- Walk 1: Nanzen-ji Temple to Yoshida-jinja Shrine
- Walk 2: Tofuku-ji Temple to Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine
- Walk 3: Classic Southern Higashiyama
- Walk 4: Gion Evening Walk
- Walk 5: Arashiyama
The Higashiyama (Eastern Mountain) district of Kyoto is the city’s richest area for sightseeing. It contains many of its most important temples, shrines, gardens and museums. This walk takes in some of the area’s real highlights and natural beauty while avoiding its more crowded attractions.
The walk starts at Nanzen-ji, a Zen temple that is my favorite temple in all of Kyoto. At Nanzen-ji, we will explore a quiet subtemple and hillside grotto, before heading through the woods to the start of the Tetsugaku-no-michi (The Path of Philosophy). After a short stroll along this famous walkway, we will head west to Yoshida-yama, a hill that is home to two of Kyoto’s loveliest and least visited temples. After exploring these temples and their atmospheric graveyards, we will climb the top of Yoshida-yama, where we will wander through the greenery and admire the views of Yoshida-koen Park. Finally, we will descend the hillside shrine of Yoshida-jinja, a fascinating complex of shrines surrounded by a lovely forest.
This walk takes approximately four hours and can be done by anyone in moderately good physical condition. The guide will meet you at a hotel in Kyoto or at a meeting point at Kyoto Station. The endpoint of the walk is Imadegawa-dori Street, between Shirakawa-dori Street and Higashiyama-dori Street, from where you can catch buses to all parts of Kyoto.
Walk 2: Tofuku-ji Temple to Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine
Walk 2: Tofuku-ji Temple to Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine
The southern end of Kyoto's Higashiyama (Eastern Mountain) district is my favorite area of the city for a walk. Nestled against the mountains are some of the city's most atmospheric temples and Fushimi-Inari Taisha, a fascinating complex of shrines scattered across a wooded hilltop. If you want a taste of the mysterious side of Japan, this walk is for you.
The walk starts at Tofuku-ji, a lovely temple complex that is often overlooked by visitors to Kyoto. After exploring Tofuku-ji, we will work our way through some narrow streets and alleys to the tiny Shirahige Okami, a beguiling little shrine tucked into a hillside grotto. Leaving this shrine, we enter the woods, and climb the northern slope of Mt. Inari, home of Fushimi-Inari Taisha. Here, we enter a world of vermillion torii (Shinto shrine gates), hidden shrines, strange stone figures and, according to some, legions of ghosts and spirits. After exploring this shrine complex for a while, we will descend the west side of the mountain, pausing to admire the excellent views across the whole of southern Kyoto. Finally, we come out at the base of Inari-san, where we visit the main halls of the shrine before boarding the train to return to downtown Kyoto.
This walk takes approximately four hours and can be done by anyone in good physical condition. The guide will meet you at a hotel in Kyoto or at a meeting point at Kyoto Station. The endpoint of the walk is Fushimi-Inari Taisha, which has bus and train connections to all parts of Kyoto.
Walk 3: Classic Southern Higashiyama
Southern Higashiyama is Kyoto’s most popular sightseeing district, and with good reason: it’s packed with first-rate sights. My route through this area takes in some of the city’s most famous highlights, with a nice dash of lesser-known attractions, all linked by great secret lanes, alleys and streets.
We start at the top of Gojo Street (famous for its pottery shops) and work our way through an atmospheric Pure Land Buddhist cemetery before entering bustling Kiyomizu-dera Temple. We take our time exploring this fascinating “hand’s on” temple. We then descend Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka, two of Kyoto’s most picturesque streets, lined with perfectly preserved houses. We then explore my favorite little alley in the whole city before emerging into lovely Maruyama-koen Park. From here, we head via a back way to Chion-in Temple and one more lesser-known temple (time permitting).
The walk takes four hours and can be done by anyone in moderately good physical condition. This walk is particularly good for those with children, as there is a lot to do in temples like Kiyomizu-dera. It can easily be combined with Walk One to form a brilliant full-day route.
Walk 4: Gion Evening Walk
Gion is Kyoto’s traditional entertainment district. It is the realm of geisha and hostesses. Gion is loveliest in the early evening, and a visit to Gion at this time offers the best chance of spotting a geisha on the way to or from an appointment.
My Gion evening walk starts at Yasaka-jinja Shrine, the patron shrine of the district, and plunges into the magical backstreets of the district. Along the way, we pass along what I consider to be the loveliest single street in all of Asia, before taking a pass through the Pontocho entertainment district on the far side of the Kamo-gawa River. This romantic route is truly the best way to experience the magic of Gion.
This walk takes two hours and can be done by anyone comfortable with a short walk. It’s mostly flat or downhill. The walk can be done Monday to Saturday (there’s little chance of spotting a geisha on Sunday evening). We don’t recommend doing the walk in the mid-August Obon holiday period or from December 29 to January 3. In order to maximize your chances of spotting geisha, we recommend starting the walk at 5pm, but 5.30pm also works. Note that geisha sightings are not guaranteed.
Walk 5: Arashiyama
Tucked along the base of Kyoto’s western Arashiyama Mountains, you’ll find one of Kyoto’s most charming sightseeing districts. Arashiyama is home to a fine collection of temples, including one of Kyoto’s finest Zen temples, and the single most beautiful villa in the country. The highlight of the area is the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, an incredibly atmospheric grove of bamboo that calls to mind the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Our route starts at Tenryu-ji Zen Temple, passes through the Bamboo Forest and finishes up near the fine Adashino-Nembutsu-ji Temple. Along the way, you’ll visit Okochi-Sanso Villa and pass a poet’s hut where Basho penned a famous haiku.
This walk takes around four hours and can be done by anyone in moderately good physical condition. We can easily continue on to Ryoan-ji, Ninna-ji, and Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) to turn this into a full-day route.
Walk 1: Nanzen-ji Temple to Yoshida-jinja Shrine