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The city of Kyoto and its surrounding area are home to 17 Japanese sites designated as part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kyoto and Uji are in Kyoto Prefecture, and Ōtsu is in Shiga Prefecture; Uji and Ōtsu border Kyoto to the south and north, respectively.

The city of Kyoto was established in 794 and served as the imperial capital and cultural hub of Japan for the next thousand years. Kyoto’s cultural prominence shielded the city’s historical sites from bombing during World War II. Today, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of attractions in Kyoto, which is why we’ve compiled this guide to help visitors make the most of their time in the city.


Related: These Breathtaking Photos Of Kyoto Are Like Something Out Of A Dream

The Ancient Sites Of Kyoto And Why They’re So Significant

Between the eighth and seventeenth centuries, the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto were the center of religiously inspired wooden architectural growth and the flourishing of Japanese garden culture. Following the nineteenth century, this garden design standard blossomed worldwide, and Kyoto played a crucial role in creating Japanese customs and traditions due to its authenticity.

The Kyoto Monuments are the pinnacle of pre-modern Japanese material culture, especially in timber architecture and landscape design. There are 198 structures and 12 gardens among its 17 sections. High levels of authenticity and integrity are displayed by all parts, facilitating an accurate understanding of their function in Japan’s distant past.

The 17 components are The Kiyomizudera Temple, Toji Temple, Enryakuji Temple, Daigoji Temple, Ninnaji Temple, Byodoin Temple, Kozanji Temple, Kokedera Temple, Tenryuji Temple, Kinkakuji Temple, Ginkakuji Temple, Ryoanji Temple, Honganji Temple, Kamigamo Shrine, Shimogamo Shrine, Ujigami Shrine, and Nijo Castle. Each property is a religious institution, with the exception of Nijo Castle.

Even though Kyoto is a vast, modern metropolis with a population of over a million, Japan’s former capital has managed to preserve much of its historic beauty and charm. For example, the Kinkaku-Ji Temple is a popular tourist destination because of its stunning architecture and location.

As the city’s most well-known landmark, the temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion, has come to represent Kyoto and its culture. The building dates back to 1397, when it was constructed as a retirement villa for the Shogun. The upper two stories of the beautiful temple are entirely covered in brilliant gold leaf, making it incredibly photogenic against the verdant backdrop.

Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, one of Japan’s most revered shrines, is the city’s most significant World Heritage Site. This historic temple, built in honor of Kannon, the Buddhist Compassionate One, dates back to 780. The main hall is the highlight, as it stands on a cliffside and features a wooden balcony extending over the edge, providing breathtaking views of Kyoto below. The balcony’s construction without nails is a testament to the ingenuity and expertise of old-school Japanese carpentry.

Visitors should then make their way to Byodoin, where they can enjoy a cup of genuine Uji Tea in a posh Japanese teahouse on the temple’s grounds. Byodoin is a late Heian period Buddhist temple in the city of Uji in the Japanese prefecture of Kyoto, and the Jodo Shu (Pure Land) and The Tendai sects share the temple. The main hall of Byodoin, Phoenix Hall, is connected to two smaller corridors and a more extended tail corridor.

An Amida Buddha statue stands in the foyer. The hōō in Japanese refers to the Chinese phoenix figurines adorning the hall’s roof. This building is so rare that it is considered a priceless cultural treasure of Japan, dating back to the reign of the Fujiwara Regent. A visit to the neighboring museum is rewarding, and the modern Tonka Tea Room is a great relaxing spot.

Fushimi Inari Taisha, devoted to the Shinto rice god, is Kyoto’s most important shrine. Established in 711, its thousands of vermilion torii shrine gates make it one of Japan’s most stunning and unforgettable destinations. From the main shrine buildings at the mountain’s foot, the surreal world of shrines and torii shrine gates wound their way up the mountain. At the entrance to the shrine is the Romon Gate, a gift from the samurai warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1589.

Before the Meiji Restoration of 1869, Japan’s emperor and imperial family lived in the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Several stunning structures in traditional Japanese architecture stand on the royal grounds, which are open to the public. Even though the current Imperial Palace was constructed in 1855, the original palace was finished in 794 and continues to be the primary site for imperial ceremonies and coronations.

Related: 10 Things To See In Kyoto (Besides Cherry Blossoms)

Getting To Kyoto

As Kyoto lacks its own airport, passengers must fly into either Kansai International Airport (KIX) or Itami Airport (ITM). Both are in the prefecture of Osaka, while KIX handles international and domestic flights and Itami solely domestic ones. Getting to the heart of Kyoto from either airport is a breeze, with various options, including private transfers, taxis, trains, and limousine buses.

Visitors from other Japanese cities often take the train to Kyoto rather than a domestic aircraft. Using Japan’s world-class rail network is a highlight of any trip here. From east or west in Honshu, the shinkansen is the most time- and energy-efficient option, while the limited express train is the best choice for people from Kanazawa.


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