Temples in Kyoto

Kyoto is by no means large, yet this former capital of Japan is home to around 1,600 amazing Buddhist temples. They are not only breathtakingly beautiful, but many are thousands of years old, with some even being UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Seeing them all on one trip to Kyoto is impossible, so we have decided to list all of the best Kyoto temples to visit.

Topics Covered

  • The Ryoan-ji temple
  • The Tenryu-ji temple
  • The Tofuku-ji temple
  • The Ginkaku-ji temple
  • The Kinkaku-ji temple
  • The Nanzen-ji temple
  • The Kiyomizu-dera temple

Kyoto temples with the best gardens

Zen temples usually have some of the most amazing gardens you have ever seen, and if you are particularly interested in these types of gardens then check out the following Kyoto temples.

Ryoan-ji temple

Kyoto Temples: Ryoan-ji temple

The Ryoan-ji temple.

The Ryoan-ji temple, also known as The Temple of the Dragon at Peace, is situated in the northwest corner of Kyoto. This Zen temple was first established in 1452 and attracts visitors in their hundreds each day who come to see the most famous rock garden in all of Japan.

The rock garden consists of pebble ground with 15 rocks placed around the garden with each sitting on a patch of moss. The garden’s origins and meaning are unknown, but the rocks are strategically placed, because no matter from which spot or angle you view the garden, one rock will always be out of your view.

There is no doubt that the rock garden is the star attraction, but there are things to do and see as well. The temple grounds are fairly large and offer visitors several trails. But another great feature is the pond. It has three beautiful islands and has a shrine on one of them that can be accessed via a little bridge.

And you will be glad to know that there is a tatami matted room overlooking the garden from where you can enjoy Japanese drinks and tofu.

As mentioned, hundreds of people visit here each day so it gets really busy. If you want to avoid the crowds then be there just as they open or before they close.

Address13 Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8001, Japan
Phone+81 75-463-2216
Business Hours08:00 – 17:00 (March to November)
08:30 – 16:30 (December to February)
Closed DatesOpen 7 days a week
Admission Fee500 Yen ($5 US) for adults and 300 Yen ($3 US) for school students.

Tenryu-ji temple

Tenryu-ji temple

The Tenryu-ji temple

The Tenryu-ji temple was first built in 1339 by a shogun named Ashikaga Takauji to honor Emperor Go-Daigo. Interestingly, most of the temple buildings have repeatedly been destroyed and rebuilt as a result of fires and wars over the centuries, but the gardens have remained intact and undamaged.

The enormous Zen temple, based in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto, has many buildings. These include the Hatto (Dharma Hall), the Kuri (living quarters), the Hojo (Abbot’s quarters), the sodo (a training monastery), the Tahoden (the hall of many treasures), and the Yu’un-an (Floating Cloud Hermitage) – which was the former training monastery.

The Ryumontei (Dragon Gate Pavillion) is a newer construction that was built in 2000 and is a vegetarian restaurant that visitors can eat at while taking walks through the garden.

As for the gardens… there are two. The Sogen Pond Garden, which was built 700 years ago, still looks the same way today as it did back then. It’s a strolling garden where visitors can enjoy some spectacular scenery. Then to the north sits the Hyakka’en (The Garden of a Hundred Flowers) where you will find trees, bushes, and herbs laid out perfectly.

And should you feel hungry or thirsty while strolling through one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan, then you’ll be glad to know that there are two teahouses too.

Address68 Susukinobaba-cho, Saga Tenryu-ji, Ukyo-ku
Phone+81 75-881-1235
Business Hours08:30 – 17:30pm (21 March – 20 October)
08:30 – 17:00 (21 October – 21 March)
Closed DatesOpen 7 days a week
Admission Fee500 Yen ($5 US) and an additional 300 Yen ($3 US) for entry into the temple buildings.

Tofuku-ji temple

Kyoto Temples: The Tofuku-ji-temple

The Tofuku-ji temple

The legendary Tofuku-ji temple was built in 1236 to rival the great temples in Nara. As a matter of fact, the Tofuku-ji is named after two of Nara’s best temples – the Todai-ji and the Kofuku-ji.

Apart from having spectacular architecture, the garden is one of the best places in Japan to see the Autumn colors – and attracts enormous amounts of tourists during the season. Furthermore, the garden, as beautiful as it is, is also unique because it has a fairly deep ravine filled with maple trees that run directly through the temple grounds. There are four gardens – the northern, southern, western, and eastern gardens. You will find dry stone gardens and moss gardens.

Some notable buildings on the temple grounds include the famous two-story-tall Sammon Gate, the Hondo (main hall), and the Hojo (Abbot’s quarters).

Address15 Chome-778 Honmachi, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0981, Japan
Phone+81 75-561-0087
Business Hours09:00 – 16:00 (April to October)
08:30 – 16:00 (November to early December)
09:00 – 15:30 (early December to March).
Closed DatesOpen 7 days a week
Admission FeeAccess to the temple grounds is free; Access to the Hojo Garden is 400 Yen ($4 US) for adults and 300 Yen ($3 US) for school students; Access to the Tsutenkyo and Kaizando is 400 Yen ($4 US) and 300 Yen ($3 US) for school students.

Ginkaku-ji temple

Kyoto Temples: The Ginkakuji temple.

The Ginkaku-ji temple

Ginkaku-ji translates to The Temple of the Silver Pavilion and was completed in 1460. It’s situated in the Sakyo ward of Kyoto and has a bamboo fence around it, which is symbolic and means that the temple grounds have closed themselves off from the material world.

The temple was originally built as a retirement villa for a shogun named Ashikaga Yoshimasa. It was his wish that the villa be converted to a temple when he dies.

The grounds hold around six buildings with the most popular one being the two-story-tall Ginkaku-ji, which houses a statue of the Buddhist goddess of mercy – the statue of Kannon.

And if you like moss gardens then you’re in for a treat because according to many, the moss garden at the Ginkaku-ji is the best in Kyoto. Many of these gardens are islands in a pond that you can access via a small bridge. Another garden on the grounds is a sand garden named the Sea of Silver Sand which is famous for its large platform named “the moon viewing platform”.

Address2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8402, Japan
Phone+81 75-771-5725
Business Hours08:30 – 17:00 (March to November)
09:00 – 16:30 (December to January)
Closed DatesOpen 7 days a week
Admission Fee500 Yen ($5 US) for adults and 300 Yen ($3 US) for school students.

Other Kyoto temples

The following temples aren’t known for their gardens but have other features that make them popular, unique, and well worth visiting.

Kinkaku-ji temple

Kyoto Temples: The Kinkakuji temple

The Kinkaku-ji temple

Ah, the Kinkaku-ji, also known as the ‘Golden Pavilion’, is the most famous temple in Kyoto – if not in all of Japan. The iconic three-story building was originally built in 1393, but what you see standing today is a reconstruction from 1955, because the building was destroyed multiple times throughout history from fires, earthquakes, and wars.

The temple holds Buddhist relics and the top two floors are completely covered in gold-colored leaves. Also, each story makes use of a different architectural style. For example, the first floor uses the Shinden style, the second floor uses the Buke Zukuri style, and the top floor looks like a Buddha hall.

The bad news is that no one is allowed to enter the temple. You can, however, admire it from the beautiful strolling garden outside.

Address1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361, Japan
Phone+81 75-461-0013
Business Hours09:00 – 17:00
Closed DatesOpen 7 days a week
Admission Fee400 Yen ($4 US) for adults and 300 Yen ($3 US) for school students.

Nanzen-ji temple

The Nanzen-ji temple.

The Nanzen-ji temple

The Nanzen-ji temple was established in 1291 and sits in a beautiful forest at the base of the scenic Higashiyama mountains. Most of the structures here have been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times. The first structure you will see as you enter the grounds – the 22-meter tall Sanmon Gate, which translates to Mountain Gate.

The gate memorializes all those who died during the Siege of Osaka Castle in 1615 and there is a staircase you can climb to the top from where you can see incredible views of Kyoto.

Other attractions include Sosui, which is a European-styled canal that was completed in 1890, a beautiful tea room where you can enjoy scenic garden scenery while enjoying green tea and wagashi, and multiple sub-temples.

Address86 Fukuchi-cho, Nanzen-ji, Sakyo-ku
Phone+81 75-771-0365
Business Hours08:40 – 17:00 (March to November)
08:40 – 16:30 (December to February)
Closed DatesOpen 7 days a week
Admission FeeEntry to the temple grounds is free. Entry to the Hojo garden is 500 Yen ($5 US) for adults and 400 Yen ($4 US) for school students. Entry to the San-mon Gate is 500 Yen ($5 US) for adults and 400 Yen ($4 US) for school students.

Kiyomizu-dera temple

Kyoto Temples: The Kiyomizu-dera temple

The Kiyomizu-dera temple

The Kiyomizu-dera temple was founded in 778, but the buildings on the grounds have been there since 1633. What attracts so many tourists to this particular Kyoto temple is the Butai which is a wooden platform that provides some of the best views of Kyoto City.

Other attractions on the grounds include the 31-meter high pagoda, a bell tower from 1596, the Otowa Waterfall, the jizo (Kshitigarbha) statue, and the Sannenzaka shopping street.

Address294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862, Japan
Phone+81 75-551-1234
Business Hours06:00 – 18:00
Closed DatesOpen 7 days a week
Admission Fee300 Yen ($3 US) for adults and 200 Yen ($2 US) for school students.

Related Content

If you like Japanese gardens, then be sure to check out the Kyoto Botanical Garden here.

The hiking trails in and around Kyoto are phenomenal. Find out more about them here.

Kyoto is known for more than its temples, gardens, and hiking trails. It also has one of the best geisha districts in all of Japan. Get more information about it here.