Kyoto is one of the most historical places in Asia that maintains an architectural continuity to its past. Streets of wooden buildings in the Gion District still remain largely intact to this day. However, Japan’s ancient past, traditions, and crafts can be encountered throughout the city. We’ll show you the most iconic Kyoto temples, castles, and shrines to visit. Some sites even have surrounding gardens that bloom in particular seasons. To help with your trip, here are the best historical sites to visit in Kyoto.

1. Fushimi Inari Shrine

It’s easy to understand why Fushimi Inari Shrine should top the list of historical places to visit in Kyoto. The original Inari gods of agriculture or rice harvesting have been attracting people here for over 1,300 years. Nowadays, business people come to pray for success and then leave their name cards as an offering. As one of Japan’s most iconic shrines, Fushimi Inari is quite different from other religious sites. Here, you venture through a tunnel-like maze of hundreds of tori gates and shrines in a forest setting. Fushimi Inari is also an Instagram and photographer’s paradise. There’s quite a bit of legwork involved which means it’s not as crowded as other locations. Tofukuji Temple, another top site, is just one station away.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 24/7
  • Entry: Free
  • Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882, Japan

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2. Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

Kinkaku-ji is one of the most recognizable historic buildings in Kyoto. The upper two floors are coated in pure gold leaf, however, you cannot go inside. Shoguns and priests used it for various purposes, but now it belongs to the Rinzai Zen sect. The best seasons to visit are autumn and winter, while summer can be really hot. During peak tourist periods, arrive as early as possible to avoid the big tour buses. They generally arrive after 10 am. As you explore the surrounding gardens, you’ll come across a woody park area. There’s a lovely tea house here so you can have a quick break. City buses No.102 and 104 loop between Kinkaku-ji and the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji), while other buses depart from the main stations.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 9am-5pm
  • Entry: 400 yen
  • Address: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361, Japan

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3. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera is Kyoto’s favorite temple and one historical place not to miss. In the surrounding streets and alleys, you can shop for various sweets, souvenirs, novelties, and crafts. Its 12-meter scaffolded wooden platform is pretty famous. Different vantage points give excellent views of Kyoto Tower and the downtown. Kiyomizu is loved for its autumn foliage, cherry blossoms, and boisterous atmosphere. You can also drink its pure spring water (kiyo-mizu) coming from Mount Otowa. Kyoto buses can get really crowded, so walking from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station can be a good option. It’s open until 6:30 in Summer and there are 4-night viewing periods throughout the year.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 6am-6pm
  • Entry: 400 yen
  • Address: 1 Chome-294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862, Japan

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4. Nijo Castle

There are many avid castle enthusiasts and feudal fans all over Japan. Nijo Castle is one of the best intact castles with other palace buildings and gardens on its grounds. It was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu after defeating Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the builder of Osaka Castle. This victory ended a long civil war in Japan ushering in an era of peace. At Nimura Palace, you can walk the squeaking ‘nightingale corridors’. There are English audio guides and some palace rooms have a separate fee. In spring, you can enjoy cherry blossoms or nighttime cherry blossom viewing – ‘yozakura’. Nijōjō-mae Station is nearby and various buses go directly there.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 8:45am-4pm
  • Entry: Castle only 800 yen; Castle plus Ninomaru Palace 1,300 yen
  • Address: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8301, Japan

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5. Kyoto Imperial Palace

The Kyoto Imperial Palace is a functioning palace for the Imperial Family. It also has a nearby State Guest House and ceremonial hall. The Taisho and Showa emperors were enthroned here, but now coronations happen in Tokyo. While you can walk around and view garden areas, you cannot enter any of the buildings. Tour reservations are no longer needed, although numbers are limited for entering the Sento Palace garden. The nearby State Guest House is 1,500 yen to enter when VIPs are not staying, so check before you go. Next door is the 65-hectare Kyoto Gyoen National Garden which is free. For more history in your day, the International Manga Museum and the Museum of Kyoto are also nearby.

  • Opening Hours: Oct-Feb 9am-4pm; Sep & Mar 9am-4:30pm; Apr-Aug 9am-5pm
  • Entry: Free
  • Address: 3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 602-0881, Japan

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6. Sanjusangendo Temple

Sanjusangendo is Kyoto’s longest wooden building measuring 120 meters. Inside you can see a legion of 1001 Buddhas in the form of Avalokitesvara, or the Goddess of Mercy. Only 124 of these are originals since a fire destroyed the rest in 1249. There are 28 fierce-looking protectors or guardians in the front row. The temple kept meticulous records of its archery contests and you can see arrow notches in some beams. Their lucky charms or ‘omamori’ contain sacred willow wood and are said to ward off headaches and migraines. Sanjusangendo is a short bus ride from JR Kyoto Station.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 8am-5pm
  • Entry: 600 yen
  • Address: 657 Sanjusangendomawari, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0941, Japan

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7. Tenryu-ji Temple

Tenryu-ji Temple is in the picturesque Kyoto suburb of Arashiyama. It’s part of Rinzai Zen sect and often ranks as the best Zen temple to visit in Kyoto. The temple burnt down numerous times and most surviving structures date from the late 1800s. It has one of the most delightful spring gardens in Kyoto, while the lake impresses more in summer and fall. The main hall has one of Kyoto’s famous ‘dragon ceilings’, painted in 1997. Its traditional vegetarian Zen restaurant is a Michelin ‘Bib Gourmand’ and prices are reasonable. A visit to Arashiyama, with its many fun attractions, can easily fill an entire day.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 8:30am-5pm
  • Entry: Garden only 500 yen; garden & main building 800 yen 
  • Address: Japan, 〒616-8385 Kyoto, Ukyo Ward, Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, 68

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8. Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion)

Ginkaku-ji is a Zen temple and one of the oldest historical places to visit in Kyoto. It’s in Higashiyama (or east Kyoto) and complements Kinkaku-ji in the west. This sacred power spot dates to the 1st century, but the Ginkaku-ji of today is from the Edo period. Its gravel garden with uniquely crafted cones is known as ‘Sea of Silver Sand’. A circular elevating route takes you through a moss garden with a stream overlooking a pond. Just minutes away, you can stroll the famous Philosopher’s Path or Tetsugaku-dori. This picturesque path ends near Nanzen-ji temple and takes 30 to 40 minutes.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 8:30am-5pm
  • Entry: 500 yen
  • Address: 2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8402, Japan

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9. Ryoan-ji Temple

Ryoanji processes the most beautiful Zen garden in Kyoto. The garden is a rectangular gravel yard with 15 rocks, some surrounded by patches of moss. From whatever angle you view the garden, one rock will always be out of view. The meaning enshrined in this garden may be nothing, or it may be the most profound experience of your Kyoto visit. Failing any revelations, there’s a beautiful pond garden and restaurant serving boiled tofu. There are other delights to discover and contemplate at Ryoanji Temple. Afterwards, stroll 15 minutes along to Ninna-ji— one of Nishiyama or West Kyoto’s great temples. The autumn leaves and cherry blossoms here are well worth it.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 8am-5pm
  • Entry: 500 yen
  • Address: 13 Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8001, Japan

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10. Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka-jinja is probably the most visited shrine in Kyoto. It’s next to spacious Maruyama Park which is popular for cherry blossoms. The shrine is over 1,300 years old and plays an important role in Kyoto’s Gion Festival. The main shrine worships a storm god to ward off evil and protect the city. Its sub-shrine, dedicated to three goddesses of beauty, sells water and talismans for good looks. The extended green area includes souvenir shops. and cafes. Nearby, you can also visit the stunning Shōren-in Garden. The best west way there is from Gion Shijo subway station. You can enjoy browsing the main Gion shopping street along the way.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 24/7
  • Entry: Free
  • Address: 625 Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0073, Japan

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11. Tofuku-ji Temple

Tofuku-ji is the most historical Zen temple in south Kyoto. It was built to emulate Nara’s Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji temples and has similar features. The temple was founded in 1236 and is most popular for its maple trees and gardens. The Abbot’s Quarters (Hōjō) boasts four gardens each designed to energetically align to the four directions. Its famous wooden bridge spans 100 meters across a valley of maple leaves. The Hōjō, Tsutenkyo Bridge, and Kaisando Hall are 400 yen to enter. Fushimi-inari shrine is two stations away, but people often combine Tofuku-ji with Kiyomizu in the fall.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 9am-4pm
  • Entry: Grounds are free; 1,000 yen to see everything
  • Address: 15 Chome-778 Honmachi, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0981, Japan

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12. Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple

Eikan-do is another popular temple along the Higashiyama ridge. Higashiyama’s creative or feminine energy is said to have inspired many poets, artists, and philosophers. Eikan-do is not a Zen temple but teaches Pure Land Buddhism. Its peculiar Amidha Buddha statue looking over its shoulder is famous in myth and legend. You can revel among the many red maples in fall and the tea room provides relief in winter or summer. Philosopher’s Path running south from Ginkakuji ends near here. From early November into December, you can enjoy Autumn leaves lit-up at night.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 9am-4pm
  • Entry: from 600 yen
  • Address: 48 Eikandocho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8445, Japan

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13. Nanzen-ji Temple

The Nanzen-ji area is popular for ‘garden hopping’, particularly in the fall. It’s free to wander around and there’s an old elevated stone aqueduct nearby. Its colossal gate is 22 meters high with a viewing platform. You pay a fee to see the various gardens, but Nanzen-in is the most popular. The wooden paneled dragon ceiling in the lecture hall can only be seen looking from outside. This lower end of Higashiyama can get crowded, and it’s also famous for tofu cafes and restaurants. Nanzen-ji is near Keage Station on the same line as Niijo Castle and the interchange to Tofuku-ji and Fushimi-inari.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 8:45am-5pm
  • Entry: Free; sub-temples 400 to 600 yen
  • Address: Nanzenji Fukuchicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8435, Japan

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14. Heian Shrine

The Heian Jingu is the grandest Shinto shrine in Kyoto. It’s not so old, dating to 1895, but was built to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto City. The gigantic tori red gate is as impressive as its broad and stately courtyard. Architecturally, it replicates the Heian Era when Kyoto became the imperial capital. You will notice Chinese influences of that era in phoenix, dragon, tiger, and snake-turtle motifs. The attached Shin’en Garden is a modern forerunner of incorporating Eastern and Western elements. It’s free to enter the shrine grounds, but the garden is 600 yen.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 6am-5pm
  • Entry: Free
  • Address: Okazaki Nishitennocho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8341, Japan

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15. Kennin-ji Temple

Kennin-ji originally incorporated the esoteric schools of Tendai and Shingon together with Zen Buddhism. It later became the first exclusively Zen temple in Kyoto. Kennin-ji is home to the original screen doors depicting the white and green thunder gods Fūjin and Raijin. A replica is on display, but the impressive twin dragon ceiling painting is a modern 2002 original. The inner courtyard garden is unique using circle, triangular, and square designs. Kennin-ji played a key role in Japanese tea culture and used to hold elaborate public tea ceremonies. It’s worthwhile exploring some of Gion’s backstreets near the temple too.

  • Opening Hours: Daily 10am-5pm
  • Entry: 600 yen
  • Address: Japan, 〒605-0811 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Komatsucho

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Kyoto Historical Places Map

Find More Places to See in Kyoto


What’s the best Kyoto historical place to visit at night?

Most sites will close around 6:30pm or 5:30pm in winter.

However, many temples have night illuminations for autumn leaves.

Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple is a good choice for this because there are no other bright lights around.

The event runs from November to early December from 17:30 to 20:30.

The usual entry fee applies.

For cherry blossoms in the spring, Nijo Castle is the best choice and there may also be a 3D image mapping experience.

It usually runs from March to mid-April from 6pm to 10pm.

Prices may vary according to the event, but expect to pay around 1,600 yen for adults and around half price for kids.

What’s the best Kyoto historical place to visit during summer?

Kyoto can be extremely hot in the summer.

For this reason, you may prefer a more shady location.

The best choice is Fushimi Inari Shrine because you can avoid the sun and enjoy walking among the trees.

For a lotus flower treat, go to Houkongou-in Temple, a small 12th-century temple near JR Hanazono Station.

What’s the best Kyoto historical place to visit during winter?

If you’re in Kyoto when it snows, make sure you get pictures of Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion.

Alternatively, Japanese onsens are a good choice since it’s so cold.

For this, head into north Kyoto from Demachiyanagi Station to the historic Kurama Temple or Kibune Shrine.

There are public hot springs in both these nearby locations and shuttle buses often stop by Kurama Station.

Kibune Shrine is also great for autumn foliage illumination.

What’s the best Kyoto historical place to visit during autumn?

This is a difficult question because there are many excellent locations to visit in Kyoto.

During the fall, most historic sites, especially temples, get very crowded.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Kofuku-ji are both good choices.

Kyoto Gyoen, or the Imperial Palace Park, is spacious enough to avoid the crowds, and it’s free.

What’s the best Kyoto historical place to visit during spring?

Spring is cherry blossom season in Japan.

Arashiyama’s Tenryu-ji Temple has a ‘wild’ garden with a stunning weeping cherry blossom tree.

There are also places along the river to enjoy cherry blossoms, and many are lit up in the evening.

Alternatively, Yoshimine-dera in Nishikyo has fewer visitors since it’s further out from Kyoto.

It has amazing cherry blossom trees, including a sakura valley, and Japan’s longest horizontal pine tree.


Kyoto Historical PlacesEntry
Fushimi Inari ShrineFree
Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)400 yen
Kiyomizu-dera Temple400 yen
Nijo Castlefrom 800 yen
Kyoto Imperial PalaceFree
Sanjusangendo Temple600 yen
Tenryu-ji Templefrom 500 yen
Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion)500 yen
Ryoan-ji Temple500 yen
Yasaka ShrineFree
Tofuku-ji Temple1,000 yen
Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Templefrom 600 yen
Nanzen-ji Temple400 to 600 yen
Heian ShrineFree
For all new cities, I go overboard on my itinerary, just to see every major attraction. Countries I've visited include New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Cambodia, Japan and Thailand. Mostly Asian countries. Next target - Europe!