Kyoto Prefecture stretches out from the southeast to the northwest in the central and northern parts of the Kansai region. It has four geographical features, the saw-toothed coastal area around Maizuru Bay in the northeast, The Tanba Mountains around its center, The Kyoto Basin in the southeast, and the Yamashiro Basin.
Kyoto became the capital of Japan in the 8th century. It flourished as the center for Japanese politics, economy and culture for some 1,100 years, until the capital functions were transferred to Tokyo in the mid 19-th century. There remain many temples and shrines in Kyoto that were built during this long period. Seventeen historic sites including, Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Nijo Castle, are inscribed as World Cultural Heritage Sites.
The areas alongside the river bank have been developed into parks, walking trails, and playing fields. Thus, the riverside is a favorite spot of both citizens and visitors to relax within the city.
Places to visit in Kyoto
1 Nijo Castle (Built 1603 onward)
Nijo Castle, located in Kyoto, Japan, was first built in 1603 CE by Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868 CE). The castle complex is surrounded by a double moat and made up of three distinct areas: the Ninomaru Palace (1626 CE), the Honmaru compound (1847 CE), and the castle’s two gardens. The castle contains 3,000 examples of medieval paintings, nearly 1,000 of which are classified as Important Cultural Properties. Nijo Castle is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and six of its buildings are recognised as official National Treasures of Japan.
2 Sento Imperial Palace
Kyoto Sento Imperial Palace was built on the occasion of the Emperor Gomizunoo’s retirement at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Although the palace itself was lost to fire in 1854 and was not subsequently reconstructed, its gardens and teahouses remain.
As of 1 May 2019 ‘Kyoto Sento Imperial Palace’ has been renamed ‘Kyoto Sento Imperial Palace’.
3 Nishiki Market
Nishiki Market is a marketplace in downtown Kyoto, located on a road one block north and parallel to Shijō Street and west of Teramachi Street. Rich with history and tradition, the market is renowned as the place to obtain many of Kyoto’s famous foods and goods
Nishiki Market has a pleasant but busy atmosphere that is inviting to those who want to explore the variety of culinary delights that Kyoto is famous for. The stores found throughout the market range in size from small narrow stalls to larger two story shops. Most specialize in a particular type of food, and almost everything sold at the market is locally produced and procured.
4 Kyoto Imperial Palace
Kyoto Imperial Palace was the place where the visitors are required the advance application. Or they only had the chance of a limited time when it opened to the public in Spring and Autumn. Therefore Kyoto Imperial Palace was very rare place to visit for a tourist site, however it was the great treasure of Japanese culture.
5 Kiyomizudera Temple
Kiyomizudera is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.
Kiyomizudera is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below. The stage affords visitors a nice view of the numerous cherry and maple trees below that erupt in a sea of color in spring and fall, as well as of the city of Kyoto in the distance. The main hall, which together with the stage was built without the use of nails, houses the temple’s primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon.
6 Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion)
Ginkakuji Temple is in the Northern Higashiyama section of Kyoto city. It is in the heart of old Kyoto, next to the area of the old Kyoto Imperial Palace. From Kyoto Station , take bus #5 or #17 to Ginkakuji-michi bus stop. It’s a 10-minute walk from there.
Ginkakuji is a Zen temple along Kyoto’s eastern mountains (Higashiyama). In 1482, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of today’s temple, modeling it after Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), his grandfather’s retirement villa at the base of Kyoto’s northern mountains (Kitayama). The villa was converted into a Zen temple after Yoshimasa’s death in 1490.
7 Nanzenji Temple
On the south end of the Philosopher’s Path, Nanzen-ji Temple wasn’t always the picture-perfect portrait of serenity and everything Zen.
Once the retirement villa of the Emperor Kameyama, the Nanzenji grounds today, understandably, is wide spread in a huge carpet area and covers itself in a cluster of an impressive collection of 12 sub-temples and a few Zen gardens. What accentuates the beauty of the place is the lush green setting that blends beautifully with the historic wooden buildings. The entry to the grounds complex and its precincts are free, however, if you wish to explore the temple buildings and temples, separate charges may apply.
Fushimi Inari Shrine, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794
9 Daigoji Temple
Daigoji Temple is a temple complex located in the southeast of Kyoto city. It’s considered as one of the most important temples of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism and it’s a designated world heritage site.
The temple is famous as where the feudal lords of Sengoku period, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, used to hold a Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) party with over 1,000 people in the 16th century.
10 Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)
Kinkakuji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is one the most iconic sights and popular attractions in Japan. It was built by the Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third shogun of the Muromachi shogunate, in 1398. Always a vision, its magical beauty is particularly captivating when a blanket of pure white snow sets off its golden contours, making Kinkakuji a still bigger draw on snowy days.
Kinkakuji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond, and is the only building left of Yoshimitsu’s former retirement complex. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto; and once again more recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.
11 Shugakuin Imperial Villa
Constructed by the order of the Emperor Gomizunoo in the mid-seventeenth century, Shugakuin Imperial Villa consists of three villas (Lower, Middle, and Upper). Its incorporation of the surrounding natural scenery into the garden design is typical of Japanese architecture.
Shugakuin’s name comes from a former temple built on the same site in the tenth century. The Imperial Villa was constructed between 1655 and 1659, with a palace for Gomizuno’s daughter added ten years later. More recently in 1964, the surrounding farmlands were bought by the Imperial Household Agency. They are leased out to local farmers who continue to work the fields
12 Arashiyama and Sagano
Arashiyama-Sagano area is located in western outskirts of Kyoto city, offering great historical sites as well as wonderful rich nature including river, mountains and forest.
The Sagano and Arashiyama districts are located in the western part of Kyoto, and are the city’s second most popular area for sightseeing. In the eighth century, aristocrats often came to this area of rice fields and bamboo woods to enjoy the colored leaves or to go boating.
The landscape today is still reminiscent of that period, and you can still visit a number of former villas connected with the nobility, which now serve as small temples.
13 Katsura Imperial Villa
The Katsura palace is a pivotal work of Japanese Architecture, often described as the “quintessence of Japanese taste.” First revealed to the world by Bruno Taut, the great German architect, in the early twentieth century, Katsura stunned the architectural community of the West. Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, pillars of the Modernist establishment, were fascinated by Katsura’s “modernity.” They saw in its orthogonal and modular spaces, devoid of decoration, clear parallels to contemporary Modernism, going so far as to laud Katsura as a “historical” example of Modernity.
Visiting Katsura Imperial Villa requires joining a tour. The tour follows the garden’s circular walking trail around the central pond. Palace buildings can be viewed only from the outside, and photographing is allowed only from designated spots.
14 Yoshiminedera Temple
A priest from Enryakuji, named Gesan, established Yoshiminedera as a personal retreat in 1029. In 1467 the temple was destroyed in the Onin War but was rebuilt in 1621. The temple’s main objects of worship are a Kannon statue carved by Gesan and a Kannon statue given to the temple by Emperor Gosuzaku in 1042.
15 Tenryuji Temple
Tenryu-ji Temple is the headline attraction in Arashiyama, a sprawling Zen temple with one of the finest gardens in Kyoto and wonderful mountain views.
Tenryuji was built in 1339 by the ruling shogun Ashikaga Takauji. Takauji dedicated the temple to Emperor Go-Daigo, who had just passed away. The two important historic figures used to be allies until Takauji turned against the emperor in a struggle for supremacy over Japan. By building the temple, Takauji intended to appease the former emperor’s spirits.