Japan at Its Best: Kyoto's Top 5 Sightseeing Spots
When visiting Kyoto, the number of "must-see" spots can be overwhelming. This list can help you choose the top five sights to see while in this ancient city.
Kyoto is widely known as one of the best places in Japan to experience the cultural blending of ancient traditions and modern life. Perhaps this is why it is such a popular tourist destination! But how can you know what to plan for and what to skip when it comes time to making your travel arrangements? This list of the top five sightseeing spots in Kyoto is here to help.
1. Kyoto Station
You may be thinking that it sounds crazy to include a train station on a sightseeing list, but there are no train stations quite like the one that Kyoto is famous for. Kyoto Station is a fully immersive Japanese culture experience that should not be missed.
This futuristic building is an architectural masterpiece packed with shopping, restaurants, cafes and more. Several department stores line the shopping center that is housed within this station, and it also features a wide array of places to eat, from affordable take-out to high quality, full-service dining delights. There is also a theater in the station that hosts live-action plays and performances throughout the year.
I highly recommend stopping by the Osteria Sakura, a mid-price range Italian restaurant, for some shrimp spaghetti. After your meal, check out The Cube for some of the most stylish and modern shopping you can find in all of Kyoto. And if you have the chance during your visit, the Kyoto Station Theater is truly an impressive place to catch a show, whether you speak the language or not!
Keep in mind that there are some cultural rules that should be respected when visiting Kyoto Station. Namely, try to take up as little space as possible when walking or riding the escalator; keep to one side so that faster walkers may get past you. The station is part of the daily work commute for many, so be respectful!
1F & B1F souvenir shops 8:30am-8:00pm
B2F fashion shops: 10:00am-8:00pm
11F restaurants: 11:00am-10:00pm
Isetan Department Store: 10:00am-8:00pm
2. Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine
Get your exercise and enjoy the sights at the same time when you take the hike through the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. Parts of this incredibly historical shrine date back to the year 711, although the main building was constructed in 1499. This building is located at the base of the Inari mountain, along with the shrine’s main gate. Beyond the entrance, thousands upon thousands of brilliant red torii gates line the paths that lead up the mountain and out to private worshipping mounds.
The draw of the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is easily the impressive and incredible sight of the repeating torii that line the mountainside. However, the shrine’s many fox statues are also beautiful and quite worth taking the time to enjoy, too. Don’t miss out on them!
Give yourself a little time to peruse the few shopping stalls that can be found along the torii walk up the mountain. On my last visit, I found a woman selling her old kimono and yukata for incredibly low prices—so depending on what you’re looking for, these stalls can be great places to pick up souvenirs.
Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is only a five-minute train ride from Kyoto Station.
It is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The shrine is located at 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto.
3. Kinkaku-ji Temple
Where do you go when you want to experience a large temple that is completely covered in gold leaf? You go to Kinkaku-ji Temple, of course! This Zen temple is built in the traditional styles of Japanese architecture, and was originally home to a nobleman and then to a shogun before it was converted into its more religious usage.
Kinkaku-ji Temple is a popular sightseeing destination because of its shimmering beauty. It is listed as a World Heritage site, and it is an absolute must-see for anyone who has never been to Kyoto before. The golden building sparkles next to a crystal clear pond that reflects its brilliance and the beautiful colors of the many trees surrounding it. Make sure to take the time to enjoy some quiet reflection, relaxation, and of course, photo ops.
This temple is not one of the better-known souvenir shopping sites, so you may prefer to just save some pictures from your visit here, rather than looking to pick up any gifts. Be respectful of visitors who may be there to worship rather than sight-see, too!
Kinkaku-ji Temple is open to visitors daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
It is located at 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto.
As with all large Japanese cities, Kyoto has several different districts. One of the most popular of these is Kyoto’s Gion. Every year, tourists flock to Gion to experience what life was like in an earlier, more traditional time in Japan.
In Gion, the streets are lined with wooden merchant houses, which are very narrow in the front but extend far back. The majority of these houses today are used as restaurants or tea houses, and this is where Gion’s attraction truly shines through. Most of these tea houses still feature geisha (technically, maiko and geiko) as a part of their entertainment, and Gion remains one of the only places today where these beautiful and elegant women can still be widely seen.
It can be very exciting for a tourist to spot a maiko or geiko on her way to or from work, but please remember that it is important to behave politely when interacting with these ladies. I felt so embarrassed by some other American tourists in Gion who would not stop bothering a geiko for photos!
Remember that Gion is also a great place to enjoy fine dining in Kyoto, aside from visiting the tea houses. I highly recommend spending a little time in a tea house, but don’t forget that there is more to enjoy in the district.
Gion is easily accessible from the Kyoto Station and takes only about 20 minutes by train to reach. The train stops at Gion Bus Station.
This Buddhist temple is an impressive, large building that was constructed without the use of any nails at all. The temple complex houses a small waterfall, and it is this waterfall that gives Kiyomizu-dera its name. The word “kiyomizu” means “pure water.”
It is said that anyone who can catch the water from the Kiyomizu waterfall and drink it can have his or her wishes granted. Out of this hope, or perhaps just out of tradition, Japanese citizens and tourists from all over the world flock to the temple to drink of its pure water. I can say that I drank the water there, and eventually my wish did come true—so who knows?
Visiting Kiyomizu-dera during New Year’s festivities provides even more of a chance to experience Japanese culture, as the temple is filled with booths selling holiday-specific snacks, gifts, and more. Bear in mind that this is a very busy time of year to see the temple, but the experience can be well worth the crowds!
Kiyomizu-dera is open from 6:00am to 6:00pm daily.
It is located at 294 Kiyomizu 1-chome, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto.
There is so much to see and do in Kyoto that it is impossible to narrow down the list completely. However, these top five choices are an excellent way to make sure you get the most of the past and the present, and enjoy the collision of the two, on your next visit to Kyoto.
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