Famous Shrines and Temples in Kyoto that You Must Visit

Kyoto had been the capital of Japan for the greater part of its history, and to date, the city is rich in cultural and religious heritage. There are countless beautiful and traditional temples and shrines scattered throughout the city, some even globally recognized ones.

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Kyoto as Japan's cultural capital       

Kyoto occupied Japan’s history as the capital of the nation for a long portion of its history, lasting from 794 until 1868. Being the capital of the country, it was the seat of power for political, cultural, and religious maneuvers. The nobles lived in the city and the place  held important events and critical battles. The capital of any nation is often the center of turning events in its history, and it is no wonder that many would choose it to monument their country’s history and greatness.

Architectural structures like castles and temples awed the people then, and it continues to do so in the present. Japan is famous for its beautiful, scenic castles and temples, and these icons are more than the wood, and stone they are built with; these are icons and symbols of power and prestige for all to see.

Another thing that made the temples in Kyoto unique apart from their history is the style they are built in. The prominent religion in Japan includes both Buddhism and Shintoism. The main difference between temples and shrines is that the prior originated from Buddhism, and the latter from Shintoism. Temples are likely to contain statues of Buddha, their premises structured to have a pagoda and tiled roofs, and sometimes have cemeteries as well. Shrines on the other hand have the symbolic torii gates and give a different sense of aesthetics in general.

Famous Shrines and Temples in Kyoto

There are quite the number of temples and shrines in Kyoto, simplytoo many to cover in one trip and one article, and so here are the notable ones that you must simply see with your own eyes in your visit to the city.

Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion

Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion is famous for its beauty and history. The pavilion was burnt several times but similarly rebuilt each time. Built near a body of water, the reflection is a sight to behold as it amplifies the pavilion's aesthetic designs. It is three-stories high, with the second and third layers of the structure a melding of gold leaves and wood. Each of the three  layers is built differently, with the first molded in the style of the Heian palace, followed by that of a samurai house, and the latter, upper portion in a zen-temple style.  The temple is a cumulation of different architectural designs, yet still following the adage of “unity of man and nature” inspired by oriental beliefs. 

The structure is especially eye-catching with its golden walls, especially during winter when the white snow contrasts with the bright pavilion. There is even a novel named “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion”, which shows how influential and significant Kinkakuji is, to inspire a literary art attributed to itself, and to the well-deserved reputation it holds to the current era.

Kiyomizu-dera, the Clear Water Temple

Unlike many other structures, it is held together without a single nail, yet it stands as tall, stands proud — the grand Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Kiyomizu-dera is referred to as the clear water or pure water temple, mainly attributed to the flowing, vibrant waters from the Otowa waterfall which is central to many local beliefs. The temple was founded as a place of worship to the goddess Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Kiyomizu-dera is built on the Kiyomizu mountain and is surrounded by trees that are a sight to see in autumn. The temple is a paragon example of Japanese woodworking, perfectly combined with nature.

Both for the temple itself and the scenic location it was founded upon, the Kiyomizu is always flocked, and should be included in your travel plan. The elevation of the temple allows tourists and locals alike to enjoy distant views with ease, surrounded by the natural beauty of the environment. It is no wonder that Japan deemed it as a national treasure.

There are also various beliefs surrounding the temple and its waters. Some claim that the waters can bring many benefits to those who drink it - some of these are attracting good luck and prolonging life - and the water itself can be bought in spring as a souvenir.

Toji (Kyo-o-gokokuji), the Twelve Hundred-Year-Old Pagoda Temple

The Toji Temple pagoda is as tall as it is old. Measured at a towering 55 meters, the pagoda is recognized as the tallest wooden pagoda that still stands in Japan today. Because of its height, the pagoda is visible when you ride the bullet train!

The Toji Temple centered around events important to both Japanese history, and Buddhism. Toji Temple has a lecture hall, called Kodo, that was meant to help Esocentric Buddhism to flourish in the country. The Kodo, similar to other temples, was burnt but rebuilt some 400 years ago. Known as one of the oldest temples in Kyoto, it is also globally recognized as a World Heritage Site.

※ To-ji Temple (Kyo-o-gokoku-ji Temple), About To-ji, "History of To-ji Temple"
※ To-ji Temple (Kyo-o-gokoku-ji Temple), Inside of To-ji, "Five-Storied Pagoda"

Fushimi Inari Shrine, and its 10,000 Red Torii Gates

Fushimi Inari Shrine, built roughly around 1300 years ago, houses the world-famous 10,000 vermilion torii gates, and its ancient temple. The temple is famous for its mountain trail, a route that may take an hour or two to reach its end, depending on your pace and how often you stop. There are various thresholds along the way from which one can enjoy the view, and people can turn back if they want to. 

※ Fushimi Inari Taisha, "FAQ"

What made it world-famous is most likely the ten thousand red torii gates, the perfect photo spot. The temple claims to hold more than 10,000 torii gates, and you can witness this when you visit. Scattered in the temple are statues of foxes, and it maintains the ancient architectural style that retained the sacred feeling of the place. The gates are arranged in a way that they may give a sense of tunnel vision to trekkers, and a mysterious illusion of traveling elsewhere. Torii gates represent the distinction and separation of sacred grounds and the mundane world; the ten thousand torii gates themselves are mere representations of the shrine’s sacredness.

Things to remember when visiting Temples in Kyoto

There are other notable temples and shrines, and it is up to your adventurous spirit to discover and visit them! Do note that there is certain etiquette to be followed and though it is fine to enjoy your travels, we must be mindful of others and be certain to abide by common rules. Some of these rules may include praying and coin tossing procedures, removing your shoes inside temples, strictly following any temple rules including that of photography, and to generally not disturb the solemness of sacred grounds.

There are various tour plans that often include famous temples and shrines, and they may be an effective choice for those who have no grasp of the local language and location. Also, remember that while some shrines and temples are free to enter, many also charge a small entrance fee.


Traveling is one of the best leisures of life, and there are simply some places that you cannot and should not miss when you visit Kyoto, Japan. These are just some of the temples in Kyoto - there are so many others that all travelers are recommended to roam about to explore. It helps to know about the history, meaning, and representation of historical locations to better appreciate what they stand for.

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