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Kyoto

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At Asia Senses Travel we’re adventurers at heart. Our journeys are all about discovering new places and cultures while creating unforgettable memories through physical activity and breathtaking scenery.

Visit kyoto

Once the imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto was built in 794, modeled on the Chinese capital of Chang'an. With a staggering number of ancient Buddhist temples, impeccable gardens and majestic palaces, Kyoto is Japan's most culturally rich city. Home to almost 20 UNESCO World Heritage sites and some 400 Shinto shrines dedicated to Japan's indigenous faith, Kyoto houses the country's most important works of art. It's also an evocative portrait of old Japan, having served as the capital from 794 to 1896, with traditional wooden houses lining neatly paved streets and geisha practising traditions handed down generations.
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Kyoto is old Japan writ large: atmospheric temples, sublime gardens, traditional teahouses and geisha scurrying to secret liaisons.
Asami Sato
Japan Travel Specialist

Things to See and Do in Kyoto

kyoto-Fushimi-Inari-Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine is one the most mysterious and haunting Shinto shrines in all of Japan. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. This intriguing shrine was dedicated to the god of rice and sake by the Hata clan in the 8th century. As the role of agriculture diminished, deities were enrolled to ensure prosperity in business enterprises.

This iconic image of Japan was the inspiration for Bulgarian artist Christo’s Central Park Gates.
kyoto-Kinkakuji-Temple

Kinkaku-ji Temple

The Kinkaku-ji, or "Golden Pavilion," is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Built as a pleasure pavilion by a 15th-century shogun and burned down by a deranged monk in the 1950s, it has now been rebuilt to its previous exquisite perfection.

Rising above its reflecting pond like an apparition, the golden pavilion is most impressive sight, especially if you’re there on the four or five days per year when it’s covered in snow. The only problem is, as you might guess, that it’s almost always packed with visitors. For these reason, we recommend going just after it opens, just after it closes and, if possible on a Monday morning.
kyoto-Ginkakuji-Temple

Ginkaku-ji Temple

Stop by the Ginkaku-ji, the “Silver Pavilion” to Kinkaku-ji’s gold. Like the Golden Pavilion, the Ginkaku-ji was built to be the retirement villa of a 15th-century shogun and was converted into a Zen temple after his passing.

The Ginkaku-ji is renowned for its meticulously landscaped gardens, including a dry garden dubbed the “Sea of Silver Sand,” unique for its huge sand cone nicknamed the “Moon Viewing Platform,” and a sizeable moss garden with pond, islands and bridges.
kyoto-Kiyomizudera-Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

One of the oldest temples of the city, Kiyomizu is built high on massive stilts in the eastern foothills, with excellent views of Kyoto. Kiyomizu means “pure water,” and the temple takes its name from the Otowa waterfall that flows within its grounds. The waterfall tumbles in three streams, said to represent wisdom, health and wealth. Visitors typically queue up to sip from ladels provided (first use one cup to rinse your hands, then a second cup to sip from, and finally a third cup to stand on the ladel’s end to allow water to flow down and rinse the handle).
kyoto-Arashiyama-Bamboo-Grove

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of Kyoto’s top sights and for good reason: standing amid these soaring stalks of bamboo is like being in another world. It is particularly popular during the cherry blossom and fall color seasons.

If you’ve been planning a trip to Kyoto, you’ve probably seen pictures of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Along with the torii tunnels of Fushimi Inari Shrine and Kinkaku-ji Temple, it’s one of the most photographed sights in the city. But no picture can capture the feeling of standing in the midst of this sprawling bamboo grove – the whole thing has a palpable sense of otherness that is quite unlike that of any normal forest we know of.
kyoto-ryoanji-temple-zen-garden-in-the-spring-season

Ryoan-ji Temple

With its world-famous stone garden (karesansui) Ryoan-ji is another of Kyoto’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Zen rock garden, measuring 2,659 square feet (247 square meters) in area, is believed to have been originally landscaped in the 15th century. It consists of 15 moss-covered small boulders in a sea of raked white gravel, and is laid out so that when viewing the garden from any angle (other than a bird’s-eye view), only 14 rocks are visible – the 15th becoming visible, it is said, upon enlightenment.

kyoto-Nanzenji-Temple

Nanzen-ji Temple

An imposing, quintessential Zen temple that made a cameo in Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation, the Nanzen-ji Temple contains an enormous two-story sanmon, or main gate, that is one of the largest in Japan. The ascent up steep stairs to the second-story balcony rewards visitors with breathtaking views. In the main temple building, pause and enjoy a cup of green tea; savor the sound and sight of a waterfall emptying into a pond, and you will understand why the Nanzen-ji temple has been a Zen holy place since the 13th century.
kyoto-Nishiki-Market

Nishiki Market

Explore Nishiki market, where myriad food stalls serve yakitori (grilled chicken on a stick), fried fish, oshinko (pickled vegetables), and much more. Nishiki is where many residents of Kyoto do their grocery shopping if they have time; it is similar to wet markets in Hong Kong, except they are much cleaner and more dedicated. Generally, each storefront only sells one thing: bonito fish flakes, root vegetables, fresh fish, or locally made sake, for example.

Best Time to Visit Kyoto

The best time to visit Kyoto is either Spring (April/May) or Autumn (October/November), especially if you time with the cherry blossom & fall foliage seasons.

Summer (June to August) can get uncomfortably hot, wet & humid in Kyoto. Surprisingly, the city’s still quite busy at this time of year. Although there are better seasons to visit, it’s not a complete no-go as you’ll still get your fair share of sunny days sprinkled in even in the height of rainy season between mid-June and late July.

The winter months in Kyoto (December to February) are cool, although not as cold as more northernly destinations like Hokkaido. Snowfall is possible and renders Kyoto quite magical.
Max Temperature(ºC)
Jan
8
Feb
8
Mar
12
Apr
18
May
23
Jun
26
Jul
30
Aug
32
Sep
27
Oct
21
Nov
16
Dec
11
Rainfall (mm)
Jan
76
Feb
82
Mar
118
Apr
146
May
159
Jun
240
Jul
243
Aug
181
Sep
209
Oct
123
Nov
86
Dec
67
Month
Daily Max Temperature
Monthly Rainfall

JAN
8ºC
76mm

FEB
8ºC
82mm

MAR
12ºC
118mm

APR
18ºC
146mm

MAY
23ºC
159mm

JUN
26ºC
240mm

JUL
30ºC
243mm

AUG
32ºC
181mm

SEP
27ºC
209mm

OCT
21ºC
123mm

NOV
16ºC
86mm

DEC
11ºC
67mm

Festivals, Events and Seasonal Reasons to Visit

  • 01

    Ohmato Taikai or Festival of the Great Target is held on the 2nd Sunday in January at Sanjusangendo Temple, Kyoto, in conjunction with the Coming of Age Ceremony, whereby 20 year old women from all over the country gather to celebrate adulthood. A 400 year old archery competition that attracts around 2000 young archers every year.
  • 02

    When the cherry blossoms burst into bloom, the Japanese hold rollicking hanami (blossom viewing) parties. The blossoms are fickle and hard to time: on average, they hit their peak in Tokyo or Kyoto between 25 March and 7 April.
  • 03

    Gion Matsuri (祇園祭), the festival of Yasaka Shrine, is the most famous festival in Japan. It takes place over the entire month of July, when many people dress in traditional yukata and huge floats are pulled through the streets. Geisha photo opportunities abound.
  • 04

    Towns across Japan hold spectacular summer fireworks festivals in late July and early August. Among the best: Sumida-gawa Fireworks Festival (Tokyo, late July), Lake Biwa Fireworks Festival (near Kyoto, early August), Lake Kawaguchiko Fireworks (Yamanashi) and the Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks festival (Osaka, early August).
  • 05

    Daimonji Gozan Okuribi (Daimonji Bonfire) is an event held on the evening of August 16th, when gigantic fires in the shape of Chinese characters and other motifs/symbols are set alight in the mountainsides around Kyoto during this festival, which forms part of the O-Bon rites. It's one of Japan's most impressive spectacles.
  • 06

    Kurama-no-hi Matsuri or Kurama Fire Festival is one of the most famous fire-based festivals in Kyoto and is also considered one of its most eccentric. On 22 October, huge flaming torches are carried through the streets of the tiny hamlet of Kurama in the mountains north of Kyoto. This is one of Japan's more primeval festivals.
  • 07

    Kyoto Experiment: Kyoto’s International Performing Arts Festival has taken place every autumn, in late October or early November in Kyoto since 2010, bringing together leading examples of theater and dance from around the world.

Suggested Itineraries

Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel to Kyoto, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists. Alternatively, if you would like to include a visit to Kyoto on a bespoke touring itinerary to Japan, do not hesitate to contact us.
Classic Japan Tour

Tokyo - Hakone & Mount Fuji - Takayama - Shirakawago - Miyajima Island - Hiroshima - Kyoto
Japan Alps Explorer

Tokyo - Matsumoto - Kamikochi - Tsumago - Takayama - Shirakawago - Kanazawa - Kyoto
Japan Snow Monkey Explorer

Tokyo - Yamanouchi - Matsumoto - Tsumago - Kyoto - Hiroshima - Miyajima Island - Osaka

Ideas for Experiencing Kyoto

Dinner with a Maiko
Immerse yourself in the beguiling beauty of the ‘maiko’ (apprentice geisha) scene during an exquisite evening of culture and cuisine at atmospheric streets of Gion, the city's Geisha district. Gain fascinating insight into ancient Japanese customs as you dine in the company of a Maiko and capture photographs to immortalize your memorable evening. Sip on a selection of unlimited drinks and pleasure your palate with delicacies inspired by ‘kaiseki’ cuisine, a traditional Japanese cooking style.