Kyoto is one of my favorite destinations, and you must visit a Kyoto shrine during your trip to this enchanting Japanese city. Apart from the fantastic food and culture, the Kyoto temples and shrines scattered throughout the city are my favorite things to experience.
With a seemingly endless number of shrines in Kyoto around every corner, deciding which ones to visit is overwhelming. For me, exploring a Kyoto shrine or temple is more about experiencing beautiful buildings and gardens rather than a religious purpose.
While resources like this 14-day Japan Itinerary can help you plan an unforgettable trip, it’s challenging to pinpoint the best temples in Kyoto since there are over 100 significant temples in the city. How do you decide which ones to visit and which to skip?
I’ve compiled this list of the five most beautiful Kyoto shrines and temples in Japan’s old capital. I’ve been to Kyoto four times, and these temples never disappoint, even on a crowded or overcast day.
Did You Get Travel Insurance Yet?
The Insurance companies I recommend are Hey Mondo and Safety Wing
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Read my full travel insurance post here, where I go into detail about all companies.
Kyoto Shrine and Temple Guide: 5 Must-See Kyoto Temples and Shrines
Some places on this earth seem entirely unreal, and the northwest Kyoto shrine of Kinkaku-ji is one of them. This ancient Zen Buddhist temple from the 14th century is almost completely covered in eye-catching gold that dazzles in the sunlight.
Kinkaku-ji is also the most photographed shrine in Kyoto, so arrive early to avoid the crowds. Kyoto’s golden temple sits on an island—you can’t go inside, but you can walk around the equally beautiful garden surrounding the property.
Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of the best temples in Kyoto for photographers. As one of the most significant Shinto shrines in Japan, this Kyooto shrine is famous for its vermillion gates that mark the sacred precinct’s entrance of a holy precinct. You’ll see many of these gates throughout Kyoto, but Fushimi Inari Taisha has almost endless rows of red gates leading to the top of Mount Inari.
Walking through the vibrant tunnels as you head toward this shrine in Kyoto is unreal. Sunlight filters through the latticed roofs, turning everything into a hazy dream. The crazy part is there are more than four kilometers of gates to walk through.
This spot is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto—for a good picture without people in the background, arrive before 9:00 a.m. Thankfully, most tourists don’t climb the entire mountain, so there will be fewer crowds the further you hike.
Quick Tip: Book accommodation, tours, and transport ahead of time online to save money and stress.
Best Kyoto Tours: Click here to check out the top Kyoto tours
Best Kyoto Accommodation: Click here to check out the best accommodation in Kyoto
Best Kyoto Transport: Click here to book a bus, ferry, or train in Kyoto
Pro tip: tiny Honen-in is one of my favorite Kyoto temples and is often overlooked. It’s not far from Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Temple), where most tourists go. Despite being just 450 meters from this tourist hotspot, Honen-in is significantly less popular.
In my opinion, this Kyoto shrine is one of the best places to visit in Japan. Honen-in temple is tiny—besides the beautiful gate, there’s not much to see. However, the picture-perfect scene perfectly encapsulates Kyoto’s rich history and culture.
Kiyomizu-dera’s giant wooden stage makes it a must-visit Kyoto shrine. Expect crowds, as this is a famous shrine in Kyoto for tourists. Kiyomizu-dera is also one of the best spots to observe Japan’s stunning autumn foliage, so consider visiting during the first week of November.
With an opulent three-sprouted fountain in the small valley below the shrine, some wait over an hour during the summer to drink the feature’s sacred water. The wait is worth it, though, as the water is supposed to give the drinker a long life!
5. Tenryu-ji and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Kyoto is a huge city with many beautiful suburbs to explore. One place that should be on your list is Tenryu-ji in Arashiyama. You can easily travel there by train or subway, and I promise you won’t regret the 30 minutes it takes to travel there from the heart of the city.
Exiting the temple, the path leads into a magical bamboo grove of genuinely epic proportions. It’s so dense and green that you can barely see the sky! Again, it pays to go early in the morning—otherwise, there’s no way to take a picture without a crowd.
Map of the Most Picturesque Kyoto Temples and Shrines
Kyoto Travel Guide Planning
🚗 Where can I book bus or private transportation ?
🎫 Where can I buy tickets for museums, attractions, and tours?
👩⚕️ What is the best insurance to have while traveling?
I have also written a blog post covering all my recommended travel insurance here
✈️ Any flight recommendations?
📱What do you use for internet connection while traveling?
I’m a big fan of personal WiFi devices and they have saved my ass so many times when traveling. I wrote a full review of the top travel WiFi devices you can read here. I personally use GlocalMe as I can either pop in a physical sim card or use their local carrier.
With regards to my phone connection, I use e-sims while traveling, so rather than having to swap out my regular sim card I can download the app and buy a virtual sim card. I recommend using eitherAirhub or Alosim. Both have great coverage of multiple countries and are very easy to use.
🛏️ What is the best platform to use for booking accommodation?
🛅 Do you have any luggage recommendations for traveling?
Final Thoughts on Visiting a Kyoto Shrine
I’ve visited Japan several times, and while there’s no wrong time to visit the country, it can get quite busy during peak tourist season. Winter, spring, summer, and fall each have their unique charm. Consider skipping the famous cherry blossom season and big national holidays to avoid the big crowds and high prices.
About the Author
Norman has visited more than 60 countries and looks back on over 30 years of travel experience. When he is not reclining in the pool of a fantastic luxury hotel or exploring one of the most remote corners of this planet, you will find him writing about his experience on his blog.