If all you're interested in on your Kyoto trip is dining on great cuisine, knocking back sake and craft beer at bars, boutique shopping and staying in some of the finest ryokan, you may just never leave Downtown Kyoto (which is, naturally, smack bang in the middle of the city).
Southern Higashiyama, at the base of the Higashiyama (Eastern Mountains), is Kyoto’s richest area for sightseeing. Thick with temples, shrines, museums and traditional shops, it’s great to explore on foot, with some pedestrian-only walkways plus parks and expansive temple grounds. It’s also home to the Gion entertainment district and some of the city’s finest ryokan.
Kyoto’s Imperial Palace neighbourhood is the greenest area in the city centre; perfect if you’re looking to take a break from pounding the pavement. Dominating the area is the expansive grounds of the Imperial Palace and its park, while to the northwest sits Daitoku-ji – a self-contained world of Zen temples, lovely gardens and lanes.
At the northern end of the Higashiyama Mountains, this area is packed with first-rate attractions and soothing greenery, making it one of the best parts of the city for relaxed sightseeing. The main area stretches from Nanzen-ji in the south to Ginkaku-ji in the north, two temples linked by the lovely Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku-no-Michi).
Northwest Kyoto contains two of Kyoto’s most important temples: Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, and Ryōan-ji, home of Japan’s most famous Zen garden. Other noteworthy sights include the enclosed world of Myōshin-ji and the atmospheric Kitano Tenman-gū Shintō shrine. Further afield are the mountaintop temples of Takao.
Arashiyama & Sagano
Arashiyama and Sagano, two adjoining neighbourhoods at the base of Kyoto’s western mountains, form the city’s second-most-popular sightseeing district after Southern Higashiyama. Foreign and domestic tourists flock here to see Tenryū-ji, a temple with a stunning mountain backdrop, and the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.