Walking Kyoto: A guide to exploring eastern Kyoto

Walking Kyoto
This post will take you on a self guided walking tour through eastern Kyoto. The full route is around 10km from Kyoto station to Ginkakuji, the silver temple in the north. Make a day of it or select only the sections that appeal the most.

Kyoto is one of my favourite places in Japan.  OK so I have many favourite places but I can’t fly into Japan without at least a few nights in this beautiful city.  It’s an amazing place to immerse yourself, relax and enjoy walking, eating, culture and history.

Kyoto doesn’t have a bad public transport system, arriving and leaving through Kyoto station is state of the art.  Within the city the subway has two lines, one running north to south, the other east to west.  Outside of that there are buses and the above ground train lines can be useful around the fringe.  Despite that Kyoto is a city I like to enjoy mostly on foot.  It’s flat, I feel very safe both day and night, it’s quite compact and the food is so darn good I need to work off those extra calories somehow.

This walking tour takes in many of the highlights of eastern Kyoto.  It’s about a 10km walk with a dozen or so attractions along the way.  That’s too many for many people to do in one day but if you’re short on time and feeling energetic it’s very possible and if not take it as inspiration, pick and choose those which appeal to you most or break it up and complete it over a couple of days, it’ll give you some ideas of what there is to see and do in the area.  If you have any questions please ask either in the comments at the bottom or through our contact page, we love talking about Japan with you.

A Walking Guide to Eastern Kyoto

Self guided walk through eastern Kyoto, Japan

Along our eastern Kyoto walking trail we’ll visit many highlights and a few special hidden gems.  To learn more about each destination click on the read more link which will take you to a more detailed article on that destination.

Kyoto Station

Kyoto Train Station

Our starting point for this walking tour will be Kyoto Station, this area is an accommodation hub with many hotels located nearby and you can easily reach it by subway, train or bus.  Of course you can pick up the tour at any point along the route or complete it in smaller sections that fit with your timing and energy levels on the day.

Kyoto station is futuristic and a destination in it’s own right.  The design is so modern and inspired that there was a fair amount of debate in the heritage city around whether it was appropriate when it was first built but it somehow works and doesn’t detract at all from the incredible hisotry that surrounds it.

You’ll find multiple adjacent shopping centres including Isetan to the right of this photo and Porto accessed just down the stairs outside the door.  There are hundreds of restaurants, some inside the station on the other side of the ticket gates, others in the shopping centres and if you go up the many banks of escalators to L10 you’ll find a ramen hall, on L11 you’ll find The Cube restaurant street and if you go up one more level you’ll come to the roof top garden for some fresh air and great views.

If you don’t mind hights I’d recommend checking out that glass sky bridge that crosses the the atrium and allows another perspective.

Once you’re done exploring here lets head off towards Higashiyama and the eastern hills.

Read More:  Exploring Kyoto station as a transport hub and destination

Sanjusandendo

Sanjusangendo temple in Kyoto, Japan. The size and number of gold plated statues in this unassuming hall is incredible.

Our first stop on this walking tour is Sanjusangendo.  Perhaps I am a little predisposed to love this temple as it was our first stop on our very first visit to the city but I do highly recommend a stop here if you possibly can.  The history of this ancient temple goes all the way back to 1164, it’s main hall is beautiful and it has a small but gorgeous Japanese garden.  What is most incredible about Sanjusangendo though is once you step inside that main hall.  You will need to take off your shoes and leave then in a cubby hole at the entrance then entre the main part of the temple.

The temple houses 1001 almost life sized carved and gold plated images of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.  It’s quite overwhelming so take your time to look around and take in all the detail, there are also carvings of 28 Buddist dieties, and two gardians, the gods of wind and thunder.  The centre image of the temple dates back to 1254 and is a 3.3 metre seated statue of Kannon.

Read More: A visitors guide and the history of Sanjusandgendo Temple

Kiyomizudera and Chawan-Zaka

Kiyomizudera

Moving on to our next stop we head north and slightly further east towards Kiyomizudera Temple.  You arrive via Chawan-zaka or teapot lane, this is a narrow paved shopping street with wooden merchant houses on either side converted into small stores and restaurants.  The approach is quite steep but you can always reward yourself with a small treat on the way up or stop to browse in the shops.  There is a shop that sells the BEST Shu Cremu, choux pastries filled with a variety of custard like fillings including seasonal ones like my favourite, sakura.  A bit further up a land branches to the left and just down here is a tiny store front that offers nikuman that are absolutely delicious as a small savoury treat to warm up on a cooler day.

Kiyomizudera temple complex was founded in 798 and is very extensive.  It includes Jishu Shrine, the main temple with its enormous wooden deck all built without the use of nails, a dramatic pagoda, the Otowa-no-taki waterfall that may grant blessings to those who drink from it and a variety of other temple buildings and attractions.

Read More:  Exploring Kiyomizudera and Chawan-Zaka

Yasaka-no-to Pagoda and Ryozen Kannon Temple

ryozen temple

From Kiyomizudera temple we wind further north through the Higashiyama district, there is so much to see and discover as you wander through the laneways.  Yasaka pagoda is part of Hokan-ji Temple, as you approach through the old neighbourhood you can really appreciate the ornate pagoda looming up before you, it was originally founded in 589 by Imperial Prince Shotoku.

Just around the corner another dramatic piece is the statue of the bodhisattva Kannon (Avalokitesvara) goddess of mercy.  This is part of the Ryozen Kannon temple, a war memorial erected in 1955 to those lost in the Pacific War.  I found this an emotional place to visit, it includes a memorial to the unknown soldier, representing the 48,000 foreign soldiers who lost their lives on terriotory under Japanese control during WWII.   You are provided with a stick of incense at the entry to offer your own prayer or take a moment in silent contemplation.

Read More:  Visit Kyoto’s Ryozen Kannon Temple

Yasaka Shrine, Maruyama Park and Gion

Gion district

Continuing north you may want to detour a little west as you reach Yasaka Shrine along Shijo Dori, the district of Gion lies behind this street to the right and left.  It’s a lovely place to wander through the cobbled streets of tradtional homes and tea houses.  You’ll also find plenty of lunch and coffee shop options both on the main street and throughout this area.

Retracing you way back to Shijo Dori and crossing Higashi Oji Dori you will find yourself at the gates of Yasaka Shrine, the main Shrine of the Gion area and one that hosts many events during the year.  This shrine is particularly important to the local community including Geisha in the area who will regularly participate in events here.  We saw Maiko perform on the main stage here on the eve of Setsubun, it was a community event, very busy but mostly attended by locals.  When you have had a look around continue out the back gate into Maruyama Park.  This is a popular park especially during cherry blossom season when it lit weeping cherry takes pride of place.

Continuing out of the park through the northern gate you will arrive at Choin-in and then Shoren-in.  Both are worthy stops at any time of year but are especially stunning locations for autumn colours.

Read more:  A about exploring this part of Gion, Yasaka Shrine & Maruyama Park or learn about Gion and other Geisha districts of Kyoto

Nanzen-ji Temple

Nanzen-ji | Philosophers Path

Slightly further northeast is the sprawling Nanzen-ji a zen temple at the base of the Higashiyama mountains just south of the start of the Philosophers path.  The grounds are free to enter but various temples and sub-temples on the grounds have a entry fee.  It’s particularly beautiful in spring and summer but it’s gardens are  worth a visit any time.  The massive Sanmon gate shown here was built in 1628 by the Tokogawa clan as a memorial to the soldiers who died in the seige at Osaka Castle.

Eikan-do Temple

Eikan-do Temple

Next to Nanzen-ji is Eikan-do, one of the temples I am most looking forward to revisiting on our upcoming autumn leaves itinerary.  It has many interersting small temples and attractions throughout the grounds and the gardens are beautifully kept.  We’ve been told the colours here can be something extra special. I just hope we get the timing right, seasons can be a fickle thing.

Read More:  A temple for all seasons: Eikan-do in Kyoto

 The Philosophers Path

Sakura on the Philosophers Path

Running along a section of the Lake Biwa canal the Philosophers path was a favourite walking path of the Kyoto University Philosophy Professor Nishida Kitaro who would walk the 2 kilometre path twice a day.  It really would be a fabulous work commute and although it’s most popular during the cherry blossom season it is an attractive spot all year round and much more peaceful when the cherry trees aren’t in bloom.

Read More:  Exploring the Philosophers Path in Kyoto

Honen-en Temple

Honen-in on the Philosophers Path in Kyoto

This is a small temple set back from the Philosophers Path into the base of the Higashiyama Mountains.  Sitting in the shadow of the eastern hills it is damp and mossy and very beautiful.  You can enter the temple grounds but the temple itself only has a few special openings throughout the year so we were lucky to make it to one of these.

Ginkaku-ji Temple

Ginkaku-ji Temple | 2 Aussie Travellers

Contrary to its popular name the silver pavillion isn’t covered in silver leaf as the nearby Kinkaku-ji is covered in gold but this temple has great gardens and an important place in the history of Zen Buddhism in Japan and many of the Japanese arts including the tea ceremony.

Ginkaku-ji is the last stop on our eastern Kyoto walking trail.  We hope you enjoy exploring this incredible area as much as we do.  If you’ve done enough walking for the day at this point you can easily catch a bus back to central Kyoto or the station from here.

Read More:  Ginkaku-ji, Kyoto’s silver pavillion

5 Handy Tips for Exploring Kyoto on foot

1     Old school map. Even if you have a data plan and Google maps on your phone it’s worth picking up a paper map to have in your bag.  You can pick them up for free at your hotel or at the information centre inside Kyoto Station.

2     Shoes selection.  Wear flat comfortable shoes, buy some especially for your trip if you have to.  In Japan people walk a lot and you’re going to enjoy your holiday a whole lot more if you feet aren’t aching and blistered.

3     Try local treats.  Eating your way around Kyoto is a big part of the enjoyment.  Allow time in your day to stop regularly, try a new tea or coffee shop, sit down for a lunch experience, a treat at the market or small store.  Street food isn’t as common in Japan as it is in other parts of Asia but where you find it during festivals and near attractions it’s generally really good.

4     Slow down.  To enjoy the experience of the old city you will need some time.  Rather than ticking off 20 guide book attractions in a day try to allow time to wander down the lane ways and take the odd ‘wrong’ turn.  It’s a very safe city so you won’t end up somewhere you’d rather not be.

5    Getting Home.  Take a business card from your accommodation when you check in.  It’ll have the name and location written in Japanese.  Japanese taxi drivers rarely speak English in our experience so you can hand them the card.  If you get really lost it will help someone direct you accurately on your way home.

Explore eastern Kyoto and the Higashiyama district and don't miss the hidden highlights with this self guided walking route series
Explore eastern Kyoto and the Higashiyama district and don't miss the hidden highlights with this self guided walking route series

We hope you enjoy this walking Kyoto tour of eastern Kyoto with us.  It’s a beautiful and fascinating area to discover and on foot on your own timetable is the best way to do it.  If you’ve enjoyed exploring eastern Kyoto you may also like our central Kyoto walking tour at 8.5km including taking in Nijo Castle, the Imperial Palace, 2 historical geisha districts, a foodies market and more.

Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments section below or share what’s your favourite place to visit in Kyoto is and why?

22 Comments

  • Hello! Thanks so much for the lovely photos and great travelogue. They are very helpful and fun to read!
    Am planing a trip to Kyoto in 2nd week of Oct (2018) and want to stay in a temple (temples). I’ll be in Kyoto for 4 days. Have you experience in temple lodging?

    Cheers,
    Vera

    • Hi Vera, we’ve visited a lot of temples in Kyoto over the years but haven’t done a temple stay so there’s nowhere I can suggest from personal experience. Sorry, would love to hear your thoughts on it though, we will eventually get around to doing one on Mount Koya.

  • Hi, I am planning a trip to Japan for 3 weeks in September, their will be 5 adults, a 12 yr old, 2yr old and infant. I have been following you on Instagram and really needing some help. The first week we plan to stay in Tokyo, then a week in Kyoto, then back to Tokyo. We have been looking on airbnb.ca for accomodations . I am hoping you can suggest an area in Tokyo that is close to popular attractions and trains. Travelling with little ones will be a challenge in itself, so hope you can help.

    • Hi Judy, Tokyo is difficult to decide as there are many attractions and they are very spread out, you can spend a lot of time getting around Tokyo if you don’t have a plan. We like Akasaka, the Hotel New Otani is close to a subway station and lots of good eating options. We walk a lot and don’t travel with young children so our choices are likely to be different. The Tokyo Station area is probably the most ‘central’ and we like staying there but hotel rooms tend to be smaller for the price point and a generally a bit more expensive but there loads of eating options, close to all forms of transport (bullet train, train and subway) and the Imperial Palace and east gardens are close. Not sure if you will elect for the Airport Limousine bus rather than train if arriving with little ones but if we want to use that we factor in whether the hotel is on their route especially if arriving during peak times or later at night as it’s a easy way to start. It’s a personal choice but we stay away from AirBNB in Japan as most tenant agreements in the country don’t allow subletting and if you are staying and not meant to be it can be awkward. Are there particular attractions you want to be close to? Something else to possibly consider as a family group is staying out of Tokyo such as Yokohama, the train fare is about $5 and takes around 25 minutes but it’s less hectic and you may get better value for money, it can take almost as long getting between some stops in Tokyo.

      • Hi Clare, there are a couple of places we’ve stayed in Kyoto multiple times and each has its advantages. I love Gozan Hotel and Apartments in Higashiyama. They are beautiful, self-contained and modern but with Japanese styling. It’s a 10-minute walk to the heart of Gion, a couple of minutes to Sanjo station, a great location to explore this eastern part of the city.

        If we are doing a lot of day trips by JR train or arriving from the airport late at night we find the Granvia Hotel very convenient. They are large well-appointed rooms, right at Kyoto station but we’ve never heard railway noise from there. There are many places to eat close by and of course very convenient for train, subway and bus.

        Another option that is really good value, has a subway stop right outside the door, and modern, self-contained apartments is the Citidines Karasuma Gojo. This isn’t quite as conveniently located as the other two but offers a good price for what you get and if you are happy to walk a bit as we do you can get around on foot into Gion, Kyoto Station, Kiyomizudera temple etc but it’s a little further.

  • This is the best source of information on Japan Travel. It is so thourough and so “unselfish” with details and options. Thank you for sharing. May you have many more happy world travels. Thank you for sharing

  • Your pictures are gorgeous! I was just googling around for Himeji info and came across your blog. I ended up opening up almost all your pages on kyoto 🙂 Can’t wait to visit Kyoto again. Thanks for sharing!!

  • Stumbled upon your blog and loving it for planning our trip to Japan in June 17. Would the Ktoyo walking tour be suitable to ride? Our accom has bikes available for guests, and I was thinking with 2 kids (10 & 8), cycling would be fun. Thanks!!

    • People do cycle on the footpaths in Kyoto but it is still quite a busy city through some of the areas we cover on this route so I personally wouldn’t be confident but then I’m not really used to riding on the paths around people. Loved the skill of the locals cycling there, several times we saw beautifully dressed women cycling in the spring rain holding their brolly overhead and navigating the pedestrians with no trouble at all or with their miniature dog in a basket chatting on a cellphone. There are definitely parts of Kyoto that would be good to cycle I will get a cycle in Arashiyama and Fushimi next time, what part are you staying in? The accommodation may be able to give you a better idea if they are loaning out cycles.

  • Hi…

    Nice guidance…i will visit kyoto in 2 days amd i will try your walking guidance from Kyoto to Ginka kuji… i know its 10km walk… how long will it take approximately to do that walking plus taking pics? Is it enough 5-6 hours?

    Thank you

    • At an average speed it would take around 2 hours to walk 10 km, central Kyoto is mostly flat easy walking with good paths or lane ways so that average would be about right even with the hill to Kiyomizudera and waiting at crossings for the busier roads. However what will determine the time would be how many of the stopping points you detour off and wander around which add both distance and time. Our travel style is SLOW so although we would easily walk this distance each day in Japan we regularly spend a couple of hours at a temple of park so our preference is to take a segments at a time and explore each place in detail. It will really depend how much time you have available and how many of the places along the route you want to see.

  • Hi,

    Visiting Kyoto is top of my bucket list, hopefully one day. I would like to thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge, very interesting blog!!!

  • Hi!
    I am going to Kobe and have only one free day which I want to spend in Kyoto. Your list includes most of the things that I want to do there..! But I need yo get back to Kobe at the end of the day..can I cover this trip in one day. Maybe I might not be able to walk. What do you suggest?? Thank you:)

    • Hi Priyanka, it will depend on how far you are comfortable walking in a day and your preferred speed of travel. The direct trip to each of those spots, from Kyoto station to the silver pavillion, is about 10 km and you could then get the Raku 100 bus or a taxi back to the station from near Ginkakuji. Once you add in exploring each location you would cover more distance and it would be quite a long day to see each place well. It might also depend on the season you are travelling as some locations demand a longer visit in some seasons and in the heat of summer I would find the full route in a single day with a return to Kobe quite exhausting but possible. If you want to spend a bit longer exploring a few places that really stand out to you then perhaps prioritise those, also you can get the bus from the station to Sanjusangendo as a starting point to save a bit of time and walking. Other than that I find there are so many spots all along the route that you would probably spend longer waiting for buses than walking and still miss a lot along the way. I’ve been meaning to put together a series of ‘one day in Kyoto’ posts covering highlights and getting around in between so maybe that will be up in time to help you out. Places like the Golden Pavillion, Nijo Castle and Fushimi Inari would be difficult to add into a single day in addition to this walking route.

      • Hi!
        Thank you for your reply! I forgot to mention that I’m travelling end of 31 March to 4 April so maybe Ill miss your post on a day in Kyoto 🙁 Anyhow, I will plan as per your suggestions too, I love to walk! and considering it won’t be warm I’m hopeful I can at least try :). I will still look forward to your post..it’s a great idea for people like me who would like to enjoy the place and go home feeling ‘ I did not miss too much’! ?

  • I love a walking tour of anywhere! And yes, always an old school map on hand.
    I haven’t been to Japan (yet) but it is definitely on ‘my list’. I’m going to be very interested to follow this series.

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