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Kyoto's 18 Best Attractions for Visitors

Discover Kyoto: A Guide to Japan's Cultural Gem

Nestled among the hills of central Honshu, Kyoto stands out as a large Japanese city that has successfully preserved its historical charm. As a top tourist destination in Japan, it avoided WWII's destruction, maintaining its rich cultural heritage.

Once the Emperor's residence for over a millennium, Kyoto remains a cultural hub, home to numerous museums, galleries, and centuries-old Buddhist-influenced architecture. With 30 active Buddhist temples and 200 Shinto shrines, 17 of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the city is a spiritual and historical sanctuary.

For a comprehensive Kyoto experience, venture beyond the tourist spots to discover the city's quieter, less explored temples.

1. Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle, built in 1603, is a well-preserved historical complex that once housed Japan's government. Its East Gate and Inner Gate are architectural marvels, leading to the grand Ninomaru Palace with its stunning interiors and significant art pieces, including the Hall of the Imperial Emissary adorned with tiger paintings.

2. Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine

Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine

The iconic Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine, dating back to AD 711, is renowned for its four-kilometer-long corridor of vibrant orange torii gates. Dedicated to the goddess of rice-growing, it's a place where merchants seek blessings for prosperity. Night visits offer a crowd-free, illuminated experience.

Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto

Official site:

Tours and Activities in Kyoto

3. Kinkaku-ji: The Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji: The Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple, is a striking structure covered in gold leaf. Originally a shogun's villa, it's now a picturesque site set over a pond, surrounded by beautiful gardens and a traditional teahouse.

Address: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 603-836

4. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Perched on Otowa Mountain, the UNESCO-listed Kiyomizu-dera Temple offers panoramic views of Kyoto. Founded in AD 790, it's dedicated to the 11-headed Kannon and features a scenic approach through Tea-pot Lane.

5. Sanjūsangen-dō Temple

Sanjūsangen-dō Temple

Sanjūsangen-dō Temple is famous for its long structure housing a statue of the Thousand-Handed Kannon and 1,000 life-sized Kannon statues. It's a testament to the temple's historical significance as an archery training ground.

Address: 657 Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0941

6. Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

The Kyoto Imperial Palace, rebuilt in 1855, showcases traditional Japanese architecture and design. Visitors can explore its gates, ceremonial halls, and the Imperial Library, but only through guided tours arranged via the Imperial Household Agency.

Address: 3 Kyoto-Gyoen, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 602-0881

Official site:

7. Nishi Honganji Temple

Nishi Honganji Temple

Nishi Honganji Temple, a prime example of Buddhist architecture, features the Hondo, or Main Hall, with its gold-background paintings and ancient statues. The adjacent Higashi-Honganji Temple also houses fine artwork.

Address: Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 600-8501

Official site:

8. The Kyoto National Museum and Municipal Museum of Art

The Kyoto National Museum and Municipal Museum of Art

Kyoto's National Museum and Municipal Museum of Art house extensive collections of pre-modern Asian and Japanese art. The National Museum, designed by Yoshio Taniguchi, is particularly renowned for its historic art and applied arts.

Address: 527 Chayacho, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0931

Official site:

9. Gion's Geishas and Temples

Gion's Geishas and Temples

Gion, Kyoto's famous geisha district, is a blend of historical and modern elements. It's home to the Silver Pavilion, Chion-in Temple, and a vibrant nightlife, making it an ideal place for a night-time stroll.

Address: Nishi Ten-o-cho, Okazaki, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, Kansai 606-8341

10. Katsura Imperial Villa

Katsura Imperial Villa

Katsura Imperial Villa, built in 1624, is celebrated for its historic architecture and one of Japan's most famous gardens, designed to offer stunning views from every angle.

11. Daitoku-ji Temple

Sammon Gate, Daitoku-ji Temple

Daitoku-ji Temple, a key Rinzai sect temple, features several open buildings, including the Chinese-style Kara-mon gate and the Sammon gate with its exquisite paintings and statues.

Address: 3 Murasakino Daitokujicho, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 603-8231

12. The Byōdō-in Temple

The Byōdō-in Temple

The Byōdō-in Temple, established in AD 988, is known for its Phoenix Hall and its collection of 11th-century paintings and sculptures. The temple gardens and the Byōdō-in Museum are also must-visits.

Address: Renge-116 Uji, Kyoto Prefecture 611-0021

Official site:

13. Arashiyama Monkey Park

Arashiyama Monkey Park

Arashiyama Monkey Park is a unique attraction where visitors can interact with over 100 free-roaming snow monkeys and enjoy panoramic views of Kyoto.

14. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove offers a surreal walking experience through towering bamboo stalks. It's a popular spot, so early morning visits are recommended.

15. Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower, the city's tallest structure, features a viewing platform with panoramic views. The building also houses offices, restaurants, shops, and a hotel.

Address: 721-1 Higashishiokojicho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8216, Japan

Official site:

16. Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Museum

Samurai armor

The Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Museum offers insights into Japan's feudal history with exhibits on samurai armor and weapons, and interactive samurai experiences.

Address: Teramachi Utanokoji building 2F, 292, Higashidaimonjicho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto

Official site:

17. Enjoy a Traditional Kaiseki Meal

Traditional kaiseki meal

Experience Japanese dining culture with a traditional kaiseki meal, a multi-course feast that emphasizes hospitality and seasonal flavors. Gion Owatari is a renowned two-star kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto's Gion district.

18. Experience a Tea Ceremony

Japanese tea ceremony

Participate in a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto's Gion district, a ritual that showcases the art of preparing and enjoying green tea in a celebrated manner.

Where to Stay in Kyoto for Sightseeing

For convenient access to attractions, dining, and entertainment, stay downtown near Gion or Kawaramachi-Dori districts. Here are some highly-rated hotels:

  • Luxury Hotels: The Ritz Carlton, Hotel Kanra Kyoto, and Maifukan in Gion.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: Ohanabo, Hotel Anteroom, and Citadines Karasuma-Gojo.
  • Budget Hotels: ibis Styles Kyoto Station, Super Hotel, and Ryokan Shimizu.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Kyoto

  • See the Best of Kyoto: Consider a full-day sightseeing tour including Nijo Castle and Kiyomizu Temple.
  • Kyoto and Nara Day Trip: Explore Kyoto and nearby Nara in one day.
  • Pedal Power: Join a small-group bike tour to see Kyoto's historic sites.
  • A Rural Walkabout: Take a morning walking tour through Arashiyama and Sagano.

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Explore Japan's Rich History: Fukuoka and Nagoya are cities rich in history, with castles, shrines, and museums.

Japan Vacation Ideas: Consider visiting Tokyo, Mount Fuji, or Sapporo for diverse Japanese experiences.