Katsura Rikyū, one of Kyoto’s imperial properties, is widely considered to be the pinnacle of Japanese traditional architecture and garden design. Set amid an otherwise drab neighbourhood, it is (literally) an island of incredible beauty. Book in advance for one-hour English guided tours. It also runs tours in Japanese with English audio guides free of charge; tours depart on the hour from 9am to 4pm and places are on a first-come, first-served basis until capacity is sold. Bring passport for ID. Note visitors must be at least 12 years old.
The villa was built in 1624 for the emperor’s brother, Prince Toshihito. Every conceivable detail of the villa – the teahouses, the large pond with islets and the surrounding garden – has been given meticulous attention.
You can also book tickets for English guided tours in advance at the Imperial Household Agency office.
It's a 15-minute walk from Katsura Station, on the Hankyū line. A taxi from the station to the villa will cost around ¥600. Alternatively, Kyoto bus 33 stops at Katsura Rikyū-mae stop, which is a five-minute walk from the villa.