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 (very literally) an island of incredible beauty. One-hour tours are in Japanese, with English audio guides free of charge. You must be over 18 years and you will need to bring your passport for ID.
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 book tickets in advance at the Imperial Household Agency office or online for morning tours but for afternoon tours tickets go on sale at the palace from 11am and are on a first-come, first-served basis until capacity is sold.
It's a 15-minute walk from Katsura Station, on the Hankyū line. A taxi from the station to the villa will cost around ¥700. Alternatively, Kyoto bus 33 stops at Katsura Rikyū-mae stop, which is a five-minute walk from the villa.