Best Photo Locations in Kyoto, Japan
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Kyoto is one of the most fascinating and beautiful cities in Japan and is crammed full of iconic photo locations just waiting to be captured. Having spent time photographing and exploring the city we’ve put together this list of our favourite photo spots in Kyoto: it’s our guide on where to take the best pictures. We hope you have as much fun exploring this amazing city as we did!
The best photo spots in Kyoto
Kyoto is a photographers dream and many of the spots are perfect for capturing stunning Instagram photos. Cherry blossom season makes for some remarkable images of Kyoto but the city is worthy of a visit at any time of the year. We’ve also included an interactive map of our favourite photo spots which you can save for your trip at the end of the article!
Sim Card and Internet
One of the best investments you can make for your trip to Japan is to buy/rent a sim card or 4G hotspot. This will give you internet access while on the go throughout the cities in Japan, where free public wi-fi is extremely limited. Having internet access on the go in Kyoto is great while searching for photo locations
We have used both sim cards and 4G hotspots during our trips to Japan. A sim card is perfect if you just have your phone – just check the sim card is compatible with your phone The 4G hotspots are great if you have multiple devices that need internet or if you’re travelling a group. They also avoid any compatibility issues with installing a sim card.
We used the Klook app to order our sim cards for our last trip. The app is great as you can order in advance and pick up on arrival or from various departure cities.
- The best 4G hotspot on offer is provided by URoaming with unlimited data – check prices now!
- The best sim card is from Docomo (who we used) – check prices now!
1 | Fushimi Inari Shrine
One of the most popular destinations in all of Japan, the Fushimi Inari Shrine with its thousands of orange torii gates is one of our favourite photo locations in Kyoto. The shrine snakes 4km up the mountain and takes about 60 minutes to hike from the train station to the top so allow time to explore the site as it is surprisingly large. W spent between 3 and 4 hours visiting the shrine and stopping to take photos.
One of the best photo spots in Fushimi Inari is the entrance to the hiking trail where the Senbon Torii, meaning ‘thousands of Torii Gates’, begins and the gates are densely populated. It’s one of the most popular spots in the shrine and is often very busy – once you find a composition and get your camera setup it’s just a matter of waiting until there is a gap in the crowd. It’s possible to get some great shots without anyone in the frame.
Kyoto Photo Location Tip: try to visit the Fushimi Inari shrine in the late afternoon when the crowds will be less and you will have more space for taking photos. Go a little further into the forest if you want to escape the crowds although the density of the gates decreases as you move further along.
The warm evening light is fantastic at the Fushimi Inari Shrine and sunset there was one of our favourites during our time in Japan. Read our guide to Fushimi Inari to help plan your visit to the shrine.
Where to stay in Kyoto
Like most Japanese cities we highly recommend staying as close to the main train station as possible as this makes getting around much easier. However, the best hotels close to the train stations fill up weeks ahead of time (in some cases months) so you’ll save yourself a lot of extra walking or expensive taxis by booking your accommodation well in advance!
- Hotel Granvia Kyoto: A modern hotel with comfortable western style rooms, a fitness centre and swimming pool plus the location is amazing – the hotel is in the train station meaning super quick access to the trains and the rest of the city. This is our number one pick for where to stay in Kyoto – check latest prices here!
- Hotel Kintetsu Kyoto Station: Another great hotel located within the train station. Hotel Kintetsu is slightly cheaper than Hotel Granvia, however it is still a great choice with decent sized western style rooms and beds – check latest prices here!
- Ibis Kyoto Station: The Ibis is a great value option and, it’s so close to Kyoto station, you can catch a glimpse of the hotel from the Shinkansen platform! – check latest prices here!
JR (Japan Rail) Passes
Japan Rail passes are a really cost effective way to travel through Japan and we saved a lot of money on our trip using them. Make sure to purchase them before you travel as you cannot buy them after you arrive in Japan! – Check prices here
2 | Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
The bamboo forest is one of the most unique places we’ve ever visited on our travels and is a must for photographers visiting Kyoto. This small bamboo grove is known around the world due to the sheer beauty of the bamboo stalks rising into the sky and towering above the path through the forest. Check out our post on the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove here!
Kyoto Photo Location Tip: Like the Fushimi Inari shrine, the bamboo grove gets extremely busy during the day, especially in high season, so our advice is to get there very early, preferably just after sunrise. The bamboo forest is open 24/7 so we arrived just before 7am and it was quiet for around 45 minutes until other visitors began to arrive.
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3 | Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji)
The Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji is another iconic Kyoto photo location. The Golden Pavilion is a stunning temple located beside a pond in the middle of the Rokuon-ji temple complex in Kyoto. The top two floors of the temple are covered in gold leaf, giving its iconic gold shine, and topped with a Golden Phoenix on the roof. The Mirror Pond and lush green backdrop make for an incredible setting.
The best angle for shooting the Golden Pavilion building is from the viewing area in front of the Koi Pond. There will likely be a lot of tourists at the complex when you visit so you may have to wait to get close to the pond but, once you do, you will have a clear shot on the temple.
Kyoto Photo Locations Tip: Expect the Temple of the Golden Pavilion to be busy as it’s one of the most popular temples in Japan. There is a one way system in place for visitors. Because of the pond, it’s always possible to get a clear shot of the temple so let the light dictate your visiting times for this photo location.
4 | Path of Philosophy
The Path of Philosophy or the Philosopher‘s Path is a beautiful stone path that cuts through the Higashiyama district in northern Kyoto and runs from Ginkakuji temple to Nanzenji Temple.. The Path of Philosophy comes alive during the cherry blossom season when the banks of the path explode in colour.
Kyoto Photo Location Tip: We chose to rent e-bikes in Kyoto and it was really useful for getting to places like the Path of Philosophy as we were able to cover bigger distances in a single day. We definitely recommend renting e-bikes in Kyoto as lots of the sites are far apart, taxis are expensive and the public transport options are relatively limited in some of the areas.
5 | Tenryu-ji Temple
When you ’re finished at the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove check out the Tenru-ji Temple for more great photographs. The temple gardens are accessible from the Bamboo Grove itself. The temple gardens are spectacular and we spent over an hour just wandering through the gardens capturing photographs before strolling around the temple.
6 | Gion
The Gion district of Kyoto is synonymous with Geisha spotting and is a great location for street photography. Although traditionally a night-time district, simply strolling around during the day is an amazing experience. It’s common for tourists to dress up in traditional clothes and wander through the Gion district and the area is a haven for Geisha spotting tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of a Geisha hurrying along the streets between appointments.
Kyoto Photo Location Tip: Please do be respectful when photographing people in traditional clothing in Kyoto. In our experience the Japanese people were more than happy to have their photo taken once you gave them a smile to check but don’t disturb the geishas or get in their way. There are lots of signs asking people to be respectful too.
When you’re in Gion make sure to check out the Yasui Kompira-gu Shrine with its power stone. After praying in the shrine, people write their wishes on pieces of paper and crawl back and forth through the power stone which symbolises breaking bad habits.
7 | Nanzen-ji Temple
Located close to the southern end of the Path of Philosophy is the Shorenin Temple. We chanced upon this temple on our way back from the Path of Philosophy on our e-bikes and were so glad we stopped by. The massive Sanmon Gate in the central temple grounds was one of the most impressive we saw in Kyoto and the temple grounds with the aqueduct are breathtaking.
8 | Nishiki Food Market
This food market is a haven for street photography. Known as Kyoto’s Kitchen, there are over 100 shops and restaurants lining the sides of the market streets selling everything from fresh seafood to ramen.
Kyoto photo location tip: We love photographing food markets with Nishiki in Kyoto and Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo being our favourites in Japan.
9 | Higashiyama District
If you want to capture old Kyoto make your way to the historic quarter of Kyoto, the Higashiyama District. Here you’ll find the traditional city of Kyoto with narrow winding streets lined with old houses and traditional shops snaking up the side of Mount Otowa. As you make your way up the hill there are lots of opportunities for street photography.