Most Beautiful Temples in Kyoto to Add to Your Itinerary

When I first visited Japan, Kyoto was by far the location I was the most excited about.

And while it can be a bit crowded at times (fame comes at a price) and more expensive than other parts of the country, its old architecture, cultural richness, and historical significance make it well worth the visit.

As the former capital of Japan, Kyoto is home to numerous Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, palaces, and gardens, many of which have been declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. For me, it was the embodiment of the Japan that I wanted to see the most. The old Japan.

Now, that I hopefully convinced you to add Kyoto to your itinerary, let’s see what are some of the most beautiful temples and shrines (in no particular order) that you shouldn’t miss while in the city.

Can’t read the post right now?! Pin it for later!

Best temples in Kyoto Japan

To visit all of them you’ll need about 2-3 full days in Kyoto, depending on what else you want to see. But plan your itinerary carefully, because most temples tend to close fairly early in the afternoon.

If you are short on time, however, and you have to choose only three, I’d suggest prioritizing Fushimi Inari Taisha (my absolute favorite!), Ginkakuji (it has a beautiful Japanese garden) and Kinkakuji (the famous temple with the golden pavilion).

Kodai-ji, Kyoto
Kodai-ji Rock Garden in spring

01. Kodai-ji temple

Conveniently located in Kyoto’s historic district, Higashiyama, Kodai-ji is a Zen temple founded in the memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, by its wife, Nene, which is also enshrined here. And I have to admit, it was probably my favorite temple of the new ones I visited on my second trip to Japan.

The temple is quite big: its main hall (which you can enter) is surrounded by 2 different types of gardens. One is a Zen rock garden (pictured above) and the other is a tsukiyama-style garden (Japanese garden with artificial hills) with a pond, decorative rocks, and many pines and maples.

So if you visit Kyoto in the fall, you shouldn’t miss visiting Kodai-ji because those maples give quite a show as they dress in bright red and orange shades for the season. It’s also worth mentioning that the gardens are illuminated during special events in both spring and fall.

Kodai-ji also features a small bamboo grove, so it can be a nice substitute if you don’t have the time to visit Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.

To visit you’ll have to pay 600 Yen (or 900 yen if you also want to see Entokuin – a sub-temple with two additional Zen gardens). For an additional 500 yen, you can have matcha and a mochi sweet in a resting area with a nice view.

Also, the main temple is open every day from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM, the last entry being at 4:50 PM.

kyoto view from kyomizu-dera temple
Kyoto view from Kyomizu-dera temple

02. Kyomizu-dera temple

I’d say Kyomizu-dera is up there with Golden and Silver Pavilions and Fushimi Inari Taisha in terms of popularity (though personally, I’d have to admit I liked the others more). So expect to encounter bigger crowds than at other temples in Kyoto.

A UNESCO Heritage Site, the temple is most famous for its wooden platform which extends out of the main hall, 13 meters above a hillside. In spring you can admire a sea of cherry trees in bloom from there, while in fall you can see numerous maples showcasing their bright colors.

I visited in spring myself, but sadly the weather was a bit too cold that year so there weren’t many cherry trees flowering in Kyoto (I had better luck in Tokyo in this regard).

The temple is usually open every day from 6 AM to 6 PM (there are some slight changes to the opening hours in summer and during the illumination events when it stays open for longer) and the admission fee is 500 yen.

Yasaka Shrine Kyoto
Shinto Shrine at Yasaka

03. Yasaka Shrine

Now I’ll admit, Yasaka Shrine (also called Gion Temple) is not the most beautiful temple on this list, but it’s so centrally located that you’ll likely stumble upon it anyway.

Besides, admission is free and it’s always open so there’s really no reason not to stop for at least a few minutes.

Tenryuji temple zen rock garden
Zen rock garden at Tenryu-ji temple

04. Tenryu-ji temple

Tenryu-ji is the most important temple in the Arashiyama region. Its Japanese garden features a large central pond with Koi fish, surrounded by rocks, and a Zen gravel area.

As it’s located in the Arashiyama bamboo forest, it’s very easy to visit the two together and the entrance fee is 500 yen (but for 300 yen more you can also enter the buildings).

You should also know that the temple is open every day between 8:30 AM and 5 PM, though the last entry is at 4:50 PM.

Kinkaku-ji Kyoto, Japan
The Golden Pavilion

05. Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

Kinkaku-ji is probably one of the most iconic temples and landmarks in Kyoto and probably even Japan. For this reason, you should expect to encounter bigger crowds here than at some of the other temples in Kyoto.

However, since the grounds are quite vast and you’ll enter from one side and exit through another (so there’s no backtracking) it didn’t feel hectic on either of my visits.

Officially called Rokuon-ji, the temple used to be the retirement villa of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and it received its nickname because of the gold foil that covers its first two floors.

Unfortunately, you can’t enter any of the buildings or get close to the golden pavilion itself, but the grounds are beautifully landscaped so it’s definitely worth visiting.

The entrance fee to Kinkaku-ji is 500 yen and the temple is open everyday from 9 AM to 5 PM.

Heian Shrine

06. Heian Shrine

Heian Shrine is one of the newer temples in Kyoto, but one that I enjoyed visiting a lot.

It has a big central court surrounded by buildings pained in the iconic vermilion color of Shinto Shrines, which leaves quite a striking impression in my opinion. What’s more, the main buildings are an approximate replica of Kyoto’s Imperial Palace from the Heian Period.

The temple is also a good spot for Hanami in spring as it has several weeping cherry trees. It is free to visit (except for the garden which costs 600 yen and closes half an hour earlier) and is open every day according to the below schedule:

  • 6:00 AM – 5:30 PM: from the 15th of February until the 14th of March and also in October
  • 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM: from the 15th of March to September
  • 6:00 AM – 5:00 PM: from November until the 14th of February
Fushimi Inari Taisha

07. Fushimi Inari-Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha is hands down my favorite temple I visited in Japan. I loved it so much that on my first trip to the country, I went to it twice in a span of just two days.

An important Shinto Shrine dedicated to Inari, the God of rice, the temple is most famous for its numerous torii gates (in the thousands) that are scattered across the sacred Inari Mountain (only 233 meters in height).

Although you could easily spend several hours exploring the various paths that connect the temple’s shines and buildings, my suggestion is to hike up until you reach the Yotsutsuji intersection, which is approximately halfway up the mountain.

From there you can enjoy a nice panorama of Kyoto, but beyond this point, the torii gates become less frequent and the scenery does not offer much additional variation.

Fushimi Inari Taisha after dark
The main gate of Fushimi Inari Taisha after dark

Fushimi Inari Taisha is free to visit and always open, a huge plus when most of Kyoto’s other temples close around 5 PM.

If you can, I recommend visiting after sunset as well: it looks quite different when illuminated and without all the crowds (Fushimi Inari Taisha has the same level of popularity with visitors as Kyomizu-dera and Kinkaku-ji).

Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) in Kyoto
Behind me is the Silver Pavilion

08. Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)

Modeled after the Golden Pavilion, but much more modest in appearance, Ginkaku-ji used to be the retirement villa of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the grandson of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.

Even though it was never covered in silver, it’s been nicknamed the Silver Pavilion most likely in contrast with Kinkaku-ji.

Nowadays a temple, Ginkaku-ji has a beautiful and expansive garden from which you can admire the pavilion, which sadly, but understandably is not opened to the public.

It was probably my favorite temple garden and I loved that it’s on a slope as you get to admire everything from different angles and heights. Also, due to the dense vegetation and winding paths, it doesn’t feel as busy as other popular temples.

Ginkaku-ji is open every day according to the following schedule and the admission fee is 500 yen:

  • 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM: March – November
  • 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM: December – February
Sanmon Gate at Nanzen-ji Temple
Sanmon Gate at Nanzen-ji Temple

09. Nanzenji Temple

As one of the most important Zen temples in Japan, Nanzen-ji is quite vast and includes several subtemples. While the grounds of the main temple are free to visit, you’ll need to pay an admission fee to enter different buildings or visit some of the subtemples.

Here are the ticket prices and the opening hours for each that is open to public:

Sanmon Gate

  • Open from 8:40 AM until 5:00 PM (4:30 PM from December to February)
  • Closed on December 28 to 31
  • The admission fee is 600 yen

Hojo (Main Hall)

  • Open from 8:40 AM until 5:00 PM (4:30 PM from December to February)
  • Closed on December 28 to 31
  • The admission fee is 600 yen

Nanzenin

  • Open from 8:40 AM until 5:00 PM (4:30 PM from December to February)
  • Closed on December 28 to 31
  • The admission fee is 400 yen

Konchi-in Temple

  • Open every day from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM (4:30 PM from December to February)
  • The admission fee is 400 yen

Tenjuan Temple

  • Open every day from 9:00 AM until 4:45 PM (4:30 PM from November 15 to February)
  • Extended opening hours during the autumn illumination events
  • The admission fee is 500 yen (or 600 yen during the illumination events)

If I had to pick only one paid location to visit, I’d probably go with Tenjuan Temple because of its rock and pond gardens which are especially beautiful in fall.

Higashi Hongan-ji Temple in Kyoto

10. Higashi Hongan-ji

Higashi Hongan-ji is a large temple complex in central Kyoto. The buildings and central court are quite impressive in size and I loved their architectural elegance.

The temple is free to visit and it’s open every day from 5:50 AM to 5:30 PM (March to October) or 6:20 AM to 4:30 PM (November to February).

In walking distance to the temple, you’ll find Shoseien Garden, a beautiful pond garden that you can visit (it’s a great spot for experiencing the Colors of the Fall in Kyoto), another temple called Nishi Honganji, and Kyoto Tower.


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top