Kyoto is packed full of amazing temples, some that date back as far as the thirteenth century. Although they are dotted around the whole of Kyoto, they are a few complexes and areas that house more than one meaning you can see as many as possible. This guide is set up by length of time, meaning you can get the most out of your trip. Here is my Kyoto temples guide…
A full day of Kyoto temples in Northern Higashiyama
This isn’t a best of the best day guide but an alternative guide to seeing some of the best sights Kyoto has to offer. I absolutely loved the Nanzen-ji Temple complex, so much Japanese heritage in one place.
Take the subway to Keage and exit the station to the main road. Keage Incline is directly above you so find your way up and take a look at the stunning cherry blossom (or view if not in season), a spectacular sight.
If you climb a little further you will find Keagesosui Park, the perfect place for a picnic. When ready cross the bridge over the fast flowing water of the power station and follow the path (it will seem like it is going nowhere) to find the Hydrophobic line.
This lovely walk will lead you to the Nanzenji Shōrō above you and the very peaceful Nanzen-in Temple at the bottom of the hill. The Nanzen-in is one of many temples before you enter the main complex, it’s well worth the entry fee. We had the whole place to ourselves, incredibly peaceful and a lovely light.
Walk through the Suiro Kaku Viaduct to find a whole complex of temples. You could look around this area for hours, there are lots of temples to see and picturesque places to sit. The whole complex has a very serene feeling. I can imagine it is just as beautiful in autumn as it was in spring.
Nanzen-ji Temple complex is stunning. The centre wooden temple is beautiful and boasts fantastic views of the area. It’s a steep climb up wooden stairs but so worth it. You could wander around the complex for hours, the architecture is amazing.
We exited the temple complex and followed the map to the Philosophers Walk. There are other temples en route but we chose to keep going. Our destination Ginkakuji. We did find a great little stall selling Tomi Sujahta silk ice cream along the road before the Philosophers Walk, look out for it on the left. The peach is delicious.
Ginkakuji or The Silver Pavilion is a former retreat turned temple. It had been intended to be covered in Silver leaf but was never completed. A lovely setting with a stone garden and beautiful plants. The stones are said to resemble Mount Fuji, but this could just be a story for the tourists! Go just after opening or just before it closes, It can get very congested.
We started at Ryōan-ji as it opened at 8am and can get very busy. If you do not want your zen state disturbing by the masses I recommend getting there this early. We stayed around 45 mins and by the time we were leaving it was getting full and loud. A wonderful place to sit and reflect. The lake and gardens around the central temple are also worth a wander around. We really loved how quiet it was.
We walked to Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) seeing the local area and spotting places to get breakfast later on. The pavilion is stunning and the refection is beautiful but it is definitely not zen. Even at 9.15 (it opened at 9) it was busy and noisy, so be prepared for it. It was worth the hustle and bustle though. The pavilion is wonderful and the lake and gardens make it.
We left promptly to find good coffee and breakfast. We found Cafe Banimatar, great coffee and food, in a lovely place with a great guy serving. Just what we wanted. I’d highly recommend if you’re in need of refreshment.
We actually went back to pack at this point, but if you are game for more sightseeing Myōshin-ji is highly recommended.
Start at the Yasaka Shrine and wander through Maruyama Park to the Gion Weeping Cherry Tree. This is another great place for a picnic, bring your bento boxes.
Exit the park towards Daiunin Temple and Walk around the Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka areas, spotting people dressed as Giesha. There is an excellent tourist information and loo near the Hokanji Temple for directions and maps. I can also highly recommend the coffee at Rocca & Friends Truck. It’s just past the temple on a side street, you’ll see the a board.
There is a huge complex of temples, Ryozen Kannon being one of them. I’d recommend getting there early as they close by 5pm. Ryozen Kannon centres around a huge stone figure and is set in lovely woodland, the view is also pretty spectacular.
Sunset at Kiyomizu-Dera Temple was the highlight of my entire trip. It was the most spectacular sight, the orange temples and setting sun was just perfect. I can’t put into words how much I loved it so I’ll just show you the pictures instead.
Once the sun has disappeared head back through the streets of Gion, stopping for food and refreshments. The traditional restaurants are a little intimidating for those with little language skills, but could be organised ahead of time via your hotel or the internet.
We found a great little place, just off Shijo Street, serving Tempura and Kyoto IPA – heaven.
So there you have it my guides to Kyoto temples. It’s not all the famous ones, but in my opinion some of the best. You can also combine these guides and use them as a two-day itinerary.
Are there any you have been to that you’d recommend? If you want any more info contact me via the links or leave a comment.
I hope you love Kyoto as much as I did!