Visiting Kyoto’s Top Attractions

After spending a week in Tokyo and three days in Osaka, we had three days to spend in Kyoto. I’ll admit I got a bit overwhelmed when planning what to do because there is SO MUCH to do in Kyoto. You could easily spend a week or two there and not run out of places to visit. Many of the sights are quite spread out as well, which means that we had to take buses and trains across town. In the end we were very happy with how much we managed to squeeze in; we saw everything that I was dying to see and we didn’t have to rush! To help you plan your trip, here are the top sights that I think you just have to see if you’re visiting Kyoto.

Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji)

kinkakuji kyoto golden pavilion
golden pavilion kinkakuji kyoto

The famous Golden Pavilion looks beautiful in photos and it’s even better in person. I could barely believe my eyes, it seemed almost unreal! Definitely worth visiting, despite being further away from the other sights and being very crowded during peak tourist season.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

bamboo arashiyama kyoto, japan

kyoto arashiyama bamboo grove

There’s something very tranquil and peaceful about walking through the bamboo forest, even when there is a crowd of tourists around you. If you’re going during peak season like we did I would suggest going early in the morning before the big groups get there. Make sure you also visit the beautiful gardens of Okochi-Sanso Villa and Tenryu-ji Temple while you’re in the neighbourhood.

Fushimi-Inari Taisha

kyoto_fushimi inari taisha kyoto torii
Fushimi-Inari Taisha
red torii gates japan

Probably one of the most iconic sights in Kyoto, the red torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine are a pleasure to walk through. Inari is the god of rice and the patron of business and merchants. Each gate is donated by a Japanese business and you’ll find many stone foxes here which are Inari’s messengers. If the path through the gates seems crowded, just make sure you keep walking after most of the tourists have moved on to their next selfie destination! It gets very peaceful after around 15mins of walking up steps, and you get to see a nice view of Kyoto as well.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple
kyoto kiyomizudera blossoms

kiyomizudera kyoto attractions
kiyomizudera temple kyoto attraction

This huge temple is one of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s a beautiful place to see cherry blossoms, autumn leaves, and sunsets over the city. In addition to the main wooden hall, you can explore a few other buildings, waterfalls and shrines on site. The temple even has its own stunning Instagram account which you should check out!

Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka

kyoto sannenzaka cherry blossom
kyoto cherry blossoms
kyoto attractions sannenzaka blog

These streets are so charming, they will make you fall in love with Kyoto. Lined with pretty old houses and nice little boutiques, it’s just a shame they are were crowded with tourists when we were there (like much of Kyoto during the cherry blossom season).

Gion District

geisha gion district kyoto
tea house gion kyoto blog

The Gion district is famous for its geishas; head to the southern end of Hanamikoji Dori street in the evening to soak up the charming atmosphere and you might just spot one! It’s also the perfect place for afternoon tea, Japanese style – we loved Gion Mitoko.

Shimbashi Street

kyoto shimbashi street cherry blossoms
japanese weddings
kyoto shimbashi street kimonos

According to Lonely Planet, this is probably the most beautiful street in Asia. When cherry trees are in full bloom it’s incredibly pretty. It’s also full of young couples taking wedding pictures and girls taking graduation pictures in kimonos, which makes it even more fun to walk up and down. It’s lovely at night as well – we had a wonderful dinner in one of the restaurants facing the canal (Kanikakuni).

Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku-no-Michi)

philosopher's path kyoto
path of philosophy kyoto
philosophers path cherry blossoms kyoto

I’m not sure what the Philosopher’s Path is like the rest of the year, but during cherry blossom season it is the most amazing, magical place. It’s really just a canal lined with cherry trees, but it’s spectacular when everything is in bloom. Make sure you stop for a cherry blossom flavoured ice cream!

Silver Pavilion (Gingaku-ji)
ginkaku-ji kyoto Silver Pavilion

Ginkakuji Kyoto Silver Pavilion

This Zen temple was modelled after the Golden Pavilion, and although it has never been silver most people know it as the Silver Pavilion. It’s surrounded by a peacefulΒ Japanese garden with ponds and moss-covered trees.

These are Kyoto's top attractions, from the bamboo grove to the most important temples and shrines.
Kyoto canalside houses
kyoto attractions

After spending just a few hours in Kyoto, I fell totally in love with the place. It felt like another world, filled with pink cherry blossoms, Japanese gardens and beautiful geishas. I honestly thought Tokyo would be my favourite place in Japan (if not the world!) but Kyoto stole my heart!

What’s your favourite thing about Kyoto?

53 Comments
  • Anna
    July 8, 2016

    Beautiful! I have seen photos of those places people-less. Do you have any idea how some of the bloggers may achieve that? πŸ˜‰ You posted some photos I have never seen before and inspired me to try even harder to plan a trip there. Thanks:-)
    http://www.postcardsfromtheworld.com

    • City Cookie
      July 8, 2016

      Me too! I think they must either go at less popular times of the year (not cherry blossom season) or go very early in the morning!
      I definitely recommend Kyoto, it is such a special place. πŸ™‚

  • Lance Kerwin
    July 14, 2016

    Beautiful photos! I have never been in Kyoto yet. Although overrated.. it’s still on my must-to-see list if going to there someday. I better start saving money for Japan. LOL:D

    • Thanks Lance! Why do you say it’s overrated? It exceeded my expectations! You should definitely go πŸ™‚

  • Marije
    July 15, 2016

    Wauw! Your photos and story makes me really want to go to Japan. It’s been on my list for a while but it’s so expensive!

    • Thanks Marije! It’s not as expensive as people tend to think actually, especially if you avoid the peak seasons. This was my favourite trip so far so it’s worth every penny!

  • Chantae
    July 15, 2016

    Could it get any more picture perfect?! the cherry blossoms are amazing! I’d love to stroll along Philosopher’s Path with some ice cream too πŸ™‚ Great visuals and write up

    • Thanks so much Chantae! It’s so easy to take pretty pictures when there are blossoms everywhere πŸ™‚

  • Jennifer Morrow
    July 15, 2016

    Beautiful temples! Are you able to go inside? I see tons of photos from the outside, but few (if any) inside. Are photos not allowed?

    • Some of the temples are closed, like the Golden and Silver Pavilions. We went inside the Imperial Palace and Tenryuji Temple but the interiors were quite bare. I guess the outside is what everyone photographs because it’s a bit more interesting!

  • Christina
    July 15, 2016

    Kyoto looks like a dream with the cherry blossoms in full bloom. I hope to visit Japan during this season so I can have the same experience.

    • It did sometimes feel like it was all a dream! I absolutely recommend it, although it is more busy and more expensive I think it’s worth going to see the blossoms (or the autumn leaves!).

  • I have always wanted to go to Japan. It is absolutely beautiful there. The ambiance looks so peaceful and serene.

    • Yes I loved the peaceful atmosphere you get in all of the Japanese parks and gardens. I want to go back!

  • Kat
    July 17, 2016

    Oooh. My boyfriend would love this post, he says he wants Japan to be our first out-of-town trip. We’re not city tourists, so we’ll probably visit Kyoto and then schedule it during fall. Cherry blossoms look beautiful but the crowd seems too much.

    • I’ve seen photos of the autumn leaves and it looks amazing! I’m sure you’ll love Kyoto. Make sure to visit Nara as well.

  • @KarenBurnsBooth
    July 17, 2016

    As always, there are some FABULOUS photos in this post, and I really NEED to try to visit Japan soon, I have never been!!! I used to live in Hong Kong and Singapore and I cannot believe that we never went to Japan. A GREAT post and with super images too, that brings it all to life!

    • Thank you so much Karen!! Your feedback means a lot! πŸ™‚
      I recommend Japan to everyone who asks about it. It’s an amazing country.

  • Vyjay Rao
    July 17, 2016

    Kyoto looks so charming and enchanting, loved your post and the beautiful pictures. I am particularly fascinated by the Bamboo grove and Shimbashi street.

  • mark and kate
    July 17, 2016

    Kyoto is so gorgeous. I’m surprised that you have managed to capture a photo of the geisha in the car. Didn’t know that there are still some of them there with complete makeup to boot. I’m charmed by the Bamboo Grove and would like to see cherry blossom trees there.

    • I could have taken a photo of her walking outside but it felt rude to shove my camera in her face! The first time I saw a geisha I was so amazed, it was like being in a movie or going back in time.

  • theglobeater
    July 17, 2016

    Kyoto is such a fascinating and peaceful city with a captivating history! I think through your photos you really captured its very essence. I would love to visit it during cherry blossom season, those beautiful pink blossoms give it an additional touch of magic. Plus the bamboo forest is a place that’s been on my travel bucket list for way too long! πŸ™‚

    • Thank you so much! I’m so glad you liked the photos. The cherry blossoms definitely help to make the city even more charming.

  • Blair Villanueva
    July 18, 2016

    Such a very stunning place, and its still in my bucket wish! I can’t wait to visit Kyoto, spend days to weeks, experience local life, and many festivals πŸ˜€

    • It really is stunning! I recommend Japan; it’s an amazing country and Kyoto is magical.

  • Travelerette
    July 18, 2016

    Your photos are so beautiful! I was also there during cherry blossom season and I had an amazing time! I’ve done all of these except for the Golden Pavilion. It just wasn’t near enough anything else that I was seeing. I am definitely going to check it out next time I’m in Kyoto.

    • Thank you! It’s wonderful, isn’t it? I’d love to visit again too. The Golden Pavilion is not the most convenient to get to but you can get a bus from the centre of town that takes you right there.

  • Kristine Li
    July 18, 2016

    You went in such a beautiful season! So gorgeous photos!

  • Inka
    July 18, 2016

    This is so beautiful, I was so transfixed by the Bamboo Forest. Then I scrolled down and saw the masses of Tourists. When is the peak season to explore this area? Because I am sure I want to miss it. Not a fan of massive crowds.

    • Peak season all over Japan is definitely when the cherry blossoms are out, around end of March – beginning of April. You could always visit attractions very early in the morning but I always find that difficult to do when I’m on holiday!

  • Subhadrika Sen
    July 18, 2016

    Aww this is so beautiful. P.S The photographs reminded me of Kung Fu Panda πŸ˜› I loved the bamboo forest . it looks enchanting almost out from a fairy tale.

  • Komang Ayu
    July 18, 2016

    I love to see your pictures. I was always interested in going to Japan. I saw a lot of beautiful Japan. I want to see tradition and cherry blossoms. Hehehehehehhehe … I hope in the near future could go there.

  • Rashmi&Chalukya
    July 18, 2016

    You have some of the wonderful and awe-inspiring captures of Kyoto especially the temples which tempt us to plan a trip to Kyoto soon. And the spring blossom has only added to the beauty of the place.

    • Thank you! The cherry blossoms made it particularly beautiful. I’d love to visit in the autumn when the leaves turn red and orange.

  • Miriam Sparkling
    July 18, 2016

    Funnily enough I’ve been seeing lots of posts about Kyoto recently, maybe it is a sign I should travel over there. The pictures you took are beyond amazing πŸ™‚

  • Liana
    July 19, 2016

    Everytime I spending time reading one of your post on Japan, I fall more and more in love with your blog and your photography skills. I mean, it’s kinda of magical, and you’re selling magic through your stories and your photos! I love the idea of going to Kyoto after reading this post, and maybe it’s a sign I should go. I was dreaming to go to Japan for years, and I’ve always been keen to be there for the Cherry blossoms season! The Golden Temple and the Kiyomizu-dera one are just SO INCREDIBLE! Thanks for sharing!

    • Ahh thank you so much Liana!! Your comment made my day. It means a lot!
      You should definitely go. Japan is the most amazing country I’ve ever been to!

      • Liana
        July 25, 2016

        YES; I have to! It’s my next destination after Australia! xx

  • Christine M Leger
    July 19, 2016

    I love Japanese architecture. I don’t think I will ever see it first hand – I’ll have to settle for the botanical gardens in Montreal lol. Amazing photos btw

    • Thanks Christine! You should try to make it over there one day – it’s such an amazing country.

  • Tamshuk Saha
    August 10, 2016

    Kyoto is so beautiful. The pictures you have captured are really really amazing. This place is so on my list for Japan

  • Hanh
    October 20, 2016

    Hi Anne-Sophie, can I ask how you go to Osaka from Kyoto? I’m just researching a few options including JR Kyoto Line, Tokaido Shinkansen or the subway. Thanks! x

    • Anne-Sophie ~ City Cookie
      October 22, 2016

      Hi Hanh, I think we just took the JR Kyoto Line. Shinkansen would be faster but we were not in a hurry and quite enjoyed spending time on Japanese trains! It’s a short ride anyway. x

      • Hanh
        October 24, 2016

        Thank you! x

  • Burcu Basar
    July 23, 2017

    Wonderful post and amazing photos. I especially love Arashiyama ones – which is probably my favourite place near Kyoto.

    • Thank you so much Burcu! Arashiyama was so charming. I loved visiting all the gardens and buying fresh strawberry mochi to eat by the river.

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