Kyoto is considered the epitome of a classical Japanese city and is a living museum of the country's rich historical and cultural traditions. A walk around the Gion district will lead you through the alleyways of Kyoto's world-renowned geisha districts, lined with historic wooden houses. With Zen gardens, stunning UNESCO World Heritage sites, temples, pavilions and tree-lined walkways, Kyoto is a photographer's dream come true – quite simply, it’s the Japan you've always imagined. Here are five iconic Kyoto sights that should be included on your itinerary.
Arashiyama Bamboo Groves
Located in the western part of Kyoto at the foot of the Arashiyama Mountain, this bamboo-lined path is an enchanting destination not to be missed. Strolling through this bamboo forest feels like entering another, more serene, world and there's something truly magical about the silence, gentle breeze and sun’s rays peeking through the green leaves. After your forest walk, find your way to Okochi Sanso, one of the finest examples of classical Japanese architecture, now designated as cultural buildings by the national government. The viewpoint from the top offers a panoramic view of Arashiyama Mountain and its surrounding areas; arrive early to avoid the multitude of tourists that turn up later in the day.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Located at the base of Inari Mountain in southern Kyoto, with a path that leads into the forest at the mountain’s base, this sacred spot is famous for its thousands of traditional red torii gates, which are usually found at the entrance to a Shinto shrine. Fushimi Inari’s gates were donated by companies and organisations giving thanks for past prosperity, along with prayers for future good fortune, and a visit to the shrine at dusk makes for a solemn experience.
This Zen Buddhist temple epitomises classical Kyoto architecture. The Golden Pavilion is a stunning three-storey gilded reliquary hall, situated on the hills of Kitayama at the edge of the large and picturesque Kyoko-chi Pond. Originally built as a villa for the aristocratic Saionji family, it was offered to the third Shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate, Yoshimitsu Ashikaga in 1397. After his death, the villa was converted into its current format as the Golden Pavilion, or Rokuon-ji.
Ryoanji Temple & Rock Garden
This temple's main attraction is its rock garden, which is the most famous of its kind in Japan. Consisting of a rectangle of immaculately raked white gravel on which 15 rocks are arranged, this “garden” is actually devoid of all vegetation save for a few splashes of moss, and is enclosed by a mottled earthen wall.
Path of Philosophy
This cherry-tree lined path was given its name by the philosopher Kitaro Nishida, who used to walk along the path while meditating. Wandering this tranquil path amongst a sea of pink-white blossoms, you’ll see interesting shops, temples and the beautiful Silver Pavilion (which actually doesn’t have any silver features!), along with its attractive garden setting.