22 Must-Visit Spots in Kyoto If You Want to Experience Its History and Get in Touch with Nature

Kyoto is a place where the traditional side of Japan is still very much alive. The former Japanese capital is a major tourist location that enjoys great popularity both domestically and abroad. Its traditional architecture harks to the city's long history and its beautiful nature brings about different sceneries every season. But that’s just a small sample of the multitude of attractions waiting for you here. In this article, you’ll get to know some of the most recommended places to visit in Kyoto, so keep reading!


Things to Do

One of the Best Places to Visit in Kyoto! Top 5 Sightseeing Spots in Arashiyama

Tenryu-ji Temple

Tenryu-ji is a Buddhist temple built during the Muromachi period (1336 - 1573). Shogun Takauji Ashikaga had it constructed for the purpose of mourning the spirit of the deceased Emperor Godaigo, and since then it has been one of the most famous temples of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism.

Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Tenryu-ji is one of the most popular temples in Arashiyama.

One place you shouldn't miss is Sogenchi Garden. This place of beauty was laid out by Soseki Muso, a Zen master who designed many of the gardens of the Muromachi period. Sogenchi Garden still retains its original appearance and was the first location in Japan to be designated as a Site of Special Historic and Scenic Importance by the government. Presenting beautiful sceneries that change with the passing of each season, Sogenchi Garden is what is called a "strolling pond garden" where guests can admire the charms of nature and the Muromachi period while walking on a path built around a pond.

Sagano Bamboo Grove

Though only 200m in length, Sagano Bamboo Grove is a charming spot where you can feel the essence of Kyoto. This location is very close to Tenryu-ji’s North Gate, so many people choose to visit both of these famous places when coming to Arashiyama.

Every year during the month of December, the bamboo grove is illuminated with lights at night, making the place look magical. Walking the path while listening to the cold wind and the sound of the rustling leaves will make you forget your daily life and might even give you the feeling of going back in time.

Togetsu-kyo Bridge

Many of the pictures used to introduce Arashiyama depict the Togetsu-kyo Bridge, so it wouldn't be an exaggeration at all to call this famous tourist spot the symbol of this region. The mountains, Katsura River, and Togetsu-kyo Bridge mingle together, creating an astonishing landscape that can be admired throughout the year, regardless of the season.

The panorama that this 155m long and 11m wide bridge presents is well worth a look. You can truly say that this gorgeous bridge connects us to Arashiyama’s long history.

Giou-ji Temple

Giou-ji Temple is a modest thatched hut hidden in the region of Sagano. This humble temple is famous for being where a tragic love story in The Tale of the Heike took place. However, the star here is not the famous story, but rather the temple's moss garden. Everywhere you look here is covered in a deep rich green. Beautifully illuminated here and there by the sunlight that escapes the tree leaves, this moss garden has the power to calm you down and make you forget for a while about the hustle and bustle of the big city.

A refreshing wind flows through the cedar trees and bamboo stalks to gently touch your skin. The sound of rustling leaves creates the perfect natural melody. Come and experience the serenity of the beautiful region of Sagano.

Kameyama Park (Arashiyama Park)

Though located inside the busy region of Arashiyama, Kameyama Park (Arashiyama Park) is a spot that relatively few people choose to visit. It shows a unique kind of beauty during special periods like the sakura (cherry blossom) and autumn foliage seasons.

Strolling around the park can be a lot of fun, but the highlight of this location is the view from the observation deck. From here, you have a panoramic view of Hozu Valley and the Hozu River, not to mention you can also see the boats going down the river and the torokko (sightseeing) train slowly running along the coast. Sanzen-in Temple can be seen in the distance and when fall comes, the whole mountain is covered in autumn colors. This a hidden place that you should definitely visit!

5 Excellent Tourist Spots in Kyoto That Many People Don't Know

Takase River

Takase River is actually a canal that was built during the early Edo period (1603 - 1868). This lovely artificial river has a slow and gentle flow, making it seem that even time enjoys lingering here.

The river runs by relatively busy streets, but the typical Japanese landscape that still remains here makes this area perfect to admire the elegant atmosphere of the former Japanese capital. You might even encounter one of the flatboats described in the short story "The Boat on the River Takase" by the highly regarded Japanese author Ogai Mori!

Ichijo Yokai Street

Also known as Ichijo Yokai Street (“yokai” standing for monster or demon in Japanese), Taishogun Shopping Street is a 400m street located between Nishioji and Nakadachiuri streets. It is a 5-minute walk from Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. The origins of this frightening nickname trace back to the old days during the Heian period, when it is said that Ichijo Street served as the stage for Hyakki Yako, the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons! Nowadays, instead of giving goosebumps, the infamous yokai give a warm welcome to tourists visiting the street.

These endearing yokai will make you scratch your head wondering what they are. When fall comes, the street holds a real Hyakki Yako parade with a great number of people in yokai costumes. Take the time to come and meet these very laid-back monsters!

Midorogaike Pond

In the wetlands that spread through the western part of Takaragaike in the outskirts of Kyoto, you’ll find Midorogaike Pond. This area is known in Kyoto for holding a great array of species, including animals and plants that have been inhabiting this habitat since the last ice age.

This serene natural pond has been witnessing the history of Kyoto for a long time now. The life force this place quietly emanates will certainly make you see the city with a new set of eyes.

Ishibe Alley

Ishibe Alley is located in the southern part of Yasaka Shrine. This spot has been attracting attention as of late due to the quintessential image of Kyoto it offers.

It has a cobblestone street with traditional Japanese townhouses lined up on both its left and right, fulfilling people's expectations of what they expect Kyoto to look like. Despite this, its history is relatively new, having been built during the Meiji (1868 - 1912) and Taisho (1912 - 1926) eras. Nowadays, the alley is home to a few ryokan (Japanese-style inns) and ryotei (high-class Japanese restaurants). Take the chance to enjoy one of the most exclusive and upper-class atmospheres Kyoto has to offer!

Kyoto Botanical Garden

Did you know Kyoto is a very lively student city with a great number of museums and archives? Among these numerous cultural and educational facilities, you find Kyoto Botanical Garden, a massive park located not far from the city’s main area.

Located in the neighborhood of Kitayama, Kyoto Botanical Garden was built with the concept of being a "museum for plants," and it always has a great variety of flowers and plants on display regardless of the season. The architecture here is modern and bright, very different from the classic image of Kyoto. It just goes to show how multifaceted the former Japanese capital can be!

Perfect to Admire the Cherry Blossoms! 3 Spots You Want to Visit in Kyoto During Spring

Daigoji Temple

You can’t talk about springtime in Kyoto without mentioning the gorgeous cherry blossoms from Daigoji Temple. Even the great daimyo Hideyoshi Toyotomi came to Daigoji Temple to admire the blooming sakura in what would be the last year of his life. Today, it is home to around 800 sakura trees that paint the colors of spring onto the temple. It is located close to the train station and extremely popular with tourists.

Every tree in the premises starts blooming in the same period from late March to early April. The scenery is just magnificent! Try adjusting the timing of your trip so that you can admire the beautiful cherry blossoms at their prime!

Heian Jingu Shrine's Shin-en Garden

Designated as a place of scenic beauty by the Japanese government, at Heian Jingu Shrine you can find stunningly beautiful weeping cherry trees (benishidare zakura). The whole area seems to be enveloped in cherry blossoms, creating a spectacular scenery.

The reflection of the flowers blooming to their fullest on Seiho Pond, located at the east section of the garden, is mesmerizing. You can enjoy the cherry blossom season from late March to mid-April at Heian Jingu Shrine.

The Philosopher’s Path

Taking your time in one place to admire the cherry blossoms is one way of doing it, but how about strolling along lines of cherry trees under the flurry of falling petals? At the Philosopher's Path, the cherry trees form a tunnel of blossoms when spring arrives.

It’s quite moving when you consider that many of the greatest Japanese philosophers used to walk this same path while admiring the same cherry trees that we do now. Here, the trees blossom from early to mid-April. The warm months of Kyoto are the perfect season to take a stroll through this beautiful area.

Top 3 Tourist Spots in Kyoto to Visit During the Hot Summer

Hozu River Boat Ride

The city of Kyoto is famous for its hot summers. The recommendation for those who want to escape the heat is to embark on a boat down the Hozu River, located within the much cooler Hozu River Valley. The boat will take you on a graceful 2-hour journey, crossing around 16 km from Kamegaoka City to Arashiyama, Kyoto.

One of the features that makes the ride so attractive is the chance to admire the beautiful valley while crossing the river’s calm waters. The river also has a few fast currents, and excited voices can be heard echoing through the quiet valley every time water splashes on the boat. The boats, by the way, were used to transport goods back in the day, but now they are mainly used during the summer for these highly popular and charming trips. How about giving it a try? It’s a great way to forget about the heat!

Kibune no Kawadoko

The wooden decks along the Kamo River are a part of summer in Kyoto. If you want something similar, but a tad bit more unique, check out another place in the city called Kibune. Kibune is a hidden gem on the outskirts of Kyoto, perfect for the hottest season of the year.

Located deep in a valley surrounded by green mountains, at the wooden decks of Kibune, you will be served a sophisticated Kyoto course meal that will make your summer in the former capital unforgettable. Most of the restaurants are always full during this time of the year, so you’re advised to make a reservation in advance.

Gion Matsuri (Gion Festival)

Gion Matsuri announces the arrival of summer in Kyoto, and every year, the city streets bustle with people. During the festival, many traditional townhouses open their doors to exhibit family treasures, such as folding screens and other antiques, that have been passed down for generations, some over hundreds of years! Visiting these houses is one of the many ways of enjoying the festival.

The festival is held right when the rainy season is about to end, so it can be quite hot and humid. Taking this opportunity to visit the townhouses might be a sweaty experience, but it’s bound to make an unforgettable memory of your trip. It can be quite hard to visit every exhibition in such short time since the houses are located in different areas, but as the Japanese say, “You should treasure every encounter as if it were your last,” so enjoy the ones you can see.

Beautiful Autumn Leaves! 3 Places You Should Visit in Kyoto During Fall

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Fall, when the air is clear, is one of the best times of the year to see Kyoto in its entirety from the famous wooden deck at Kiyomizu-dera Temple. As you'd expect, the autumn leaves are illuminated by lights after dark, creating a beautiful scenery just as magical as the night cherry blossoms in spring.

The red color of the autumn leaves seems to take over the city, but you still have the bright yellow of the gingko trees and the deep green of the pines and other coniferous trees. Enjoy the magnificent landscapes that historic buildings and autumn leaves compose throughout the city.

Togetsu-kyo Bridge

If Kiyomizu-dera Temple is the perfect place to recognize the beauty of the urban area of Kyoto, Togetsu-kyo Bridge is the place to appreciate the majestic nature of Arashiyama. The wide blue sky above and the colorful mountains below paint a picture that moves the heart.

Though introduced earlier in this article, it needs to be mentioned again because of its stunning autumn scenery. An autumn leaf slowly floating on the waters of the Katsura River during this time is all it will take for you to recognize the charms of the region. Visit Arashiyama during fall to rediscover the true beauty of this location that holds a special place in the heart of the Kyoto locals.

Tofuku-ji Temple

Tofuku-ji Temple is an outstanding place to feel the true beauty of fall and its colored leaves. At the well-preserved garden, you can see the beautiful autumn foliage turning red. It is said that the temple cut all its cherry trees down because it hindered monks from ascetic practices, and planted Japanese maple trees instead.

Tofuku-ji Temple is incredibly popular, with tens of thousands of people visiting its premises on a daily basis during the peak season. If you wish to see beautiful red autumn leaves, this is the place for you.

Top 3 Sightseeing Spots to Visit in Kyoto During the Cold Winter

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of the Shinto shrines in Kyoto that receives the highest number of visitors during New Year’s Day for the first prayer of the year. You probably know this shrine from one of Kyoto’s quintessential images showing a long line of Shinto gates called torii.

The contrast between the brilliant red of the torii and the white from the snow creates a lovely scenery. Unfortunately, it only snows 2 to 3 times a year in Kyoto, so you should consider yourself to be really lucky if you encounter this magical scene.

But even if it doesn’t snow, the temple has many winter events waiting for you. In January you have the Bushasai Festival (an archery ceremony held to drive evil and darkness away), and in February the Setsubun Festival (the bean-throwing festival held to celebrate the coming of spring, expel evil spirits, and invite good fortune) and the Hatsuuma Taisai Festival (a ceremony to honor Inari Okami, the god of harvest). A great number of people also visit the shrine looking for good luck charms believed to bring prosperity to business and peace to the household.

Nijo-jo Castle

Nijo-jo Castle was built by the great daimyo Ieyasu Tokugawa in 1603. It is famous for being where the last shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa, endorsed the Restoration of Imperial Rule in 1867. It's no exaggeration to say that Nijo-jo Castle witnessed the birth and death of the Tokugawa rule.

Other parts of the castle and the gardens are specially opened to the public for a brief time during the New Year’s holidays, making it a great chance for visitors to see some areas that are usually restricted for the entirety of the year, such as the Grand Hall inside Ninomaru Palace. This opportunity only comes once a year, so don’t miss the chance and visit Kyoto during winter, too!

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is where the famous poet Sugawara no Michizane is enshrined. The shrine is famous for its beautiful ume (Japanese plum) trees, holding approximately 2,000 trees of 50 different species, including Beniwa Konbai, the tree said to fly to Michizane in the legend of Tobiume. The trees blossom from the end of winter to the start of spring, as if announcing the arrival of the new season.

The marvelous scent of the flowers fill the air of the shrine night and day, their serene force energizing one's body. February is a busy month for this usually calm shrine, as it is when the Setsubun and Ume Blossom festivals occur, not to mention that it’s the time of the year right before entrance exams, so many students and parents come to the shrine to pray for good results.

Take a Break from the Hustle and Bustle of Your Daily Life and Immerse Yourself in the Wonders of Kyoto!

The former Japanese capital has such a long tradition and so much to show. Kyoto preserves old landscapes and offers a wide variety of locations where you can truly feel the history of the city. And let’s not forget the distinctive natural beauty Kyoto displays every season, creating magnificent sceneries using its buildings and architecture. Come and feel the charming Japanese atmosphere Kyoto has to offer for yourself!


Translated and republished with permission from: Relux Magazine

Thumbnail: Koshiro K / Shutterstock.com

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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