Central Kyoto Walking Tour (Self Guided), Kyoto

They say visiting Japan without seeing Kyoto is worthless, because a visit to Japan will never be complete without knowing Kyoto's treasures. A city of tradition, history, and culture, Kyoto has plenty of touristic spots to offer. The next walking tour takes you to the core of Kyoto and the main attractions of the city that are located in its central area. Enjoy!
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Central Kyoto Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Central Kyoto Walking Tour
Guide Location: Japan » Kyoto (See other walking tours in Kyoto)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 4 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 8.5 Km or 5.3 Miles
Author: emma
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Shimogamo-Jinja Shrine
  • Rozan-ji Temple
  • Sento Imperial Palace
  • Kyoto Imperial Palace
  • Nijo Castle
  • International Manga Museum
  • Kyoto International Manga Museum Shop
  • Teramachi Shopping Arcade
  • TIME'S Building
  • Pontocho
  • Heian Jingu Shrine
Shimogamo-Jinja Shrine

1) Shimogamo-Jinja Shrine (must see)

The Shimogamo-Jinja Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in Kyoto. It is one of the 17 monuments in old Kyoto that have been declared World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO.

The shrine dates back to the 6th Century and was originally constructed to protect the city of Kyoto. It is located within a forest called Tadasu no Mori or Forest of Truth. It is dedicated to the deities, Kamotaketsunumi-no-Mikoto and his daughter Tamayorihime-no-Mikoto and the God of Fire and Thunder, Honoikazuchi-no-Mikoto. The shrine received imperial patronage during the Haien Era and from 1871 to 1946, it was a Kanpei-Taisha or Government supported shrine of the first rank.

Shimogamo-Jinja is famous for the annual Hollyhock Festival or Aoi Matsuri that takes place on May 15th. It is also the site of an annual New Year Ritual called the Kemari Hajime. Kemari is a traditional Japanese sport that dates back to the Haien Era. Its performance almost disappeared after the Meiji Restoration but was revived by the efforts of the Kemari Preservation Society from 1903. The Tadasu no Mori surrounding the shrine is a tranquil green space in the midst of the bustling city. It has many ancient and beautiful trees and is crisscrossed by clear streams. The forest has been regarded as an important Haien-era botanical site.

Why You Should Visit:
The shrine itself is not big, but surrounding it is a whole lot of park-like walk for you to enjoy and relax under lots of shade from old trees.
The tall bamboo is peaceful and a very nice alternative to the usually crowded bamboo grove in Arashiyama.

Any festival held here has some interesting traditions so it's probably best to visit with a guide who can explain them.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 5:30am-6pm (summer); 6:30am-5pm (winter)
Rozan-ji Temple

2) Rozan-ji Temple (must see)

The Rozan-ji Temple is located to the East of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. It is built on a former mansion belonging to the father of the author of the epic Japanese novel, the Tale of Genji.

The Rozan-ji Temple was constructed in the year 938. Its location at the time of construction was on a mountain called Funaokayama. The Buddhist priest Ganzan Daishi designed and built the temple. In 1571, many of the temples in Kyoto were burned by the warlord Oda Nobunaga. Unlike other temples, the Rozan-ji escaped destruction. Emperor Kokaku commissioned the expansion and rebuilding of the structure at its present site soon after.

Today, the Rozan-ji is the last resting place of numerous renowned personalities from the Edo period. Many princes, princesses and the renowned maker of Buddhist statuary, Jocho Busshi are buried here. In front of the temple is a small moss and gravel garden with beautiful bellflower plants. The Day of Setsubun, an annual traditional Kyoto ceremony is held here on the 2nd and 3rd of February where a court ceremony of driving out demons is performed. Visitors come to pay homage to Lady Murasaki who wrote most of the Tale of Genji here.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-4pm
Sento Imperial Palace

3) Sento Imperial Palace

The Sento Imperial Palace was once the residence of retired Emperors. Today, one can visit the garden surrounding the palace and some structures within after seeking permission from the Imperial Household Agency.

The Sento Imperial Palace was constructed in 1630 as the retirement residence of Emperor Go-Mizunoo. The nearby Omiya Palace was also built in the same year as the residence of the Empress Dowager. It became the residence of subsequent emperors after their retirement. Both palaces were burned down and rebuilt several times. After a devastating fire in 1854, the Sento Palace was never rebuilt. The Omiya Palace was rebuilt and still remains the Kyoto residence of the Imperial family.

Visitors come to view the extensive gardens on the location of the Sento Palace today. It covers an area of 22 acres and has two ancient tea houses within its grounds. Visitors enter the garden that is surrounded by an ancient mud wall through a large wooden gate. Its main feature is a large pond with islands, bridges and walkways. The southern part of the pond has a beautifully landscaped ocean shore consisting of round and square stones and cherry trees. On the western side of the pond are two tea houses. The Seikai Te tea house has a shingled roof and the Yushin-Tei has a thatched roof and a unique round window.
Kyoto Imperial Palace

4) Kyoto Imperial Palace (must see)

The Kyoto Imperial Palace was the former residence of the Emperors of Japan until the Capital of the country was shifted to Tokyo. It was also the venue where the enthronement of the Emperors of Japan took place until recently.

The present Kyoto Imperial Palace was built in 1855. It was constructed after a devastating fire destroyed a previous structure completely. Its design resembles the palaces of the Heian period in Kyoto. The buildings in the palace complex include the Dairi or Imperial Residence, the Sento or palace of the retired Emperor, a library, several ceremonial halls, the Kaninnomiya Mansion which was the residence of the Fujiwara nobility and houses for the Empress and other officials with high ranks.

The Kyoto Imperial Palace is surrounded by a long earthen wall called the Tsuji with 6 ancient gates. It is also surrounded by a clean green space called the Kyoto Imperial Park or the Kyōto Gyoen. The park has gravel paths, lawns and many shady trees. The Konoe Pond in the Northwestern corner of the park has a group of cherry trees that bloom between March and April. The palace is managed by the Imperial Household Agency.

Why You Should Visit:
Whilst you can't go into any of the palace buildings, you can go into the grounds of the inner and outer gardens for free.
Restrooms are available on-site and there's a common sitting area for you to rest with free wi-fi.

Make sure to join one of the free guided one-hour tours (English/Japanese) at either 10am or 2pm, covering history, architecture, and trivia.
Reservations for the tour can be made at the visitor center towards the NE corner of the park.
Alternatively, download the app to your smartphone for the tour – very easy, convenient and cheap.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 9am-5pm (Apr-Aug); 9am-4pm (Oct-Feb); 9am-4:30pm (Mar, Sep); admission ends 40min before closure.
Closed: Mondays, Dec 28–Jan 4
Nijo Castle

5) Nijo Castle (must see)

The magnificent Nijo Castle was the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It is one of the few palaces of Kyoto where visitors are allowed to view the interiors.

The Nijo Castle was built in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu. It was later enlarged by his descendant Tokugawa Iemitsu. He added a five floored tower called the Honmaru that was later destroyed by a fire. It was also the site where the last Tokugawa Shogun, Yoshinobu restored power to the Emperor in 1867. The Castle was opened to the public by the city of Kyoto in 1940.

The Nijo Castle is surrounded by gardens and a moat. Unlike other palaces, it is not fortified. There are two structures, the outer building called the Honmaru and the main building and residence of the Shogun, the Ninomaru. The unique feature of the Ninomaru is its squeaking floors called nightingale floors (uguisubari). The noise made while one walked on the floor warned residents that someone had entered the building. The interiors of the castle have many beautiful paintings and sliding doors. There are also wax mannequins dressed in ancient costumes so that visitors can relive the life of a historical royal residence. In 1994, Nijo Castle became a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Why You Should Visit:
Interesting to see the Shogun's lifestyle, how official ceremonies and meetings took place here, and so on.
Amazing gardens outside, with a teahouse and an indoor food/drink/souvenir rest area.

Ensure you have worn socks as you are required to move your exterior footwear when visiting the interior.
Consider renting the headphones, as they add a lot of history to help you understand the complex.
Another option is the English language tour at 10am and 12:30pm daily.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:45am-5pm (admission until 4pm); entry to Ninomaru from 9am-4pm
Closed: Tuesdays in Jan, Jul, Aug, Dec (or following day if Tuesday is a national holiday), Dec 29-31
International Manga Museum

6) International Manga Museum

Manga is the Japanese word for comics and print cartoons. The International Manga Museum is dedicated to the preservation of comics, cartoons and animation.

The Museum was established by the Kyoto Seika University in collaboration with the City of Kyoto. It is housed in the former Tatsuike Elementary School; the buildings and land were donated by the City and it is managed by the University. A joint committee consisting of University officials and members of the City Government oversee its management. The Museum has over 200,000 items donated by individuals and corporations.

The International Manga Museum houses a large collection of Japanese Manga and international comics. The exhibition explains the development of Manga as an art, its origin, different drawing techniques and tells about well known characters and artists. The museum is divided into a gallery zone, a research space, a collection zone, the permanent exhibition area, a space for special exhibits, a museum shop and a Kissaten or Japanese style coffee shop. There is a Manga wall that holds 40,000 books and magazines. Some interesting exhibits are Meiji era magazines, an early Japanese edition of the Punch Magazine, the first Japanese Manga magazine called Eshinbun Nihonchi and the first children’s Manga magazine in Japanese, called the Tokyo Pakku.

Opening hours: Thursday-Tuesday: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
Kyoto International Manga Museum Shop

7) Kyoto International Manga Museum Shop

What to buy here: Manga is the Japanese word for comics and print cartoons. In the West the term manga refers to Japanese comics created by Japanese artists in the Japanese language according to the style developped in the late 19th century. Modern manga appeared shortly after World War II and has been increasingly popular both in Japan and the rest of the world. Manga include a broad range of genres from historical dramas to business and commerce. There are millions of manga fans all over the world. Manga have become so popular that there's even a Faculty of Manga in Kyoto.

The Kyoto International Manga Museum is equal to heaven for manga aficionados. The museum was open in the former building of a primary school. The museum has the largest collection of Japanese and some non-Japanese manga. The main feature of the museum is the Wall of Manga which is actually composed of several walls on two floors. It contains thousands of manga books that can be read for free. At the entrance of the museum there is a gift shop packed with collections of manga books and books about manga. The admission fee is ¥800 (around $10). The museum's address is Karasuma-Oike, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto. It is open daily from 10:00 to 18:00 except on Wednesdays. Manga books cost from ¥150 ($2) to ¥600 ($8)
Teramachi Shopping Arcade

8) Teramachi Shopping Arcade

The Teramachi Shopping Arcade in Kyoto is located on the historic Teramachi Street. It extends from Shijo Street to Sanjo Street.

Teramachi Street literally means temple town. This is because a large number of temples were moved here in the 16th century when Toyotomi Hideyoshi remodeled the city of Kyoto. The Shimogyroyo Shrine and Gyoganji Temple are located at one end of the street near the arcade and the Honnonji Temple, the Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine and Yatadera Temple lie to the east of the street.

The Teramachi shopping arcade is an enclosed shopping area with stores selling modern and traditional items. It has shops selling clothing and textiles, used and new books, magazines, groceries, music, instruments and souvenirs. There are also many 100 yen stores where bargain shoppers can find budget friendly products. Some shops sell traditional Japanese products like Ukiyo-e or Edo period drawings, samurai wigs, Japanese tea and Japanese paper. The street also has video game parlors, Pachinko parlors and western style slot machines that are popular with the locals. The northern part of the market has a selection of coffee shops and restaurants offering Japanese and international fare for the weary shopper. A portion of the arcade has become a mini market with the largest concentration of electronic stores in Kyoto.
TIME'S Building

9) TIME'S Building

One of the most famous structures designed by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando is the TIME'S Building. Placed along a canal, this building is created to perfectly fit within the natural scenery of the preserved Pontocho area. There is a cafe established at the edge of the building, right above the canal, where visitors can enjoy a drink and get to experience the structure's close relationship with water.

10) Pontocho (must see)

The Pontocho area in Kyoto is home to many traditional Geisha houses and tea houses. It is a long dark and narrow cobbled street between the Shijo Dori and Sanjo Dori.

Pontocho was a Geisha entertainment area from the reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It is known as the birthplace of kabuki and the first exponent of the art was a Meiko called Okuni. Her statue is located on the opposite side of River Kamo and is visible from the street. Geisha houses have existed in the area from the 16th century. The Kaburenjō Theatre located here has served as a Geisha practice hall from the 1870s.

Today, the Pontocho area is a popular street with restaurants serving a range of delicacies. One can get inexpensive sushi and yakitori at the eateries that flank the street or enjoy traditional and modern Kyoto cuisine at some of the restaurants. There are also exclusive establishments where Geishas perform for customers. Some restaurants on the street serve international cuisine and others offer outdoor patios overlooking the River Kamo in summer. Geishas perform the Kamogawa Odori or River Dancing twice a year at the Kaburenjō Theatre where they dance, perform Kabuki and play traditional instruments.

Why You Should Visit:
Still has a very old-fashioned feel and is, in fact, famous for the preservation of forms of traditional architecture & entertainment.
Restaurant-front lanterns and large sake display bottles on the ground set the mood and it's fun to poke your nose in all the side alleys.

Lots of the restaurants are foreigner-friendly but steer clear of those with touts and do check prices.
Heian Jingu Shrine

11) Heian Jingu Shrine (must see)

The Heian Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Kammu and Emperor Komei who were the first and last emperors respectively to rule Japan from Kyoto. It was built in 1895 to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of the foundation of the city.

As a result of the Meiji restoration, the capital of Japan was shifted to Tokyo and Kyoto ceased to be the seat of the Emperor. Throughout its history, the shrine was damaged by fires several times, the most recent being that of 1976 and has undergone several restorations.

The Torii or traditional temple gate, erected in 1929, welcomes visitors to the shrine. It is the largest in Japan. The shrine’s main gateway or Ote-Mon is covered with vermillion and blue tiles. The complex consists of an open space in front of a Main Hall and an Offering Hall. The open space is used during festivals and the Offering Hall is where devotees offer prayers to Shinto Gods. It is surrounded by a garden that has cherry trees and ponds with koi fish. The shrine provides a setting for traditional Japanese weddings. It is also the venue for two major festivals. One, that takes place in January, is in honor of Emperor Kammu and the other, in April, is dedicated to Emperor Komei.

Why You Should Visit:
While the green & orange shrine is majestic as well as the large orange gate you pass through, the garden area is a true highlight.
The well-kept enclosure features a pond with stepping stones and fish, an array of different species of plants & trees, as well as a bridge with seating to take in the scenery.
Crowded or not, there is peace and beauty to be had here.

Make sure to take a camera with a big memory card and extra batteries, because this place is full of gorgeous photo opportunities.
If you're with children make sure you have a few coins so you can buy some bread and feed the fish (and perhaps a turtle) at the end of the garden trail.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am-5pm (closing time varies seasonally by half an hour)

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