Start your Ky&333;to odyssey in Higashiyama (literally, “Eastern Mountain”). If you have time to visit only one district, this is the one. These sights can be covered comfortably in two days but if you only have one, then pick and choose sites from the following two tours, according to your interests.
Ginkaku-ji is one of Ky&333;to’s most famous sights, a wonderful villa turned temple. To get here, take Bus 5 from Ky&333;to station to the Ginkaku-ji-michi bus stop. When you can tear yourself away, retrace your steps on the entrance road until you reach the Path of Philosophy, which follows alongside the canal. At the first large bridge as you walk south, turn off the path, cross the canal, and take the road east to the modest H&333;nen-in, with its thatched roof and quiet park. After H&333;nen-in, return to the Path of Philosophy and continue south. In 15 minutes or so you reach, on your left, the temple Eikan-d&333;. If you cross the street from Eikan-d&333; and continue south, you can see, on the right, the Nomura Art Museum, which has a private collection of Japanese art.
If the day is close to an end, walk from the Nomura Art Museum to Heian Jingu and the Ky&333;to Handicraft Center, on Maruta-machi-d&333;ri behind it. If not, continue this tour, which returns shortly to Heian Jingu.
Walk south from Nomura Art Museum and follow the main path. On your left will be Nanzen-ji, headquarters of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, with its classic triple gate, San-mon. See also Nanzen-in, a smaller temple within Nanzen-ji. Outside the main gate of Nanzen-ji but still within the complex, take the side street to the left, and you will come to Konchi-in, with its pair of excellent gardens. At the intersection at the foot of the road to Nanzen-ji, you can see the expansive grounds of the Ky&333;to International Community House, across the street to the left; however, unless you’re interested in information about cultural classes, skip a visit to the center. Cross at the traffic light to get to the Meiji-period Murin-an Garden, with an entrance on a side road half a block east. Walk back north toward the canal, turn left and continue to the next right and cross the bridge over the canal. You can see an immense vermilion torii that acts as a distant entry for Heian Jingu. There are two museums flanking the other side of the torii, the Ky&333;to Municipal Museum of Art on your right, and the National Museum of Modern Art on your left. Close by is the Ky&333;to Museum of Traditional Crafts, which exhibits traditional Ky&333;to crafts. Pass through the torii to get to the Heian Jingu. After seeing the shrine, you could end your tour by visiting one of these museums or doing a bit of shopping at the Ky&333;to Handicraft Center. At the intersection of Maruta-machi-d&333;ri and Higashi-&333;ji-d&333;ri, west of the handicraft center, is the Kumano Jinja-mae bus stop. If you’re ready for dinner, you can take Bus 202 or 206 five stops south on Higashi-&333;ji-d&333;ri to the Gion bus stop; here, some of the city’s best restaurants and bars are at your disposal.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
Start your exploration of southern Higashiyama by visiting the temple of Sanjusangen-d&333;. You can take Bus 100, 206, or 208 to the Sanjusangen-d&333;-mae bus stop. The temple is south of the bus stop, just beyond the Ky&333;to Park Hotel. You can also take Bus 202 to the Higashiyama-Shichij&333; bus stop, walk west down Shichij&333;-d&333;ri, and take the first major street to the left. If you’re taking Bus 202 and you plan to see Chishaku-in, go there first—you can avoid doubling back.
From Sanjusangen-do retrace your steps back to Shichijo[m]-do[m]ri and take a right. Chishaku-in, famous for its paintings, will be facing you on the other side of Higashi-&333;ji-d&333;ri. Back across Higashi-o[m]ji-do[m]ri is the prestigious Ky&333;to National Museum. Just north, less than a five-minute walk along Higashi-&333;ji-d&333;ri from the museum, is the Kawai Kanjir&333; Memorial House, which houses the works of renowned potter Kanjir&333; Kawai. The next place to visit is a very special temple, Kiyomizu-dera. To get there from the museum, cross the major avenue Goj&333;-d&333;ri and walk north along Higashi-&333;ji-d&333;ri. The street to the right, Goj&333;-zaka, leads into Kiyomizu-zaka, which you can take to the temple.
If you take a right halfway down the road (Kiyomizu-zaka) leading from Kiyomizu-dera, you can walk along the Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka (slopes). Take a left after Ninen-zaka and then an immediate right, and continue walking north. After another five minutes you can see, on the right, K&333;dai-ji, a sedate nunnery founded in the early 17th century. Keep heading north; by doing a right–left zigzag at the Maruyama Music Hall, you can get to Maruyama K&333;en. The road to the right (east) leads up the mountainside to Ch&333;raku-ji, a temple famous today for the stone lanterns that lead to it. Proceed north through Maruyama Ko[m]en, and you can find Chion-in, headquarters of the J&333;do sect of Buddhism. More paintings by the Kan&333; school are on view at Sh&333;ren-in, a five-minute walk north of Chion-in.
Next turn left (west) on Sanj&333;-d&333;ri, then left on Higashi-o[m]ji-do[m]ri to reach Shij&333;-d&333;ri and the Gion district, where geisha live and work. At the Gion bus stop, Shij&333;-d&333;ri goes off to the west. Before going down this street, consider walking up the stairs on the east side into Yasaka Jinja, a shrine that is said to bring good health and wealth. Walk back from Yasaka Jinja, cross Higashi-&333;ji-d&333;ri, and you are in Gion, on Shij&333;-d&333;ri. On the right-hand corner is the Ky&333;to Craft Center, perfect for a quick shopping stop. Shinmonzen-d&333;ri, a street parallel to Shij&333;-d&333;ri and to the north, is another great place for shopping and browsing. Shij&333;-d&333;ri itself has interesting, less expensive items.
Off Shij&333;-d&333;ri, halfway between Higashi-&333;ji-d&333;ri and the Kamo-gawa, is Hanami-k&333;ji-d&333;ri. The section of this street that runs south of Shij&333;-d&333;ri (on the right, if you’re walking back from the river) will bring you into the heart of the Gion district and the Gion Kaburenj&333; Theater.
If you continue west on Shij&333;-d&333;ri, you can cross over the Kamo-gawa. Pontoch&333;-d&333;ri is on the right. Like Gion, this area is known for its nightlife and geisha entertainment. At the north end of Pontoch&333;-d&333;ri, the Ponto-ch&333; Kaburenj&333; Theater puts on geisha performances.
Cherry blossom time in spring (usually the first week in April) and the glorious autumn foliage in early November are remarkable. Except for the depths of winter and the peak of summer in August, when the temperature soars, Ky&333;to’s climate is mild enough—though often rainy, especially mid-June to mid-July—to make sightseeing pleasant for most of the year. In the high season (May–October) the large numbers of visitors to the city can make accommodations scarce, and you must apply in advance to visit those attractions that require permits, such as Katsura Rikyu and the Shugaku-in imperial villas. You can also expect lines for admission tickets to the Imperial Palace.
Religious buildings are generally open seven days a week, but many museums close Monday. If you’re lucky enough to be in Ky&333;to for the Gion Festival, which is held throughout the month of July, be sure to go downtown on the 17th for the main parade. Two other memorable festivals are Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) on May 15, and the Jidai Festival on October 22, which celebrates Ky&333;to’s founding. If you’re here for the latter, be sure to head for the Heian Jingu for the procession of about 2,000 people in costumes from every period of Ky&333;to history.