Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)#11 in Best Things To Do in Kyoto
Unlike the very literally named Golden Pavilion, the Silver Pavilion is not actually silver – though it was intended to be. Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who built Ginkaku-ji in 1482 as his retirement villa, died before he could swath the structure in silver leaf. But even without the bling, Ginkakuji and its grounds are stunningly beautiful.
The main pavilion, which was converted into a Zen shrine, sits overlooking a glassy pond surrounded by trees. Unfortunately, you can't go in – none of the buildings are open to the public. But visitors come here to enjoy the outdoors. As you stroll around the grounds, you'll come across a lush garden filled with mossy groves, as well as a Zen garden called "The Sea of Silver Sand." If you continue up along the path to the back of the garden, you'll enjoy a stunning view of the temple grounds as well as the city below. Many recent visitors said that a stroll around the garden at any time of day is gorgeous, even if it gets crowded at times (your best bet is to visit right when it opens or on Mondays). Several travelers stopped here while enjoying the Philosopher's Walk as the temple is located just off the trail.
Ginkaku-ji sits in Kyoto's northeastern reaches; you can get there via buses 5, 17 and 100 from Kyoto Station. It's open daily from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. from March to November, and from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. from December to February. Admission is 500 yen (about $4.40) per person. For more information, visit the temple's website.
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#1 Fushimi Inari Shrine
As far as Shinto shrines go (there are about 400 in Kyoto), this one is pretty special. Perched on a wooded hillside in southern Kyoto, Fushimi Inari is a 1,300-year-old temple dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice and sake (Japanese rice wine). The shrine complex dates back to the eighth century, but it's not the star of the show. Most visitors come for the close to 10,000 red and orange lacquered torii gates that line the 2 ½-mile-long path up Mount Inari, where the shrine sits. Sometimes in dense rows and other times more staggered, the gates are all engraved with the names of Shinto devotees who donated them.
It takes about three hours to make the trek up the mountain, and some recent visitors say that the hike is mildly strenuous, but almost all agree this is a must-see spot in Kyoto, especially for first-time visitors. Plus, travelers report that there are plenty of places to stop and rest along the way. Peer at the dozens of stone and bronze foxes that line the paths along with the gates (foxes are thought to be Inari's sacred messengers). Or stop in to one of the tea houses or restaurants situated on the path, which serve udon noodle soup and sushi. Because crowds are drawn to their picturesque beauty, Fushimi Inari's trails can get quite congested during the day. To avoid the multitudes, opt for an evening stroll up the mountain – recent visitors say the pervading quiet coupled with the fading light filtering through the trees and torii gates makes for an eerie and spiritual experience. Early morning is another optimal time to experience the shrine sans the crowds.
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