Kyoto’s wealth of atmospheric shrines and incense-shrouded temples have rightfully earned it a reputation as the most photogenic city in Japan. Yet amid the vibrant red torii gates and towering pagodas it’s famous for, you’ll also find oases of green spaces where you can stroll, picnic, admire the foliage or simply catch your breath between sightseeing spots.
Here are the top 10 parks to visit in Kyoto.
Kyoto Imperial Palace Park
Best park for grand surroundings
Also known as the Kyoto Gyoen National Garden, the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park is located in the heart of the city. Its spacious grounds are home to the grandeur of both the Kyoto Imperial Palace and Sentō Gosho palace complex, but it’s worth strolling through the gravel paths, small ponds and cherry trees even if you don’t plan on visiting those. The park’s close proximity to attractions like Nijō Castle make it a convenient addition to a day of sightseeing. If the weather’s good, you can grab some lunch from nearby Nishiki Market and have a picnic on the expansive lawns.
Kyoto Botanical Gardens
Best park for nature lovers
Spread out over about 60 acres in the north of the city, the Kyoto Botanical Gardens house an impressive 12,000 species of trees, flowers and plants. The grounds are divided into sections, including a sunken garden, rose garden and bamboo garden, as well as a conservatory featuring a range of tropical plants from around the world. The sheer variety of flora means the park looks a little different in every season, and the annual ticket is great value if you intend to make the most of that fact. There are plenty of benches and tables for picnicking.
Best park for cherry blossom viewing
Located in the heart of the Gion geisha district near the colorful Yasaka-jinja shrine, Maruyama Park makes an ideal rest stop when sightseeing. Explore pleasant walking trails, grassy picnic spots and a scenic pond inhabited by serene koi fish. Like many outdoor spaces in Japan, Maruyama is at its most beautiful during the spring cherry blossom season, as long as you don’t mind sharing the view with the hanami (flower viewing) crowds. The star of the show is a stunning shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree), which is illuminated ethereally after dark.
Best park for contemplation
Many of Kyoto's temples have intricate landscaped gardens to admire during your visit, although most of them are rather formal and ornamental. Ryoan-ji is something of an exception, because in addition to its striking rock garden, the temple has a park area featuring a relatively spacious walking garden. The centerpiece is the tranquil Kyōyōchi Pond and its resident ducks. In the middle of the pond sits an island with a small shrine that you can reach via a stone bridge. The rock garden gets busy, so it’s best to visit early in the morning or just before it closes to fully appreciate its meditative nature.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Best park for wildlife encounters
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama lies in the mountains of the Arashiyama district, and as the name suggests, it’s the perfect place to get up close with some primate pals. The best part is that it’s the humans who go inside the cage at this park! You can buy a bag of food for the animals or simply watch as they frolic about together. You’ll need to hike uphill for about 10 minutes to reach the monkeys, so bring a bottle of water and wear sensible shoes. If you can tear your attention away from the wildlife, the panoramic view out over the city from the 525ft-high viewpoint is also well worth making the climb for. There’s even a play area for both human and monkey use.
Best park for gorgeous scenery
Colorful Heian Jingū is a relatively recent addition to this ancient city, built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of its founding. The shrine’s spectacular gardens span around 355,210 sq feet, and are divided into four sections influenced by different periods of Japanese history. The gardens are designed to be strolled through at a leisurely pace, and you’ll pass serene ponds home to koi fish and turtles, and a wide variety of seasonal plants and flowers that make the gardens an attractive place to visit at any time of year. Make the most of the entrance fee by bringing a book or your camera and whiling away a pleasant couple of hours.
Best park for families
Despite its proximity to Kyoto Station, Umekoji Park is not often included on tourist itineraries. However, it’s a great place to take the kids when they’ve had enough of temples and shrines. This park has walking paths, picnic spots, and wide open spaces perfect for playing ball games, sunbathing or running around, as well as a decent play area for children. It’s also right next to the Kyoto Railway Museum, which has plenty of interactive exhibits that visitors of all ages will enjoy.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Best park for atmosphere
Arguably one of the most photographed locations in all of Kyoto, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is nothing short of magical. Strolling between the towering green stalks with the breeze rustling through the leaves, it feels like you’re in a bewitching new world. But the only downside is that world gets very crowded, so aim for an early morning visit. The grove is more of a walking path than a true park, so combine it with a trip to the nearby Ōkōchi Sansō estate. The sprawling gardens here have sweeping views over the city, plus you get a cup of green tea and traditional Japanese sweets as part of the entry fee.
Best park for escaping the crowds
Part of an elegant villa constructed in the late 1800s by leading statesman Yamagata Aritomo, Murin-an is a charming garden that somehow remains blissfully tranquil despite its beauty and historical significance. A creation of the highly acclaimed Ogawa Jihei, it uses the concept of shakkei (borrowed scenery) to incorporate the surrounding Higashiyama mountains into the garden’s design. Take your time strolling around the streams, ponds and waterfalls fed by water from Lake Biwa, or relax with a cup of matcha tea and traditional sweets at the teahouse. Murin-an is especially beautiful during the fall, when the maple trees turn vibrant shades of red.
Banks of the Kamogawa
Best park for walking and jogging
Admittedly, this isn’t technically a park, but for most Kyotoites, the banks of the River Kamo – which runs right through the center of the city – function as one. Wide walking paths ideal for a stroll, cycle or jog line both sides of the water, plus there are plenty of seats and open green spaces for picnics and other activities. It’s also a popular hangout spot on warm evenings, when the lanterns from nearby restaurants illuminate the area with a soft glow. The stretch of river in the Ponto-chō district is particularly popular, so head a bit farther north if you’re looking for a more peaceful spot.
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