Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, is always listed among the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. It is a wonderful place to visit, all year round and offers an abundance of things to see and do. Like many of the other bigger cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, it has been through a rapid growth as a center of economy. There are many amazing sightseeing spots that draw many tourist to the city. Once you open a travel guide on Kyoto, you might get a little confused and feel lost as there are so many places to go and things to do there. In this article, we will divide the city into five main districts and tell you more about each area and its’ highlights! But first, let’s start with an introduction to beautiful city!
Kyoto (京都, Kyōto) is Japans oldest city and served as the nation’s capital and the emperor’s residence for over 1,000 years, from 794 until 1868. Over the centuries, the city has been destroyed by many wars and fires, however, because of its cultural and historical value Kyoto was largely spared by the WOII bombings. It is for this reason that you can still visit many old cultural landmarks and historical sites.
Present day, Kyoto is home to about 2,000 temples and shrines such as the Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine, the Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion) and Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Some of Kyoto’s other famous tourist destination include the Imperial Palace and Gion district.
Kyoto is often combined with day trips to some of Japan’s famous tourist destinations that are located nearby, including Nara, Kobe and Hiroshima.
Best places to visit near Kyoto Station
Kyoto station is the city’s main gateway located in the very center of Kyoto. This is where most tourist start their trip in Kyoto as almost all of the public transportation lines depart and arrive here. The station is also known as a huge shopping complex, where you can try local foods and find perfect souvenirs to take home. Around the station, there are several attractive spots that can be seen from the observation desk of Kyoto Tower, which offers an amazing view of the entire city of Kyoto!
Other famous tourist attractions are also accessible by bus or subway. For example, Kyoto Imperial Palace (also known as Kyoto Gyoen), one of the most popular historical spots in Kyoto, can be reached by a 10-minute comfortable ride of the subway. Another must-visit spot called Nijo Castle, which is designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site is within a walking distance from there. If you get hungry, Nishiki market is the best place to try Japanese traditional foods while surrounded by the unique atmosphere of the small stores packed in the narrow, but lively street!
Best places to visit near Kinkakuji Temple
If you are interested in the Japanese history, temples, and/or sacred shrines, north Kyoto can never disappoint you! This area is full of historical temples and spots, most of which are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The most prestigious site is Kinkakuji Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple widely known because of its’ stunning design and appearance covered with gold leaf. You can take a relaxing walk in the Japanese traditional garden around the temple as well. Ryoanji Temple is another Zen temple listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the famous rock garden which represents a simple, but important aspect of Japanese culture.
Further north in the mountains, there are two historical sites, Kurama Temple and Kifune Shrine. This area is also known as the best spot to enjoy hiking on the sacred mountain while exploring the spiritual sites in nature. The atmosphere here is totally different from what you can feel in the city, and the place offers an unforgettable memory! Although it it is a bit out of the way, it is definitely worth visiting!
Best places to visit near Fushimi Inari Taisha
This is probably where most foreign tourists think of when they think of Kyoto. South Kyoto has the most popular tourist attraction in Kyoto; the Fushimi Inari Shrine. What makes it so special and popular is the long line of thousands of red torii gates known as Senbon Torii. You have probably have seen the iconic red torii gate pictures online or in guidebooks before. And to be honest, this is actually a must-visit spot, that is also easily accessible by train from Kyoto station.
Besides Fushimi Inari Shrine , there are a number of other attractive spots in the area. Toji Temple and Tofukuji Temple are also quite close to Kyoto station, and they both are known as beautiful scenery spots with the cherry blossoms and colourful leaves in autumn. If you want to enjoy them in a different way, we suggest to visit there at night when they are brightly illuminated! Or do both!
Best places to visit Higashiyama Area
East Kyoto is also known under another famous name: Higashiyama District. In the higashiyama district you can experience the Japanese history and culture more deeply. The area is relatively small and everything is close each other, which makes it easy for tourists walk around and visit several places in one day. If you prefer not to walk on your own, and look for another way to explore the area easily and comfortably, you should try a rickshaw ride. This is a traditional Japanese vehicle that can often be seen in sightseeing spots in Japan! They take you a must-visit tourist spots around, while offering a helpful information by a knowledgeable guide pulling the rickshaw.
When it’s your first time in Kyoto, we recommend visiting the famous temples such as Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Sanju-Sangendo Temple. Right at the heart of Kyoto, you can visit the famous Gion district, often described as the geisha district. The famous entertainment district is home to many beautiful buildings and is great for strolling around. For those who want to have a more special experience you can also visit traditional performances by the geisha.
Best places to visit in Arashiyama Area
For many people, Arashiyama is the most attractive and most impressive area of Kyoto. The peaceful bamboo forest is always full of tourists, but has a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere. If you stop and listen to the sound of the bamboo moving in the wind, you almost forgot you are in one of the most popular places of Kyoto!
The Togetsukyo Bridge, a long wooden bridge, creates a breathtaking view along with the Arashiyama Mountain in the background. There are also some enjoyable theme parks such as the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama and Toei Kyoto Studio Park.
Compared to other areas in Kyoto, the area is relatively isolated and a bit outside of Kyoto. However, once you visit there, you will immediately understand this is exactly where everyone should go to experience the real Japan coexisting in harmony with nature.
Hidden parts of Kyoto
If you travel further from Kyoto City, you can discover completely different attractions of Kyoto surrounded by beautiful nature. In Northern Kyoto, there are tranquil villages near the ocean providing stunning scenery.
Amanohashidate is a popular spot located in Miyazu Bay, the 3.4 km sandbar covered with 5,000 pine trees across the bay. You can take a pleasant walk across the sandbar or cycling is popular too. In Ine in Tango peninsula, over 230 boat houses floating in the sea creates unique and beautiful scenery.
Northern Kyoto is home to crystal clear beaches and historical sites. If you already travel around Kyoto City and have more time to explore the different areas of Kyoto prefecture, why not take a day trip to Northern Kyoto?
Best tours in Kyoto
When you are visiting Kyoto and you need some help organising your trip, you came to the right place. We’re happy to help you make your trip to Kyoto the best trip ever. We can advise you on where to go or even better, show you around with a local, English speaking guide. Let us help you create safe, comfortable, and unforgettable memories in Kyoto!
▶Kyoto Virtual Highlight Tour
You can join our tour at home and learn about Kyoto before you come to Japan! Explore 5 spots including Kinkakuji, Arashiyama, Fushimi Inari etc. while the local guide telling you the small story abut the area.
▶Kyoto Private Full Day Walking Tour
Tell us where you want to go and we’ll plan your trip with our flexible itinerary. You just have to enjoy our memorable walking tour with the local friendly guide!
▶Total Kyoto Experience
If you only have one or two days in Kyoto, we offer a full day itinerary, enabling you to experience the entire city of Kyoto in just 10 hours!
▶Kyoto Food and Drink Tour @Nishiki Street & Gion
If you’re looking to learn more about the culture and the local cuisine, this is definitely the perfect option for you! Take part in our food and drink tour while exploring the 400-year-old market & the Gion district.
Where to stay in Kyoto
By now you have an idea what to do in the different parts of Kyoto, but then the next question arises. What is the best place to stay in Kyoto? All things considered, we recommend you stay downtown, in or near the Gion or Kawaramachi-Dori districts. These areas are well connected to the public transport and central to many of the main attractions. Here you will also find an abundance of restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues.
- Tazuru – a traditional Japanese ryokan with historic charm, overlooking the Kamo river.
- Kyoto Hotel Okura – luxury hotel offering great views of Kyoto and the Higashiyama Mountains
- Gion Minami House – apartment rooms that also enable you to relax after your full day of sightseeing.
Surrounded by beautiful nature, rich of history and filled with many interesting and beautiful places, it might be quite a challenge to decide on the best places to go in Kyoto. The former emperial and political capital of Japan has so many options and attractive places to choose from. We hope with this article you got some helpful information and that you now have an idea of where you want to go!
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