Kyoto is a trove of historical and cultural treasures. With its grand temples, charming gardens, and traditional teahouses, visiting one of the Kyoto hidden gems on this list is absolutely rewarding.
Best of all, Kyoto’s hidden gems are plentiful and easily accessible.
Home to over 2000 temples and shrines, Kyoto is full of picture-perfect spots. This historical city truly deserves its place on every Japan bucket list. And since it’s such a busy city, it’s even more special to visit these often-overlooked Kyoto hidden gems.
There’s no shortage of remarkable sites in Kyoto, but there’s also no shortage of visitors. Stepping off the beaten path means stunning views with half the crowds. It can be tough to squeeze one of these hidden gems in Kyoto into a packed itinerary, but it’s well worth it.
The Kyoto hidden gems you won’t want to miss:
These enchanting Kyoto hidden gems are just a handful of what the city has to offer. The best way to stumble upon hidden gems in Kyoto is to simply go further than the tourist crowds. Many of the top attractions on every Kyoto itinerary have astonishing hidden corners—if you just make sure to look. Here are the top spots to add to your Kyoto itinerary.
I have no clue why Sanjūsangen-dō isn’t on every Kyoto itinerary. It’s such a unique place to visit. The main attraction is the 1001 statues of Kannon, the deity of compassion. The statues are lined up in the 120-metre long wooden hall, with hundreds of the multi-armed figures in neat rows.
The hall is quiet, dim, and peaceful. The simple building is the perfect backdrop for the intricate works of art. Each one has its own unique features and it’s hard to imagine the painstaking work that went into each creation. The statues are made of Japanese cypress and completely covered in gold leaf. They are near human size, and the long lineup makes a big visual impact. Sanjūsangen-dō is first on this list for good reason—it’s one of the Kyoto hidden gems you don’t want to miss.
Fushimi Inari Taisha Pilgrimage Circuit
So… Fushimi Inari Taisha isn’t exactly a Kyoto hidden gem—it’s actually one of the most popular attractions in the city, if not all of Japan. Most travellers have seen photos of the vermilion torii gates, which create a tunnel-like walkway.
The thousands of torii gates span from Fushimi Inari Taisha, the head shrine of the spirits Inari. The shrine is at the base of a mountain and the gates form a network of paths through the forest. These trails span about four kilometers (or a 2-3 hour walk) up and down the mountain.
The first section of the torii gates can get very full. On an average day, people cram the path from edge to edge. Many tour groups and busses come to view the shrine and walk through the first part of the gates.
All you have to do is wander about 30 minutes in and the crowds start to thin out—many tour groups won’t take the time to go this far. Don’t leave early to escape the hordes of people. Wander past the crowds!
If you have the time, hiking the entire path is beautiful. While the torii gates are the main attraction, the trails also wind through a forested mountainous area. When you get away from the groups of people it’s rather quiet and peaceful.
For an even quieter walk, visit in the early morning or early evening. My favourite time to visit was around sunset; it is reasonably quiet and on the way back, the path is lit up beautifully and has an eerie but peaceful feel.
So while the popular Fushimi-Inari Shrine is not exactly a Kyoto hidden gem, it is absolutely a must-visit. And wandering past the crowds will make the experience well worth it.
Philosopher’s Walk is another spot that may not qualify as a Kyoto hidden gem on its own. It’s a popular attraction during the cherry blossom or fall season, but quiets down during off-seasons. The stone paths flank a quiet canal and run for about 2 kilometers. This tranquil walk is on my must-visit in Kyoto list for its small shrines and shops off the main path.
Pockets of trees line the paths, which run along a stream. Even with people milling about, I saw an adorable tanuki (raccoon dog) here for the first time. It’s the ideal location for an hour or two stroll, but this can easily turn into a few hours if you explore off the main path.
To find some of the Kyoto hidden gems along Philosopher’s Walk, take any interesting turn off the main walk. You’ll be rewarded with homey residential streets and intimate shrines.
There are also several cafes, sweet shops, and local stores along the route. My favourite was a shop called Fumimaro, which sells a selection of vintage kimonos. The store is adorned with paper cranes and old photos, giving it a cozy feel.
One of the most charming things I saw along the route was the small, unmanned food and drink stalls. These stalls rely on a whole lot of trust. No one works these stalls and their goods on full display. If you need a bottle of water or a treat, just leave the right amount of cash in the basket or box out front.
Close to Philosopher’s Walk are the next two Kyoto hidden gems on this list: Honen-in Temple to the north, and Eikan-do Temple to the south. These three locations make a lovely relaxing day in Kyoto.
This mossy little temple is a favourite of mine. Tucked in the forest north of Philosopher’s Path, this temple has smaller and more unassuming structures than some of Japan’s flashier temples. Avoiding crowds is the name of the game in Kyoto, and it’s easy to do in this quiet Kyoto temple.
The main gate is a short structure with a thatched roof, immediately giving the temple a more subdued look. In front are two sand gardens with etched designs that are said to purify visitors. The grounds are tranquil and mossy, with stone paths under a thick canopy of trees.
I visited in the fall, so the bright orange leaves contrasted with the mossy green of the temple. This temple is very peaceful and meditative, a perfect stop after wandering Philosopher’s Walk.
Eikan-do is a standout hit in the fall—the leaves are stunning. South of Philosopher’s Path, this temple sits under a canopy of bright red maple leaves during autumn and lush green leaves in the summer. The colourful backdrop is the main attraction as visitors walk past the large pond, pagoda, and halls in this small complex.
At the peak of the fall season, the temple has nighttime illuminations. This show usually runs from mid November to early December. The evening show is not for the faint of heart. It fills up quick but it is truly stunning. With the warm lighting, I’ve never seen trees so red.
For those hoping to avoid the crowds, I’d recommend visiting during the day when it is quieter, or outside of the busy fall season.
Myoshin-ji temple complex
With around 50 subtemples, this sprawling complex is the perfect hidden gem in Kyoto for a wander.
Most of the small subtemples in this complex aren’t open to the public, but they are all joined by a network of stone paths. If anything, the fact that the temples are closed lends to the peaceful atmosphere. The crowds are minimal and it’s a lovely place to walk around and take a peek over the low gates that close off the temples. Each temple is immaculately maintained. Plus, the quietness gives this complex a more personal feel than the touristy areas of Kyoto. It feels like walking through a tranquil temple village.
A few of the subtemples are open to the public: Taizo-in Temple, Keishun-in Temple, and Daishin-in Temple. One temple that had a fair bit of activity around it (as in, a small smattering of people) was Shunkoin subtemple, which hosts retreats, meditation, and private ceremonies. Daitoku-ji Complex is another similar and equally beautiful temple complex off the beaten path in Kyoto.
Stepping into Ishibei-koji Lane is like entering a world from centuries ago. Located near Kodaiji Temple, this narrow alley is easy to miss. This pedestrian-only walkway retains the look of Kyoto from centuries past.
Traditional tea houses and shops line the alley, many with warm, wooden storefronts. There are no neon signs or other marks of modern city life—just historical buildings and dark wooden planks. Ishibei-koji Lane is a beautiful hidden gem in Kyoto for a stroll back in time.
Gioji Temple is a serene, mossy oasis in busy Kyoto. While its thatched building is less impressive than many of the larger temples, its main draw is the beautiful moss garden. The dense moss coats most of the grounds in a thick sea of green.
This temple also has a small bamboo forest, which is a lot less crowded (although also less impressive) than the nearby Arashiyama bamboo forest. Like a lot of locations in the city, this Kyoto hidden gem is also set aglow with orange leaves in the fall and pink blossoms in the spring. It’s a great stop for nature lovers.
Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple
Another temple located nearby Arashiyama, Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple is a little more peculiar. This temple is home to around 8,000 statues that are said to commemorate those who died without kin.
The sea of small statues and carved gravestones is an eerie but peaceful sight. This temple is tucked away on a hill and makes for a quiet and touching place to visit. It also has a rather impressive bamboo grove nearby. If (for whatever reason) you want to see even more statues, Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple is another stop close by, with 1200 stone statues that represent the disciples of Buddha.
I’m sure this Kyoto hidden gems list will continue to grow with every trip.
Wandering off the beaten path in Kyoto made me fall in love with the city even more. The best spots have all the charm of the most popular spots, but with fewer crowds. It’s absolutely worth squeezing one of these Kyoto hidden gems into your itinerary.
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