Kyoto is the cultural capital of Japan. It was the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years, from 794 to 1868. If you want to explore Japan’s past and immerse yourself in Japanese culture, it is a must visit.
Kyoto is home to numerous Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, imperial palaces and gardens. In total, there are over 1600 temples and shrines in the area. Choosing what to visit is daunting, so here are the top 10 temples and shrines to visit in Kyoto.
Nanzen-ji Temple. Located in the Northern Higashiyama district, it is a vast Zen paradise with lush green hills. The complex is surrounded by small subtemples, each of which is well worth a visit. Admission to the grounds is free, but for other parts, you have to pay an entrance fee.
Tofuku-ji Temple. Located in Southeast Kyoto, it boasts spacious grounds and one of Kyoto’s most famous maple leaf viewing spots. Admission to the grounds is free, but for other parts, you have to pay an entrance fee.
Honen-in Temple. Located in the Northern Higashiyama district, it is famous for its moss-covered gate. Inside, you will be greeted by two sand mounds that are said to purify visitors. Find here a stone bridge over a pond and then make you way through a moss-covered garden.
Ginkaku-ji Temple. Located in the Northern Higashiyama district, it is coined as The Silver Pavilion. When you visit, be sure to climb the trail at the back of the garden that leads to a fantastic viewpoint over the entire temple compound and the rest of the city.
Daitoku-ji Temple. Located in Northwest Kyoto, it is famous for its Zen garden and described as a world of temples. It is home to some works by the 13th-century Chinese artist-monk Mu Qi. The notable buildings in the complex are Sanmon (Mountain Gate), Butsuden (Buddha Hall), Dharma Hall, Bath House and Sutra Library.
Kinkaku-ji Temple. Located in Northwest of Kyoto, it is more famous with the name The Golden Temple. This temple is Kyoto’s most impressive sight, rising above in its reflecting pond.
Chion-in Temple. Located in the Southern Higashiyama district, it is also called the Vatican of Pure Land Buddhism. It is a vast temple and you’ll find here the fine image of Amida Buddha in the adjoining Amida-do Hall and the temple’s 70-ton bell.
Kennin-ji Temple. Located in the Southern Higashiyama district, it is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. With its spacious grounds, it is perfect for pleasant strolling. The highlights of your visit here will be the white karesansui (dry gravel “Zen” garden), and the two dragons painted on the roof of the adjoining Hodo Hall.
Manshu-in Temple. Located in the Northern Higashiyama district, it rewards the visitors with a fine garden, brilliant architecture and superb decorations. It boasts karesansu (dry gravel Zen) garden and the fusuma-e (sliding door paintings) by master Kano Eitoku.
Kurama-dera Temple. Located in Kurama and Kibune district, best to plan to visit for a half-day trip out of Kyoto. High on the shoulder of Mt. Kurama, be one with nature when you visit it. About 30 minutes travel from the city, reach it through the Eizan Densha Train, which leaves from Kyoto’s Demachiyanagi Station (the northern terminus of the Keihan Train Line). The trip itself is so exciting, from a crowded city to suburb, to forested hills and thatched-roof houses.