During my Japanese trip, I visited lots of temples. I will not lie; first I was really impressed by everything I saw, meaning by all the temples I discovered. But after seeing dozens of temples I thought they all looked kind of the same. (Too many temples is killing temples). But some of them have marked my mind by their originality and beauty. I spent four and a half days in Kyoto where a lot of beautiful temples are located in. I’ll give you a list of my favorites temples from Kyoto to see without exceptions !
To start, some ( okay lots of) temples are grouped in the eastern part of Kyoto. What you need to know is that the subway is not really spread in these areas but you can walk there or rent a bicycle. Kyoto is full of bicycles renting places and most of people are not using the subway (which is the opposite of Tokyo). Anyway, in this area there is a path called the “philosophy path” or Tetsugaku-no-Michi. This is basically a street surrounded by cute little shops with in the middle a little river and cherry blossom tree all around it. The place is really magical to spend an afternoon. When I went there it was snowing and gave an amazing charm to the place. During spring, you could enjoy the cherry blossoms blooming which could be really charming as well. Around this path, the temples are really close and you can find them with some signals. But because there are so many temples to see I’ll give you the 2 temples that I appreciated the most in this path.
1 ) So the first one, that I LOVED was the Ginkaku-Ji temple. I already visited Japanese temples but this one was the first one that I felt like zen and quiet. When you go in, you’ll first find a zen garden of small rocks which I really appreciated. Because the temples are also near water it gives a special atmosphere. When you go deeper in the place you’ll be in the nature surrounded of trees, small waterfall and also these small but stunning temples. This is definitely a place that I recommend to see if you’re looking for a zen temple to visit.
2) At the end of the “Philosophy path” I visited the Nanzen-Ji temple. This temple was recommend by a book I read before coming in Kyoto. The temple in itself is not that beautiful but the interesting thing to do is that you can go up and see Kyoto and other temples in the area from an upper point of view. The thing that I loved there was its zen garden. Even if the Nanzen-Ji garden is not really famous if you didn’t see one zen garden already (because they all looked kind of the same) it’s really interesting to go and enjoy the beauty of simple rocks and small trees.
3) Still in the eastern part of Kyoto, if you are courageous enough to continue to a southern part by walking you’ll see the well know Kiyomisu-dera. If you are not that courageous, just go another day or take the bus to go there (because it’s really worth it). This temple really looks unreal because it’s basically in trees. This is why I really loved this temple, it’s uniqueness charmed me. When you are on top of the Kiyomisu-dera you can see Kyoto and feel like you’re going to fall because the wood can break at any moment. Obviously, this is just in your mind because the place is really secure. I went there during winter so the trees were dead but if you’re going during autumn, spring or summer the result will be way more impressive.
4) The next temple is in the area of Arashiyama and it happened to stumble across my way. I was actually visiting the palm groove which is splendid when an old Japanese man wanted to take me in picture and then show me this temple and tried to explain me to go there. First, I didn’t listen to him and continued to visit the palm groove but on my way back I decided to go there and I was not disappointed. The Tenryu-ji was really peaceful and quite big in comparison from what I saw before. The huge lake in the middle with red fish is doing a lot to the place. Moreover, the garden is really big and you can spend few hours there, enjoying the nature and the quiet place. The architecture is in wood, as usual for zen temples, and has a rock garden. Even if the place is off-center of Kyoto if you are in this area you should take a look because the old Japanese man was totally right.
5) On the north of Kyoto there is a golden treasure, well known, really shiny and beautiful. Yes! this is the Kinkaku-Ji temple. I don’t have much to say about it, the pictures are speaking by themselves. I loved it as everyone because of its golden color and it gives a superior feeling in comparison of other temples. The bad thing about this place is that it’s really really touristic so really crowdy. Moreover, you can’t see the inside of the temple, just guess but the little guide they gave you at the entrance and the tour of the place is really short.Except that this place is beautiful as you can see by yourselves.
6) Lastly but not the least, you can’t go to Kyoto without going to the Fushimi Inari-Taisha. This place is the symbol of Kyoto and it’s true that the place is extraordinary. Surrounded of orange you are walking to go up to the main temple. You feel like you’re in a movie thanks to the atmosphere. Japanese people are dressed in traditional clothes, the forest is everywhere around you …. A magical place to see in the South of Kyoto (really accessible by subway).
At the end, Kyoto is full of amazing places and I tried to give you my favorites places in term of temples. Hope it will help to make a choice between the so many things to see in Kyoto.