How to avoid the crowds when visiting Kyoto

How to avoid the crowds when visiting Kyoto

Other than Tokyo, Kyoto is the most popular city for tourists visiting Japan. Every time I’ve visited Kyoto – whether it be during fall, in sweltering summer or during the ever popular sakura (cherry blossom) season, I’ve had a tough time navigating crowds. As a photography lover, it’s always proven challenging to get beautiful photos that aren’t filled with crowds and crowds of my fellow tourists.

If you’re planning a trip to Kyoto AND you hate crowds, this guide is for you!

Here, you’ll find everything you need to know about visiting some of the most popular tourist spots in Kyoto and how to avoid crowds when visiting!

Read on to find out how to avoid crowds in Kyoto…

1. How to avoid crowds in Kyoto: Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine

The Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine is one of the most well-known spots in Kyoto for tourists. This Shinto Shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. It’s famous for the thousands of torii gates, donated by individuals and local businesses. It costs 400,000 yen (approximately $3,500 USD) for a small sized gate, and the cost increases to over one million yen (approximately $8,800 USD) for a large gate!

When visiting you may spot fox statues on the shrine grounds – this is because foxes are said to be Inari’s messengers.

how to avoid crowds in kyoto

This shrine is one of my most favorite places in Kyoto to visit – the rows of torii gates are a sight to behold, and the hike up Inari mountain is peaceful and has sweeping views of Kyoto.

How to avoid the crowds here? The shrine is open all the time – it doesn’t have official opening/closing hours. If possible, make sure you visit as early in the morning as possible! When visiting, I arrived in Kyoto at 7 am in the morning (due to an overnight bus from Tokyo), and the first thing I did was store my luggage in a locker and take a train to this shrine. I arrived at the shrine a bit before 8 am, and by the time I walked up to the top and back down, it was around 10 – 11 am, and there were crowds of tourists making their way up.

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2. How to avoid crowds in Kyoto: Kinkakuji Temple

No visit to Kyoto is complete with visiting the Kinkakuji Temple or the “Golden Pavilion.” This Zen temple is famous for being covered in gold leaf and overlooks a large pond. The temple has been burned down a couple of times during his history, twice during a civil war and again in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. It was rebuilt to its current structure in 1955.

how to avoid crowds in kyoto

Enjoying a snack and some matcha after visiting Kinkakuji Temple

I’ve visited the Kinkakuji Temple twice, and am always surprised at how beautiful and grand the temple is. The gold covered temple is a sight to behold, and I’d recommend first-time visitors to Kyoto to visit!

how to avoid crowds in kyoto

How to avoid the crowds here? It’s hard to avoid crowds at the Kinkakuji Temple, as this is a ticketed location. Your best bet is to visit as soon as they open, or a bit before they close. Off-peak tourist seasons are best, and avoid weekends if possible!

Click here to download your guide

 

3. How to avoid crowds in Kyoto: Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Most people who visit the Kiyomizu-dera remember it as the beautiful temple with a grand wooden stage looking out across the hillside. This temple is not only beautiful but also attracts many visitors seeking views of fall leaves and cherry blossoms. This temple is one of the most visited temples in Japan and is also a UNESCO world heritage listed site.

My favorite part of visiting Kiyomizu-dera was visiting the Tainai-meguri. This underground area is dark and symbolic of entering the womb of a female bodhi­sattva. Make sure to follow the handle in the darkness, and make a wish by spinning the rock.

Note: Kiyomizu-dera is undergoing construction at the moment, and part of the main hall is covered up. You will still be able to visit (construction started in Feb 2017 and will finish March 2020), however, if you have plans to photograph the main hall, you may not find what you expect when visiting.

 

how to avoid crowds in kyoto

View from the wooden platform – one of the most popular places in Kyoto to take photos! 

 How to avoid the crowds here? Similar to Kinkakuji temple, this is a ticketed tourist site, so it will be hard to avoid the crowds. If this is a priority, make sure you visit as soon as they open or a bit before they close. During certain dates in the spring and winter, there are extended opening hours, and you can even visit during sunset!

If you’re planning on visiting temples + shrines in Japan, you might also want to read about Goshuin: the coolest Japanese souvenir.

4. How to avoid crowds in Kyoto: Higashiyama District

This area is one of the best places in Kyoto to experience the traditional architecture of Kyoto. Think narrow streets and small wooden shop fronts. The most popular (and photographic spot!) is between the Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine.

how to avoid crowds in kyoto

How to avoid the crowds here? The busiest time to visit the Higashiyama district is during sunset when the area is filled with keen photographers (professional and amateur alike!)

While this is a great time to visit (and offers some great photography opportunities) if you want some shots without the crowds (or you want to avoid crowds!) the best time to visit is early morning. If you visit too early, however, some of the shops may not be open (shops usually open around 10 – 11 am). This was one of the few places in Kyoto where I didn’t mind the crowds – the crowds and shops give the area beautiful atmosphere during sunset.

Click here to download your guide

 

5. How to avoid crowds in Kyoto: Sanjusangen-do Temple

This Buddhist temple is officially known as “Rengeō-in” or Hall of the Lotus King, Sanjūsangen-dō belongs to and is run by the Myoho-in temple, a part of the Tendai school of Buddhism. The temple is famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.

How to avoid the crowds here? Compared to the other temples in Kyoto, Sanjusangen-do isn’t particularly crowded. While during the busy tourist season it can get pretty busy, don’t expect the same number of crowds at Kyomizu-dera. The smaller crowds are probably because you are not allowed to take photos of the 1001 statues of the goddess of mercy or inside the temple. Don’t let this put you off – this temple is still worth a visit, and the statues are a beautiful gold color.

If you’re planning on visiting temples + shrines in Japan, you might also want to read about Goshuin: the coolest Japanese souvenir

 

6. How to avoid crowds in Kyoto: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is arguably one of the most photographed spots in Kyoto. The general area of Arashiyama is very popular, as the surrounding area has many beautiful shrines and temples.

how to avoid crowds in kyoto

How to avoid the crowds here? If you’re keen on photographing the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, make sure you visit early in the morning (as early as you can!) and pack insect repellant if you’re visiting in the summer. The crowds start to pick up at 9-10 am! Also, make sure to avoid visiting during public holidays or weekends. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is incredibly popular, amongst local Japanese and tourists alike!

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7. How to avoid crowds in Kyoto: Gion

Gion is famous for being Kyoto’s geisha district. A short walk from the Higashiyama District; the area is perfect to visit in the evenings. Filled with shops, restaurants, and teahouses, this is where Geisha and Miko (Geisha apprentices) entertain. Architecturally, the streets are filled with narrow wooden houses and lit by paper lanterns in the evenings.

How to avoid the crowds here? Gion comes alive in the evenings, which is when other tourists and visitors to Kyoto also flock to the area. It’s hard to avoid crowds here, and while Gion is still beautiful enough to explore during off-peak periods, the best time to visit unfortunately is during the evenings. If you visit during the daytime, don’t expect to see Geisha!

how to avoid crowds in Kyoto

Kyoto is a beautiful city, filled with endless things to do. If you visit some of the most popular tourist spots in Kyoto, you can feel like you are drowning in crowds. Plan your trip, and where possible arrive as early (or late!) as possible when visiting touristy spots.

 

Are you planning a trip to Kyoto? What are you looking forward to seeing the most?

Or have you been to Kyoto previously? Did you love it or hate it?

Leave me a comment and let me know!

Looking for other Japan focused content? Check out our other articles:

How to travel in Japan as an English Speaker

10 Budget tips for visiting Tokyo

Take the stress out of planning your trip to Japan

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10 Comments

  1. November 17, 2017 / 6:01 pm

    I like to avoid the crowds so, I enjoyed reading this post. Many times, I follow your advice of visiting places early on the morning. Even when I pre-book tickets, I try to get the first spot of the day. Nowadays, seems like it is getting more difficult to visit certain places without the crowds but careful planning may help.

    • Mae-Gene
      November 19, 2017 / 7:42 pm

      Hi Ruth, I’m so glad you hear you avoid crowds in a similar fashion! I definitely agree – it does seem to be harder to enjoy beautiful spots when traveling without massive crowds. I guess it’s the power of information and the internet that makes tourist spots so popular!

  2. November 18, 2017 / 6:10 am

    Oh, yes – early morning is the best. Kyoto is just sooooo busy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it in the morning (I’m very bad in getting up early) and had to deal with the crowds… I will do better next time. Beautiful post!

    • Mae-Gene
      November 19, 2017 / 7:40 pm

      Yes, how crazy busy is Kyoto??!! I think all the visitors expect it to be this amazingly peaceful place – it’s so hard to have a peaceful moment when you’re visiting! I’m also bad at getting up early, and have to admit I hit the snooze button a couple of times when I was in Kyoto 🙂 Hope you get to visit again, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. November 18, 2017 / 6:19 am

    Beautiful and very inspiring photos! Great article, I always love to read about places in Japan because its a country I would love to visit one day. Kind regards, Nana

    • Mae-Gene
      November 19, 2017 / 7:38 pm

      Thank you, Nana! I’m glad you enjoyed my article and I hope you get to visit Japan soon!

  4. November 18, 2017 / 8:11 am

    I’m living in Japan now and still need to visit these places in Kyoto! Thanks a lot for the tips!

    • Mae-Gene
      November 19, 2017 / 7:36 pm

      Viola, you must be having a wonderful time in Japan, I am very jealous! Moving back from Tokyo for us was definitely painful (and we miss it often – especially the food!) I’m glad you found the tips useful, and hope you enjoy your visit to Kyoto 🙂

  5. November 21, 2017 / 4:52 pm

    I like avoiding crowds for pictures but I like crowds to see how the place operates. Sometimes I just cant choose. But this us a helpful tip!!

    • Mae-Gene
      November 28, 2017 / 7:38 pm

      Hi Sujenne, I know what you mean, sometimes it’s nice to have crowds so you can understand how things work! Especially at shrines and temples in Japan, where you’re not sure if there’s a specific order to visiting etc. It’s nice to have a bit a both when traveling!

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