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Kyoto Sightseeing Guide - Must-Visit Places In The Ancient Capital!

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Kyoto has so many amazing spots that it can be challenging to navigate through it all. This article includes a simple map of the ancient capital and divides sightseeing places and attractions by area, from Kinkakuji to Fushimi Inari. Read to learn how to effectively plan and navigate through Kyoto.

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Places to Visit in Kyoto


Photo by Pixta
Kyoto offers a variety of charming sightseeing spots such as Kinkakuji Temple and Kiyomizudera Temple that you’ll want to visit at least once during your stay.

Something you’ll want to keep in mind when visiting Kyoto is its geography. The city of Kyoto is divided into an easy to understand grid.

This is due to the fact that roads were created in a grid-like pattern with the Emperor of Japan’s residence, present-day Kyoto Imperial Palace, as its center when the city of Heian-kyo was built approximately 1200 years ago. The city’s current pattern has been inherited from this structure and is roughly divided in the same way.

In this article, we’ll introduce you to the important spots you can find in each respective district by dividing the city into east, west, south, and north to easily understand the city of Kyoto. Use this article to help you locate major sightseeing spots and hotels in the Kyoto area.

Kyoto by Area:


1. East Area: Kiyomizudera Temple, Ginkakuji Temple, Heian Shrine, and Gion
2. West Area: Kinkakuji Temple, Ryoanji Temple, Uzumasa, and Arashiyama
3. Central Kyoto: Kyoto Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle, and Nishiki Market
4. North Area: Shimogamo Shrine, Shugakuin Imperial Villa, and Kurama
5. South Area: Fushimi Inari Shrine, Daigoji Temple, and Uji

We recommend searching for Shinkansen tickets from Tokyo to Kyoto via Voyagin.

1. East Area: Kiyomizudera Temple, Ginkakuji Temple, Heian Shrine, and Gion


An alley in Gion. ©JTA/ ©JNTO

The part of eastern Kyoto City is called Higashiyama. Found in this area is Kiyomizudera Temple, a location that shouldn't be left out of your Kyoto sightseeing.

Other popular spots include Ginkakuji Temple, Heian Shrine, home to a beautiful garden, Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park, which is famous for its shidare zakura (weeping cherry trees) in the spring.

Gion, a historical part of Kyoto also known as geisha district frequented by maiko (apprentice geishas) and Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple, the Kenninji Temple are also located in this area.

2. West Area: Kinkakuji Temple, Ryoanji Temple, Uzumasa, and Arashiyama


Togetsukyo Bridge in Arashiyama

The western part of Kyoto is full of charm, too. For example, Kinkakuji Temple, a World Heritage Site famous for its Golden Pavilion covered in shimmering gold leaf, and Ryoanji Temple, famous for its Zen rock gardens, are located in this area.

Other places worth visiting in the west area are the nature-rich Arashiyama and Uzumasa. They are home to the Toei Kyoto Studio Park theme park which is modeled after an Edo period town. However, these two locations are best accessed by train as they are quite far away from central Kyoto.

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, which is constantly visited by exam-takers because it houses the God of Scholars, and Nishijin, the famous fabric district of Kyoto, is also part of the western part of the city.

3. Central Kyoto: Kyoto Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle, and Nishiki Market


Nishiki Market. © Y. Shimizu/© JNTO

Central Kyoto is filled with places that played vital roles in the history of Kyoto, such as the Kyoto Imperial Palace, where the Emperor of Japan once resided, and Nijo Castle, a castle that served as the stage for important moments in history.

We also recommend Pontocho, a narrow alley lined with restaurants and bars, for evening walks. You can also experience slightly different charms of Kyoto through the lively Nishiki Market, where you can get delicious snacks and souvenirs, and the Kyoto International Manga Museum, home to a collection of about 300,000 manga.

Kawaramachi, where you can find department stores and souvenir shops, is another area where you can enjoy shopping. Several lodging facilities such as hotels are also located in this area while Gion, which we previously introduced in the east area section, is within walking distance.

Kyoto Station Area

kyoto tower

Kyoto Tower. Photo by Pixta
Utilize the baggage storage services and coin lockers at JR Kyoto Station to store any luggage or souvenirs and fully enjoy your sightseeing. The bus terminals and taxi stands are found right outside the station. Most of the hotels are also found in this area, making it the most suitable place for the center of your sightseeing tour.

Higashi Hongwanji Temple and Nishi Hongwanji Temple will leave you breathless with their gigantic wooden architectures. Toji Temple is home to Japan’s tallest five-storied pagoda at 55 meters tall (180 feet). They are all within walking distance from Kyoto Station.

Those looking for shopping and a great view of Kyoto, head to Kyoto Tower, which contains a commercial and dining facility and 100-meter (328 feet) high observation deck.

4. North Area: Shimogamo Shrine, Shugakuin Imperial Villa, and Kurama


Kifune Shrine. ©JTA/ ©JNTO

Sightseeing spots in the northern part of Kyoto include the Shimogamo Shrine, a World Heritage Site and the Shugakuin Imperial Villa where you can enjoy the verdant and vast landscape. It is necessary to make a reservation beforehand to visit the Shugakuin Imperial Villa, so please apply for a visit through the official website.

Kurama and Kifune

Kurama and Kifune are approximately 30 minutes away by bus or train from central Kyoto. These areas are famous for Kuramadera Temple and Kifune Shrine. The road connecting Kurama to Kifune is called the “Tree Root Path” and consists of a unique landscape that stretches far with tree roots crawling over the earth’s surface.

You will be walking on hill and mountain roads when visiting this area, so we recommend to wear clothes and shoes that are easy to walk in.

5. South Area: Fushimi Inari Shrine, Daigoji Temple, and Uji


A tea plantation in Wazuka, Uji

South of Kyoto Station is Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for a stretch of approximately 10,000 red torii (shrine gates), and Daigoji Temple, which is known for its beautiful cherry blossoms.


Further south of the metropolitan area is Uji City. It takes approximately 20 minutes by train from Kyoto Station. A famous temple of this area is the Byodoin Temple. The sight of its Phoenix Hall reflected in the pond’s surface has a beauty that is beyond imagination.

Uji itself is an area mainly known for producing high-quality tea. It's a great place to enjoy matcha green tea and matcha sweets.

Enjoyable Sightseeing in Kyoto by Area

Kyoto is a city full of Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, and other historical attractions. However, be sure to set a schedulethat is not to tight and allows for the respective distances between each location.

For example, it is best to take a whole day to visit spots that are further away from central Kyoto, such as Uji and Arashiyama. By giving yourself two or three days for traveling, you also don't need to worry about limiting yourself to the main sightseeing spots like Kinkakuji Temple or Kiyomizudera Temple in central Kyoto.

Popular spots will be crowded and roads in Kyoto will often be congested so it might take time traveling from one place to another.

It’ll make sightseeing remarkably easier when you have an understanding of the Kyoto area beforehand. So why not make use of this article while traveling to Kyoto?

Main image by Pixta

Written by

MATCHA Editer.

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