Walkway in bamboo grooves at Arashiyama Area, Kyoto, Japan

Arashiyama Area

The gateway to Kyoto’s lush western hills, famous for forested mountains and bamboo grooves, this area is 20-minutes by car from the city center and worthy of a day trip. It can be packed with tourists from all over Japan, particularly at cherry blossom time. During Arashiyama Hanatouro, in mid-December, some three miles of walkway through the bamboo forest are illuminated by 2,400 lanterns. Indagare Tip: The area is open 24/7, so if you want to avoid the crowds, go early in the morning (around 7 a.m.).

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Exterior View - Daitoku-ji Temple,Kyoto, Japan

Daitoku-ji Temple

This extensive temple complex houses twenty-four sub-temples, eight of which are open to the public. If you are interested in Zen culture, this is a place to visit. Ryosen-in holds early morning zazen (Zen meditation sittings). Also, don’t miss the three wonderful sub-temples that can be visited here: Daisen-in, Koto-in and Zuiho-in. Daisen-in has a masterpiece Zen garden that is highly regarded in Japan; Koto-in has fewer visitors and is surrounded by bamboo and a moss garden that can be viewed from the veranda. Zuiho-in enshrines a 16th-century Christian daimyo (feudal lord) and features the Garden of a Quiet Sleep where seven stones lay in the shape of a cross. To get to the Daitoku complex, take a taxi or hop on the subway, exit at Kitaoji and then walk for fifteen minutes to arrive at the temple.

Aerial View-Fushimi-Inari-Hike ,Kyoto, Japan


Active types will enjoy this hike, which starts at Inari Station and leads up Inari-san (765 feet). You will have a great view over southern Kyoto and can visit Tofuku-Ji Temple on the way back down to Tofuku-ji Station (where you can take the train back to Kyoto Station). Calculate about two hours for the hike.

Exterior View-Fushimi-Inari-Taisha ,Kyoto, Japan-Courtesy of Yan Ajin


This shrine was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake. It’s a popular sight and the complex consists of five shrines spread out across the wooden slopes of Inari-san mountain. The path meanders 2 ½ miles up the mountain and is lined with hundreds of orange-colored gates (it inspired Christo’s 2005 installation in Central Park) and fox sculptures. In Shinto mythology, the fox is a sacred and mysterious figure that can possess humans. The stroll up the mountain can become mysterious itself; you come across several graveyards and small shrines. There are many tiny tea houses, but don’t count on them to be open at all times.

Tip: Wear solid shoes, as the slopes can get slippery.

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Exterior View - Gion District,Kyoto, Japan - Courtesy of Rachel H.

Gion District

Kyoto's most charming central neighborhood is filled with tiny wooden townhouses (machiyass), which line the ancient streets and have glowing paper lanterns hanging beside their front doors. If you’re lucky you will catch a glimpse of the beautiful, elaborately dressed geishas or maikos, many of whom live in this neighborhood.

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Exterior View - Golden Pavilion (Rokuon-ji Temple),Kyoto, Japan

Golden Pavilion (Rokuon-ji Temple)

One of the most iconic monuments in Kyoto, the Golden Pavilion was originally built in 1397 and its sides are covered with gold leaf. Getting a photo in front of the dazzling building is a Kyoto rite of passage (crowds are a constant here), and even the setting on a serene pond is lovely.

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Food at Indagare Tours: In-Home Cooking Class, Kyoto, Japan

Indagare Tours: In-Home Cooking Class

Throughout the class, you can chat with your host (via a translator) and learn about each other’s backgrounds, traditions and beliefs.
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Aerial View - Koke-Dera (Saiho-ji Temple), Kyoto, Japan

Koke-Dera (Saiho-ji Temple)

To get permission to enter this famous moss garden (koke-dera), you have to make a reservation several weeks in advance, making it somewhat challenging for visitors. But for anyone interested in Zen practice, it’s worth the extra effort. If you get shut out, visit nearby Jizo temple, which also has a lovely moss garden (no advance reservation is necessary here) and is located just a few minutes south of Koke-dera. The entrance fee to Koke-Dera is Yen 3,000 ($30). To arrive, take the train to Arashiyama Station, then a fifteen-minute taxi ride along the river to Saihoji.

Kyoto Imperial Palace

The palace complex is enclosed by a long wall and consists of several gates, halls and gardens. It can be visited only on guided tours held by the Imperial Household Agency. You need to apply for permission in advance with your passport or at the agency’s office in the Kyoto Imperial Park or online. The Imperial Palace is surrounded by a sprawling park, which has been likened to New York’s Central Park. These grounds can be accessed without a reservation and are a great place for strolling and biking.

Exterior View - Nanzenji Temple, Kyoto, Japan - Courtesy Takeshi Kuboki

Nanzenji Temple

This temple was originally a retirement home for Emperor Kameyama (in 1264) but was later dedicated as a Zen temple. The present building dates from the 17th century. Nanzenji is now the headquarter of the Rinzai school and has been ranked as one of Kyoto’s five great Zen temples.

You enter through San-mon gate, up the path to the famous karesansui (dry garden) The garden is called toranoko-watachi, which means “young tigers crossing the water” after the shape of the rocks. You can sit on a wooden porch overlooking the garden, which consists of empty space, white raked gravel, some large stones, bushes and the famous tiger stones. Don’t miss the wonderful paintings of tigers covering the sliding doors and enjoy a cup of matcha tea and some sweets. There are many small sub-temples, which are often ignored by the crowds but well-worth visiting.

Tip: The path up to Nanzenji leads past several small restaurants that serve Kyoto’s specialty: tofu-ryori, a type of boiled tofu. This is a chance to try it where it is freshest.

Exterior View - Nijo Castle,Kyoto, Japan - Courtesy of Keith Pomakis

Nijo Castle

Within the confines of this ancient and vast castle are lovely gardens and the Ninomaru Palace. The most beautiful things inside are the superb wall paintings of tigers, eagles, pine trees, white Japanese apricots and the wonderful “nightingale” floors. They were laid as extra security against possible ninja attacks and when walked on, no matter how lightly, they make a quite loud cheeping sound.

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Nishiki Market

A must-visit in Kyoto, Nishiki Market is a narrow, five-block-long shopping street lined by more than 100 shops and restaurants.
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Painting at Nomura Museum ,Kyoto, Japan - Courtesy of Sesson Shukei

Nomura Museum

On your way to Nanzenji Temple, stop at the small but wonderful Nomura Museum, which was founded by business magnate Nomura Tokushichi, himself a great artist. This museum is only open in spring and fall. It features a very interesting exhibit about tea ceremonies, with ceramics, scrolls, paintings and a complete Rikyu tearoom on display.

Philospher's Walk (Tetsugaku No Michi)

You can easily bike to this famous path in eastern Kyoto where a rustic path runs about 1.5 km (1 mile) along the Lake Biwa Canal from Ginkaku-ji Temple to Nyakuo-ji Shrine. It was a favorite route of philosopher Nishida Kitaro (1870-1945). Along the way, next to ancient temples like Honen-in, there are shops (don’t miss Bougatei) and cafés, making this a popular place for a stroll. It’s most glorious in spring when the entire route becomes a spectacular floral tunnel thanks to 500 cherry trees.

Statue at Ryoan-ji Temple,Kyoto, Japan - Courtesy of Ted Moseby

Ryoan-ji Temple

On the outskirts of Kyoto (take a taxi to get here), the Zen temple of Ryoanji was founded in 1450. Originally the site of a villa, nestled among the forested slopes of the mountains, it was converted into a Zen temple in 1473. A small pond, Oshidori, said to be a thousand years old, lies below the buildings, but the main attraction is the garden: follow a gravel path around the lake, cross a narrow bridge and climb the steps to the temple. Once within the temple complex walk to the wooden verandah, which runs alongside the rooms of the abbot. The verandah faces a rectangular area enclosed on three sides.

The garden is comprised of fifteen stones, arranged in five groups. There are no plants, except some moss, and the sand is raked in circular patterns around the groups of stones. It is Japan’s most famous garden and reveals the stunning simplicity and harmony of the principles of Zen meditation. One of the Abbot’s of Ryoan-ji once said the garden might also be called mu-tei (garden of nothingness). The viewing platform is usually packed, but be patient until you can gain a good spot. Observing the garden, I had a serene feeling and wished I could stay for a long time. On my way out, I came across a stone water basin with the inscription “Ware tada tarno shiru,” which translates to “Freedom from greed ensures a peaceful life.”

Tip: Don’t miss a cup of so-called Kyoto tea on your way out of the temple premises. It’s green tea mixed with seaweed, plums and shiso (a Japanese spice) and tastes absolutely delicious.

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Aerial View-Sakura , Kyoto, Japan


One of the busiest times in Kyoto is sakura, when the city explodes with cherry blossoms (and visitors). The timing changes every year depending on the temperature, but the cherry blossoms usually bloom in March or April. The Japanese language is rich in phrases that describe the transition of the cherry blossom, from the first flowers (hatsu hana) to the flower blizzard (hana fubuki). If you visit during this time, don’t miss the lantern festival, Hanatouro.

Aerial View-Sanjusangen-do ,Kyoto, Japan-Courtesy of Syohei Arai


This holy building was founded in 1164 and is 390 feet long. Inside are 1,001 Buddhas (the largest is in the center), and a visit is impressive and quite moving. It’s just down the road from the Hyatt Regency and is fabulous. Outside you can still see where arrows pierced the walls during the yearly contest when ancient warriors would try to shoot their arrows the entire length of the hall.

Shugaku-in Imperial Villa

This village was built by Emperor Gomizuno-o in 1629 as a retirement retreat. Come here to see its three beautiful gardens and tea houses.

Aerial View - Tenryu-ji (Heavenly Tiger) Temple,Kyoto, Japan

Tenryu-ji (Heavenly Tiger) Temple

The main attraction at this temple is the 14th-century Zen garden. The temple is a popular place to sample Zen vegetarian cuisine (shojin ryori), which has its origins in Buddhist asceticism: great attention is given to the presentation and tofu plays a big role in the menus.

Exterior View - To-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan

To-ji Temple

About a fifteen-minute walk south from Kyoto station, this temple has a five-story pagoda, which has burned down several times since the temple was erected in 794. The current one, however, dates to 1643 and at 57 meters (187 feet) tall, it is the highest in Kyoto. If you are in Kyoto on the first Sunday of the month, don’t miss the excellent flea market held on the temple grounds.

Tofuku-Ji Temple

This temple was intended to compete with Nara’s Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji (hence the name.) It is considered one of Kyoto’s main Zen temples. The huge San-mon gate is the oldest Zen main gate in Japan. The present complex includes twenty-four sub-temples (at one time there were fifty-three). The gardens are wonderful, and to reach them, you cross a stream over the Tsuten-kyo-bridge (Bridge to Heaven). In the fall, the grounds are famous for their foliage. The northern garden has stone and moss in a checker-board pattern.

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