Northern Kyoto is graced with scores of centuries-old shrines and temples, including several World Heritage Sites. One of Kyoto's most famous attractions - the magnificent golden pavilion of Kinkaku-ji - can be found here.
Keihan Railways connects North Kyoto with Eastern Kyoto at Demachiyanagi Station, the final stop on the line. On the Western side, Keifuku Railways provides easy access to the area from Arashiyama, with stops for Ninnaji, Ryoanji, Kinkakuji, and Kitano Tenmangu (Kitano Hakubaicho Station).
Kitaōji Station on the municipal subway system's Karasuma Line gives travellers easy access to a key bus terminal that serves parts of northern Kyoto. The Karasuma Line itself continues north all the way to Kokusaikaikan Station, near the Kyoto International Conference Center.
Northern Kyoto covers a large area, so many buses travel through the region. The #8 North bus makes a loop around the entire northern area. In the northwest, #59 passes most of the major attractions. In the northeast bus #4 and #5 each travel around popular touring spots.
The #8 is the only bus that will take you to and from the Takao area. The #17 bus will take you to the Ohara area. Both of these areas are located outside of the boundary of the ¥500 All-Day Bus pass, so do not purchase the pass if you are travelling to either of these areas.
Visiting the vast temple complexes of north-western Kyoto can take the better part of a day. A suggested itinerary is to take the subway (Karasuma line) to Kitaoji station, and walk west along Kitaoji-dori. Daitokuji, Kinkakuji, Ryoanji and Ninnaji Temples are all on Kitaoji-dori, and about 15-30 minutes' walk apart. En route, you will see the giant "dai" (大) symbol burned on Mt. Daimon-ji, which can be climbed in an hour or so - look for the entrance near Ginkaku-ji (see below). If you're in Kyoto at night on August 16th, look up - you'll see the (大) aflame. Hirano Shrine is a short walk south along Nishioji-dori from Kinkakuji. If you still have time left at the end of the day, take the pleasant electric railway (Keifuku Kitano line) from Omuro to Katabiranotsuji, then take the JR Sagano line from nearby Uzumasa station back to central Kyoto.
- Kinkaku-ji Temple (金閣寺), (It's only a short walk from '''Ryōan-ji''' (below), making for an easy pairing (and study in contrasts). ''Nearest bus stop: Kinkakuji-michi'' or ''Kinkakuji-mae''), . Open daily 9am-5pm. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, formally known as Rokuonji (鹿苑寺), is the most popular tourist attraction in Kyoto. The pavilion was originally built as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in the late 14th century, and converted into a temple by his son. However, the pavilion was burnt down in 1950, by a young monk who had become obsessed with it. (The story became the basis for Yukio Mishima's novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.) The beautiful landscaping and the reflection of the temple on the face of the water make for a striking sight, but keeping the mobs of visitors out of your photos will be a stern test for your framing abilities. Get there early if you can to beat the school groups. Visitors follow a path through the moss garden surrounding the pavilion, before emerging into a square crowded with gift shops. Admission fee is ¥400.
- Ryōan-ji (龍安寺), (Nearest bus stop: Ryōanji-mae), ☎ 075-463-2216, . Open daily 8am-5pm (Mar-Nov), 8.30am-4.30pm (Dec-Feb). Famous for its Zen garden, which is considered to be one of the most notable examples of the "dry-landscape" style. Surrounded by low walls, an austere arrangement of fifteen rocks sits on a bed of white gravel. That's it: no trees, no hills, no ponds, and no trickling water. Behind the simple temple that overlooks the rock garden is a stone washbasin called Tsukubai said to have been contributed by Tokugawa Mitsukuni in the 17th century. It bears a simple but profound four-character inscription: "I learn only to be contented". There is a fantastic boiled tofu (湯豆腐 yudōfu) restaurant on the grounds, which you should be able to find by following the route away from the rock garden and towards the exit. It is slightly expensive, but serves delicious, traditional tofu dishes. The rest of the grounds are worth a look too - particularly the large pond. Admission ¥500.
- Ninnaji Temple (仁和寺), (Nearest bus stop: Omuro Ninnaji), ☎ 075-461-1155, . Open daily 9am-4.30pm. Another large temple complex which is often overlooked by tourists. Admission to the grounds is free, allowing visitors to view the 17th century five-story pagoda, and the plantation of dwarf cherry trees (which are always the last to bloom in Kyoto, in early-mid April). Inside the former palace building (which admission is charged to enter) some beautifully painted screen walls are featured, along with a walled garden. In the hills behind the temple, there is a delightful miniature version of the renowned 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Shikoku, which takes an hour or two (rather than a month or two). This can provide a delightful end to a day of looking at tourist attractions. Walking around the temple grounds is free however, entrance to the former palace building costs ¥500.
- Daitokuji Temple (大徳寺), 53 Murasakino (Nearest bus stop: Daitokuji-mae), ☎ 075-491-0019. A large temple complex, boasting many smaller sub-temples within its grounds. Daitokuji is the quietest of the temples in north-western Kyoto, and if you visit it at the start of the day, you could virtually have it to yourself. Eight of the twenty-four subtemples open to the public (most days 9am-5pm), and each charges an admission fee (around ¥400). The two most popular sub-temples are Daisen-in, located on the northern side of the temple complex, which has a beautiful Zen garden, along with delicious cinammon sweets that only this temple has rights to sell/produce (you can sample one if you get the tea or buy a pack for ¥700), and Koto-in particularly noted for its maple trees, which are beautiful in autumn, if you don't mind the crowds.
- Imamiya Shrine, 21 Imamiya-cho Murasakino Kita-ku (Just outside of the Daitokuji complex), ☎ 075-491-0082. Although the current structure dates back to 1902, the original was built during the Heian Period. At the time, the city was being plagued by illness and disease, so Imamiya Shrine was built to appease the gods. Even today, many visitors come to pray for good health and to ward of illness. Entrance is free.
- Tōji-in. Dedicated to the Ashikaga family, the statues inside represent each Ashikaga ruler. The temple also features a lovely garden.
- Hirano Shrine (平野神社), (Nearest bus stop: Waratenjin-mae), . Open from 6 AM to 5 PM. A small shrine, which is an especially popular destination during the cherry blossom season, setting up amusement and food stalls. A small park of cherry trees next to the shrine is hung with lanterns and drawings by local schoolchildren. Admission is free.
- Kitano Tenmangu, ☎ 075-461-0005, . Normal hours: 9 AM to 5 PM, on the 25th of every month hours extend from 7 AM to 9 PM. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine was built to appease the soul of Michizane Sugawara, who was a respected member of the Heian Court until he was exiled to Kyushu after falling into disfavor with the Emperor. He died while in exile, and soon after his death, a series of natural disasters mysteriously began plaguing Kyoto. Many suspected that it was the soul of Michizane seeking vengeance, so in order to console his spirit, he was made the God of Learning, and Kitano Tenmangu was built to honor him. Many plum trees were planted within and around the grounds of the shrine, because they were Michizane's favorite flowers, so this shrine is especially beautiful during the plum blossom season from mid-February to mid-March. The shrine is free to enter.
- Myoshinji Temple, 64 Hanazono Myoshinji-cho, ☎ 075-461-5226, . A large Zen temple complex famous for its large collection of famous artwork. To enter the main hall of Myoshin-ji, you must pay for a tour (tours typically operate every 20 minutes). Inside the main hall you'll find the temple's large dragon painting on the ceiling and the bell. Myoshinji's bell was made in 698, making it the oldest in Japan. As one of the head Zen temples, there are many sub-temples on the temple grounds, each with its own sites and separate fees. Some of the sub-temples are even available for overnight stays and meditation (see "Sleep" section). Admission fee: ¥500.
While the Takao area offers a modest number of sightseeing opportunities, it is one of Kyoto's most famous places to view the fall leaves. Throughout the autumnal season, the place is quite lively with vendors selling fresh treats and lanterns along the river at night. On the off-season, the area is very quiet, with few tourists. You can see the area in a half-day trip if you wish or stay a little longer to revel in the area's natural beauty (see Momijiya in "Sleep" section for accommodation in the area).
- Jingo-ji (神護寺), (In front of Kyoto Station, take JR Bus bound for Takao/Keihoku and get off at Yamashiro Takao Station (free with JR Pass), walk down a flight of winding stairs, cross a small bridge, and walk up for about ten minutes.). Open9AM-4PM. An overlooked gem among Kyoto temples, it is an ideal place to visit for those wanting to escape the tourist hordes. It is located in Mt. Takao in the north-western corner of Kyoto. Jingoji Temple was established by Priest Kukai as the head of the Shingon Sect during the Heian Period. Make sure you walk all the way to the back of the temple ground to a commanding view of the Kiyotaki River below wedged between two hills; here you can buy clay disks, which you throw down the mountain after making a wish. The temple is especially lovely in the fall, when the leaves all turn colors. Admission fee is ¥500.
- Saimyoji Temple. A former sub-temple of Jingoji. While it is not worth making a special trip to see this temple, those touring the Takao area might as well visit, as it is located on the path connecting Jingo-ji to Kozan-ji. The bridge leading to the temple and the lanterns outside the entrance are quite nice. Entrance is free.
- Kozan-ji. Registered as one of Kyoto's 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Kozanji is a small temple dating all the way back to the Kamakura period. Inside the temple you'll find a famous painting of rabbits and monkeys acting as humans, considered to be the world's first manga. Temple grounds are free, entrance to the temple is ¥600.
- Shimogamo Shrine, 59 Izumigawa-cho, Shimogamo (From Keihan Demachiyanagi Station, cross the bridge and turn left. Takes about 10 minutes), ☎ 075-781-0010, . Originally built prior to Kyoto becoming Japan's capital, Shimogamo is one of the first shrines built in Kyoto. Together with Kamigamo Shrine, they are known as the Kamo Shrines. These shrines were one of the most revered shrines by the Imperial Court, who made often made offerings here. The forest surrounding the shrine, known as Tadasu no Mori, is believed to be a natural forest, and legend has it that the secrets of those who enter the forest will be revealed. Shimogamo is also a great place to experience Japanese festivals, as many special events are held here, including the Aoi Matsuri, one of Kyoto's top three festivals. Entrance is free.
- Kamigamo Shrine, 3-3-9 Motoyama, ☎ 075-781-0011, . Collectively, Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine are known as the Kamo Shrines, and they were highly favored by the Imperial Court during the Heian Period. The shrine is most famous for the tatesuna, the two large sand cones. Their origins and original purpose are unknown, but it has been speculated that they represent nearby mountains. Kamigamo Shrine is one of Kyoto's World Heritage Sites. Entrance is free.
- Kyoto Botanical Garden. Japan's first botanical garden, the Kyoto Prefectural Botanical Garden is quite large and houses a wide variety of plants. It is a popular place for plum blossom viewing in February and early March and cherry blossoms, which typically bloom in early April. The indoor garden has a wide variety of tropical plants, desert cactuses, and other plants. The entrance fee only covers the outside gardens, but the additional fee to see the garden is quite nominal, so it is well worth it. ¥200 to see the outdoor flowers and gardens and an additional ¥200 to see the indoor botanical garden.
- Shugakuin Imperial Villa, ☎ 075-211-1215, . You must make reservations in order to visit Shugakuin. A beautiful garden separated into three different areas. Entrance is free.
- Myoman-ji, 91 Hataedacho Iwakura, ☎ 075-791-7171, . For anyone looking to see something slightly different from the standard Japanese temple, Myoman-ji offers a replica of Bodh Gaya's Mahabodhi Temple, where the Buddha obtained Enlightenment. The rest of the complex is quite Japanese, but still very beautiful, with artwork and a garden. Temple grounds are free, entrance to the main hall and garden ¥300.
- Jakko-in, . Built in honor of Prince Shotoku's father, the temple's Jizo contains 6000 tiny Buddha statues inside. The temple is also significant as the final resting place of Empress Kenreimonin, the only member of the Taira clan to survive in the Tales of Heike.
- Sanzen-in Temple, . Open from 8 AM to 5 PM. As the top attraction in the Ohara area, this temple is well worth the visit. Housed within the temple are three ancient Buddha statues. Outside, there is a lovely moss garden and a variety of buddhist statues ranging from the typical spiritual statues to adorable, animated statues. Entrance fee: ¥700.
- Zen Meditation at Shunko-in (春光院), 42 Myoshiji-cho, Hanazono, Ukyo-ku, ☎ +81 75 462 5488 ([email protected]), . 9-10:30 AM, 10:40 AM-12:10 PM, 1:30-3 PM daily. The temple's American-educated vice abbot, Rev. Taka Kawakami, offers a detailed English tour of temple and leads Zen meditation lessons. The temple hosts many important artistic and cultural properties related to Zen Buddhism and also connected to Shinto and Christianity, and also offers accommodation for ¥5000/night. Accommodations: ¥4000-5000; Tour: ¥2000, including ''matcha'' green tea and sweet.
- Zen Meditation at Taizo-in, . Session occurs from 9 AM to 1 PM only one day per week. Much more than simply a Zen meditation session, after one hour of meditation, participants will also get to experience a brief tea ceremony, calligraphy lessons, and an English tour of the temple's garden. It is a rare opportunity for tourists, but be aware that you will need to devote half of a day for the entire session. Reservations are required, but you can make your reservation in English at the website. All participants must be at least 15 years of age. Cost: ¥7500.
- Kitano Tenmangu Shrine Flea Market. On the 25th of each month Kitano Tenmangu hosts a flea market, with vendors lining both sides of the pathway leading up to the honden and then extends around each side. Pottery, porcelain, traditional dolls, and clothing are among the items sold, along with food. If you can manage to get here on the 25th, it's a great place to find unique souvenirs for great prices.
- Kurazushi, 4 Hiranomiyajiki-cho (Between Ryoan-ji and Kinkaku-ji, across from the Inshodomoto Museum of Fine Arts), ☎ 075-466-6101, . Open from 11 AM to 11 PM. A cheap and fun way to dine. For every five plates you finish, put the down the shoot to play a game on the screen above the sushi. Each game is different, but you'll typically be asked to choose one of three options and then watch the animation to see if you win. If you win, you get a prize. It's entertaining, and the sushi is tastes good. ¥100 per dish.
- Falafel Garden, 3-16 Shimoyanagi-cho, ☎ 075-712-1856, . Open from 11:30 AM to 9:30 PM. Closed Wed. in April and May. An Israeli restaurant serving a variety of falafel pockets, as well as meal sets. Medium-sized falafels range in price from ¥860-1100, large sizes available.
Most of the drinking options in the Northern area are located in the Eastern section, within walking distance of Keihan and Eizan Railway stations.
- Bar Moonwalk, . Offers a large selection of drinks at a great cost. Finger food is also available. Drinks sell for about ¥200 each.
- Ringo, 23 Tanakamonzen-cho B1, ☎ 075-721-3195, . Open from 5 PM to 3 AM. Closed Mondays. A bar dedicated to the Beatles' singer Ringo Star, with Beatles memorabilia decorating the walls and even a cover band that plays here live. The fresh pizza is quite good. Cocktails cost ¥400, handmade pizza ¥730.
- The Flying Keg (World Beer Bar), 6 Tanakasatonomae-cho, Sakyo-ku (Near Mototanaka Station on the Eizan Line), ☎ 075-701-0245, . Open from 7 PM to 12:30 AM (1 AM on weekends). A great place for anyone wanting to sample beers from around the world or missing beer from home, The Flying Keg offers beers from the U.S., Kenya, Germany, Ireland, Israel, China, Mexico, Australia, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, Belgium, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Italy, and the UK. Most drinks sell for ¥600-900, wines for ¥2000-3000.
- Dug Out, 2-24 Shimogamomatsunoki-cho, Sakyo-ku, ☎ 075-702-6440, . Open from 5 PM to 2 AM (cafe closes at 9 PM). Closed Tuesdays. A typical bar serving beer, whiskey, tequila, gin, rum, and cocktails. They also offers pizza, pasta dishes, and a variety of appetizers. Most drinks range in price from ¥500-1000.
- Kyoto Kamigamo Mankawa, 56-3 Kamigamo Shoubuen-cho, Kita-ku, ☎ 075-781-6551, . Open from 5 PM to midnight. Closed Tuesdays and holidays. A cocktail bar along with a restaurant serving various health food dishes. Original cocktails sell for ¥730-840, umeshu ¥630, detox drinks from ¥630-730.
Budget-minded travelers and those escaping the bustle of the urban core may prefer this area. To reach the central city easily, look for connections to the Kitaōji subway station (K04 on the Karasuma line) and bus terminal, the transportation hub of northern Kyoto.
- Myōren-ji Temple (妙蓮寺), Teranouchi Omiya Higashi-iru, Horikawa, Kamigyo-ku (Three minutes by foot from Horikawa Teranouchi Stop on Bus #9 and 12 - the former leaves from Kyoto Station, the latter from Shijo Karasuma subway station), ☎ +81 (0)75-451-3527. checkin: 6 PM; checkout: 7 AM. Facilities: in-room air-conditioner; no bath but a public bath is nearby; guests should bring their own bath towel and shampoo as the public bath only lends out mini-towels and soap. ¥3800 per person (including entrance fee to public bath).
- Myōshin-ji Daishin-in (妙心寺大心院), 57 Myoshinji-cho, Hanazono, Ukyo-ku (10 minutes by foot from Hanazono Station on JR Sagano Line or 7 minutes by foot from Myoshin-ji Mae Stop on buses #8, #10, and #26), ☎ +81 (0)75-461-5714 (fax: +81 (0)75-461-5714). 10 rooms with a maximum capacity of 50; in-room air-conditioner, kotatsu heating table in winter, shared bath and toilet. Lights out at 10pm. ¥4700 with breakfast.
- Myōshin-ji Shunko-in Temple (妙心寺春光院), 42 Myoshinji-cho, Hanazono, Ukyo-Ku (Five minutes by foot from the JR Hanazono station, 12-15 minutes away from the JR Kyoto station by JR Sagano Line), ☎ +81 (0)75-462-5488 ([email protected]), . checkin: 3−7 PM; checkout: noon. The only English available temple accommodation in Kyoto. The guest house has two rooms. A room has a private shower room, toilet, and AC (or a heater). Next to the guest house, there is a fully equipped shared kitchen. The temple hosts many important artistic and cultural properties related to Zen Buddhism, Shinto, and Christianity. One of the properties is the Bell of Nanbanji, which is designated as a national cultural important properties. Call or e-mail for reservation. ¥5,000 per person (including a tour of temple and rental bicycle). Zen meditation & tour: ¥2000 (including a bowl of maccha green tea and Japanese sweet)..
- Myōshin-ji Tōrin-in, 59 Myoshinji-cho, Hanazono, Ukyo-ku (10 minutes by foot from Hanazono Station on JR Sagano Line or 7 minutes by foot from Myoshin-ji Mae Stop on buses #8, #10, and #26), ☎ +81 (0)75-463-1334. Only accept reservations from foreigners if they are with a Japanese person. 10 rooms with a maximum capacity of 40; shared bath. Curfew at 9pm. Lights out at 10pm. ¥4700 with breakfast; ¥6000 with breakfast and dinner; Shojin meal (Buddhist vegetarian) ¥3,000−8,000; Shojin cooking class ¥3000.
- Utano Youth Hostel, 9 Nakayama-cho, Uzumasa, Ukyo-ku (off Kitaoji-dori), ☎ +81 (0)75-462-2288 ([email protected]), . checkin: 3:00−11:30 PM; checkout: before 10 AM. Near Ryoanji and Kinkakuji in northwestern Kyoto. There are three bus lines that go out there (26 from Kyoto Station, 10 and 59 from Sanjo-Keihan station) and the stop is right in front of the hostel (Utano Youth Hostel Mae). Bicycle rentals are available and guests are welcome to use the kitchen, bath and laundry facilities. Dorm room ¥3300, twin ¥4000/person.
Hotels and minshuku
- Apical Inn Kyoto, 3-3 Kotakeyabu-Cho Matsugasaki, Sakyo-ku (Near Shugakuin Station), ☎ 075-722-7711, . checkin: 3:00 PM; checkout: 10:00 AM.
- Duo Inn (デュオ・イン), 3F, 1039-31 Kamiyagawa-cho, Nishi-iru, Onmae, Imakoji-dori, Kamigyo-ku (About 50 min. from Kyoto Station via #50 bus, or 15 min. walk north from JR Enmachi Station), ☎ +81 (0)75-465-8800 (fax: +81 (0)75-464-1110), . Apartment hotel. Fairly far out in northwest Kyoto but the prices are reasonable. Prices are significantly lower for stays of 7 or more nights. Payment by cash only. No daily cleaning and no bath towels provided. Bus journey from Kyoto Station takes about 50 minutes. Singles ¥6300, doubles ¥8400−10,500, triples ¥12,600, 2-4 person Japanese-style room ¥14,700.
- GuestHouse Bon (ゲストハウス『凡』), 63-2 Kamimonzen-cho Murasakino, Kita-ku (8 min. west of Kitaōji subway station K04, north exit), ☎ +81 (0)75-493-2337, . checkin: 3−10 PM; checkout: 11 AM. Located in northwest Kyoto, immediately east of Daitokuji. Inexpensive bicycle rentals. The guest house owner has lived in Western countries before and can speak fluent English and a pinch of Spanish. All Japanese-style rooms, but can be converted to dorm style upon request for larger parties. Singles ¥3800−4500, doubles ¥4500−6000, triples ¥7500.
- Hotel Chrysantheme, 51, Hirano Kamihatcho Yanagi-machi, Kita-ku (near Ritsumeikan University, 30 min. from Kyoto Station via buses #50 or 205), ☎ +81 (0)75-462-1540 (fax: +81 (0)75-462-1571), . checkin: 2−9 PM; checkout: 11 AM. Western-style rooms with shower and bath shared between every two rooms. Also oriented towards the longer-stay market, with discounts starting at 5 days and increasing through 30. Singles ¥4800, doubles ¥9600 (without long-stay discounts).
- Holiday Inn Kyoto, 36 Takano, Nishihiraki-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8103 (Several minutes away on foot from the Takanobashi-higashizume bus stop), ☎ 075-721-3131 (fax: 075-781-6178), . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 12:00. The hotel runs a scheduled shuttle service to and from Kyoto Station for its guests (details available on the website ). Rates start at ¥10000.
- Momijiya, Takao Umegahata, Ukyo-ku, ☎ 075-871-1005, . Although this hotel operates year round, it is extremely popular in the autumn ("momiji" is the Japanese term for the changing of leaves). It is located in the quiet, far northeastern area of Takao near the foot of the stairway leading to Jingo-ji. It makes for a nice retreat, and you can opt to stay in a room with an open-air bath to relax while you enjoy the natural surroundings. All rooms are designed for at least 2 people. Prices start from ¥14700.
- Grand Prince Hotel Kyoto, 1092-2 Iwakura-Hataeda-cho, Sakyo-ku (Nearest station: Kokusai Kaikan on the Subway Karasuma Line. Takagaraike Park is adjacent to the hotel), ☎ 075-712-1111, . checkin: 1:00 PM; checkout: 12:00 PM. Prices vary greatly from ¥11000-45000, depending on the room.
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