If you so happen to be staying at the Palace Side Hotel during your stay in Kyoto (which I totally recommend), then this park will be the view from your bedroom window and a fun attraction just one minute away. Even if you choose to stay elsewhere, this is a lovely short outing during your trip in Kyoto – it’s great for kids who need a run-around, relaxing, it is steeped in history, and best of all: it is totally free!
Only a few minutes away from central subway stations Marutamachi and Imadegawa, Kyoto Gyoen (Kyoto National Garden) is a lovely place to visit all year round. The photographs I took for this article are from my visit over the New Year period – just look at that beautiful sunlight, the rainbow, and the vibrancy of the plants! It’s only people’s coats and hats which give away that it was the middle of winter. Clearly, a visit at any time of year is worthwhile. However, if you can time your visit for the cherry blossoms or plum blossoms, you’ll no doubt have a superior view.
The Imperial Palace (Gosho) housed the Japanese Imperial Family up until 1869 – since then they have lived in Tokyo, which became the new capital of Japan after the rulers residing in Kyoto were overthrown. The current palace building was barely lived in before the royals moved to Tokyo – it was rebuilt in 1855 after having burnt down.
Tours of the palace grounds are available in Japanese and English, although you are not actually allowed to enter any of the buildings – the one-hour tour just guides you through the private gardens and around the outside of the palace buildings.
Tours can be arranged through the Imperial Household Agency with changes made this year so that you can even book on the day rather than booking in advance.
Even if you don’t go inside the palace grounds, the view from the outside alone is impressive. Long sweeping walls and decorative gate houses make for a great photographic backdrop. Measuring 700 by 1,300 meters, doing a circuit of the park makes for a good stroll, or you can zip around it by bike if that is your preference.
There are plenty of grassy areas for children to play on and other cultural sites to enjoy, such as a former residence of court nobles and the Itsukushima Shrine.
While exciting attractions and unusual tourist spots have their charms, sometimes it’s nice to just sit back, relax and do something peaceful like visiting a local park, especially if you’re on an extended trip and want to do something cheap. The Kyoto Imperial Palace Park is one of the best free places to visit in the city, a wonderful place to spend a lazy afternoon before wandering down into the heart of the town to grab a bite to eat. Sounds like bliss to me!
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