Kyoto Temple Guide: 8 Must See Temples In Kyoto Japan

After a bunch of visits to Japan over the years, I’ve put together this Kyoto temple & shrine guide to help you find the best ones!

Kyoto is Japan’s ancient capital and cultural center, so it has a lot of the most famous shrines in Japan, and there are a bunch of must see temples in Kyoto too.

There are actually more than 2,000 temples and shrines in Kyoto, so it can be tough to decide which ones to visit. Read on for my complete Kyoto temple guide!

Best Traditional Shrines & Temples In Kyoto Japan
1. Kinkaku-ji Temple

The Kinkaku-ji Temple (also known as the Golden Pavilion) is one of the most iconic and famous places in Japan.

It’s the #1 most visited Kyoto temple, and for pretty good reason! It’s almost impossible to take a bad photo here! This is definitely one of the best temples in Kyoto.

A good time to visit is in the morning before the wind picks up, then you can see reflections on the pond. Sadly when we went it was very windy, so no reflections.

More info: Kinkakuji Temple

Kinkakuji Temple
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The Golden Pavilion probably takes the cake for the nicest looking Kyoto temple.
2. Tenryu-ji Temple

This temple was built in the 14th century and it’s located in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district.

It has a nice landscape garden and incredible fall colors if you come near the middle of November. The garden is the main reason this one made my list of the best temples in Kyoto.

Tenryu-ji also borders the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, so chances are you’ll be near it anyway if you’re visiting the top tourist sites of west Kyoto.

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3. Fushimi Inari Shrine

This is an 8th century Kyoto shrine with more than 1,000 orange torii gates surrounded by forest.

It’s fun to wander around the maze of gates and there are some nice mountain trails too.

This place can get very crowded with tourists though, so it’s best to come in the early morning or late afternoon.

Fushimi Inari Shrine
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Bright orange Torii gates at Fushimi Inari, one of the most famous traditional shrines in Kyoto Japan.
4. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

This is probably Japan’s most celebrated temple, and it’s a great place to see fall colors too.

Most people take pictures of the main building, but our favorite part was actually the orange pagoda next to it. In any case, there are loads of good photo ops all around this Kyoto temple!

Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple that was built in eastern Kyoto in the 8th century.

Kiyomizudera Temple pagoda
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The photogenic orange pagoda at Kiyomizu-dera Temple
5. Yasaka Pagoda

It’s impossible to visit the Higashiyama district in Kyoto without seeing this iconic pagoda sticking out above the rest of the buildings.

The Yasaka Pagoda has 5 stories and even though it was built in the 15th century, it’s part of a temple that dates back to the 6th century.

The best photos are on the outside, of course, but you can also go inside (up to the 2nd floor of the pagoda) for a fee.

kyoto town pagoda
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Yasaka Pagoda in the Higashiyama ward
6. Kennin-ji Temple

This is a random temple we passed while strolling through the Higashiyama area of Kyoto.

We didn’t know anything about it at the time, but it turns out this is actually considered one of the most important Zen temples in Kyoto. Founded in 1202 AD, it’s also believed to be the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto.

The white and black colors are nice for pictures.

Kenninji Temple
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Kennin-ji Temple
7. Byodo-in Temple (Uji)

This is an underrated temple located in Uji, a small city between Kyoto and Nara. It’s very easy to visit from Kyoto.

Byodo-in Temple was originally built in 11th century, and today it’s even featured on the Japanese 10 yen coin.

The surprising thing is that Byodo-in Temple actually has a twin building in Hawaii that looks just like it and shares the same name!

Byodoin Temple
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Byodoin Temple strangely has a twin building in Hawaii that looks just like it.
8. Todai-ji Temple (Nara)

Todai-ji Temple is one of Japan’s biggest and most spectacular landmarks. Even though it’s outside of Kyoto, you can still visit it easily from there.

This massive ancient monument has a lot of cool history behind it. It was the world’s biggest wooden building for a millennium, and it houses the biggest bronze Buddha statue in the world.

We’ve visited Todai-ji a couple of times and it’s a must-see. If you look around the Nara Park, it also has a bunch of other traditional Japanese temples and shrines.

Nara is super easy to visit on a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, so you should definitely add it to your Japan bucket list!

More info: Todai-ji Temple

Todaiji Temple Nara
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After being finished in the 8th century, the Todai-ji Temple was the biggest wooden building in the world for more than 1,000 years.
Japanese Temple Etiquette

Most traditional shrines and temples in Kyoto Japan are open to tourists, but there are a few basic rules and things to know:

  • Always be calm and respectful, not noisy — especially when you’re indoors.
  • To go inside of temple buildings, you may have to take off your shoes. This means leaving them at the entrance, or sometimes they’ll provide plastic bags for carrying them with you.
  • You can take photos on the temple grounds, but usually not inside of the buildings. If pictures aren’t allowed, it’ll be sign posted.
  • Some Kyoto temples and shrines are free, but many are not. If there’s an entrance fee, it’s normally less than 500 Yen ($5 USD) per person and tickets are good for the whole day.
  • There are lots of kimono rental shops in Kyoto, and you can wear these to a Japanese temple. If you ask the locals, they aren’t offended by foreigners wearing their traditional dress for pictures, and you’ll see lots of them doing the same.

Japanese Kinkakuji
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Yasaka Pagoda Japan
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When To Visit

Kyoto temples and shrines are especially spectacular in the autumn and cherry blossom seasons, but that’s also when they’re the most crowded.

The timing for these seasons is different every year, but you can generally see the sakura season (cherry blossoms) in the last week of March, and fall colors peak around mid November (for the Kyoto area).

Generally the best time of day to visit is early in the morning and late in the afternoon, because the temples can get extremely crowded by midday, especially during holidays and peak seasons.

At any of the temples with ponds (like Kinkakuji), you’ll want to be there early in the morning anyway to capture the reflections on the pond before the wind picks up.

Happy travels!

Kyoto Temple Guide Must See Temples Shrines Japan
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Kinkaku-ji — the famous golden temple of Kyoto
More Japanese Shrine & Temple Guides

I hope you enjoyed this list of some of the best temples to visit in Kyoto Japan.

Don’t forget to check out my complete Japan Travel Guide with more tips, info, and photos!