The Seven Sees: Kyoto Temples and Shrines

The number of religious sites within the city stands at over 1,600 so attempting to view them all will prove to be a fruitless endeavor.   Therefore one of the best pieces of advice would be to simply wander around this great city and allow yourself to stumble onto a temple or shrine that stand around nearly every corner.  

Still, there are some temples and shrines that should be sought out and you will be rewarded handsomely.  Even with large crowds snapping countless pictures, there is an indescribable calm that washes over you as you wander the gardens that surrounds these symbols of faith.  Here are the top temples and shrines that should be on anyone’s list of must see Kyoto.

Kinkaku-ji Temple   

The aptly named golden pavilion is in many ways the symbol of Kyoto.  The must see attraction also means it can get incredibly crowded.  If you don’t arrive right when it opens or as it closes you will be fighting large crowds.

Like many tourist sites that have a huge buildup it can be a bit of a letdown once seeing it in person.  Not because it is not an impressive site, but simply because when all is said and done it probably will not rank as your favorite with so many other beautiful sites in Kyoto.  However, for any first time visitor the golden pavilion is an absolute must see.         


Ginkaku-ji Temple

Unlike the golden pavilion, the silver pavilion isn’t actually silver although it was modeled after its more famous sibling.  The temple grounds however are much more impressive.  Trails will take you past various gardens including a dry sand garden, bridges, streams, and it’s location in the eastern hills of the city provides fantastic views.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Walk up a steep uphill narrow street filled with traditional Japanese (and plenty of tourist traps) will soon reward you with one of the best and most expansive temple complexes in Japan.  Considered by many as the most beautiful place in Kyoto, the main hall’s deck provides a commanding view from the top of the hill you just climbed.

The Otowa Waterfall is in the shadow of the main hall and the complex contains two love stones that bring many seeking a better love life.  

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi is easiest to remember as the land of 10,000 torii gates.  While some of the other temples and shrines throughout the city suffer from crowds, one of the benefits of Fushimi is that the large grounds allow you to get lost and enjoy a tranquility not seen at many of the other sites.  Located two train stops from Kyoto station the shinto shrine is easily accessible and a must visit.

Tenryu-ji Temple


Located in the wonderful Arashiyama district, the Tenryu-ji Temple will be at the top of any ranking of most beautiful.  A peaceful pond surrounds several buildings and trails.  The landscaping is simply wonderful.  

Sitting right outside is the famous sagano bamboo grove as well as other temples and a monkey park.  Be sure to carve out plenty of time to see the entire area.    

Toji Temple

The tallest temple in all of Japan stands near Kyoto station and so it isn’t too hard to locate.  It does not carry the same cache as some of the other temples in the city, but is the quintessential example of a traditional pagoda and that makes it a must see even if is for a brief stop along the way to another attraction.  

Tofukuji Temple


While a picturesque complex anytime of the year, Tofukuji is most famous during its fall foliage season.  Some of its more famous features are the Tsutenkyo Bridge and a large Sanmon gate.  While a very nice temple to see anytime you visit it becomes an absolute must when the autumn colors are in full force.     

Heian Shrine

A giant Torii gate marks the entrance to the shrine which is modeled after the original imperial palace.  It is also one of the newest shrines in Kyoto with the original building dating “only” back to the late nineteenth century.  There is a large open court in the center with various shrines and museums surrounding the court.   

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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