Central Kyoto Walking Tour, Kyoto (Self Guided)

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
Author: emma
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)

Walking Tours in Kyoto, Japan

Create Your Own Walk in Kyoto

Create Your Own Walk in Kyoto

Creating your own self-guided walk in Kyoto is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Kyoto Museums Walking Tour

Kyoto Museums Walking Tour

Even though Kyoto is famous for its wide variety of religious sites, this city is the home of several museums as well. The majority of them are dedicated to Japanese culture, ranging from history to fashion and the arts. A large number of Kyoto's museums are located in its eastern areas, where the next self-guided tour is about to take you. Check it out and prepare to get an insight into the...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 km
Philosopher's Path Area Walk

Philosopher's Path Area Walk

Tetsugaku no Michi, or Philosopher's Walk, is a well-known route in Kyoto which starts at the famous Ginkaku-ji Temple and heads south to the Nanzen-ji Temple. It follows a stone path by a cherry-tree-lined canal that was once walked daily by Nishida Kitaro, a famous philosopher and professor at Kyoto University. The Philosopher's Walk passes by some major shrines and other places of...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 km
Ukyo-ku Walking Tour

Ukyo-ku Walking Tour

Ukyo-ku is one of the eleven wards of Kyoto and it comprises the northwestern corner of the city. This area contains a large number of important religious complexes, some of them listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The most famous attractions of Ukyo-ku in Kyoto are selected and described in the next walking tour. So check it out and enjoy your Kyoto adventure.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 8.7 km
Higashiyama Area Walking Tour

Higashiyama Area Walking Tour

Kyoto is a city made for tourists, especially the ones with love for history, interest in religion and, of course, Japanese culture. Many of Kyoto's attractions are located in the eastern part of the city, which, in turn, is split into wards. One of them is the Higashiyama Ward, home to several famous temples of Kyoto, as well as the popular Gion geisha district. To find out more about...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.3 km
Souvenir Shopping Part 2

Souvenir Shopping Part 2

It would be a pity to leave Kyoto without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to Kyoto, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 km
Walking Tour in Shimogyo Ward

Walking Tour in Shimogyo Ward

The ancient capital Kyoto embraces several aspects of Japanese culture, being packed with shrines, temples, museums and other interesting spots. Each ward of this city boasts its own cultural heritage, as does the Shimogyo area, located right in the heart of Kyoto. Discover Shimogyo's most popular attractions in the next self-guided tour.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.7 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

18 Japanese Products To Bring Home from Kyoto

18 Japanese Products To Bring Home from Kyoto

The old capital of Japan, the city of Kyoto has once again been the talk of the world lately, thanks to the bestselling "Memoirs of a Geisha" book and the namesake Hollywood blockbuster movie. Renowned for its impeccable craftsmanship, Japan has so much to amaze a foreign eye with. Many of...

Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in Kyoto for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Kyoto has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Saving Money with City Passes

To save yourself time and money visiting Kyoto's multiple sights, you may want to resort to the so-called city passes, such as the Kyoto-Osaka Sightseeing Pass or Kyoto Subway & Bus Pass and Hankyū Tourist Pass.

A city pass combines all or multiple Kyoto's (and even neighboring Osaka's) top highlights, tours and experiences in one prepaid attractions pass, using which you can save incredible amounts on general admission fees as compared to purchasing tickets separately. Often, a city pass also allows user to skip lines at major attractions, thus saving precious time.

Staying at Walk-Friendly Hotels

Since you're keen on exploring cities on foot (we assume that you are, and this is why you're here), it is important that you stay at a hotel close to the city's major attractions. It saves you time and energy. Here are a few of Kyoto hotels conveniently located for a comfortable stroll: Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Shijo, Karaksa Hotel Kyoto I, Nagi Kyoto Shijo.

Taking Care of Your Feet

To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Kyoto, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device

Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.

Exploring City on Guided Tours

We have a strong bias towards exploring a city on foot, at your own pace, because this is how you get to see things up close with a maximum freedom. You decide how much time you wish to spend at each attraction and don't have to worry about following a crowd. That said, however, we also understand that some of you may want to go with a guided tour. If that is your case, here are some guided tours to consider. Be ready to fork out a bit of money, though, as a guided tour of Kyoto typically costs somewhere between US$30 and US$120 or more per person:

- Pedal your way around Kyoto on a 3-hour bike tour visiting the city's most spectacular sights, stopping at each of them for a bit of rest, watching the surroundings, and learning much about this glorious city from an informative group leader.

- Brace yourself for a full-day of walking to discover Imperial Kyoto in its full splendor on a 9-hour sightseeing tour exploring the city's temples, palaces and ancient shrines. This tour is ideal for those on a short visit to Kyoto, keen on seeing as much of its rich cultural heritage as possible in a single go.

- Another good chance to absorb Kyoto's atmosphere within a shortest possible time is a half-day guided tour embracing all of the city’s top highlights: UNESCO-listed castle, temples and Imperial Palace sights.

- Discover what makes Japanese culture so refined and unique on a cultural walk in Kyoto. Follow a knowledgeable local guide to savor the beauty and charm of this ancient yet elegant city wandering through its Zen gardens, visiting shrines and temples, as well as catching a glimpse of its kimono-clad geishas and more.

- Acquaint yourself with Kyoto’s food culture, its history and taste, at a 400-year-old “Kyoto's Kitchen” market fit to agitate anyone's taste buds with the plethora of unique dishes on offer. Explore the surroundings, including the famous Gion district, for a chance of spotting real-life geishas and other local peculiarities!

- Attend a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto to perceive its sophisticated philosophy with the help of a local guide who will translate your questions, if any, addressed to the master about this fascinating part of Japanese culture.

Day Trips

If you have a full or half day to spare whilst in Kyoto, why not use it to explore some of the out-of-town destinations like Hiroshima and Miyajima Island, Nara, Himeji Castle and Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, or northern Kyoto prefecture. For as little as as circa US$70+ to US$350+ per person you will get a chance to discover highlights of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, see majestic shrines, including some of Japan's oldest Buddhist temples, celebrated memorials, prominent parks and other historic treasures. For any of these tours you will be picked up either straight from your hotel or a designated place in Kyoto, and transported either by a comfortable air-conditioned coach, minibus, train, boat, or a private vehicle (whichever is applicable) to the destination of your choice and back again.