Seven shrines you cannot miss in Kyoto

Kyoto is the jewel of the Japanese culture, the ancient capital of the Japanese Empire and a must-see in any trip to the country. From the Arashiyama Mountains to the old Gion, Kyoto is a city full of magic, where tradition lives together with modernity. But with more than 1,600 Buddhist shrines and 400 Shinto shrines it is always difficult to choose the ones to explore during the few days that a visitor can spend in the city. And thus, while planning your trip to Kyoto, you start reading and searching for those hotspots that you shouldn’t miss.

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The impressive Kiyomizu-dera, the first temple we visited in Japan

We are sure that when we visited the city we missed great shrines, but we’re also happy to know that we saw other ones that put inside us the peace of mind and the smell of incense that makes us dream about a second trip to Japan –a really addictive country! Below you’ll find out the main shrines and moments from our visit to Kyoto.

  1. Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera (literally “Pure Water Temple”) was the first shrine we visited in Japan. After an international flight and a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto by Shinkansen, we were tired and it was very hot. But we left our luggage in the Tanaka-Ya Ryokan and later walked through the streets leading up to the temple to visit it before the closing time.

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View of the Otowa-no-taki

The main attractive of the temple might be its big terrace supported by tall columns that offers amazing views of the city. Another point of interest is the Otowa-no-taki (a waterfall), where the waters are divided into three separate streams and there are cups available for you to drink from them. Each of the streams is believed to have a positive effect, bringing success, love and longevity, respectively.

  1. Kinkaku-ji

Our second day in Kyoto started in the northwest with a visit to Kinkaku-ji, the “Golden Pavilion”, another symbol of the Land of the Rising Sun. The views of Kyōko-chi (the “Mirror Pond”) made us feel like we were in the middle of a postcard. In the centre, the famous Zen temple whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. After those amazing views, a relaxing walk through its garden is the best way to complete your visit.

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Kinkaku-ji, a symbol of Japan
  1. Ryōan-ji

When planning our visit to Kyoto, we read about this shrine, whose name literally means the “Temple of the Dragon at Peace”. It’s close to Kinkaku-ji (less than 30 minutes walking) so we visited it immediately after.  We wanted to visit that temple particularly due to its Zen garden, which is considered one of the finest surviving examples of kare-sansui (“dry landscape”).

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Zen garden in Ryōan-ji

This style is based on larger rock formations arranged among a sweep of pebbles raked into linear patterns that ease meditation. Visitors use to sit in the veranda, in front of the garden, to relax and enjoy the views. It is said that the garden was designed so that visitors can only see fourteen out of the fifteen boulders at one time. Only upon enlightenment they will be able to see fifteen. Visitors can also use the Ryōan-ji’s tsukubai, a basin provided for ritual washing of the hands and mouth.

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Tsukubai in Ryōan-ji
  1. Tenryū-ji

And then we moved to Arashiyama, the mountains located in the western part of the city, where the Tenryū-ji is located. This temple literally means “Heavenly Dragon Temple” and belongs to the Rinzai Zen school. The main attraction there, is the beauty of the temple’s garden, created in the XIV century. We would say that in Tenryū-ji visitors will find one of the most impressive landscapes in Japan.

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Tenryū-ji and its garden

And, if you continue your way towards the north entrance, you’ll find the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, where the never-ending bamboo protects you from the external world and creates a magic environment difficult to forget.

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Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
  1. Fushimi Inari-Taisha

After a few days visiting other parts of the country, such as Miyajima and Koyasan, and while we were staying in Osaka, we moved again to Kyoto by Shinkansen to spend a day visiting certain shrines that remained in our bucket list. One of them was, of course, Fushimi Inari-Taisha, the main Shinto shrine in Japan, located in the southeast of Kyoto. We think that almost everyone might have seen pictures of that place, in which red is always the dominating colour. Initially devoted to the gods of rice and sake, the complex has a length of 4 kilometres along the mountain (Inari-yama), with thousands of torii. Each of the torii has been donated by individuals or entities. The views there are just amazing.

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Fushimi Inari-Taisha and the never-ending torii
  1. Nanzen-ji

We read in our travel guide that Nanzen-ji was a must-see in Kyoto and we wanted to discover why. Our question was answered when we found ourselves in front of the great san-mon (the gate). Nanzen-ji is located in a great complex full of little temples. Inside, a walk through the Hōjō to contemplate its gardens and screen paintings is the best way to relax and feel the history under your feet.

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Nanzen-ji gate
  1. Ginkaku-ji

And last, but certainly not least, we moved to Ginkaku-ji by walking through the so-called Philosopher’s Path. The name of this temple might be familiar to you: while Kinkaku-ji was the “Golden Pavilion”, this is the Silver one. But unfortunately the desire to cover the temple with silver was never fulfilled. Nevertheless, Ginkaku-ji is one of the most visited shrines in the city. It has a nice garden with a pond, which has become well known due to a pile of sand placed therein which is said to symbolize the perfect Mount Fuji.

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View of the pond in Ginkaku-ji
Two Traveling Texans

16 thoughts on “Seven shrines you cannot miss in Kyoto”

    1. You’re right, Kyoto is amazing, the essence of Japan. We visited Japan in summer (it’s when we have more days of holidays…) but we expect to go back in the cherry blossom season. It must be really nice. Thanks for your comment.

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    1. Wow 5 times! We would like to be 5 and more times in Japan. We’ve only been once and missed many things. We are dreaming to come back to Kyoto and repeat our visit to all the shrines. Thanks for your comment 🙂

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  1. Agree, I much preferred Kyoto to Tokyo, to be honest. Kyoto just seemed more interesting. I only visited 1 shrine though (and I can’t even recall what it’s called). Would love to go back and visit more – especially the bamboo forest. It looks positively magical.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love Kyoto and you covered 7 of the best shrines to visit. I have been several times and always find new things to see plus revisit the same amazing shrines. Love your photos. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    Liked by 1 person

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