Most of Kyoto’s Japanese gardens can be found inside temples, and with so many temples, you can be sure there are a lot of amazing gardens around. Indeed, Kyoto has probably the highest concentration of beautiful gardens in all of Japan. Every type of Japanese garden is represented in Kyoto, from austere “Karesansui” (“Zen gardens”) to flamboyant stroll gardens of the Shoguns and Emperors. You’ll also see a lot of small wonders, the “Tsuboniwa” or courtyard gardens inside restaurants, shops, private houses, etc.
Here is a small list of suggestions of visits. But there are many, many more to see — Kyoto is a garden lover’s paradise.
Enjoy the beautiful Autumn foliage by taking advantage of the evening opening and illumination of these gardens. Here is a list of some of this year’s light ups around Kyoto, together with the dates and opening time.
When we talk about the spring in Kyoto, images of cherry blossoms come to mind. But the flower season actually starts much earlier, in February, with the blossoming of the plum flowers. One of the best places in Kyoto to enjoy these is a lovely shrine located in southern Kyoto, Jōnangū.
The Shugaku-in Imperial Villa is a set of gardens and outbuildings in the hills of the eastern suburbs of Kyoto. It was built in the 17th century by Emperor Gomizuno and consists of the Upper, Middle and Lower Villa areas, each featuring gardens and buildings of the traditional imperial style.
Hanami (“flower viewing”) is the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers. This often involves a picnic party to enjoy the cherry blossoms as well as food and drinks. People have a Hanami party with friends, family or colleagues . . .
The Unryû-In Temple is a Buddhist sub-temple of the large Sennyûji Temple. The season night illumination has just started and we enjoyed our time visiting the gardens of this wonderful little temple.
As this year’s Hanami season comes to an end, the last place to visit around Kyoto is often the Ninna-Ji Temple (仁和寺). Located in the North West part of town, this temple is quite famous for its Omuro cherry trees, ancient, dwarf, late-flowering trees.
Arguably the most beautiful garden in the Arashiyama area, Hogon-In Temple is a must-see for every tourist visiting the area. Whether you see the plush greens in the spring or the vibrant reds in the fall, Hogon-In Temple will leave you with some of the most vivid memories from Kyoto.
Sanzen-In is a temple of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism and was founded by the revered monk Saicho who introduced Tendai Buddhism to Japan in 804. Sanzen-In Temple is a monzeki temple, one of only a few temples whose head priests used to be members of the imperial family.
This small quiet temple is of a classic style and is a pleasant stop after visiting the nearby Daigo-Ji. We visited in the Fall and the garden was specially beautiful. And I’ve read that the large garden of small plum trees, the “Ono garden” (小野梅庭) is very beautiful if you pick the right time in March to visit it.
Okochi-Sanso Villa probably rivals the city’s imperial villas, and you don’t need a reservation to visit. It took us a long time to get to visit the place, but we’re happy we finally did. It’s a gem!
Kodai-ji Temple, located between Kiyomizu Temple and the Maruyama Park, hosts one of the beautiful and fun nighttime illuminations held at the temple in the spring and fall. It is not a mere light-up, but a real Sound and Light show! Usually very crowded, but well worth it!
Kodai-ji Temple is located between the Yasaka no To Pagoda, and the Maruyama Park. It is one of the finest temples in the Southern Higashiyama Area. its beautiful garden is a designated national historic and famous scenic place. Specially nice during light-ups!
Toji Temple is not just this beautiful five stories Pagoda, the largest in Japan, that has become a symbol of Kyoto. There is much more to this temple than that. It houses a beautiful collection of statues and paintings, gorgeous garden, one of the oldest and largest market in Kyoto…
Hirano Jinja (Shrine) is a very old Shinto shrine — established in the year 794. It is among the most popular spots in Kyoto among Japanese people for its gardens and numerous cherry trees, for viewing the flowers, singing and drinking.
Shoren-In is certainly not one of the main temples around, but it really is a very nice one and has undoubtedly one of the most beautiful Japanese gardens in Kyoto. This is not a mere lighting up of the garden, but it is an actual light show.
While most people think “Cherry Blossom” when considering the Hanami season, it actually starts with the plum blossoms around the end of February. This is, a few weeks before the cherry blossoms, the actual beginning of spring in Kyoto.
Tenryu-ji (天龍寺) is located in Arashiyama, a scenic area at the foot of the mountains on the western outskirts of Kyoto. It is the main Temple of the area and features one of the finest garden and pond in Kyoto.
Ninna-ji (仁和寺) is the head temple of the Omuro school of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism. It is located in western Kyoto, near Ryoanji and Kinkakuji. We usually visit all three temples on the same day.
The Ryōan-ji (龍安寺) garden is considered one of the (if not the) finest surviving examples of kare-sansui (“dry landscape”), a refined type of Japanese Zen temple garden design generally featuring distinctive larger rock formations . . .
Ginkakuji (銀閣寺) aka the Silver Pavilion, is a Zen temple located at the Northern part of Kyoto’s eastern mountains (Higashiyama). I found the place is particularly beautiful in Autumn, but it is also a delight at other seasons.