With its gleaming gold tiers reflected in the lake below and a backdrop of forests and twisted pines, Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) is an enchanting sight. Dating back to the 14th century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Kyoto’s most popular attractions and among Japan’s most visited temples.
You can’t enter the pavilion itself, but crowds come to admire its stunning architecture, enjoy views of the temple across the mirror pond, and stroll around the temple gardens.
Tours of Kyoto’s shrines and temples stop at the Golden Pavilion. A temple tour generally includes a visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine, Sagano Bamboo Forest, and Kyoto Cultural Forest. Alternatively, take the scenic route on a bike tour, visit with a professional photographer guide to maximize your chances of capturing postcard-worthy shots, or combine it with Kyoto attractions, such as Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle. It’s also possible to visit on a day trip from Osaka or Nara, or as part of a multi-day Japan itinerary from Tokyo.
Things to Know Before You Go
- There is an admission fee to enter the temple grounds.
- Plan between 30 minutes and an hour to admire the temple, take photos, and explore the gardens.
- A traditional Japanese teahouse is in the temple grounds, and souvenir shops, food vendors, and restaurants are just outside the gates.
- The temple grounds and walkways are wheelchair accessible.
How to Get There
The Golden Pavilion, at the foot of Kinugasa Hill in northwest Kyoto, is a short taxi ride from downtown Kyoto. Bus 100 and 205 run there from Tokyo Station, and it’s a brief bus or taxi ride from the closest subway, Kitaoji Station (Karasuma Line).
When to Get There
The Golden Pavilion can get extremely crowded, especially on weekends and holidays. Get there before tour buses show up or before closing for the best chance of a crowd-free view. For the best photos, avoid the midday sun, visit in autumn for a colorful and interesting backdrop, or be there on one of the year’s coldest days to snap a shot of the snow-covered temple.
Golden Pavilion Architecture
The Golden Pavilion began as shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu’s 14th-century villa and transformed into a Zen Buddhist temple after his death. Numerous wars over the years have burned down and destroyed it, but the current temple, rebuilt in 1955, retains unique architectural details. Each floor showcases a different style: the Shinden-style first floor, the Bukke-style second floor, and the Chinese Zen hall-inspired top two floors.