10 Must-See Kyoto Temples and Shrines by JetSettingFools.com

10 Must-See Kyoto Temples and Shrines

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Kyoto, Japan is home to an astounding 2,000 Japanese temples and shrines. Yes, two-thousand. While visiting Kyoto temples was high on our list of things to do in the city, we had no intention – or ambition – to see them all (because there is actually way more to do and see in Kyoto!). During our stay in the city, we visited a multitude of historic and beautiful temples, many of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites – and created our list of what we think are the absolute best temples in Kyoto.

 

Top 10 Kyoto Temples

Our list includes the most beautiful temples in Kyoto, Japan that we think every visitor must see! It is important to note that most Kyoto temples charge an entry fee, while most shrines are free to enter. We have indicated the fee and hours for each temple, which were current at the time of our visit. Below we have included a Kyoto Temples Map of our recommended temples and shrines in Kyoto, Japan to help you plan your visit or your own Kyoto Walking Tour.

 

Rengeoin Sanjusangendo Temple

Rengeoin Sanjusangendo is a Kyoto, Japan temple that will take your breath away! Located on the east side of the city, the temple was built in the year 1164 – and rebuilt in 1266 after a fire destroyed the original building. The wooden temple hall is famous for housing 1,001 statues of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. The statues, which date to the 12th and 13th centuries, are listed as a National Treasure.

Of the 1,001 statues, 1,000 are life-size standing statues of Kannon, situated into two sections. Between the statues at the center of the Kyoto Buddhist temple is an enormous wood-carved, seated statue of the 1000-armed Kannon. In addition to the 1,001 statues, there are 28 deity statues that stand to protect Kannon, as well as the Buddhists who worship Kannon. Two other statues in the temple hall are of Thunder God and Wind God. 

Fun Fact: Rengeoin is the official name of the temple, which means Hall of the Lotus King. However, the temple is more often referred to as Sanjusangendo, which translates to “hall with 33 spaces between the columns.” The 120-meter-long temple hall, designed in the Wayo architectural style, does in fact have 33 ‘spaces’ between the columns.

Sanjusangendo Price and Hours: The fee to enter the temple is 600 yen for adults, 400 yen for students and 300 yen for children. From April 1 until November 15, the temple is open from 8:00am to 4:30pm. From November 16 to March 31, the temple is open from 9:00am to 4:00pm. No photos allowed inside.

 

Fushimi Inari Shrine

There are many beautiful places to see in Kyoto, but none are as striking as the thousands of red vermilion torii gates that line the paths at Fushimi Inari Shrine. The massive complex, which sits on Mount Inari just south of the city center, has origins dating to the 8th century. The shrine is dedicated to Inari – the god of rice and patron of business. The torii gates are offered by devotees, farmers and business owners as a way of ushering their prayers and wishes to the deity.

At the base of the hill are the Main Gate and Main Shrine (built in 1499), but visitors will want to seek out the hillside paths behind the shrine that lead to the top of the mountain. Hiking the torii-covered path that loops around the top of the mountain, passing restaurants, viewpoints and smaller shrines along the way, is one of the top things to do in Kyoto. Foxes are another symbol found throughout the complex, as it is believed that foxes act as messengers. The trail is about 2.5 miles long and takes about 2 hours to complete.

Fun Fact: Vermilion red is a color used at many temples, as it is thought to combat evil, but it is used at Fushimi Inari Taisha because it denotes a successful harvest. The color is attained by mixing mercury and red dirt and has been used as a method of preserving wood for centuries.

Fushimi Inari Shrine Price and Hours: It is free to enter the shrine, which is open all day, every day.

 

Gioji Temple Kyoto (Moss Temple Kyoto)

Although small and quaint, we think Gioji Temple is one of the must-see temples in Kyoto. Located in Arashiyama, the thatched roof temple sits in a moss-covered forest that looks like it was plucked from the pages of a fairytale. While the temple itself is not one of the top Kyoto Attractions, the setting is absolutely charming.

Fun Fact: The mystical tale surrounding the temple’s original inhabitants increases the allure of the Gioji Temple. According to the legend, a dancer named Gio was left by a noble suitor when he became attracted to another dancer, named Hotoke Gozen. After the loss of love, Gio quit dancing and became a nun at the temple…and just one year later, Hotoke Gozen, with her head down, followed in Gio’s footsteps, as she too was left by the nobleman.

Gioji Temple Price and Hours: The fee to enter the temple is 300 yen for adults and 100 yen for children. The temple is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm, but the last entry is at 4:30pm.

 

Adashino Nenbutsuji

A trip to Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple can feel slightly unsettling – especially in the context of Kyoto sightseeing. Yet, we think it is astoundingly beautiful. The Buddhist temple was founded in the year 811 on a hill in Arashiyama and the spacious grounds are occupied by a cemetery. At the center of the cemetery is a field of 8,000 stone Buddhist statues clustered together in rows. It’s the history of these statues that make Adashino Nenbutsuji an intriguing temple to visit.  

During the Heian period, when people died without kin or family, their bodies were left abandoned and unburied on the hillside. Kukai, the founder of Shingon-shu (a Buddhist sect), gathered the bones and built the temple to give honor to the deceased. Hundreds of years later, a famous monk, Honen, started reciting Buddhist prayers for the dead. The tombstone statues were arranged together in the early 1900s to give a final resting place for the souls. Although created from a somber past, the stone sculptures are a beautiful sight.  

Fun Fact: A ceremony, called Sento Kuyo, takes place on August 23 and 24 of every year to honor the souls. More than 1,000 candles are lit among the 8,000 statues creating a somewhat spooky atmosphere.

Adashino Nenbutsuji Price and Hours: The fee to enter the temple is 500 yen for adults, 400 yen for students and children are free. The temple is open from 9:00am to 4:30pm from March until November and from 9:00am to 3:30pm from December to February.

 

Kinkakuji Kyoto Temple (Golden Temple Kyoto)

Perhaps the most famous temple in Kyoto is Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple. Incredibly picturesque, the Golden Temple, which is actually covered in gold leaf, sits on a lake creating beautiful reflections on the water. Visiting the temple grounds (as the Kyoto Zen temple is officially off limits) can feel slightly overwhelming with the hordes of tourists that are routed into the viewing area. However, there are more Kyoto tourist attractions on the grounds than just the temple. We recommend lingering for the view and then taking your time to wander the path through the gardens.

The Kyoto famous temple is one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto – but the current temple dates to 1955. Built as a villa, the structure was purchased in 1397 by shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu as a retirement home. After his death, his son abided by his will and turned the complex into a Zen temple. During the Onin War in the mid-1400s, all of the complex buildings aside from the main pavilion were burned to the ground. Then, in 1950, a disturbed monk burned down the pavilion. The temple was rebuilt in 1955 in a likeness to the original.

Fun Fact: Each floor of Kinkakuji represents a different style of architecture. The ground floor is designed in the Shinden style, a popular plan of palaces during the Heian Period; the second floor resembles samurai dwellings of the Bukke style and the top floor is built as a Chinese Zen Temple Hall.

Kinkakuji Temple Price and Hours: The fee to enter the temple grounds is 400 yen. The temple is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm every day of the week.

 

Yasaka Shrine (Gion Shrine)

Sitting just outside Maruyama Park between the Gion and Higashiyama districts is the most famous shrine in Kyoto: Yasaka Shrine. The Shinto shrine, which is also often called Gion Shrine, dates to the year 656 and is one of the top Kyoto, Japan points of interest. Although there are several buildings in the complex, the most appealing is the center stage with giant lanterns hanging from all sides. The shrine complex hosts the annual Gion Matsuri Festival, which takes place in July and features impressive parades.

Fun Fact: The Matsuri Festival is based on historical events in the year 869 when Gion Shrine mikoshi (palanquin) walked through the streets to fend off an epidemic.

Yasaka Shrine Price and Hours: It is free to enter the shrine, which is open all day, every day.

 

Go’o Shrine

Perhaps not famous, we think Go’o is one of the best shrines in Kyoto to visit simply because the shrine features hundreds of pigs…and it’s not every day that you can visit a shrine chock-a-block with pigs. Although it is quirky, understanding the history of the temple, which is dedicated to Wake no Kiyomaro, explains the presence of pigs.

Kiyomaro was a trusted advisor to Emperor Kanmu, who is said to have received a divine message that discredited Dokyo, the next-in-line for emperor, from taking over. On the news, Dokyo exiled Kiyomaro and had the tendons in his legs slashed before his journey out of town. According to legend, Kiyomaro was saved and protected by 300 wild boars and his wounds magically healed. He was eventually brought out of exile and continued to serve the emperor – even advising him to relocate to Kyoto. Hence, the temple that is dedicated to Kiyomaro honors the pigs that saved his life.

Fun Fact: Go’o Shrine is one of the top places to visit in Kyoto for people with leg injuries. They go there to pray that they will be cured just as Kiyomaro was.

Go’o Shrine Price and Hours: It is free to enter the shrine, which is open all day, every day.

 

Higashi Honganji and Nishi Honganji

Entrance Gate to Higashi Honganji Temple in Kyoto, Japan

The Honganji Temples are famous Kyoto temples. Both Nishi Honganji and Higashi Honganji are Jodo Shinshu complexes, which is a school of Pure Land Buddhism and the most popularly practiced Buddhism in Japan. Nishi Honganji, which is the recognized headquarters of Jodo Shinshu, was built in 1591. Main features of Nishi Honganji include the Karamon Gate, the Daishido Hall and Goeido Main Hall and many Buddhist artifacts are housed within the temple complex.

Higashi Honganji was built just 11 years after Nishi Honganji in 1602 and is the head temple of Otani – a faction of Jodo Shinshu. The main hall at Higashi Honganji is the largest wooden structure in Kyoto. Just a few streets away from Higashi Honganji is Shoseien, a Japanese garden that is part of the temple residence but is open to the public (for a fee).

Fun Fact: The Kyoto, Japan temples are named for their location; Nishi Honganji is Western Temple, while Higashi Honganji is Eastern Temple.

Nishi Honganji Price and Hours: Admission to the temple is free. The temple is open from 5:30am to 5:30pm in March, April, September and October; from 5:30am to 6:00pm from May to August and from 5:30am to 5:00pm from November to February.

Higashi Honganji Price and Hours: Admission to the temple is free. The temple is open from 5:50am to 5:30pm from March to October and from 6:20am to 4:30pm from November to February.

 

Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Temple)

Another one of the top temples in Kyoto is Ginkakuji – or Silver Pavilion – which was built in 1482. The Ginkakuji Temple was modeled after Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) and built by shogun Asikaga Yoshimasa, the grandson of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, as his retirement villa. The temple pavilion is closed to the public, but the grounds are open to visitors.

Perhaps not as impressive as Kinkakuji, the grounds of Ginkakuji are simply lovely. Just like Kinkakuji, the Silver Pavilion sits at the edge of a lake and is surrounded by lush gardens. The main features of the temple grounds are a sand garden (called Sea of Silver Sand), a moss garden and a path that ventures onto the hillside providing incredible views of the entire complex.

Fun Fact: Unlike Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji has never been covered in silver. The nickname is attributed to the imitation of the more revered Golden Pavilion.

Ginkakuji Temple Price and Hours: The entry fee to the temple is 500 yen. The temple is open from 8:30am to 5:00pm from March to November and from 9:00am to 4:30pm from December to February.

 

Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto

The 1200-year-old Kiyomizudera Temple is a sprawling complex integrated into nature and is one of the most visited temples in Kyoto. Founded in 778 on the site of the crystal-clear waterfall, most of the buildings at the Buddhist temple date to the 17th century. The complex is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.

Of the numerous buildings at Kiyomizu dera, there are three must-see structures: Hondo, Okuno-in Hall and Otowa Waterfall building. The Main Hall sits on a cliffside with a protruding wooden balcony that extends over the valley at the height of 42 feet and has long been popular with tourists. However, it is the Okuno-in Hall, which also has an open balcony, that offers the best views of the complex and city. From the Otowa Waterfall building, guests can drink from one of the three streams of pure water in hopes their wishes will be granted.

Fun Fact: At Kiyomizu Kyoto, there is a shrine dedicated to Okuninushi, the god of love and matchmaking. Two stones sit 60 feet apart and visitors seeking love can close their eyes and attempt to walk from stone to stone; those who successfully complete the task are assured they will find love.

Kiyomizu dera Temple Price and Hours: The fee to enter the temple is 400 yen. The temple is open everyday at 6:00am and closes at 6:00pm or 6:30pm depending on season – and stays open later for special events. Check the website for current opening hours. Note: Portions of the complex can be visited without a ticket, such as the Nio-mon entrance gate and Sai-mon West Gate.

 

Other Kyoto Shrines and Temples

Not yet ‘templed out’ and looking for more Kyoto temples to visit? Add one – or more! – of the following to your Kyoto temple tour. Note: These sites are indicated on our Map of Kyoto Temples, which you can find below. 

 

Toji Temple Kyoto

Located southwest of Kyoto Station, Toji Temple (East Temple) once stood, along with Saiji Temple (West Temple) as the south entrance to the city. In addition to the Kondo Hall and Kodo Hall, there is a pagoda, which stands 187-feet-tall and is the tallest pagoda in Japan.

 

Nanzen-Ji Temple Kyoto

Visitors to Nanzenji Temple are greeted by an enormous entrance gate, Sanmon Gate – which was built in 1628. The Zen temple complex is comprised of buildings that date to the 14th century (which were rebuilt after the original 13th century structures were destroyed in war). One peculiar sight is the brick aqueduct that runs through the complex.

 

Kenninji Temple Kyoto

Considered to be the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, the buildings in the Kenninji Temple complex were built in 1202. The grounds feature gardens and both historic and new artwork.

 

Tofukuji Temple Kyoto

Especially beautiful in the autumn when the leaves are red, Tofukuji Temple dates to 1236. Although there are multiple structures within the complex, many visitors seek out the Tsutenkyo Bridge – both for the views of it and from it.

 

Chionin Temple Kyoto

The Chionin temple is difficult to miss with its gigantic entrance gate. The gate was built in the 1600s and ranks as the largest wooden gate in Japan. Inside, there are more large buildings on the expansive grounds. 

 

Eikando Temple Kyoto

Zenrinji is the original name of the temple, meaning Temple in a Calm Grove – which accurately describes the temple’s location among lush nature. Popular in the autumn when the colors change, many visitors head for the Tahoto Pagoda, which is open for visitors to climb for views of the grounds.

 

Honen-in Temple Kyoto

Located near Eikando, Honen-in Temple is sought out for its peaceful atmosphere. On the temple grounds, there is a moss forest, carp pond and sand garden. The temple was built in 1680 and is dedicated to Honen, the founder of the Jodo sect of Buddhism.

 

Kozan ji Temple Kyoto

Located in the Takao valley that is an hour from Kyoto by bus, Kozan-ji Temple is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The main attractions at the temple are the historic painted scrolls and tea plantation, which is said to be the oldest in Japan.

 

Jingoji Temple Kyoto

The Jingoji Temple is also in Takao and is approached by a steep staircase. At the top, there is a large gate and multiple structures. However, many guests go to toss clay discs into the valley to rid themselves of bad karma.  

 

Myoshinji Temple Kyoto

The Myoshinji Temple complex is massive, with more than 50 temples and sub-temples on site. Many of the buildings are open to visitors who join one of the complex tours.

 

Hokanji Temple  (Yasaka-no-to Temple)

Most visitors pass this temple in an old neighborhood while walking to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The beautiful pagoda stands at 150 feet and has a classic, sloping roofs. 

 

Daitoku-ji Temple Kyoto

Located in northern Kyoto, Daitoku-ji Temple is best-known for its Zen gardens where people come to meditate.

 

Kyoto Temple Map

You can also find our Kyoto, Japan map of temples on Google Maps.

Key: Orange markers indicate our Top 10 Kyoto Temples; purple markers indicate other temples to visit in Kyoto, Japan. Click on any of the markers for more information, including address and links to more info. You can see the Kyoto Temple List by clicking on the box with the arrow in the top left corner of the map.

 


Looking to experience more of Kyoto? We’ve got you covered!

Kyoto Itinerary The Top Things To Do in Kyoto, Japan by JetSettingFools.com

Kyoto Itinerary: The Top Things To Do in Kyoto, Japan

 

Shukubo Kyoto (Temple Lodging Kyoto)

Kyoto visitors seeking out unique experiences can spend the night at a temple in Shukubo – or priest’s accommodations. There are often strict rules and curfews at temple lodging in Kyoto, but guests are also sometimes invited to participate in special services. While there are several Shukubo where visitors can stay in Kyoto, the Shunkoin Temple Kyoto is a popular choice. Find more information and reviews on TripAdvisor.

 

Kyoto Tour

We have provided information for visitors to create their own temple tour in Kyoto. However, for guests who would rather join a Kyoto tour, there are many sightseeing tours led by professional guides. You can search for a tour that fits your interests on Viator.  

 

Kyoto Temple FAQs

Visiting Kyoto temples is a must when exploring the city, so we are answering a few of the most commonly asked questions!

What to wear to Kyoto temples? 

Unlike most religious places around the world, there is no dress code for visiting temples in Kyoto, Japan. 

What time do Kyoto temples open? 

Most Kyoto temples open early in the morning. We have indicated opening and closing times for each of the temples in our Top 10 Kyoto temples list above (which was current at the time of our visit).

Are Kyoto temples open on Sunday? 

Most temples in Kyoto are open 7 days a week. However, hours may vary by day.

Why are Kyoto temples orange? 

It is said that many temples are painted orange (or vermilion red) to defend against evil spirits. 

Kyoto: How many temples? 

It is hard to say exactly how many temples there are in Kyoto. The most commonly quoted figure is around 1,600 temples and 400 shrines. 

What are the best things to do in Kyoto other than temples? 

There is more to Kyoto than temples and shrines! Check out our top recommendations for things to do and see in Kyoto – as well as where to stay in Kyoto! – in our 3-Day Kyoto Itinerary – coming soon!

 

Start planning your trip to Kyoto, Japan! Search for the lowest airfares, the best accommodations and fun things to do…then start packing!  Want more travel planning tips? Head over to our Travel Planning page for more information and tips on traveling – and for country-specific information, take a look at our Travel Guides page!

 

We Want To Know: What else would you add to our Kyoto temples list? What do you think is the best temple in Kyoto? Tell us in the comments! 

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10 Must-See Kyoto Temples Shrines by JetSettingFools.com

10 Kyoto Japan Temples and Shrines by JetSettingFools.com 10 Must See Temples and Shrines in Kyoto Japan by JetSettingFools.com

 

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