(Last Updated On: October 31, 2020)

The best temples and shrines to visit in Kyoto are spread out amongst the forested hills that surround the city. The former Japanese capital still has all of its old-world charm, but it is possible to get a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of shrines and temples in the area. I’ve pulled together this guide, featuring inputs from other Kyoto-loving travel bloggers, to help you decide which of the many religious sites in the area should make it onto your list.

The best temples and shrines to visit in kyoto

The main building at Kiyomizu-dera is made entirely of wood, without using any nails.  There’s a large balcony giving great views out over Kyoto, and cherry blossoms and maple trees in the right season. You should be aware that the main hall is covered for renovation until 2020.  However, this won’t stop you visiting and you’re still able to go out on the main balcony.  

– Emily from Kids and Compass
Check out Kids and Compass’ Blog here!

Otagi Nenbutsu

If you love quirky and cute, you will love visiting this little-known temple on the outskirts of Kyoto. At first, when you enter there is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s green, peaceful, and well-groomed just like any other temple, but this one is special. walk a little up the path and you will begin to notice small stone statues. These statues are called “rakan,” and it is said that you can find yourself in the visage of a rakan. Each rakan has its own face and personality. It might be holding a cell phone or a cat. You truly can find yourself there, and oh how fun it is. If you or anyone in your group is tired of temple tromping, you will definitely still want to see this one. It’s everyone’s favourite!

The best temples and shrines to visit in kyoto

– Corinne from Reflections Enroute
Check out her guide to visiting Otagi Nenbutsu here!

Kodai-ji

Kodai-ji Temple was founded in 1605, and it is one of the most beautiful temples in the Southern Higashiyama area. Kodai-ji is not very touristy, yet the temple has such a peaceful garden with a little bamboo grove which is reminiscent of Arashiyama.  Also, there is a little museum, which has paintings of Buddha Nirvana (Nehan-zu) at Rishodo hall.  The walls in the hall are covered in paintings of Buddha Nirvana, and the atmosphere is peaceful.

The best temples and shrines to visit in kyoto

 

 

Normally, last entry to the temple is 5:00 pm. However, during special periods the temple and its environment is illuminated during the night, and the temple reopens from sunset to 9:30 pm.  In spring, the cherry blossoms are illuminated as well, while in the autumn the trees around the pond of the temple are illuminated.  I highly recommend you experience the entrancing night view. Kodai-ji Temple is located right next to Ninenzaka Street. The area is nice to just stroll around and have a feel of the place. There are also plenty of restaurants and tea houses to refresh yourself at as you explore. 

– Yuki from Finding Yoki
Check out the Finding Yoki blog here!

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The Best Temples and Shrines To Visit in Kyoto - Emma Jane Explores
The Best Temples and Shrines To Visit in Kyoto - Emma Jane Explores

3 Comments

  1. Kay

    I can’t wait to go back to Japan! I didn’t have time to see Kyoto last time, but now I neeed to go just for these shrines!!

    Reply
  2. the Curious Pixie

    Such a handy and concise guide. Love to visit Japan!

    Reply
  3. Emma Jane Explores

    Thanks for having me as part of your collab post – so many great Kyoto tips here!

    Reply

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 The Best Temples And Shrines to Visit in Kyoto

Inari is the Shinto God of rice. There are a number of statues of foxes along the trail up Mount Inari; foxes are believed to be the messenger of Inari. This Shrine gets very busy with tourists and it popular with Japanese tourists as well. I suggest you get there early, we arrived at 8.30am and commenced the climb and got some wonderful photos without other people in them.

Our Three Kids vs The World
Read their post on how to spend a day in Kyoto with kids here!

Saihoji Moss Temple

visit to Saihoji moss temple (also called Kokedera) starts with a ritual activity in the temple.  This might be Buddhist chanting or might involve copying the heart sutra in ink.  I loved practicing Japanese calligraphy by copying the Japanese kanji characters.  The visit then continues into the garden, where about 200 varieties of moss form a golden carpet around a heart-shaped lake.   Stroll slowly through the winding paths under trees that throw mottled light onto the lake and the tiny islands that help make the shape of the Japanese kanji character for ‘heart’.  Traditional teahouses poke out from the trees, helping create a magical landscape.  A second ‘dry’ garden forms the more traditional Japanese garden of raked sand and rocks.  This is a quiet, meditative experience.  

The Best Temples and Shrines to Visit in Kyoto

 

 

 Visiting Saiho-ji requires an appointment – send a return-addressed postcard to the temple at least a month before you plan to visit.  If you don’t live in Japan, the easiest way to do this is to ask your hotel to arrange this for you.

– James Ian from Travel Collecting
Read all about his visit to the Saihoji Moss Temple here!

Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji is one of most popular attractions in Kyoto, and for good reason. Also known as the ‘Golden Pavilion’, Kinkaku-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple covered in gold leaf which serenely reflects across a pond. You can’t go inside the temple, but you can walk around the pond for different perspectives of the temple and through the ground’s lovely Zen garden.

I couldn’t quite decide whether Kinkaku-ji was a peaceful site for inward reflection, or an entirely extravagent use of resources. Regardless of your view, the Golden Pavillion certainly has an interesting history. The original building dates back to the 14th century, and was burned down in 1950 by a troubled novice monk who then attempted to commit suicide. The current temple was rebuilt in 1955.

The best temples and shrines to visit in kyoto

 

 

 Kinkaku-ji attracts hordes of tourists. Try to avoid the crowds by visiting shortly after opening or before closing on a weekday (open daily 9am-5pm, Y400 entry). Kinkaku-Ji is in north west Kyoto, roughly 8km from the city. It’s outside the main temple area (Higashiyama) and is most easily reached by bus, as part of a tour or on a bike if you’re more active.

– Claire from The Adventurous Flashpacker
Check out her guide on Things to Do in Kyoto here!

Chion-In

Chion-in is the head temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism in Kyoto’s Higashiyama District, north of Maruyama Park.  Temple grounds are always open and entrance is free.  This is a great temple to spend a few hours exploring.  On a February morning, we had quite a few areas of the grounds to ourselves or only had to share it with a few other people.  

The best temples and shrines to visit in kyoto

 

 

However, this is still one of the most popular temples in Kyoto, for good reason.  You’re greeted by the San-mon gate, the widest wooden gate in Japan, at the top of 50 steps.  The main building is still home to quite a few religious ceremonies.  While it may not be as colorful in February, a visit during the summer months will have the grounds full of lush green vegetation adding to the beauty of the temple and grounds.  No matter when you visit Kyoto, this is a must see temple.

– Megan from Red Around The World
Check out her guide to Temples, Tacos and Japanese Beef here!

Kiyomizu-Dera

Kiyomizu-dera is one of Kyoto’s biggest and best temples.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you absolutely must visit it if you’re in Kyoto.  Getting to Kiyomizu-dera is part of the fun.  Walk through the streets of Gion, one of Kyoto’s most historic and interesting areas.  The streets are packed with shops and street food stalls, and of course, tourists.  

Once you arrive there is more to do here than at the typical temple.  You’ll find pagodas and separate temple buildings, all very pretty and interesting to look around.  There is also a small Shinto shrine here, dedicated to the god of love.  You’re supposed to close your eyes and try to find your way between two special stones, placed almost 20 metres apart.  If you can do this then you’ll find your perfect match! 

The best temples and shrines to visit in kyoto

The main building at Kiyomizu-dera is made entirely of wood, without using any nails.  There’s a large balcony giving great views out over Kyoto, and cherry blossoms and maple trees in the right season. You should be aware that the main hall is covered for renovation until 2020.  However, this won’t stop you visiting and you’re still able to go out on the main balcony.  

– Emily from Kids and Compass
Check out Kids and Compass’ Blog here!

Otagi Nenbutsu

If you love quirky and cute, you will love visiting this little-known temple on the outskirts of Kyoto. At first, when you enter there is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s green, peaceful, and well-groomed just like any other temple, but this one is special. walk a little up the path and you will begin to notice small stone statues. These statues are called “rakan,” and it is said that you can find yourself in the visage of a rakan. Each rakan has its own face and personality. It might be holding a cell phone or a cat. You truly can find yourself there, and oh how fun it is. If you or anyone in your group is tired of temple tromping, you will definitely still want to see this one. It’s everyone’s favourite!

The best temples and shrines to visit in kyoto

– Corinne from Reflections Enroute
Check out her guide to visiting Otagi Nenbutsu here!

Kodai-ji

Kodai-ji Temple was founded in 1605, and it is one of the most beautiful temples in the Southern Higashiyama area. Kodai-ji is not very touristy, yet the temple has such a peaceful garden with a little bamboo grove which is reminiscent of Arashiyama.  Also, there is a little museum, which has paintings of Buddha Nirvana (Nehan-zu) at Rishodo hall.  The walls in the hall are covered in paintings of Buddha Nirvana, and the atmosphere is peaceful.

The best temples and shrines to visit in kyoto

 

 

Normally, last entry to the temple is 5:00 pm. However, during special periods the temple and its environment is illuminated during the night, and the temple reopens from sunset to 9:30 pm.  In spring, the cherry blossoms are illuminated as well, while in the autumn the trees around the pond of the temple are illuminated.  I highly recommend you experience the entrancing night view. Kodai-ji Temple is located right next to Ninenzaka Street. The area is nice to just stroll around and have a feel of the place. There are also plenty of restaurants and tea houses to refresh yourself at as you explore. 

– Yuki from Finding Yoki
Check out the Finding Yoki blog here!

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Like this post? Pin to save it for later!

The Best Temples and Shrines To Visit in Kyoto - Emma Jane Explores
The Best Temples and Shrines To Visit in Kyoto - Emma Jane Explores

3 Comments

  1. Kay

    I can’t wait to go back to Japan! I didn’t have time to see Kyoto last time, but now I neeed to go just for these shrines!!

    Reply
  2. the Curious Pixie

    Such a handy and concise guide. Love to visit Japan!

    Reply
  3. Emma Jane Explores

    Thanks for having me as part of your collab post – so many great Kyoto tips here!

    Reply

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 The Best Temples and Shrines to Visit in Kyoto

Tenryu-Ji

In the Arashiyama district of Kyoto, Tenryu-ji is the centrepiece of the town with it’s gorgeous scenic garden and pond made even more beautiful with the woodland hills stretching up behind it. Walking the grounds of this stunning Zen temple certainly invokes a feeling of peace and contentment, even in the most cynical among us. It’s also part of the UNESCO World Heritage listing under the ‘Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto’. In the spring, cherry blossoms adorn the garden and in my favourite season, Autumn, the fire-red Japanese maple leaves provide some incredible colour to the peaceful garden.

The Best Temples and Shrines to Visit in Kyoto

To get to the Arashiyama area from downtown Kyoto, I recommend getting the Randen trains. You can grab a day pass and spend a day exploring the area as well as heading over to see the famed Kinkaku-ji in the afternoon. Entry into Tenryu-ji is 800 JPY for entry into the temple and gardens.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Shrine was definitely my favourite Shrine in Kyoto. This Shinto Shrine sits at the base of a Mount Inari and seems to have an endless number of Torii Gates leading you up the 233m high mountain. Many people wont make it to the top; I made it within a couple of hundred metres, but ran out of time as we had a tight schedule. There is an amazing look out point about three quarters of the way up and gives you an amazing view over Kyoto. 

 The Best Temples And Shrines to Visit in Kyoto

Inari is the Shinto God of rice. There are a number of statues of foxes along the trail up Mount Inari; foxes are believed to be the messenger of Inari. This Shrine gets very busy with tourists and it popular with Japanese tourists as well. I suggest you get there early, we arrived at 8.30am and commenced the climb and got some wonderful photos without other people in them.

Our Three Kids vs The World
Read their post on how to spend a day in Kyoto with kids here!

Saihoji Moss Temple

visit to Saihoji moss temple (also called Kokedera) starts with a ritual activity in the temple.  This might be Buddhist chanting or might involve copying the heart sutra in ink.  I loved practicing Japanese calligraphy by copying the Japanese kanji characters.  The visit then continues into the garden, where about 200 varieties of moss form a golden carpet around a heart-shaped lake.   Stroll slowly through the winding paths under trees that throw mottled light onto the lake and the tiny islands that help make the shape of the Japanese kanji character for ‘heart’.  Traditional teahouses poke out from the trees, helping create a magical landscape.  A second ‘dry’ garden forms the more traditional Japanese garden of raked sand and rocks.  This is a quiet, meditative experience.  

The Best Temples and Shrines to Visit in Kyoto

 

 

 Visiting Saiho-ji requires an appointment – send a return-addressed postcard to the temple at least a month before you plan to visit.  If you don’t live in Japan, the easiest way to do this is to ask your hotel to arrange this for you.

– James Ian from Travel Collecting
Read all about his visit to the Saihoji Moss Temple here!

Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji is one of most popular attractions in Kyoto, and for good reason. Also known as the ‘Golden Pavilion’, Kinkaku-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple covered in gold leaf which serenely reflects across a pond. You can’t go inside the temple, but you can walk around the pond for different perspectives of the temple and through the ground’s lovely Zen garden.

I couldn’t quite decide whether Kinkaku-ji was a peaceful site for inward reflection, or an entirely extravagent use of resources. Regardless of your view, the Golden Pavillion certainly has an interesting history. The original building dates back to the 14th century, and was burned down in 1950 by a troubled novice monk who then attempted to commit suicide. The current temple was rebuilt in 1955.

The best temples and shrines to visit in kyoto

 

 

 Kinkaku-ji attracts hordes of tourists. Try to avoid the crowds by visiting shortly after opening or before closing on a weekday (open daily 9am-5pm, Y400 entry). Kinkaku-Ji is in north west Kyoto, roughly 8km from the city. It’s outside the main temple area (Higashiyama) and is most easily reached by bus, as part of a tour or on a bike if you’re more active.

– Claire from The Adventurous Flashpacker
Check out her guide on Things to Do in Kyoto here!

Chion-In

Chion-in is the head temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism in Kyoto’s Higashiyama District, north of Maruyama Park.  Temple grounds are always open and entrance is free.  This is a great temple to spend a few hours exploring.  On a February morning, we had quite a few areas of the grounds to ourselves or only had to share it with a few other people.  

The best temples and shrines to visit in kyoto

 

 

However, this is still one of the most popular temples in Kyoto, for good reason.  You’re greeted by the San-mon gate, the widest wooden gate in Japan, at the top of 50 steps.  The main building is still home to quite a few religious ceremonies.  While it may not be as colorful in February, a visit during the summer months will have the grounds full of lush green vegetation adding to the beauty of the temple and grounds.  No matter when you visit Kyoto, this is a must see temple.

– Megan from Red Around The World
Check out her guide to Temples, Tacos and Japanese Beef here!

Kiyomizu-Dera

Kiyomizu-dera is one of Kyoto’s biggest and best temples.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you absolutely must visit it if you’re in Kyoto.  Getting to Kiyomizu-dera is part of the fun.  Walk through the streets of Gion, one of Kyoto’s most historic and interesting areas.  The streets are packed with shops and street food stalls, and of course, tourists.  

Once you arrive there is more to do here than at the typical temple.  You’ll find pagodas and separate temple buildings, all very pretty and interesting to look around.  There is also a small Shinto shrine here, dedicated to the god of love.  You’re supposed to close your eyes and try to find your way between two special stones, placed almost 20 metres apart.  If you can do this then you’ll find your perfect match! 

The best temples and shrines to visit in kyoto

The main building at Kiyomizu-dera is made entirely of wood, without using any nails.  There’s a large balcony giving great views out over Kyoto, and cherry blossoms and maple trees in the right season. You should be aware that the main hall is covered for renovation until 2020.  However, this won’t stop you visiting and you’re still able to go out on the main balcony.  

– Emily from Kids and Compass
Check out Kids and Compass’ Blog here!

Otagi Nenbutsu

If you love quirky and cute, you will love visiting this little-known temple on the outskirts of Kyoto. At first, when you enter there is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s green, peaceful, and well-groomed just like any other temple, but this one is special. walk a little up the path and you will begin to notice small stone statues. These statues are called “rakan,” and it is said that you can find yourself in the visage of a rakan. Each rakan has its own face and personality. It might be holding a cell phone or a cat. You truly can find yourself there, and oh how fun it is. If you or anyone in your group is tired of temple tromping, you will definitely still want to see this one. It’s everyone’s favourite!

The best temples and shrines to visit in kyoto

– Corinne from Reflections Enroute
Check out her guide to visiting Otagi Nenbutsu here!

Kodai-ji

Kodai-ji Temple was founded in 1605, and it is one of the most beautiful temples in the Southern Higashiyama area. Kodai-ji is not very touristy, yet the temple has such a peaceful garden with a little bamboo grove which is reminiscent of Arashiyama.  Also, there is a little museum, which has paintings of Buddha Nirvana (Nehan-zu) at Rishodo hall.  The walls in the hall are covered in paintings of Buddha Nirvana, and the atmosphere is peaceful.

The best temples and shrines to visit in kyoto

 

 

Normally, last entry to the temple is 5:00 pm. However, during special periods the temple and its environment is illuminated during the night, and the temple reopens from sunset to 9:30 pm.  In spring, the cherry blossoms are illuminated as well, while in the autumn the trees around the pond of the temple are illuminated.  I highly recommend you experience the entrancing night view. Kodai-ji Temple is located right next to Ninenzaka Street. The area is nice to just stroll around and have a feel of the place. There are also plenty of restaurants and tea houses to refresh yourself at as you explore. 

– Yuki from Finding Yoki
Check out the Finding Yoki blog here!

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Like this post? Pin to save it for later!

The Best Temples and Shrines To Visit in Kyoto - Emma Jane Explores
The Best Temples and Shrines To Visit in Kyoto - Emma Jane Explores

3 Comments

  1. Kay

    I can’t wait to go back to Japan! I didn’t have time to see Kyoto last time, but now I neeed to go just for these shrines!!

    Reply
  2. the Curious Pixie

    Such a handy and concise guide. Love to visit Japan!

    Reply
  3. Emma Jane Explores

    Thanks for having me as part of your collab post – so many great Kyoto tips here!

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 9 wonderful things to do in Kyoto at night - Wapiti Travel - […] There’s nothing more beautiful than a great sunset, and I firmly believe that the best spot to watch the…

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This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

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