If you’re looking for a new kind of adventure, why not explore half of Kyoto’s World Heritage sites, all in one day? Let us bring you on a trip around the south of Kyoto, where historical shrines stand tall against flourishing backdrops of age-old trees that have withstood the test of time. Soothe your tense mind by enjoying a moment of peace in the stillness of ancient temples, all while re-connecting with your loved ones and yourself.
In the morning:
1. Tenryu-ji in Ukyo Ward
The grandeur of Tenryu-ji was refurbished from old palace grounds to a zen temple at the request of Ashikaga Takauji, who was the ruling Shogun during the Muromachi Period in the 1300s. Translating to “Dragon in the sky”, the name was coined after Ashikaga’s brothers’ dream, where a dragon settled in the river south of the temple grounds and hence, earning its name. Nowadays, you can pop by for a peek at the head branch of the Rinzai Zen Buddhism - surrounded by views of a stunning garden and a quiet lake, you can spend slow afternoons contemplating in still silence.
Address: 68 Saga Tenryuji Susukinobabacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City
Opening Hours: 8:30am - 5:30pm in summer, 8:30am - 4:30pm in winter (October 21-March 20)
Price: from 5 USD
Access: Take the Kyoto Bus Line numbers 61, 72, or 83 and get off at the Arashiyama Tenryu-ji Mae bus stop
2. The Moss Temple (Saiho-ji) in Kokedera, Nishikyo Ward
For those who want a peek into this mossy haven, be sure to send in your reservations early - due to the fragility of the plants in the temple, the number of visitors are limited daily and requests are preferred to reach the temple by post, 7 days prior to your arrival. Upon entering the temple, you will be required to participate in ancient Buddhist practices of kito and shakyo, either in the form of zazen (meditation), hand-copying a part of the sutra, or chanting of scriptures. The calming experience will prepare you for the beautiful views up ahead. With a full 90 minutes all to yourself, be sure to take in all that Mother Nature has in store for you in the serene sanctuary of Saiho-ji.
Saijo-ji (the Moss Temple)
Address: 56 Matsuojingatanicho, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto City
Price: You pay for the mailing fee as well as the return postage fees
Opening Hours: Depends on the time slot you get upon reservation.
Access: Take the Kyoto Bus number 73 from Kyoto Station via Arashiyama to Kokedera
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3. Nijo Castle in Nakagyo Ward
Built in 1603 for the first shogun of the Edo period, the Nijo castle consists of three sightseeing areas: the Honmaru, a blooming garden that surrounds it, and the main attraction of this castle: the magnificent Ninomaru Palace. Explore the fascinating interior where the shogun used to hold his audiences - be sure to tread carefully along the corridors, as the nightingale floors will let out a sound similar to that of a chirping bird, alerting security forces during the olden times of intruders!
Address: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto City
Opening Hours: 8:45am to 5pm (Last admission at 4pm) Ninomaru opens from 9am to 4pm
Price: from 8 USD
Access: Take the Kyoto City Bus numbers 9, 50 or 101 from Kyoto Station
In the afternoon:
4. Hongan-ji in Shimogyo Ward
Part of one of the two Shin Buddhism temples in Kyoto, the Nishi Hongan-ji is located in the western part of the Shimogyo ward. Erected in 1602, it was forced to split into two different locations (the other being the Hogashi Hongan-ji) by the ruling shogun of the time, Tokugawa Ieyasu, in order to weaken the combined forces of the sect. Now, both temples co-exist a few blocks away beside each other, so you can visit with a peace of mind. Be sure to check out the massive Karamon Gate with intricately carved gables and gold-plated ornaments. The shiro-shoin study hall within the temple walls is the perfect place to catch a breather, all while taking in the pleasant stillness that your surroundings have to offer.
Address: Horikawa-dori Hanayamachi-Sagaru, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto City
Opening Hours: 5:30am to 5:30pm in March, April, September, October 5:30am to 6pm during May to August 5:30am to 5pm during November to February
Access: 10-15 minute walk north of Kyoto Station
5. To-ji Temple in Minami Ward
If you’re venturing in from the city, you definitely won’t miss Toji-temple with the tall spire of the aged pagoda peeking out of the dense canopy. Pay respect to the mythical deities of Buddhism in the Kondo Hall, standing firm even after a fiery fire ravaged the grounds in the 14th century. Restored to its original state, it continues to house the ancient Yakushi Buddha statue. When you’re done in the Kondo Hall, head to the Kodo Hall just beside for a breathtaking view of the spiraling mandala that depicts the immemorial goddesses and divinities that were rumoured to grace the lands of Kyoto a long, long time ago.
Address: 1 Kujocho, Minami Ward, Kyoto City
Price: from 6 USD
Opening Hours: 8:30am to 5:30pm (until 4:30pm from mid September to mid March) Last admission 30 minutes before closing.
Access: Walk down southwest of Kyoto Station for 15-minutes
6. Kiyomizu Temple in Higashiyama Ward
Being one of the most well-known temples in Kyoto, you may recognise the temple perched atop the 13-metre wooden stage from travel brochures around the world. Home to the holy statue of Kannon, the intricately crafted deity with eleven faces and forty-two arms is a sight to behold, and whether you’re a believer or not, everyone is welcome to pay respects here, or simply indulge in the majestic tranquility in the hall. Head over to the Jishu Shrine just behind the main body of the temple if you’d like some luck with your love life. Placed in front of the shrines are 2 stones, placed 18-metres apart. Legend says that if you’re able to find your way from one stone to the other means that you’ll be able to find your soulmate, so for the hopeless romantics, feel free to try it out for yourself!
Address: 294 Kiyomizu 1-chome, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City
Price: from 5 USD
Opening Hours: 6am to 6pm (until 6:30pm on weekends and holidays from mid April through July and everyday in August and September)
Access: Take bus no.100 or no. 206 from Kyoto Station
In the evening:
7. Daigo-ji Temple in Fushimi Ward
Home to the Shingon Buddhism practices, the lower Daigo area of Daigo-ji Temple houses the most historical parts of this place. The pagoda that towers over the swaying trees was built way back in year 951, and has a beautiful view of the abundant greenery all around you. Head over to the Bentendo Hall photographed above, where the idyllic pond is a calm contrast to the vivid colours that dye the scene a hue of blooming red, making it a picturesque place for photos.
Address: 22 Daigo Higashi Oji-cho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto City
Price: from 9 USD
Opening Hours: 9am to 5pm (till 4pm from early December through February) Last admission 30 minutes before closing
Access: Take the Keihan Bus number 22 or 22A from Yamashina Station to Daigo-ji.
8. Drinking tea at Nakamura Tokichi on Ujibashidori Street
Indulge in a sweet treat at Nakamura Tokichi, where you can satisfy your sweet tooth with a delicious serving of matcha treats, and wash down all that sugar with a refreshing cup of green tea. The long queues outside the shop prove the point - but we know how much your legs are aching after a whole day of walking! The thoughtful staff leave out chairs for waiting customers, so don’t let the line put you off because it’ll be worth the wait!
Address: 10 Uji Ichiban, Uji City, Kyoto
Price: from 12 USD
Opening Hours: Weekdays/Saturday, Sunday and Holidays Tea Shop 10am - 5:30pm Cafe 11am -5:30pm (last order at 5pm)
9. Ujigami Shrine in Uji City
Believed to be the oldest original Shinto shrine in Kyoto, don’t let the unassuming exterior fool you - beneath the simple wooden walls lies a lore suggesting that the shrine was built in remembrance of the imperial princess, Uji no Wakiiratsuko, who committed suicide in an honourable act of trying to prevent conflict with regards to the succession line. The unique nagare-zukuri architectural style is also worth a look - let the curved roofs of the shrine shelter you from harsh sun rays, as you indulge in the gentle silence of Uji City.
Address: 59 Uji Yamada, Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture
Opening Hours: 9am to 4:30pm
Access: Ten minutes’ walking distance from Keihan Uji Station or 15 minutes from JR Uji Station.
10. Byodo-in in Uji City
Living up to its name, the Phoenix Hall of Byodo-in is a striking shade of red - much like the mythical phoenixes that appear in legends. Some say that the two phoenixes that stand guard on the roof of the hall are the guardians of the place, as the Phoenix Hall was never destroyed in the series of fire that wrecked the Byodo-in. Now featured on the back of a 10-yen coin, the legend continues to live on.
Address: 116 Ujirenge, Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture
Price: from 7 USD
Opening Hours: 8:30am to 5:30pm (last entry at 5:15pm)
Access: A short 10-minute walk across the river by a small island connected by bridges from Ujigami Shrine.
A spiritual retreat
Many people know of Kyoto as a historical haven, with traditional tea houses that line the streets and local eateries boasting of delicious, homemade recipes. But what captures the spirit of Kyoto best are its shrines with rich history that date back centuries ago - perhaps it would be a good idea to traverse across the holy grounds for a day, just for a short disconnection with the hectic city life and to retreat into your inner selves for awhile.
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