This spectacular city is located in the Kansai region of Japan and was the ancient capital of the country. Kyoto is popuar with foreigners due to the amount of amazing attractions, from tempes, shrines to scenic gardens.

If you are keen to visit Kyoto for the first time, our featured travel writer Aimée Auguin has put together her list of the most essential places you need to see.


1. Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion)

The Kinkaku-ji is one of the most iconic locations in Kyoto. Each level is constructed in a different architectural style, with the two top floors covered in gold leaf.

The Zen-Buddhist temple is named one of 17 Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photogenic no matter the season, its near perfect reflection in the nearby pond makes for beautiful pictures. If you prefer to avoid crowds, try to visit in the morning.

However, the golden afternoon light bouncing off the pavilion is an especially beautiful sight. Make sure to continue along the path to see the rest of the surroundings: the Sekkatei teahouse, lush gardens and ponds, and other nearby halls.


2. Lantern Viewing at Torin-in Temple in Myōshin-ji Temple Complex

Lantern Viewing at the Torin-in Temple in the Myōshin-ji Temple Complex

The Myōshin-ji temple complex is a very impressive and beautiful place, and to thoroughly visit it in its entirety definitely takes more than one afternoon.

One special way of experiencing its atmosphere is by witnessing the lantern festival at the Torin-in temple within the complex. This viewing takes place only a few evenings per year. It is a little bit tricky to find, but well worth the visit.


3. Yasaka Hall Gion Corner

Yasaka Hall Gion Corner

Gion, Kyoto’s largest traditional entertainment area and most famous Geiko district, is filled with restaurants, bars, traditional teahouses, shrines, and temples. Although there is a lot to see during the day, the district truly comes alive at night.

The Yasaka Hall Gion Corner is a great place to experience traditional Japanese performing arts. The theater’s programming includes the following: Chado (Tea Ceremony), Koto (Japanese Harp), Kado (Flower Arrangement), Gagaku (Court Music), Kyogen (Ancient Comic Play), Kyomai (Kyoto Style Dance with Maiko and Geiko), and Bunraku (Puppet Play).


4. Fushimi Inari-taisha Torii Trails

Fushimi Inari-taisha Torii Trails

The trails leading from the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine to Mount Inari are covered by thousands of vermillion torii gates. The inscriptions on each gate indicate the name of the company or person who donated the torii, as well as the date it was donated on.

The hike to the top takes approximately 2.5-3 hours, and there are several places where you can stop along the way: smaller shrines, restaurants, and a half-way point with nice views.


5. Morita Wagami Homemade Paper Shop

Morita Wagami Homemade Paper Shop

This shop has an extraordinary variety of traditional Japanese paper. From washi (made from mountain shrubs) to kyo-chiyogami (special wrapping paper), this shop has a wide array of high-quality and decorative cards, stationery, wrapping paper, and other intricate crafts. This store is a gem for anyone who is interested in the delicate art of papermaking.


6. Ryoan-ji Temple – Rock Garden

Ryoan-ji Temple – Rock Garden

The Ryoan-ji Temple with its iconic rectangular Zen rock garden is the perfect spot to seek some tranquility. Even though its complete meaning is unknown, the garden demonstrates the essence of harmony and simplicity with its fifteen rock formations, moss, and patterned white gravel.

Behind the temple are trees with delicate moss and Tsukubai, a unique stone wash-basin. This destination is at the top of most people’s itineraries when visiting Kyoto, so either visit in the early morning or in the early evening until right before closing time, as visitors are allowed to linger a bit.


7. Miyawaki Baisen-an Fan Shop

The Miyawaki Baisen-An fan shop has been producing fans since 1823 and has a wide array of styles for different occasions: simple, ornate, flat, small, large, for tea ceremonies, and specially-made fans for Maika and Geiko, amongst others. Depending on the fan, prices range from surprisingly affordable to understandably expensive.


8. The Gardens by the Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavilion)

The Gardens by the Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavilion)

Even though the plans to cover the Ginkaku-ji in silver leaf never came to fruition, it is still a must-visit in Kyoto. The surrounding garden, Philosopher’s Path, and Togu-do Buddhist hall are equally as beautiful, and complement the Silver Pavilion perfectly.

You may spot gardeners meticulously manicuring the luxurious and tranquil garden. It is a lovely destination during every season, but the autumn foliage is especially picturesque. You can also choose to venture along the footpath to see great views of Kyoto.


9. Jūsan-ya Comb Shop

This comb shop sells handmade boxwood combs that each take 40 years to make. Handcrafted and polished with special materials such as sharkskin, each comb is truly unique. Multiple carved designs are available, ranging from simple to intricate. Although quite pricey, the combs last a lifetime and truly show an exquisite level of craftsmanship.


10. Teramachi Market & Nishiki-koji Market

Teramachi Market & Nishiki-koji Market

The youthful Teramachi market filled with clothing stores, photo booths, and arcade game machines contrasts with its neighbor, the traditional but equally as lively Nishiki-koji food market.

Teramachi used to be a temple town, but it is now home to a shopping arcade packed with trendy shops and antique stores.

Nishiki-koji, also known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” is actually where many excellent restaurants source their products and produce. Lined with specialized Japanese food stands, the market displays a variety of goods ranging from pickled eel and urchin jelly to tea ceremony sweets and matcha baumkuchen.

A highlight of the market is definitely the Aritsugu Knife shop that sells some of the best knives in the world. The knives are put under a sharpening stone one last time before every purchase. Chefs from all over the world make a pilgrimage to this little store to buy utensils for their restaurants.


Plan a Trip to Kyoto

Whether you are keen on a city break, or are lucky to have one month travelling in Japan, you realy need to see Kyoto. This city will win your heart, it is easily my favourite destination in Japan.

If you are worried about the language barrier or just want to learn as much as possible about the places you go I would recommend searching Japan tours.

Also if you want to see more of the country check out this guide to the best things to see in Tokyo.

By Aimée Auguin