There are so many shrines in Kyoto that I would definitely recommend to spend at least 3 full days in Kyoto. For those that haven't been there, you can take bus or train to travel to those shrines. In doing so, please allow some time for the trip as you will be walking for a while to get to these places and walk back to the bus stop waiting for the bus to the next destination.
Below are my top 5 shrines in Kyoto:
The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site and the view of Kyoto Kiyomizu-dera is superb especially during sunset. The historic shopping lane that leads to the temple adds to a wonderful experience. The beauty of this temple is the amazing architecture which was constructed without using a single nail, overhanging a cliff on the mountainside east of Kyoto.
You may consider to allocate sometime for shopping or food if you want to visit this shrine as there are many roadside shops selling local delicacies and souvenirs road leading up to Kiyomizu Temple from Yasaka Shrine (Ninenzaka/Sannenzaka).
* Hours: 07:00-18:30
Get on No.206 bus bound for Kitaoji bus terminal via Higasihama-dori or No.100 bound for Ginkaku-ji via Kiyomizu-dera Gion.
Get off at Gojozaka stop and walk east 10 minutes.
Kyoto Bus (Saturdays and holidays only):
Get on No.18 bound for Ohara. Get off at Higashiyama Gojo stop and walk east 10 minutes.
2. Kinkakuji 金閣寺, Golden Pavilion
Kinkakuji (金閣寺, Golden Pavilion)
This is a World Heritage Site with another name as Golden Pavilion – it is pagodas (wooden architecture) covered in pure gold leaf surrounded by a pond, amazing to view at sunset especially the reflection of Golden Pavilion on the pond.
Kinkakuji can be accessed from Kyoto Station by direct Kyoto City Bus number 101 or 205 in about 40 minutes and for 230 yen. Alternatively, it can be faster and more reliable to take the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station (15 minutes, 260 yen) and take a taxi (10 minutes, 1000-1200 yen) or bus (10 minutes, 230 yen, bus numbers 101, 102, 204 or 205) from there to Kinkakuji.
*Hour: 09:00 – 17:00 daily *Fees: JPY 400
There is another pavilion - the Silver Pavilion, Ginkakuji (銀閣寺) you can reach by foot along the Philosopher's Path from Nanzenji for approximately 30-45 minutes. Most of the time, tourists do not have sufficient time to visit all shrines hence I would go for Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion if I have to choose one. Golden Pavilion is great when the Sun is out for photo-taking, stunning shrine with the beautiful gold reflection on the lake was something to look forward to.
3. Kyoto Imperial Palace 京都御所
Kyoto Imperial Palace is closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays. It is also closed during the period before and after the public viewing of Kyoto Imperial Palace in spring and autumn, May 14 - 17 due to the Aoi Festival, New Year's holidays, and whenever there is an Imperial Household event. Please note that before entering the Kyoto Imperial Palace you will be required to fill out a form with your personal information such as your full name, sex, age, and nationality.
Important Notice **
Starting July 26, 2016, admission to Kyoto Imperial Palace has been simplified. Tourists are now able to explore the grounds on their own, and there is no more need for prior reservations and participation in a guided tour.
** Source of Notice: http://www.japan-guide.com
4. Saihoji 西芳寺
Reservations are required prior application by return postcard, there are websites available or hotel to assist to send application. Yo may be looking at fees JPY3,000 for 90 mins visit, a specific time slot will be provided in the return postcard and you are required to be there perhaps 15 - 30mins prior to the allocated time.
The process seems troublesome but I guess that's their way of ensuring the exclusive experience to avoid over crowded situation. If you would like to enjoy the serenity and admiring the temple with smaller crowd, this may be the place for you. Before being permitted access to the garden, visitors must engage in an activity, which varies from day to day. These include zazen (sitting meditation), hand copying sutras (shakyō), and chanting sutras. One is then asked to write down one's wish, name, and address. The monks keep all the sutras in the pagoda and continue to pray for all.
5. Fushimi Inari Taisha Temple 伏見稲荷大社
The magical, seemingly unending path of over 5000 vibrant orange torii gates that wind through the hills behind Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine makes it one of the most popular shrines in Japan. Remember the Memoir of Geisha? This is also a wonderful shrine for photo-taking and the walk around the upper precincts is a pleasant day hike. It also makes for a delightfully eerie stroll in the late afternoon and early evening, when the various graveyards and miniature shrines along the path take on a mysterious air. Please make sure you are wearing a pair of comfortable shoes for this Shrine.
* Entrance Fee: Free
* Access: 3-minute walk from JR Inari Station on the JR Nara Line/ 5-minute walk from Keihan Railway Fushimiinari Station
* Hours: 7:00-18:30 / 8:30-16:30 (Prayer)
* Please refer to the official website for more updated details
At the end of the full day shrines visiting, my personal favourite is to hangout at Gion - famous for Geisha District. It was really cool to stand next to Geisha (芸者) or the apprentice geisha - Maiko (舞妓). Geisha or Maiko are the traditional performing artists, you may sign up with some night tours that provide dinner with Geisha/ Maiko performance. The traditional kimonos were colourful and they all looked absolutely like Japanese dolls at the Souvenirs shops but in real life size.
Japan is easily at the top of my travel list despite I have been there multiple times. I will update some travel information and tips from time to time.