Welcome to your
Kyoto Virtual Tour
Kyoto (京都, Kyōto)
Many refer to Kyoto as the cultural and spiritual heart of Japan. People travel from all over the world to admire Kyoto's over 2,000 temples and shrines, take in the beautiful Zen gardens, visit the imperial palaces, see the famous geishas, and travel back in time through a soak in an onsen (hot spring) and overnight stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).
We love Kyoto for its rich history and its hidden gems. While we’d love to show you around in person, we thought we’d try for the next best thing with this virtual tour of some of our favorite hidden spots in Kyoto. We are certain by the end of this "virtual" tour, you'll want to add some of these wonders to your top things to do in Kyoto.
Take a night stroll through Gion
Some of the most picturesque and best-preserved streets in Kyoto are in Southern Higashiyama, which also includes the famous Gion (祇園) district. In this historical area you'll find narrow lanes with paved stone paths, beautiful wooden houses, and paper lanterns lighting the streets. The best thing to do here is to wander to soak in all the little side streets and the beautiful charm of the area. We also think it's one of the most beautiful areas in Kyoto to stroll through the evening. Watch this video to see the breathtaking Yasaka Pagoda Temple up close at night.
Gion is probably most famously known for being the birthplace of geisha culture, and you can still find hundreds of geisha in the Gion distrct. The word "geisha" translates into "person of the arts,” and contrary to unsavory myths, they are trained in dance, music, and the art of communication. Young ladies between the ages of 15-20 train for 5 years to become a “geiko” as they’re called in Kyoto dialect.
Visit the Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple
Kyoto has many beautiful shrines and temples all over the city which are worth visiting but Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple is so unique, this would be one of our first stops. Amazingly, it is not in any of the typical Kyoto guidebooks, and it truly is a hidden gem. This temple was originally built in 770, but in 1955, Kocho Nishimura, a Buddhist statue sculptor and monk, took over as head of the temple and began its artistic transformation. Walking around the grounds, you'll find a collection of over 1200 unique and whimsical statues. The little statues represent the disciples of the historical Buddha, however what is interesting is that these were all built by the local community who wanted to learn the carving from the famous Nishimura. He urged them to bring forth the unique figures hiding in the stone and they all had different responses to the challenge. Nishimura’s son and grandson still run the temple and create their own art.
Kyoto was the Capital of Japan for over a thousand years, and “Kyoto” translated simply means “Capital.”
Do a tasting tour at a sake house
The Fushimi Sake District (伏見) is a charming, traditional sake brewing district along the willow-lined Horikawa River in southern Kyoto. With nearly 40 sake breweries, Fushimi is a leading sake brewing district in Japan and well worth a visit. You’ll find industry giant, Gekkeikan, which was founded in 1637, and can take a tour and yes, have your chance to sample some of their delicious sake. Or head to Kiazakura Kappa Country, a converted sake brewery that now houses a museum, restaurant, and souvenir shop. Try their sake-flavored cheesecake while you sip on one of their tasting sets of craft beers or sakes.
Avoid the crowds to the famous Fushimi Inari Shrin
Take the lesser known path to the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine, which enters from the back, and allows you to avoid the crowds. We also recommend going early in the am, so you can have a moment to yourself in the beautiful Arashiyama (嵐山) Bamboo Grove that you’ll likely have seen fill your Instagram feed before you admire its thousands of red torii gates. The tori gates and trail leads into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. The bamboo is mesmerizing, just watch this video to get a sense of this mystical and serene place. Pack a picnic to take in the breathtaking view atop the mountains of Fushimi Inari.
Snap a photo at the stunning Kinkakuji (金閣寺, Golden Pavilion)
This beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in northern Kyoto. This temple has its two top floors covered in gold leaf and is surrounded by a large pond. Its name, Kinkaku, is derived from the gold that surrounds it, which is said this is to mitigate and purify any negative thoughts and feelings towards death. Kinkakuji was first built in 1397 CE and was the original home to shogun, military dictator, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. After Ashikaga's death this temple was converted into a Zen Buddhist temple since 1408 CE. This is probably one of the most stunning temples in all of Kyoto, and if you visit the pavilion later in the day as you see in this video, you will get to experience the beautiful gold glisten with the late afternoon sun.
Channel your inner zen at the Ryoan-ji rock garden
Ryoanji Temple Rock Garden is one of Kyoto's most famous attractions. So famous, in fact, that the name has become synonymous with Japanese rock gardens worldwide. The iconic temple and its gardens are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and we highly recommend this for your visit to Kyoto.