East Kyoto is the best-preserved and most charming part of the city with a number of significant sites within walking distance of one another. You can easily spend the best part of a day exploring the temples and shrines in this area alone. We’ve put together an easy to follow itinerary to get the most out of your day.
Kiyomizudera (Pure Water Temple)
Start your day with a trip to one of Japan’s most revered and ancient temples. Nestled into the wooded hills east of Kyoto with views across the city, Kiyomizuderu is surrounded by a sea of maple and cherry trees, and from the temple’s famous wooden balcony you can watch the worshippers at the Otowa Waterfall below.
Kiyomizuderu is located in the historic Higashiyama District in east Kyoto. It’s 15 minutes by bus from Kyoto Station. Get off at the Kiyomizu-michi bus stop and walk up hill through the lively and atmospheric streets with their traditional wooden buildings and merchant shops.
Walk west through the narrow lanes of the Higashiyama District, towards Maruyama Park and Yasaka Shrine. The shrine is one of Kyoto’s most celebrated and is the focal point for Japan’s most famous festival, the Gion Matsuri. Stop for a rest and a bite to eat before continuing west on foot to Gion.
Gion is Kyoto’s famous geisha district and you can often see them flitting between appointments at the many exclusive restaurants and teahouses. Stroll along Hanami-koji past beautifully preserved machiya (merchant houses) and then find your way to the willow-tree lined Shirakawa Canal. Cultural shows are held everyday at Gion Corner.
From Gion, jump back onto Bus 100 to take you to Ginkaku-ji.
Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)
Ginkaku-ji is a Zen temple set amid beautiful gardens and a lake. Here you can experience a typical dry sand Zen garden and follow a trail through the grounds that leads you to a divine moss garden and the lush hills beyond.
Detour: If you have time, take a stroll (south) down the Philosopher’s Path to Nanzen-ji Temple. The Path is particularly scenic during cherry blossom season (March & April).
From Ginkaku-ji or Nanzen-ji catch another bus or the subway to Kinkaku-ji. It’s a bit of a trek (the temple is on the other side of town) but worth the effort.
Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
Unlike its copycat sister temple, the Ginkaku-ji, (which despite its name does not have a silver exterior), Kinkakuji is covered in gold leaf. One of Japan’s most picturesque temples, Kinkakuji overlooks a large pond and is surrounded by beautiful gardens.
When you’ve finished exploring, head out for a kaiseki dinner in either Pontocho or Gion to experience traditional Kyoto cuisine at its most refined.