Kyoto, Japan's old capital, is a city rooted in traditions. Travelers love Kyoto for its ancient charm, and its atmosphere of a Japan from another era. Accurately nicknamed "the city of a thousand temples", Kyoto is a history lover's paradise, and a haven for those looking for a spiritual exploration. An unmissable destination for Japan lovers, Kyoto is a fascinating city. A place where Arashiyama Park will offer you a sublime natural escape, and on a stroll in the preserved neighborhood of Gion, you may stumble upon geisha, perpetuating a centuries-long Japanese tradition and art. Here are some key sights ! Find out more in our article dedicated to Kyoto.
Kiyomizu-dera (meaning “pure water temple”) is popular with visitors wanting to discover Kyoto's history. Built on a hillside in the eastern Higashiyama district, it offers fantastic views of Kyoto and is one of Japan’s most celebrated temples. It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.
Visiting Kiyomizu-dera is especially popular with tourists in the fall and spring. The reward after finding your way through the maze of narrow shopping streets of Gion and making the ascent up the hills of Higashiyama is the intense, red details of the Deva gate that provides a striking contrast with immaculate white walls.
The wonders don't stop after this first discovery, the western gate hides a three-storied pagoda spire made of forged metal. The first building, the hall Zuigu-do, is then on the left.
The main pavilion, or Hondo, stands on a wooden platform mounted on stilts at a height of two metres above the precipice.
The panoramic view encompasses the city of Kyoto, magnified by the height, the abundant vegetation in the area, it is especially beautiful in spring when the cherry trees blossom or in autumn, when the maple leaves glow red.
At the end of the main building is a great opportunity for lonely souls in search of true love. The Jishu shrine has two stones, around 20 metres apart. It’s said that if you can walk from stone to stone with your eyes closed, you’ll have luck finding your soulmate. If you do it guided by someone’s voice, you will also need help in your lovelife. Many young people often try desperately to complete this task!
The final stage of the Kiyomizu tour is the place where the temple earned its name. Otowa waterfall at the bottom of the stilted terrace appears after walking down a flight of stairs. It attracts a swarm of tourists visiting the temple, as its sacred water is reputed to have healing properties and good fortune. The waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. The water from each stream is said to have a different benefit: longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. While all sound great, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy.
Many visitors to the temple come more than once, as in the spring, August or in fall it is open in the evening and illuminated by multiple lights. These light-up events heighten the temples' mystical impression, and Kannon's aura is felt even more.
Kiyomizu-dera is reached from Kyoto Station in 15 minutes by bus number 206 (230 yen). Get off at Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop, then it’s a 10 minute walk up the hill to the temple.
Alternatively, it is a 20 minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on the Keihan Railway Line.
The temple is generally open from 06:00 to 18:00, entry is 400 yen.
Read more about Kiyomizu-dera here:
Kyoto’s Top Ten Temples and Shrines
Arashiyama is one of Kyoto’s most popular places to visit, with its instantly recognisable bamboo groves being synonymous with sights of Japan’s greenery. In Kameyama Koen, you have the chance to meet with the monkeys in this hilltop park just south of the Togetsukyo Bridge. It is located in the Arashiyama mountains, and only takes a ten-minute walk to reach the area where dozens of monkeys roam freely. You can also get a great view of the rest of the city from here.
Arashiyama has its fair share of to visit in the surrounding area, such as Tenryu-ji Temple with its picturesque garden and sprawling mountain views. Nison-in Temple is best known for its maple trees leading to the main halls, while Jojakko-ji Temple is known for being much more quaint, allowing you to escape the crowds for a moment of peace. Finally, Gio-ji Temple is one of the most scenic spots in Arashiyama complete with a traditional thatched-roof hall overlooking a moss-covered grotto.
As well as the temples, closer to Togetsukyo Bridge, the central landmark of the area, there are many small shops, restaurants and tea houses to visit. Popular choices include Hiranoya, an old teahouse-restaurant, Arashiyama Yoshimura, a riverside noodle restaurant and Unagi Hirokawa, an excellent Michelin-starred grilled eel restaurant.
It is particularly popular during early April and the second half of November, when the cherry blossom and fall colour seasons peak. During summer, traditional cormorant fishing is practised on the Hozu River for tourists to watch.
From Kyoto Station, you can take the JR Sagano/San-in Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station. From here it is a 10-minute walk. Alternatively you can take the Kyoto City Bus 28 to Arashiyama-Tenryuji-mae which takes half an hour.
Located in the Sakyo-ku area of Kyoto, Heian Jingu Shrine is one of the most famous Shinto shrines in all of Japan. Having been built in 1895, it is a reproduction of the Heian Palace built to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto’s former status as capital city.
Before entering the main shrine entrance, you will pass through Heian Jingu’s iconic red torii gate. Standing on either side of the gate, you will see two of Kyoto’s most notable art galleries: MoMAK and Kyocera Museum of Art. Once you enter Heian Jingu you will notice how wide and spacious the shrine grounds are with the open court covered with white pebbles.
Behind the main buildings you can visit the garden complete with ponds and buildings. The weeping cherry trees offer one of the best cherry blossom spots in Kyoto towards the end of cherry blossom season in mid-April.
Heian Juingu’s court also serves as site for the Jidai Festival each year on October 22, the anniversary of the founding of Kyoto. You can enjoy watching the parade of periodic costumes celebrating the various periods of Japanese history.
You can get to Heian Jingu by the Number 5 Kyoto City bus from Kyoto Station in 30 minutes, or you can take the subway via Karasuma Oike Station to Higashiyama Station (20 minutes, 260 yen), from where the shrine is a ten-minute walk.