The city of Kyoto sits on the Japanese island of Honshu. Once the capital city of Japan, it’s famous for its many Buddhist temples, palaces, shrines, and traditional-looking Japanese houses. Here I’m going to talk you through the best temples in Kyoto that are dreamy photo spots for the Insta-loving traveller.
If you’re spending just one day in Kyoto, it is possible to see most of these temples and shrines. However, if you’d like to take your time to absorb the incredibly spiritual surrounds and the tranquil gardens they have to offer, try split your Kyoto temple tour into two days.
To make the most of your stay in Kyoto, be sure to visit some of the most spectacular temples and shrines. Here are a few that I have really enjoyed and would love to share the experience with you.
The Best Temples in Kyoto
Kyoto Buddhist Temples
The Buddhist temples in Kyoto are deeply spiritual destinations, attracting pilgrims from around the country. Many of these temples, also known as pavilions, have incredible architecture and beautiful gardens that make the visit a photo-worthy experience.
Kinkakuji Temple (The Golden Pavilion)
Located in North-West Kyoto, the Kinkakuji Temple rises out of the lake around it in golden splendor. Reflecting magnificent colors of the lake below.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Kyoto during the 4 or 5 days a year when it snows, the Golden Pavilion becomes a real sight to behold. With the magical touch of snow falling gently around the pavilion, you’ll never want to leave.
The Kinkakuji Temple is one of the more popular temples for very obvious reasons, so make sure you go during quiet times. The best time to go would be early on a Monday morning, just after it opens. Be sure to avoid public holidays, the pavilion tends to get a little crazy over these times and enjoying the beautiful view will become a lot more difficult.
The Nanzen-Ji Temple is located in the Northern Higashiyama region of Kyoto, this aptly named temple is about as ‘zen’ as you get. An impressive archway leads you into the temple which gives way to an expansive hall.
Wide pathways lead you through the zen garden which encourages quiet and contemplative meditation. Scattered around the garden you’ll find other, smaller temples that are all worth a bit of exploration.
About 150 meters up in the hills behind the Nanzen-ji Temple, you’ll find a gorgeous waterfall that most certainly lends itself to the spirituality of the area.
Located in the Southern Higashiyama area in Kyoto, the temple of Kiyomizu is a bustling hub of activity. While it can’t be considered one of the more ‘zen’ temples, it most certainly is worth the visit.
This temple is absolutely stunning. An impressive entrance way leads you to a stand where you can buy your ticket for entry. This temple is a lot more commercial than most of the others, but as a tourist, it’s a great idea to give some gimmicky-attractions a try too.
Be sure to visit the “stone that grants all wishes” on your way through the temple. It’s these kinds of sentiments that attract the masses to this specific temple. Another example of this is an attraction that is said to grant you a great love-life if you can complete a task correctly.
Although the outside of the temple is under construction until March 2020, it’s still well worth the visit and could make for an entertaining afternoon.
Just a 10-minute bus ride from Kyoto station, this temple is one of the most fascinating and definitely one you won’t want to miss.
So what makes this particular temple so fascinating? 1001 armed Kannon to be precise. These human-sized golden statues all have slightly different features. It is said that when visiting, you need to find the one that looks the most like you.
A shrine is a holy or sacred place that is dedicated to one specific deity. It’s a sign of respect for that deity and often becomes a place of worship for many who wish to show their gratitude.
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
This shrine is just the gateway to many more, further up the mountain. It is known for its many red torii gates, that are placed together to form a tunnel.
This particular shrine gained popularity after being featured in a movie called “Memoirs of a Geisha” and soon became the spot for photographers and Instagram-models alike to visit in Japan.
The Kifune shrine is located in the Sakyo area in Kyoto city. This shrine seems to be less visited by tourists, so if you’re trying to avoid the crowds during your trip to Kyoto, then this is a great escape.
The iconic stone steps that lead up to the main shrine are lined on either side by picturesque red lanterns, and make for a great photo opportunity.
The Kifune shrine can be visited all year round but winter makes for a particularly spectacular view.
Nestled in between picturesque cherry-blossom trees, this shrine is for nature lovers. The Heian Shrine is located in the Sakyo-ku region of Kyoto. This shrine is home to one of the biggest torii gates in Japan and is known for being a great wedding venue.
The best time of year to visit this shrine is in between the 1st and the 20th of April. This is when the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom, which is an absolutely magnificent sight.
Kyoto Temples and Shrines, Last Words
These are just a few of the best temples and shrines to visit in Kyoto. A one-day temple tour of Kyoto is definitely possible but these spiritually loaded areas sometimes call for a little more time and attention.
If you feel the need, take it slow and explore each and every crevice of these awe-inspiring structures. If you allow them to, they could be a life-changing experience. So be sure to make every minute count.