The Philosopher’s Walk
The Philosopher’s Walk is a scenic route that got its name from the famous Kyoto University scholar, Ikutaro Nishida, who used to take his daily walk through the area to keep fit, to contemplate and to ponder. The walk follows a cherry-tree-lined canal leading from Ginkaku-ji, along the base of the Higashiyama Mountains, south to Nanzen-ji. Quaint cafes and craft shops, as well as restaurants, now line the Philosopher’s Walk. During the cherry blossom season in April and May it's a busy promenade as couples from across the country converge here. The 2-km route should take no more than 30 minutes to walk, but there's lots of interesting things to make you stop along the way.
Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavilion)
Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion) was originally constructed as a retreat for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa in 1849. Modelled after the resplendent Golden Pavillion (Kinkakuji), this temple was supposed to be coated in silver, but the shogun’s plans were thwarted by the Onin War. As it is, Ginkakuji is somewhat sombre compared to its golden counterpart, but it’s still a place of great natural and man-made beauty. Within its walls the traditional arts of Noh theatre, flower arrangement and the tea ceremony are taken to their heights. The rock garden in Ginkakuji is one of the highlights of a visit and is frequently changed.
- Opening Hours: Daily from 8am to 5pm
- Location: 2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo, Kyoto, 606-8402, Japan
- Tel: +81 (0)75 711 5725
Built during the mid-13th century, Nanzenji is one of the most important Buddhist temples in the world. Originally, Emperor Kameyama decreed Nanzenji a retirement villa but later converted it to a Zen temple which prospered until it was destroyed during 200 years of civil war. Nestled at the foot of the Higashiyama mountains, and with a number of equally beautiful sub temples all rebuilt over time Nanzenji is the quintessential tranquil Zen temple despite is enormous area. To reach Nanzenji, take the subway to Keage Station.
- Opening Hours: Daily from 8.40am to 5pm (until 4.30 from December to February)
- Location: 86 Nanzenji Fukuchicho, Sakyo, Kyoto, 606-8435, Japan
A short detour from the Philosopher’s Walk pathway will bring you to Honen-In; a small yet stunningly scenic temple of the Jodo-sect. With a rustic thatched gate and raked-stone gardens that the monks regularly redesign, it's a lovely place to visit and take respite along the historic promenade. Through the rear of the temple, a classic Japanese bridge leads to a peaceful koi carp pond, which then gives way to a remarkable statue of Kannon the Bodhisattva of mercy.
- Opening Hours: Daily from 5am to 4pm
- Location: 30 Shishigatani, Goshonodan-cho, Sakyo, Kyoto, Japan
- Tel: +81 (0)75 771 2420
Kamo Shrine comprises two important Shinto shrines lying on opposite sides of the Kamo River. Built to prevent demons from entering the city, Kamo-wakeikazuchi Shrine in Kyoto's Kita Ward and the Kamo-mioya Shrine in Sakyo Ward, are two of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. The oldest of Kyoto’s 3 famous festivals, Aoi Matsuri, is staged here annually in May.
- Opening Hours: Daily from 6am to 5pm
- Location: 59 Izumikawa-cho, Shimogamo, Sakyo, Kyoto, Japan
- Tel: +81 (0)75 781 0010
Japan’s largest torii temple gates stand to welcome you to the Heian Shrine, an amazing ¾ scale model of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Built in 1895 in celebration of the 1,100th anniversary of the founding of Heiankyo, now named Kyoto, Heian Shrine annually hosts one of the city’s most important cultural events, the Jidai Matsuri festival.
- Opening Hours: Mar 1 - 14 & Sep 1 - 10: 06:00 - 17:30; Mar 15 - Aug 31: 06:00 - 17:00; Nov, Dec, Jan & Feb: 06:00 - 17:00.
Garden Viewing Hours Mar 1 - 14 & Sep 1 - Oct 31: 08:30 – 17:00; Mar 15 - Aug 31: 08:30 - 17:30. Nov 1 - end of Feb:0 8:30 – 16:30.
- Location: Nishi Ten-o-cho, Okazaki, Sakyo-ku
- Tel: +81 (0)75 761 0221
- How to get there: City Bus 5 from JR Kyoto Station to Kyoto Kaikan Bijitusu-kan Mae
If you're lucky enough to be in Kyoto in autumn, don’t miss seeing the maples ablaze in red, orange and yellow at Sanzen-in Temple on the outskirts of the city. Dating back to 784, Sanzen-in is a Tendai temple that's famous for its atmospheric mossy gardens, in particular the vivid blue hydrangeas and cherry blossoms.
- Opening Hours: March – November from 8.30am to 5pm and December – February from 8.30am to 4.30pm
- Location: 540 Ohara Raigoin-cho, Sakyo, Kyoto, 601-1242, Japan
- Tel: +81 (0)75 744 2531
Shugakuin Imperial Villa
This splendid summer retreat was built for the Imperial family in 1659. The villa gardens are spectacular, comprised of upper, middle and lower gardens laid out before the majestic backdrop of Mount Hiei. The villa complex also houses a number of tea-houses and summer cottages that were used by the Kyoto upper class during summer breaks. Free tours of Shugakuin Imperial Villa are conducted daily in Japanese, but there are audio guides in several languages. Tours last around 1 hour. To book a tour, you must apply in advance online or at Kyoto Imperial Park.
- Location: Shugakuin-yabuzoe, Sakyo, Kyoto, Japan
- Tel: +81 (0)75 211 1215
Enjoy superb views of Mount Hiei from this temple originally constructed in the 14th century and moved to this location after World War II. In honour of the Buddha’s enlightenment, Myomanji Temple has a scale replica of the Bodh Gaya stupa in India within serene gardens of conscientiously raked sand and gravel.
- Location: 91 Iwakura Hataedacho, Sakyo, Kyoto, 606-0015, Japan
- Tel: +81 (0)75 791 7171
Built in 859 and recognized as one of Japan’s 22 elite shrines in 1081, this protector of Kyoto was founded by the powerful Fujiwara family. Here, during the 15th century, scholar and priest Kanetomo Yoshida launched the arm of the Shinto religion known as Yoshida Shinto. The shrine remains an important Shinto site today. Annually, on 3rd January, the shrine hosts the setsubun (Chinese New Year) bonfire and celebrations. Encircled by lush forest the shrine sits peacefully within an air of tranquility.
- Location: 30 Yoshidakaguraokacho, Sakyo, Kyoto, 606-8311, Japan
- Tel: +81 (0)75 771 3788
Kyoto Botanical Garden
Kyoto Botanical Garden, in the north of the city, was created in 1924 next to the Kamo River. It was abandoned in 1946 and revived again in 1961 to become a major botanical garden with a conservatory. The garden now contains in excess of 120,000 plants spanning 12,000 species organised into specific gardens for bamboo, cherry trees, hydrangeas, bonsai, camellias, Japanese irises and native plants, lotus and an immaculate European style garden. The conservatory is built with cast iron frames and plate glass to resemble Kinkaku-ji and houses more than 25,000 varieties from 4,500 species.
- Opening Hours: Daily from 9am to 4pm
- Location: Shimogamo Hangicho, Sakyo, Kyoto, 606-0823, Japan
- Tel: +81 (0)75 701 0141
Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts
The Kyoto Museum of Traditional crafts features traditional handicrafts such as kimonos, Japanese dolls, paper fans, umbrellas, boxwood combs, lacquer ware, Buddhist warship set and porcelain. This excellent museum also has detailed information about Japan's traditional industries. Explanations are in Japanese and English. Before leaving, don’t forget to check out the crafts shop where you can pick up many interesting and beautifully designed souvenirs.
- Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10am to 6pm
- Location: B1F Miyakomesse, 9-1 Okazaki-Seishoji-cho, Sakyo, Kyoto, Japan
- Tel: +81 (0)75 762 2670