As the old capital of Japan, Kyoto lives up to its name with a variety of historical landmarks visitors flock to. If you are making plans to visit Kyoto, these sights can provide a colorful backdrop to your trip. No matter your interests, Kyoto’s well-preserved historical buildings create a city rich in character and beauty.
Blink, and you might miss this one! The first item on the list is a small temple located just across the street from Kyoto City Hall. This small temple court is nestled within the Teramachi shopping arcade. It may be unusual to see the entrance in between storefronts for confectionaries and book stores, but the co-existence of the old and the new is what makes Kyoto attractive. Historically Honnō-ji Temple was where the Japanese feudal lord Oda Nobudnaga died after being betrayed by his retainer, though the modern temple grounds were relocated to its present location.
Yoo! First established in 1610, this centuries-old picturesque theater has been the home of Kabuki performances in Kyoto. Located in downtown Kyoto across the Kamo River, the theater stands out in its neighborhood. For those interested in Japanese theater, a performance at a location recognized as a Tangible Cultural Property would be the highlight of a trip to Kyoto.
The brilliant gold leaf covering on this pavilion have made it a Japanese icon known around the world. Situated between a quiet pond and mossy foothills to the northwest of Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji is an unforgettable symbol of both nature in Japan as well as the brilliance of Japanese architecture, combining three architectural styles which create themes of life, death, and religion. Visitors to Kinkaku-ji can experience an array of emotions as they walk under lush trees, gaze across the pond at the golden pavilion, and listen to babbling mountainside brooks.
Are you seeing red? This surprising shrine found in the south of Kyoto is famed for its dedication to the Shinto god Inari, the patron of rice, sake, and merchants. Along the pathways up the nearby mountain are hundreds of Torii gates, built with donations from Japanese businesses. The amount of donations needed to have a Torii gate constructed in your name can number in the hundred of thousands in yen. At times the Senbon Torii may be so numerous it’s as if they’re blocking out the sunlight. Don’t pass up an opportunity to partake in the most memorable walk in Kyoto.
Experience a part of Kyoto history by walking the ground of the former Imperial Palace. During the events of the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century, Tokyo was re-established as Japan’s capital, and the royal family moved their residence to the Tokyo Imperial Palace. The Kyoto palace and surrounding grounds have since been opened up to the public, with the wide-open park spaces surrounding the palace being a popular destination for jogging and pet exercise. Tours of the palace ground are found at the western Seishomon gate to the compound. The size of Kyoto’s Imperial Palace park, spanning a dozen city blocks, makes it easy to locate and access regardless of where you’re staying in the city.
If you’re visiting Kyoto it’s hard to miss seeing this collection of temples. The eyecatching walls, gate, and moat are located right alongside one of Kyoto’s busiest roads, Horikawa-dori, north of Kyoto station. This makes it an ideal location to visit if you’re unfamiliar with Kyoto as its proximity to Kyoto station will make navigation simple. This is the head temple of Japanese Shin Buddhism, and the large, ornate rooftops make it a popular destination for tourists in Kyoto.
You can spot this temple by its massive gate entrance, Sanmon, in Kyoto’s eastern neighborhoods. Be well-rested if you plan to visit, as the temple grounds not only cover a wide area, but conveniently connect to other nearby locations such as the Yasaka Shrine and the Shoren-in Temple. Chion-in was first established in the 13th century commemorate the teachings of the Buddhist reformer Hōnen, who founded the Jōdo-shū branch of Pure Land Buddhism.
With historical Japan comes castle fortifications, and Kyoto’s Nijō Castle is a symbol of the city. Originally commissioned by the Japanese shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in the 17th century, the castle became a central part of Japanese politics during this period. Located to the southeast of the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, the castle grounds can be accessed from the northern and eastern sides. As with other castles in Japan, visitors to Nijō Castle will notice the two moats fortifying the central keep as the wander the grounds. The castle grounds also host the Ninomaru palace, which was used to receive guests in historical times. If you want to witness the history in political struggles and feudal culture which makes historical Japan so appealing, this is a great place to visit while in Kyoto.
One of the finalists for the Seven Wonders of the World, Kiyomizu-dera Temple is a must-see for those making the trip west to Kyoto. Identified by its signature veranda dating back to 1633, the temple sits at the peak of a small avenue full of interesting things for visitors to do, from pottery to various food stalls. Visitors in the vicinity can observe the variety of striking pagodas and gates, and once within the temple grounds can observe the peaceful tranquility of the Jishu shrine while overlooking the city. The famed Otawa pond is just a short walk from the shrine, with tourists lining up to taste the blessed water falling down the mountain. An outing to Kiyomizudera is sure to provide you with some great memories.
What’s your recommended place to visit in Kyoto? By expanding our vocabulary of the city, we can help teach more people about the historical and cultural significance of this great city. For a hotel location in Kyoto that’s easy to travel from, make your reservations here.