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Updated by Joanna James on Jun 23, 2019
Headline for Top 10 must-see attractions in Kyoto Japan – take in the beauty of this historic city
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Top 10 must-see attractions in Kyoto Japan – take in the beauty of this historic city

Kyoto is one of the largest cities in Japan, boasting cultural museums, ancient temples and shrines, and the home of the emperor. Here are the top 10 attractions in Kyoto you should see.


The Fushimi-Inari Shrine

One of the most famous shrines in all of Japan, the Fushimi-Inari Shrine is a must see for anyone passing through Kyoto. Dedicated to the goddess of rice farming, the shrine still sees merchants and rice farmers visiting today asking for prosperity. The highlight is the 4-kilometre long corridor of orange arches which take some 2hrs to view in its entirety.


Nijo Castle

Complete with towering stone walls and a moat, the Nijo Castle dates back to the early 16th century and houses several significant works of art. The castle complex is made up of several buildings each with major historical importance. Must see places include the numerous gates, noted for the detailed carvings, and the hall of the imperial emissary – which features exquisite interiors and finery.


The Golden Pavilion

A Zen Buddhist temple located alongside a scenic pond and landscaped gardens, the golden pavilion is one of the most picturesque sites in the city. Named after the gold leaf that covers the top 2 levels, it is believed to ward off bad vibes associated with death.


The Kyoto National Museum and Municipal Museum of Art

The national museum boasts a massive collection of historical artefacts and priceless artworks from across Japan. The Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art displays works by the famous Japanese artist Takeuchi Seihō, considered by many to be one of the country's leading artists of the 20th century.


Kiyomizu-dera Temple

A UNESCO world heritage site, the beautiful Kiyomizu Temple is situated on the Otowa Mountain, overlooking the city below. Founded in 790 AD, the temple is dedicated to the Buddhist goddess of Mercy whose statue stands tall in the temple. Highlights around the temple include the Main Hall which is built on tall pillars rising 30 metres, commonly used as a stage for temple ceremonies. The terrace offers up stunning Instagram worthy views over the city and the surrounding woodlands, especially during fall when the leaves change colour. Because of its close proximity to several tourist accommodations like Citadines Karasuma-Gojo Kyoto, for example, one of the many alternatives to hotels in Kyoto, visitors should try to head there early to enjoy the solitude.


The Geishas district

Gion is world famous for its geisha district and tea houses and is best explored on foot. A quirky combination of modern architecture and historical houses provide a unique experience of Japanese traditions and what happens when they mix with modern-day behaviour. From the elaborately dressed geishas to the tea ceremonies, you don't want to miss this.


The Kyoto Imperial Palace

The original palace was constructed in 794 AD but since then has been rebuilt several times after numerous disasters. Located in the heart of the city, the gardens are open to the public all year –round, except when occupied, but a guided tour is required to see inside. Check the palace website to view times and dates for tours.


Nishi Honganji Temple

A beautiful temple that stands out with its gold paintings, the Nishi Honganji Temple houses hundreds of important statues, some dating as far back as the 16th century. Check out the Chrysanthemum Room with its finely detailed paintings of delicate flowers in gold and white. Several parts of the temple are closed to the public so be sure to make arrangements in advance if you want your visit to include the closed-off areas.


Katsura Imperial Villa

Originally built for the brother of emperor Goyozei in 1624, the villa is now home to one of the most famous historic gardens in Japan. The garden was designed in such a way that visitors to the garden will always view things from the front. Smaller gardens are grouped with larger landscapes and stunning views of the mountainous backdrop.


The Byōdō-in Temple

The temple complex is made up of shrines, buildings and historic artworks. Each hall is filled with valuable artworks and intricate paintings. Visitors should take their time strolling through the temple before heading out into the beautiful gardens.

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