17 UNESCO heritage sites in Kyoto (in alphabetical order)
- Byodo-in temple
- Daigo-ji temple
- Enryaku-ji temple
- Ginkaku-ji temple
- Kamigamo-jinja shrine
- Kinkaku-ji temple
- Kiyomizu-dera temple
- Kozan-ji temple
- Nijo-jo castle
- Ninna-ji temple
- Nishi Hongan-ji temple
- Ryoan-ji temple
- Saiho-ji temple
- Shimogamo-jinja shrine
- Tenryu-ji temple
- To-ji temple
- Ujikami-jinja Shrine
Who can deny that one’s expectations of Kyoto is one of ancient temples and streets? Unsurprisingly then, the 17 UNESCO heritage sites are consist of purely temples and shrines, and one castle. Lest you start marking on your itinerary to make it a point to visit all of them, this guide shortlists the more interesting ones to visit. After all, as the saying goes, once you have seen one, you almost practically had seen them all, unless you are an avid fan of all things ancient and zen.
Ryoanji Temple 龍安寺
Speaking of zen, nowhere else can help you connect to your inner self more than Ryoanji Temple. Housing the most famous Zen rock garden in Japan, it is an ideal place for meditation. The fifteen rocks of different sizes are placed in such a way that only fourteen can be seen from any one spot, unless you had reached the level of enlightenment.
Operating hours: Mar – Nov 8am – 5pm, Dec – Feb 8am – 4:30pm
Admission fees: ￥500
Directions: Take Keifuku Kitano Line to Ryoanji station and walk about 7 minutes walk to the temple
Being one of the most visited temple is of course a must-visit as well. Other than having a birds’ eye view of the city, the temple is also famous for making relationship and academic wishes come true (but don’t quote and hold me accountable). Come here during different seasons and be mesmerised by the changes it brings to the temple’s surroundings. You can even continue your meditation here from where you left off at the Ryoanji Temple by practising ‘Nissokan’ 日想観‘, meditation on the setting sun. Whilst you are at it, start by praying for clear skies that won’t cover the sun.
Operating hours: 6am – 6pm, special nights close at 9pm
Admission fees: ￥400
Directions: 25 minutes on foot from Keihan Kiyomizu Gojo Station or take Kyoto bus No.18 bound for Ohara from JR Kyoto Station, get off at Gojozaka stop and walk east for 10 minutes
Kinkaku-ji temple 金閣寺
The fact that the temple is gold in colour should be a reason good enough for a visit right? Such must had been the rationale as well for the many visitors who descend upon it everyday. Compared to the many wooden temples that strive to look as unassuming as possible (although its initial use was not as a temple), this one stands out in all its grandeur and opulence. Doing meditation Part 3 here amidst the tranquility of the waters completes the whole experience and is just pure enjoyment.
Operating hours: 9am – 5pm
Admission fees: ￥400
Directions: Take the Kyoto City Bus 205 from Kyoto Station
Byodo-in temple 平等院
If you are, like me, who finds the red torii gates captivating, then you would also like Byodo-in temple. Being a 10-minutes walk away from the nearest Uji Station, it is probably where you will find your much needed peace to end your meditation in. It even has an exact replica of it in Hawaii (above left pic)! How cool is that?
Operating hours: 8.30am – 5.30pm
Admission fees: ￥600
Directions: a 10 mins walk from the JR Nara line and Keihan Uji line Uji station
Kokedera temple (苔寺)
Lastly, to immense yourself in a once in a lifetime experience, head to Kokedera (Moss Temple). Reservations is required so as to keep the peace and tranquility within the compounds, for visitors to pray in. Follow these easy steps to make your reservation to enter the temple at the only stipulated time each day 10am for July to September and 1pm for other months). The ritual begins by chanting and copying the Buddhist scriptures and then a stroll through the moss garden to be instantly overwhelmed by the amount of greenery thats engulfing you. It has to be noted that it might take up to an hour for the whole ritual of chanting and copying, cross-legged, hence it is not an activity for the ‘faint-hearted’ or those who are easily bored.
Operating hours: 10am from July to September, and 1pm for other months, through reservations only
Admission fees: ￥3000
Directions: From Kyoto Station take Kyoto Bus 73 for approx. 60 min to Kokedera, Suzumushi-dera station or from Arashiyama take Kyoto bus 73 or 63 for 15 min to Kokedera, Suzumushi-dera station