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The Best Things to Do in Kyoto

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Japan’s former imperial city offers awe-inspiring Shinto and Buddhist temples, beautiful gardens, streets lined with old wooden town houses, and narrow stone lanes where you might see modern-day geisha and stop at an izakaya for a meal.
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Katsuramisono, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 615-8014, Japan

As soon as you get to Kyoto, go to the Imperial Household Agency and see if there are any spots left for touring Katsura Rikyu, arguably the most beautiful house in Japan. It’s actually easier to get in as a foreigner than as a Japanese...

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Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 602-0881, Japan

In 794 C.E., Emperor Kammu moved Japan’s capital to Kyoto, chiefly to keep the large Buddhist monasteries in the former capital of Nara from amassing even more power than they already had. (The capital and emperor moved to Tokyo in...

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294 Kiyomizu 1-chōme, Higashiyama-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 605-0862, Japan

Kiyomizu-dera on Mount Otowa is one of the most famous temples in Japan, a place that appears in every sequence of Japanese travel photos. The landscape is all cherry trees and forest; it is among Kyoto's loveliest spots. The current structure...

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Arashiyama Genrokuzancho, Ukyō-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 616-0007, Japan
In western Kyoto, there is a very large forest of bamboo. As you can see in the photo, the shoots grow very tall, making those who stroll by look quite small. I'm sure there are times when this road is crowded, but when we were there, people were...
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68 Fukakusa Yabunouchichō, Fushimi-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 612-0882, Japan

Fushimi Inari Taisha on Inariyama mountain is dedicated to the Shinto gods of rice and sake, but Inari is also the god of merchants and that brings a lot of businesspeople to worship here. Everyone else stops by to see the thousands...

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1 Kinkakujichō, Kita-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 603-8361, Japan
Built in the 14th century as a villa for a powerful shogun, Kinkaku-ji temple, commonly referred to as the Golden Pavilion, is an easy bus ride from the main bus terminal in Kyoto. The temple is one of the most popular buildings in...
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13 Ryōanji Goryōnoshitachō, Ukyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 616-8001, Japan

Kyoto’s Ryoanji, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to Japan’s most famous seki-tei garden, which is simply composed of rocks and raked gravel. The garden is surrounded by high walls on three sides; the fourth side faces the...

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2 Ginkakujichō, Sakyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 606-8402, Japan

Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), not to be confused with Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion; both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto), is set up against the eastern mountains. Most tours go to Kinkakuji, because it’s close to Ryoanji, but the...

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541 Nijōjōchō, Nakagyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 604-8301, Japan

Back in the days before burglar alarms, how did you know if strangers were in the house? Nijo-jo, with ingenious cunning right out of a ninja movie, was built with a “nightingale floor”: The smooth wooden planks of the...

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657 Sanjūsangendōmawari, Higashiyama-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 605-0941, Japan

Sanjusangendo is dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Kannon appears in many forms—as a beautiful woman, as a man, as someone with a horse’s head. In Japan, perhaps her most popular representation has her sporting 11...

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Mount Hiei, at the northwest edge of Kyoto, is home to one of Japan’s largest temple complexes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction began in 788 C.E. by the monk Saicho, who is also credited as founder of the Tendai school of...

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Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
This under-loved 60-acre green space on the east bank of the Kamo River with 120,000 plants and more than 12,000 species is one of the best spots in Kyoto to reflect on nature. The garden has extensive cherry tree groves, tropical...
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584 Komatsucho, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0811, Japan
Founded in the 13th century, Kennin-ji is the oldest Zen Buddhist temple anywhere in the world. Located not too far from the Gion District (where you will find the majority of Kyoto's geisha) it is considered one of the most important temples in...
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56 Matsuojingatanichō, Nishikyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 615-8286, Japan
It’s said that the human eye can see more shades of green than any other color. Put the theory to the test at the Koke-dera, or Moss Temple, a veritable spectrum of jades, mints, artichokes, emeralds, and olives. The UNESCO World...
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Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
While Japan often remains aloof to many first-time visitors, Kyoto feels intentionally difficult to get to know—even to Tokyoites who visit frequently. Getting some kind of entrée to hidden gems is especially useful here....
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Tetsugaku-no-michi, Jōdoji Ishibashichō, Sakyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 606-8406, Japan
When we arrived in Kyoto in mid-April, most of the cherry blossoms were no longer coloring the trees but sprinkled on the ground. We got lucky, though, spotting a few along the Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku no michi) still afluff with pink...
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Japan, 〒616-8385 京都府京都市右京区嵯峨天龍寺芒ノ馬場町68
A Zen temple abutting the bamboo forest of Arashiyama - quiet despite the tourists . . .
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452 Kinbukicho, Nakagyō-ku, Kyoto, 604-0846, Japan
What is Manga? I asked myself that same question. I saw a flood of Japanese teenagers outside this museum dressed up as these crazy anime characters. They were outside the Kyoto International Manga Museum. It's three floors of lined wall to wall...