Home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Kyoto is riddled with well-preserved ancient temples and shrines that beckon many tourists, but it also makes planning a trip to Kyoto overwhelming. Here’s my handpicked list of top Kyoto tourist spots with guide/instructions on how to get there by bus and by train. I will also be posting a detailed travel guide soon to help you plan your Kyoto itinerary.
HOW TO COMMUTE / DO A DIY TOUR IN KYOTO
I recommend getting a Kansai Thru Pass for 2 -3 day unlimited travel by train (Kyoto Municipal Subway Line), bus (Kyoto City Bus, Kyoto Bus and other buses in Kansai Region) and around Kansai Region (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, etc). The pass can also be used for travel between Osaka and Kansai International Airport but cannot be used on JR Rail Pass. Or you can buy a Kyoto City Bus Pass (1 Day Pass) for JPY 1,000 or (2 Day Pass) for JPY 2,000 valid for flat fare routes, you will pay additional if you board the non-flat fare routes (buses with black numbers on white fields are long distance buses). You can purchase the Kansai Thru Pass here.
If you are traveling in multi-cities in Japan like Tokyo, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Nagoya, etc.you can purchase a Japan Railpass here for unlimited travel around Japan for 7 Day, 14 days or 21 Days.
For easy and comfortable sightseeing, you can also ride the Raku Bus at Kyoto Bus Station that are meant for tourist sightseeing. Use your Kansai Thru Pass or Kyoto City Bus Pass.
Raku Bus 100 departs regularly from Kyoto Station from 7:40 AM to 05:00 PM with the following route: Kyoto Station National Museum & Sanjusangendo Temple ⇒ Kiyomizudera Temple ⇒ Gion ⇒ Heianjingu Shrine ⇒ Ginkakuji Temple
Raku Bus 101 departs regularly from Kyoto Station from 8:00 AM to 04:30 PM with the following route:Kyoto Station ⇒ Nijo-jo Castle ⇒ Kitano Tenmangu Shrine ⇒ Kinkakuji Temple ⇒ Daitokuji Temple ⇒ Kitaoji Bus Terminal
Raku Bus 102 departs from the Ginkakuji-michi Bus Stop from 8:04 AM to 4:34 PM with the following route: Ginkakuji Temple ⇒ Kyoto Imperial Palace ⇒ Kitano Tenmangu Shrine ⇒ Kinkakuji Temple ⇒ Daitokuji Temple ⇒ Kitaoji Bus Terminal.
IMPORTANT: When boarding buses in Kyoto, enter at the rear door and exit at the front door. When you ride the Kyoto City Bus with your 1 or 2 day pass for the first time, the first time you get off the bus, you need to enter the card on the card slot and the date will be printed. Then the next time you board the bus, just show the card with the date to the driver. In case you board the non-flat fare routes bus, you need to enter the card again to the card slot. You will be billed extra if your stop is outside the short distance (flat fare) route.
Kyoto City buses have TV screen in front showing the next bus stop in English and Japanese letters and you will also hear a pre-recorded message of the next bus stop. When in doubt, ask the locals, the Japanese are really helpful and friendly.
I always open Google Maps whenever I’m riding the bus to track my location and route.
Flat rate bus fare is JPY 230 / PHP 102/ USD 2 for adults and JPY 120 / PHP 53.45 / USD 1.07 for kids.
TOP ATTRACTIONS IN KYOTO, JAPAN
Kyoto Station has two sides: Hachijo (facing Toji Temple) and Karasuma (which is facing Kyoto Tower, Kyoto main bus terminal and the city center).
Kyoto Tower crowns downtown Kyoto. This structure has a platform where visitors can view Kyoto City. For those who want to try the public bath, there’s one located at the ground floor of Kyoto Tower.
ENTRANCE FEE: You can purchase discounted Kyoto Tower ticket here.
OPEN HOURS: 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM
HOW TO GET TO KYOTO TOWER: Walking distance from Kyoto Station (Karasuma side) facing the bus station.
NIJO CASTLE / NIJO-JO CASTLE
I’ve always wanted to see a Japanese feudal castle, and Nijo Castle was the first one I visited in Japan. Although it looks like this castle is pretty close to Kyoto Station on Kyoto tourist maps, don’t be fooled, better take Raku Bus 101 from Kyoto Station that will pass by Nijo Castle.
Nijo Castle was the home of the Tokugawa shoguns in Kyoto, the last feudal Japanese military government. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, flanked by beautifully-manicured gardens and cherry trees. Like most castles in the country, it is fringed by moats and two central fortifications. There are two main palaces inside the confines of the Nijo Castle: the Ninomaru Palace and the Honmaru Palace. Visitors are allowed to enter the Ninomaru Palace, but not the Honmura Palace, although visitors can climb up the stone fortress at the Honmura Garden for a scenic view of the palace and surroundings.
The Ninomaru Palace consists of interconnected buildings where only the high-ranking visitors are allowed to enter the inner chambers while the low-ranking visitors are only accepted at the outer parts of the fortress. The palace is decorated with gold leaves, wall paintings and intricate wood.
ENTRANCE FEE: JPY 600 / PHP 268 / USD 5.36
OPEN HOURS 8:45 AM to 05:00 PM (Visitors can enter until 4:00 Pm only).
HOW TO GET TO NIJO CASTLE: Take Kyoto City Bus numbers 9, 50 or 101, travel time is about 20 minutes and bus fare (flat rate) is JPY 230 / PHP 102/ USD 2 for adults and JPY 120 / PHP 53.45 / USD 1.07 for kids. Use your Kansai Thru Pass or Kyoto City Bus Pass. Alternatively, you can ride the Karasuma Subway Line to Karasuma-Oike Station and transfer to the Tozai Line to Nijojo-mae Station. Travel time is about 15 minutes.
KYOTO IMPERIAL PALACE
I’ve always been fascinated with palaces, so when I learned that the Kyoto Imperial Palace is accessible from downtown Kyoto (not to mention admission is free), I decided to add it on my Kyoto itinerary. As you might have surmised, Kyoto Imperial Palace is the former residence of Japan’s Emperor before the capital was moved to Tokyo.
Kyoto Imperial Palace is one of Kyoto’s top tourist spots. The palace ground is sprinkled with buildings adorned by beautifully-manicured lawns, gardens and ponds and hemmed in by lush trees including cherry trees. It is a lovely place for a stroll because of its relaxing atmosphere, but take not that visitors are not allowed to enter the buildings. No prior reservation is needed for the free guided tours, travelers can just walk in, admission is free and you will be handed a tourist ID that you need to wear while inside the Kyoto Imperial Palace ground. There is a visitor center with comfort room and free lockers where you can leave your bags.
Open Hours: 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Entrance Fee: Free
HOW TO GET TO KYOTO IMPERIAL PALACE: Take the Karasuma Subway Line at Kyoto Station to reach the Kyoto Imperial Palace in approximately 7-10 minutes. Alight at Marutamachi or Imadegawa Station, train fare is JPY 260/ PHP 116 / USD 2.32 and from either station, you can walk for about 15 minutes to reach Sento Palace. Alternatively, you can ride Raku Bus 102 at Kyoto Station and alight at Karasuma-Imadegawa bus stop. From there, the Kyoto Imperial Palace is about a 5 minute walk. Bus fare (flat rate) is JPY 230 / PHP 102/ USD 2 for adults and JPY 120 / PHP 53.45 / USD 1.07 for children. Use your Kansai Thru Pass or Kyoto City Bus Pass.
FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE
The mere mention of Kyoto connotes images of Fushimi Inari Shrine, it is undoubtedly one of the top tourist spots in Kyoto. For the uninitiated, this is the head shrine of Inari, god of rice – a principal Japanese kami (spirits) of Shinto. It is pretty known for its tons of torii gates leading to the sacred Inari Mountain. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is also sprinkled with statues of foxes as they are believed to be Inari’s messengers.
Shinto shrines are places of worship in Japan where people pay respect to the kami (spirit) or to pray for good fortunes. Interestingly, new born babies are brought to a Shinto Shrine for its first shrine visit, an age-old tradition called Hatsumiyamairi, also Omiyamairi. Tradition dictates that the ceremony should be held 31 or 32 days after a boy is born and 32 or 33 days after a girl is born.
OPEN HOURS: Anytime
ENTRANCE FEE: Free
HOW TO GET THERE: Take JR Nara Line at Kyoto Station and alight at JR Inari Station, second station from Kyoto. Travel time is roughly 5 minutes and fare is around JPY 140 / PHP 63/ USD 1.25. Use your JR West Railpass.
Toji Temple is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto that was constructed upon the transfer of Japan’s capital from Nara to Kyoto where two guardian temples were built, Toji being the “East Temple” and a West Temple that no longer exists today. Toji Temple is the headquarters of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism and houses the tallest pagoda in Japan.
March 20-April 17: Open from 8:30am to 4:30pm
April 18-September 19: Open from 8:30am to 5:00pm
September 20-March 19: Open from 8:30am to 4pm
ENTRANCE FEE: JPY 500 / PHP 224 / USD 4.47
HOW TO GET TO TOJI TEMPLE: Toji Temple can be reached from Kyoto Station (fronting Hachijo side) for roughly 15 minute walk. Alternatively, from Kyoto Station, take Kintetsu Kyoto Line (2 minutes) and alight at Toji Station. Walk for about 5 minutes to reach Toji Temple. Fare is JPY 150 / PHP 67 / USD 4.47.
Tofukuji Temple is the oldest and largest temple in Kyoto, Japan. A tourist favorite during autumn season, Tofukuji Temple is a Zen Buddhist Temple known for its massive and intricately carved Sammon Gate, designated as one of the Japanese National Treasure Buildings. Adding up to its allure is the Tofuku-ji Temple Honbo Garden that is designated as a National Site of Scenic Beauty.
OPEN HOURS: 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
ENTRANCE FEES: JPY 400 / PHP 160/ USD 358 for Tsutenkyo Bridge and Kaisando Hall and JPY 400 / PHP 160/ USD 358 for Honbo Garden
HOW TO GET TO TOFUKUJI TEMPLE: Take the JR Nara Line and get off at Tofukuji Station. Travel time is 2 minutes and fare is JPY 142 / PHP 62/ USD 1.25. Use your JR West Rail Pass. Walk for about 10 minutes to reach Tofukuji Temple. Alternatively, you can also board Kyoto City Bus 208 and alight at Tofukuji bus stop, 10 minute walk to the temple. Travel time is 15 minutes from Kyoto Station and fare is JPY 230 / PHP 103 / USD 2.06. Use your Kansai Thru Pass or Kyoto City Bus Pass.
KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (GOLDEN PAVILION)
Kinkakuji Temple also called The Golden Pavilion because it is clad with pure gold leaf is one of Kyoto’s top tourist spots and perhaps one of the most photographed temples in Japan. It is one of the 17 designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Kyoto and the inspiration for building the Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion). The Golden Pavilion is set in a gorgeous Zen garden with a mirror pond. Tourists are not allowed to enter the temple itself.
OPEN HOURS: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
ENTRANCE FEES: JPY 400 / PHP 178 / USD 4
HOW TO GET TO KINKAKUJI TEMPLE: From Kyoto Station, you can ride the Raku Bus 101 or Kyoto City Bus 205. Use your Kansai Thru Pass or Kyoto City Bus Pass. Alternatively, you can also take Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station. Travel time is 15 minutes, fare is JPY 260 / PHP 116 / USD 2.32. From Kitaoji Station, take bus number 101, 102, 204 or 205 to the temple or just take a cab to the temple.
This is a popular street in this well-preserved historic district take Sanen-zaka and Ninen-zaka lanes and walk along narrow, crowded streets fringed by shops, cafes and restaurants to reach Kiyomizudera. Tourists can also enjoy a walking tour here visiting other shrines and temples.
HOW TO GET TO HIGAYSHIMA DISTRICT: Take Kyoto City Bus 100 or 306 and alight at Gion bus stop. Travel time is 15 minutes and fare is JPY 230 / PHP 102 / USD 2. Use your Kansai Thru Pass or Kyoto City Bus Pass. By train, take the Hankyu Line and alight at Kawaramachi Station.
Kiyomizudera Temple, one of the top Kyoto tourist spots, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site attracting thousands of tourist daily, making it pretty crowded. It is currently under renovation until June this year, but tourists can still go inside the main hall of the temple with towering, massive pillars. Kiyomizudera Temple offers scenic view of Kyoto City. At the basement of the main hall is Otowa Waterfall where tourists can drink from the streams using cups attached to long poles to bring success, good health and love life. The temple complex is flanked by several shrines including Jishu Shrine that has love stones. Tourists can walk here with their eyes closed and successfully finding the next stone is believed to bring true love.
OPEN HOURS: 6:00 am to 6:00 PM.
ENTRANCE FEES: JPY 400 / PHP 178 / USD 4
HOW TO GET TO KIYOMIZUDERA: At Kyoto Bus Station, take Bus 100 or 206, travel time is 15 minutes and fare is JPY 230 / PHP 102 / USD 2. Alight at Kiyomizumichi or Gojozaka bus stop and walk for about 10 minutes to Kiyomizudera temple. Alternatively, you can also take Keihan Railway Line at Kiyomizugojo Station for about 20 minutes.
Gion District is dubbed as the geisha district in Kyoto. This charming neighborhood is hemmed in by well-preserved machiya, traditional Japanese houses. This is where you can spot geisha and maiko at evening when they entertain at ochaya (teahouses). Expensive cultural shows where geishas and maiko perform usually include a tea ceremony and ikebana, among others. Many of the machiya houses in Gion were transformed into restaurants and tea houses to cater to tourists. Check price or book a Geisha District Tour here
You can spend an incredible evening dining in Kyoto at an exclusive private restaurant accompanied by a ‘maiko,’ or apprentice geisha. You can book The Art of Geisha, a private dinner in Kyoto here. noThe highly skilled performer typically entertains guests at invitation-only locations. You’ll also walk through the Gion district of Kyoto to learn how Kyoto has been a center for the geisha’s traditional art for centuries. Alternatively, you can book a Maiko Performance with Kaisako Dinner in Kyoto here.
HOW TO GET TO GION DISTRICT: Ride bus 206 or 100 from Kyoto Bus Station and get off at Gion bus stop. Travel time is 20 minutes and fare is is JPY 230 / PHP 102 / USD 2. Use your Kansai Thru Pass or Kyoto City Bus Pass. You can also take the Hankyu Line at Kyoto Station and get off at Kawaramachi Station.
GINKAKUJI TEMPLE (SILVER PAVILION)
Another popular temple in Kyoto is Ginkakuji Temple, also dubbed as the Silver Pavilion, largely inspired by the Golden Pavilion. Originally built as a retirement villa of Ashikaga Yoshimasa and turned into a Zen temple after his death. Although the shogun wanted to add silver foil on this temple, it never materialized. A neck-swiveling sand garden flanks the Silver Pavilion.
OPEN HOURS: 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM
ENTRANCE FEE: JPY 500/ PHP 223 / USD 4.47
HOW TO GET TO SILVER PAVILION: Take Kyoto City Bus 100, 5 or 7 from Kyoto Station. Travel time is approximately 35 minutes and fare is JPY 230 / PHP 102 / USD 2. Use your Kansai Thru Pass or Kyoto City Bus Pass.
We passed by Philosopher’s Path while heading to Silver Pavilion. This spot draws tourist during hanami because of the cherry blossoms along its canal. Philosopher’s Path was used by leading Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro who used the path for daily meditation, hence the name. A walk here will take about 30 minutes were you will pass by shrines and temples sprinkled around the area including Otoyo Shrine.
HOW TO GET TO PHILOSOPHER’S PATH: Take Kyoto City Bus 100, 5 or 7 from Kyoto Station. Travel time is approximately 35 minutes and fare is JPY 230 / PHP 102 / USD 2. Use your Kansai Thru Pass or Kyoto City Bus Pass
ARASHIYAMA DISTRICT (KYOTO BAMBOO FOREST)
Arayashima District was designated as a Place of Scenic Beauty. It is well known for its Bamboo Forest and is always included in the list of top Kyoto tourist spots. There are a lot of scenic sights in Arashiyama and I spent half day exploring this district but still wasn’t able to visit all the attractions here! Will be writing a separate post about this in the coming weeks. I highly recommend including this in your itinerary especially if you are visiting during autumn season.
HOW TO GET TO ARASHIYAMA (KYOTO BAMBOO FOREST) : You can reach Arashiyama by taking the JR Sagano Line/ JR Sanin Line. Fare is JPY 240 and travel time is about 15 minutes. Alight at Saga-Arashiyama Station, get a map at the tourist center and walk to the Bamboo Grove for about 15 minutes. I also traveled here by bus from Kyoto Station, although I recommend the JR Line to avoid the traffic. Take bus 28 and alight at Saga-Arashiyama Station. Walk straight to the bridge and turn right before the bridge.
ALSO READ: OSAKA TRAVEL GUIDE
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WHERE TO STAY IN KYOTO
I prefer staying near Kyoto Station when I’m in Kyoto, Japan so it’s easier for me to commute to the destinations that I want to visit.
Kyoto Hana Hostel
229, Akezu-dori St., Kogawa-cho, Shimogyo-ku,, Kyoto Station, Kyoto
New Miyako Hotel Kyoto
17 Nishikujo-Inmachi Minami-ku, Kyoto Station, Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto Century Hotel
680 Higashishiokoji-Cho, Shimogyo-Ku, Kyoto Station
ALSO READ: KYOTO TRAVEL GUIDE 2017
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