Kyoto is the spiritual heart of Japan with over 2000 Buddhist temples and shrines. It is also the place to see ‘Old Japan’ with its imperial palaces, Zen gardens, and traditional teahouses. This famous city, once Japan’s geographic capital, is now its cultural capital.

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1.Adachi Museum of Art

Adachi Museum of Art
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This award-winning garden combines Japanese art and garden design in a Michelin Green Guide-rated facility outside of Matsue. Founded by a local businessman to further visitors’ knowledge and appreciation of Japanese art, the grounds are home to six gardens that are intended to be viewed from inside the museum as living paintings. The museum itself holds more than 1,500 works of art created by Japanese masters. The museum opens at 9 a.m. daily and closes at 5:00 or 5:30 p.m. depending on the season. Admission is 2300 yen for residents of Japan and half off for foreign visitors.

320 Furukawacho, Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture, Japan, Phone: +81-854-28-71-11

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2.Arashiyama

Arashiyama
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Arashiyama is a small scenic town best known for its long wooden bridge that crosses the Katsura River. It lies in the hills west of Kyoto and is easily accessible by train. Other popular attractions in Arashiyama include the Tenryu-ji temple and the renowned Bamboo Grove, one of the most photographed places in Japan. In addition to Tenryu-ji, there are many other well-known historical temples like Saihoji Temple, a favorite of Apple founder, Steve Jobs. The best time to visit Arashiyama is in the fall when the leaves are a vibrant mix of green, gold, and red.

Togetsukyo, Saga, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-758-61-03-03

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3.Byodo-in

Byodo-in
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Byodo-in is a Buddhist temple in Kyoto Prefecture. A serene pond surrounds the main building, Phoenix Hall, whose name comes from the phoenixes perched on the roof and the building’s resemblance to a bird with its wings extended. The temple’s gardens have been recognized by the Japanese government as an Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty. An on-site museum displays Buddhist art and other national treasures. After visiting the temple’s historical buildings and grounds, visitors can stop by the Byodoin Tea Salon TOKA for a cup of Uji green tea created by certified Japanese tea instructors and brewed from locally-grown leaves.

116 Uji Renge, Uji, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-774-21-28-61

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4.Fushimi Inari-taisha

Fushimi Inari-taisha
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This iconic Shinto shrine is set in a sprawling complex on Mt. Inari. Built to honor the god of rice, the complex consists of multiple worship halls. The property’s paths are lined by traditional vermilion torii that are symbols of the transition from the physical world to the spiritual world. Kids will be entertained by counting the number of fox statues found on the grounds. The foxes, or kitsune, were thought to be Inari’s messengers. Special events are held at Fushimi Inari-taisha throughout the year, from festivals to purification rituals. The complex is open daily and admission is free.

68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-756-41-73-31

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5.Garden of Fine Arts

Garden of Fine Arts
© Garden of Fine Arts


The Garden of Fine Arts is an open-air art museum with a display of ceramic plates featuring reproductions of famous masterpieces. The reproductions include works by Michaelangelo, Monet, Da Vinci, Renoir, and Van Gogh. The architecture is even more impressive than the collection. Its concrete and glass construction is complemented by water features that reflect the contemporary building materials. Designed by internationally renowned architect, Tadao Ando, the museum was opened in 1994 and has been described as a modern interpretation of a traditional Japanese stroll garden. The facility is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Shimogamo Hangicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-757-24-21-88

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6.Ginkaku-ji

Ginkaku-ji
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A Zen temple, Ginkaku-ji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion) or Jisho-ji (Temple of Shining Mercy) as it was later named, was initially built as a retreat for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasha. Following a circular path through the grounds, visitors can see the two-storied pavilion, the Hondo and Togudo buildings, a beautifully landscaped moss garden, and a dry sand garden known as the “Sea of Silver Sand.” A sculpted pile of sand in the garden is thought to represent Mt. Fuji. The temple grounds are open daily with shortened hours during the months of December, January, and February.

2 Ginkakuji-cho Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-757-71-57-25

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7.Gion

Gion
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Kyoto’s most well-known geisha district is located in the heart of the city near the Yasaka Shrine, where costumed women entertain patrons in traditional Japanese teahouses. In addition to the teahouses, this district is packed with souvenir shops, high-end restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and gambling establishments, making it a popular tourist destination. Annual performances by the geiko (geisha) and maiko in April and November are well-attended by locals and tourists alike. The area is dotted with landmarks and historic sites from temples and shrines to the Minami-za theater, where viewers can still see classical kabuki shows.

1 Miyagawasuji, Higashiyama-ku, Keihan Gion Shio Station, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-752-57-73-21

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8.Heian Shrine

Heian Shrine
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The Heian Shrine was built after World War II as a symbol of Kyoto’s revival. In 1976, the shrine itself and nine other buildings were burned down, but were reconstructed three years later with donated funds. It is surrounded by the city’s public library, two art museums, a concert hall and performance venue, and the Kyoto Zoo. Every October, it hosts one of the city’s most important festivals, the Jidai Matsuri. Visitors are welcome to feed the fish and turtles that can be found in the ponds throughout the shrine’s gardens. Its bright red torii is one of the largest in Japan.

Okazaki Nishitennocho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, Phone: +81-757-61-02-21

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9.Kaleidoscope Museum of Kyoto

Kaleidoscope Museum of Kyoto
© Kaleidoscope Museum of Kyoto

This small, one-room museum displays fifty handcrafted kaleidoscopes from all over the world. Located in downtown Kyoto, the museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays and all national holidays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except two weeks between December 25 and January 4. For a small admission fee, adults and children can enjoy viewing the colorful patterns of kaleidoscopes made from objects like cellphones and musical instruments. They even have one that will refract the face of the the viewer onto hundreds of mirrored bits. Guests can make their own kaleidoscope at one of the museum’s workshops.

706-3 Dongeinmaecho Ayakoji, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-752-54-79-02

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10.Kenrokuen Garden

Kenrokuen Garden
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Kenrokuen, or the “Garden of the Six Sublimities,” embodies each of the six qualities that Chinese landscape theory considers essential for perfect garden design. Guests can see these qualities in the garden’s bridges, water features, scenic outlooks, hidden recesses, natural elements, and historic buildings. Originally the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle, Kenrokuen has several notable features including the Kotojirtoro Lantern and one of Japan’s oldest fountains that operates using natural water pressure. For a small admission fee, guests can visit the garden during daylight hours year-round with the exception of a brief period from December 29 to January 3.

1 Kenrokumachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, Phone: +81-762-34-38-00

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11.Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji
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Kinkaku-ji’s official name is Rokuon-ji, or “Deer Garden Temple,” but it is more commonly know as the “Temple of the Golden Pavilion.” It is an historic site of special significance as well as being one of the seventeen Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto that have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally a prominent statesman’s villa, it was later turned into a Zen temple. Its name comes from the gold leaf that covers the top two floors of the pavilion. The three floors of the phoenix-topped building each represent a different style of Japanese architecture.

1 Kinkakuicho, Kita-ku, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-754-61-00-13

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12.Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera
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The Kiyomizu-dera Temple was founded in the eighth century during the early Heian period. An English-speaking tour led by a priest is a great way for international visitors to learn about the history of this ancient temple. The temple is named for the waterfall in the complex. Visitors drinking from the waterfall are said to experience good health and longevity. Those seeking true love can close their eyes and try to walk between a pair of “love stones” at a shrine dedicated to Okuninushi. Talismans and paper fortunes are also available for purchase by guests who are hoping for good luck.

294 Kiyomizu 1-chome, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-755-51-12-34

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13.Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace
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Once the official residence of Japan’s Imperial Family, the Kyoto Imperial Palace is part of a walled complex that includes the Sento Palace, the Kaninnomiya Mansion, and the famous Itsukushima Shrine. The public can visit the buildings and grounds on daily tours given by guides from the Imperial Household Agency. These free tours are offered in Japanese, Chinese, and English, and last approximately 50 minutes. Visitors who prefer to explore the historical sites on their own can pick up a map at the Seishomon Gate entrance. The grounds inside the gilded gates have been turned into a popular public park.

3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-752-11-12-15

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14.Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum
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The Kyoto National Museum features curated collections of pre-modern Japanese and Asian art. For more than 120 years, the museum has displayed cultural artifacts and works of art in indoor and outdoor exhibit spaces. The Heisei Chishinkan building houses the museum’s permanent collections. This modern building was designed by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi who was also responsible for the redesign of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In addition to the collections and special exhibitions, guests can visit Benrido, the museum’s gift shop, have a cup of signature brew at MAEDA-COFFEE, or have a bite to eat in the in-house restaurant, THE MUSES.

527 Chayacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-755-25-24-73

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15.Kyoto no Fukuro no Mori

Kyoto no Fukuro no Mori
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For a one-of-a-kind experience, tourists can stop by Kyoto no Fukuro no Mori in the Shinkyogoku Shopping District to interact with fourteen different species of owls and their human handlers. You can pet the owls and pose for pictures with them in their manmade “forest.” Get to know Hedwig, the snowy owl named after Harry Potter’s loyal pet and personal postal carrier, or meet Walt or Mario from Africa, or White from Siberia. For less than $6, you can stay as long as you like and soak up some of the wisdom these magnificent winged creatures are said to possess.

721-1 Higashishiokojicho, Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-753-41-02-80

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16.Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower
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Tourists are treated to a panoramic view of the city from the observation deck of Kyoto Tower. From 100 meters above the ground, visitors can see some of Japan’s world-famous landmarks. The world’s tallest non steel-frame building, Kyoto Tower contains a number of other attractions including a public bathhouse, a selection of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, and a market where you can buy treats and souvenirs. Wander Compass, a full-service tourist information center can be found on the tower’s third floor. A workshop on the second floor offers sushi- and confectionary-making seminars, and a traditional Japanese craft experience.

721-1 Higashishiokojicho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-753-61-32-15

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17.Manga Cafes

Manga Cafes
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Fans of Japanese comics will enjoy spending time in one of the city’s many manga cafés. Housing an extensive collection of publications from this genre, the cafés are popular hangouts where visitors can browse the comics, play video games, and enjoy unlimited soft drinks. Cables and chargers are typically available at the front desk where you can check in and pay the admission or membership price. Offering an full-day experience, some manga cafés (or manga kissa) even provide amenities like blankets, slippers, and futons. Since many manga kissa are open round the clock, they can even be used as an inexpensive alternative to a hotel room.

2-46 Higashiiri, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-257-55-12

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18.Monkey Park Iwatayama

Monkey Park Iwatayama
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Travelers who want to experience something out of the ordinary can visit Monkey Park Iwatayama on the outskirts of Kyoto. A hike up Mt. Arashiyama leads visitors from the entrance to the habitat where they can walk among more than 100 wild Japanese macaque, or snow monkeys. Visitors can purchase food at the park and feed the monkeys by hand or watch them interact with the staff. In addition to the monkeys, guests will enjoy the spectacular view of the city from the top of the mountain. The park opens daily at 9 a.m. and is easily accessible by train and bus.

61 Arashiyama, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-758-72-09-50

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19.Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle
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A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nijo Castle was built in 1603 for the first shogun of the Edo Period. Later used as an imperial palace, it was eventually deeded to the city and is now open to the public as an historical attraction. Its well-preserved feudal style architecture is surrounded by traditional Japanese gardens and hundreds of cherry trees. English-language tours are held twice a day and self-guided audio tours are also available for purchase at a kiosk near the entrance. Admission prices begin at 600 Japanese Yen and the grounds are open throughout the year beginning at 8:45 a.m.

541 Nijojochi, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-758-41-00-96

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20.Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market
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Foodies will love Nishiki Market and its wide variety of seasonal products and specialty items. For centuries, the market has offered consumers and wholesalers the ingredients and cookware needed to make international favorites and traditional Japanese dishes. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” this bustling market is usually packed with visitors from around the world who want to sample the local cuisine or try their hand at making it themselves. Admission to the market is free and it is only minutes away from the Shijo station on the Karasuma subway line. The hours vary by store, but most vendors are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

609 Nishiki, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-752-11-38-82

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21.Ritsurin Koen

Ritsurin Koen
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Ritsurin Koen is a landscape garden in Takamatsu City that is considered to be one of most beautiful gardens in Japan. It features traditional and western landscape designs set against the backdrop of Mt. Shiun. In addition to the gardens, guests can visit the Sanuki Folk Craft Museum and enjoy a cup of tea on the veranda of the Kikugetsu-tei teahouse. Conveniently located within walking distance of the Ritsurinkoen and Ritsurinkoen-Kitaguchi stations, this historic national park is near several other major attractions in Takamatsu. The garden welcomes visitors year-round, but opening and closing times vary slightly by month.

16 Ritsurincho, Takamatsu City, Japan, Phone: +81-878-33-74-11

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22.Ryoanji

Ryoanji
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Built in the 15th century, this Zen Buddhist temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Well-known for its sand and stone garden, it is one of the most visited attractions in Kyoto. The significance of the garden’s layout and design is unclear, but some experts believe the sand represents the sea while others believe it has a more philosophical meaning. It is said that if you are able to see all fifteen stones at once, you have attained enlightenment. The peaceful atmosphere of the garden and the nearby tree-lined pond make this serene oasis a perfect place for quiet contemplation and reflection.

13 Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-754-63-22-16

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23.To-ji

To-ji
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To-ji is one of a pair of temples that was commissioned by Emperor Kanmu in the 8th century. Its name literally means “East Temple” and it stands on the east side of the entrance to the city. Built to protect the city from negative energy, it now stands guard over grounds that include a five-story pagoda, the main hall, a lecture hall, the temple refectory, and the Buddhist saint Kukai’s former home. On the 21st of every month (the day of Kukai’s death), the grounds become the site of a colorful flea market with hundreds of stalls where shoppers can haggle for bargains.

1 Kujocho, Minami Ward, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-756-91-33-25

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24.Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine
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The Yasaka Shrine is a Shinto shrine that dates back to the 7th century. A renowned landmark in east Kyoto, it hosts the city’s largest festival, the Gion Matsuri, every July. Other popular times to visit are on New Year’s Eve when millions of worshippers drop by the shrine to bring home a flame to light the fire over which they will prepare the first meal of the new year, and in April when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Visitors can be found snapping pictures in front of the highly Instagrammable vermilion-colored gates or praying for beauty at the Utsukushii Gozen-sha.

625 Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku Gion machi, Kyoto, Japan, Phone: +81-755-61-61-55

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25 Best Things to do in Kyoto, Japan