was founded in AD 1603 when it was Tokugawa Ieyasu’s residence in Kyoto. It is surrounded by walls and ditches with around 500m x 400m in size. The corridors are lined with wooden floors that squeak like birds as an alert to prevent outsider intrusion. Nijo Castle has always been known for its rich variety of cherry blossoms and is the premier cherry blossom viewing point in Kyoto. In the sakura garden in the castle, you can enjoy the Yaezakura (八重桜) which is famed to be the “king of sakura”.

Address: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8301, Japan


Fee: 600 yen for adults and 350 yen for junior high school students

Opening hours: 8:45 – 17:00

Contact: 0081-75-8410096

Transportation: Hankyu or Kyoto subway station to get off before the Nijo Castle

Time-reference: 1 hour

Kyoto Gosho

Kyoto Gosho Entrance

Kyoto Imperial Palace (京都御所, Kyotogosho) is the former place of residence of the emperor, it was first built in 794. It has been destroyed by fired and rebuilt for several times. The current building is built in 1855.  Although the Imperial Palace is now much smaller than the original Imperial Palace, it is still the site of the New Emperor’s throne ceremony and other national ceremonies. If you want to visit this attraction, you must make a reservation in advance to the Miyauchi website and it is only open for adults over the age of 18.

Address: 3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 602-0881, Japan


Fees: Free to visit

Opening hours: By appointment only

Contact: 0081-75-2111215

Transportation: Take Subway Karasuma Line, 5 minutes walk from Imaginawa Station

Time Reference: 1 hour for standard route, can be covered in as little as 35 minutes, English guided tour is available for 1 hour.


Kinkaku-Ji by the lake

The Golden Pavilion Temple (Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺) was originally built in 1379, as a residence for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. It was later converted into a temple. The formal name of the temple is actually Rokuon-ji – 鹿苑寺. The name “Golden Pavilion Temple” sources from the main pavilion built by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu to hold the relic of the Buddha, because of its decoration with gold foil, the public  called the building Golden Pavilion, the temple was therefore called Kinkakuji. In 1950, the Kinkaku-ji Temple was deliberately set on fire and was destroyed, and the golden buildings today was rebuilt at the time. Any one who is interested in this period of history can read Yoshinoya Mishima’s novel “Kinkaku-ji Temple.”
Golden Pavilion Temple is a three-story pavilion. The first floor is The Chamber of Dharma Waters. The second floor is called the Tower of Sound Waves, dedicated to the Buddism godness Kannon; the third floor is a square temple, dedicated to three Amitabha. Kinkaku-ji’s architecture is integrated with the design of  the garden. The gorgeous golden statue reflected in the Mirror Lake pool is a representative landscape of Kyoto.
Another unique feature of the Golden Pavilion Temple, instead of an entrance ticket, Visitors get a blessing talisman. 

Address: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 603-8361, Japan


Fee: 400 yen for adults and 300 yen for elementary and junior high students.

Opening hours: 9: 00-17: 00

Contact: 0081-75-4610013

Arrival Traffic: Take the bus 12,59,101,102,204,205 arrived at the Golden Pavilion Temple Station

Time Reference: 1 hour

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) is located in the foothills of Inari mountains, where the shin-to god of rice – Inari – is worshiped.  It is one of the most popular shrine amount the Kyoto locals. Inari God is usually depicted as a fox and is considered to bless grain harvest and commercial prosperity. Within Fushimi Inari Shrine, there are foxes with rice or grains dangling in their mouths, accepting people’s worship and respect. Fushimi Inari is mostly famous for thousands of Torii : numerous bright Torii erected on the long winding trail. They are donated by individuals or businesses. The actual length of the road stretching dozens of miles, across several counties, and can’t be scaled by foot in one day.

Address: 612-0882 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, 


Fee: Free to visit

Opening Hours: All Day

Contact: 0081-75-6417331

Transportation: JR Nara Line to Inari Station

Time Reference: 1 hour