If you can describe Kyoto in one word, it would be – timeless. The carefully preserved Japanese architecture dot the city and the architecture tells a story of a zen-like culture that is deeply ingrained in the every facet of people’s lives. At one point, Kyoto was the capital of feudal Japan. Even to this day, much of its former grandeur is carefully preserved in the numerous attractions and UNESCO world heritage sites that are scattered across the city. There is simply no way that you can see all the sites in a single day. For us, we were rather aggressive and knocked out as many temples/shrines as we could in two consecutive days. However, looking back at it, it was terrible idea. Not only did we not fully experience the beautiful city, but we ended up needing a foot massage and a bunch of sweaty t-shirts(from walking).
1. Fushimi-inari shrine 伏見稲荷大社
Address 〒612-0882 京都府京都市伏見区深草藪之内町６８
An absolutely picturesque shrine located in Fushimi-ku within the southern portion of Kyoto. The actual shrine sits as the centerpiece and is built into the hillside. Thousands of torii line the pathways that leads you up the mountain and towards the inner shrine. Frankly, any picture that you take here will end up looking like it came from a postcard. Not even an amateur photographer using a disposable camera can screw it up.
The endless torii gates are an impressive sight. Engraved in the back of each torii is the name of the sponsoring company/corporate entity(hey, the shrine needs to make money somewhere). Regardless, we didn’t get the feeling that the shrine was overly commercialized. It was just a magnificent sight to behold, especially the seemingly endless array of torii gates.
TripQue’s Take: While the shrine is impressive and the torii gates are magnificent, don’t wear shorts and bring lots of bug spray. We made the mistakes of wearing shorts in the humid weather and ended up being a buffet for local insects.
2. Tofuku-ji Temple
Address 778 Honmachi 15 Chome Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0981,Japan
Tofuku-ji is a Zen temple located on the southeast end of Kyoto. With the entire complex close to Fushi-inari shrine in southern Kyoto, Tofukuji made for a natural next stop since it conveniently sits on the same Nara Line(subway). The entire Tofuku-ji temple complex is comprised of numerous zen-influenced structures that have existed since the 13 century. With temples, priest living quarters and sprawling gardens, Tofuku-ki is a fantastic low key destination that is not often overrun by tourists.
TripQue’s Take: A less crowded and less popular temple that has some pretty nice gardens surrounding it. This is not a temple that most tourists will have heard of. Imagine how impressed(or not) people at your next happy hour will be when you name drop this bad boy.
3. Kiyomizu-dera temple (The Wooden Temple) 清水寺
Address 294 Kiyomizu 1 Chome, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0862, Japan
A recognized UNESCO World Heritage site, Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple that’s prominently featured and universally praised for it’s magnificent architecture. Built without the use of any nails, Kiyomizu-dera is a wooden structure built into the hillside and looks down upon the city of Kyoto. It is a must-see on any trip out to Kyoto. Just be prepared for the hordes of tourists and school children(even on weekdays).
TripQue’s Take: This place reminds me of Ra’s al ghul’s hideout from the Batman movie/comics. Kiyomizu is famous, so the temple will have tons of tourists, regardless of the time of week you go. Our favorite part of this temple was actually the street that leads up to the temple. Lots of small shops and local vendors selling food and “trinkets” dot the street and really adds to the entire experience.
4. Nijo Castle 条城
Address 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8301, Japan
Literally a castle. Nijo Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site(as is everything in Kyoto) that was once the residence of a Shogun and also used as the imperial palace before becoming a tourist attraction. The entire complex is absurd. With sprawling gardens and multiple living quarters, Nijo Castle is HUGE. Make sure you aren’t rocking flip flops as your feet are guaranteed to be tired.
TripQue’s Take: Apparently, this Nijo Castle doesn’t serve teppanyaki like the restaurant in my home town. However, it is a huge park that houses a castle that (honestly) look like all the other temples/castles in the area. The coolest feature of the castle is the “nightingale floorboards.” Essentially, the shogun who once lived in the castle feared that assassins would come in the middle of the night. He was able to engineer the floorboards of his estate to make a squeaking sound(similar to a nightingale) as people stepped across it.
5. Kinkaku-ji Temple 金閣寺 (The Golden Pavilion)
Address 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 603-8361, Japan
The famed Kinkaku-ji, otherwise known as the golden pavilion, is an enduring image that represents Kyoto. The temple was once a retirement villa for a shogun and the surrounding areas definitely remind everyone of that. Big lush gardens cover the entire complex with numerous ponds(filled with koi fishes) offer a tranquil setting for afternoon walks. The actual golden pavilion itself is an impressive site with the the top two floors covered in gold. It is a constant reminder of the power and enduring beauty that Kyoto holds.
TripQue’s Take: The English name is pretty accurate as to what you’ll see at this place. Both Kinaku-ji and Ryoan-ji are a pain to get to since they aren’t next to the subway lines. The fastest way is to hail a taxi, but be ready to pay for the convenience.
6. Ryoan-ji temple 龍安寺
Address 〒616-8001 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Ukyo Ward, Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, １３
Ryoanji temple is the site of one of Japan’s most recognizable and famous kare-sansui(Japanese rock garden). The rock garden was built sometime in the 15th century and the temple and the surrounding gardens are classified as an UNESCO world heritage site. The temple and the surroundings are absolutely serene. Remember that it is customary respectful to the zen like qualities of the temple and the tourists around you.
TripQue’s Take: In a nutshell, this temple has a badass rock garden that appears in every brochure about Kyoto. You realize you are paying money to look at rocks right? #justsaying