Welcome to your ultimate guide to the most Instagrammable places in Kyoto!
Whether you’re a seasoned photographer or just looking to share the perfect Instagram-worthy shot, this guide will show you all the best locations to capture stunning photos in Kyoto. From traditional temples, ancient shrines, and scenic landscapes, each spot in this list has been handpicked based on my past trips to Kyoto.
I also know how overwhelming it can be to plan a trip that includes a balance of sightseeing and photography, especially when there’s so much to see and not enough time. This guide aims to help you plan your perfect Kyoto itinerary by sharing a curated list of the best Kyoto photo spots and insider tips on the best times to visit so you can capture beautiful memories while maximizing your time in Kyoto.
- ⭐ Overview of Top 15 Most Instagrammable Places in Kyoto
- 8 Most Instagrammable Places in Kyoto [Year Round]
- 7 Most Instagrammable Places in Kyoto [Seasonal]
- 6 Additional Kyoto Photo Spots
- Kyoto Photography Tips & Etiquette
- Where to Stay in Kyoto
⭐ Overview of Top 15 Most Instagrammable Places in Kyoto
- Fushimi Inari – best photo spot for the red torii gates
- Kinkakuji Temple – golden temple and one of the most photogenic in the city
- Kiyomizudera Temple – one of the oldest wooden temples in the city for a stunning shot of the temple floating above the foliage
- Sanneizaka & Ninenzaka Streets – pair of atmospheric paths where you’ll find traditional tea houses, old-style buildings, and a view of Yasaka Pagoda
- Pontocho Alley – one of the best things to do in Kyoto at night for illuminated lanterns and possibly gesiah sightings
- Shirakawa-Dori Street – another picturesque street best seen at night
- Arashiayama Bamboo Grove – one of the best things to do in Arashiyama
- Nijo Castle – prime location for seasonal blooms year round
- Philosopher’s Path – walking path that is uniquely picturesque in spring or fall
- Togetsukyo Bridge – bridge with great views of Arashiyama that is especially beautiful in spring and fall
- Toji Temple -five-story pagoda and one of the best spots to see seasonal blooms and Japanese architecture in harmony
- Keage Incline – disused railway tracks best seen during cherry blossom season for a stunning Sakura tunnel
- Saihoji Temple – one of Japan’s most famous moss garden temples, open year-round except winter.
- Nanzen-ji Temple – one of Kyoto’s largest temple complexes with lots of ground to explore in autumn
- Kifune Shrine – one of the best things to do in Kyoto in the winter for its red lantern path that is especially striking in snow
8 Most Instagrammable Places in Kyoto [Year Round]
1. Fushimi Inari Shrine
The Fushimi Inari Shrine, with its iconic red torii gates, is one of the most Instagrammable places in Kyoto. This massive shrine is home to approximately 10,000 tori gates, which create a stunning backdrop for your photos at every turn.
It’s best to visit early in the morning around sunrise to avoid the crowds and for softer light. Once you arrive, you might be tempted to stay around the entrance but be sure explore the shrine’s many trails for more incredible views away from the crowds.
📷 Photography Tips: There are many other beautiful shrines in Kyoto so your time here is best spent trying to capture an image of an empty path lined with torii gates.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: An early weekday morning will guarantee the least amount of people. The views of the gates remain largely unchanged throughout the year, except in the winter, 1-2 days after it has snowed.
📍 Address: Fushimi Inari Taisha
⏰ Hours: open daily 24/7
🎫 Fee: free
⌛Time Spent: 2-3 hours
2. Kinkaku-ji Temple
Kinkaku-ji Temple is an unmissable gem in Kyoto. Also known as the “Golden Pavilion,” the temple’s upper layers glitter with gold, which is spectacularly reflected in the pond below.
While exploring the temple grounds, you might discover an ideal spot to capture the temple amidst sakura trees in full bloom or with the vibrant autumn foliage.
📷 Photography Tips: The best angles of Kinkakuji are along the main path. From there, you’ll be able to capture a view of the temple on the right, its reflection below, and the small island in the foreground. The overall view of the temple remains mostly unchanged, but depending on the season, you might find views of the seasonal flowers and foliage framing the temple in your shot.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: Visit the temple in the late afternoon near closing time for fewer crowds and soft, sunset glows.
3. Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is my favorite place in Kyoto and should be at the top of your must-photograph list.
Kiyomizudera is among the oldest temples in the city and one of Kyoto’s 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. When you first enter the temple, you’ll walk along the wooden terrace where you’ll find panoramic views of the city.
However, to capture the iconic shot of the temple’s main wooden structure floating above the treetops, you’ll want to follow the path until you get to the viewing platform.
If you’re visiting during spring or fall, you can get shots of the colorful autumn leaves or blooming cherry blossoms framing the temple in your photo. The temple is also open at night during these times of year so don’t miss the evening illuminations for some spectacular low-light photography.
📷 Photography Tips: The most popular shot of Kiyomizudera is taken from the viewing platform, with the main hall framed in the right third of your shot. If you continue walking, you can find a gorgeous view of the main pagoda beautifully framed by the trees along the path. When in doubt, turn around.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: Early morning is best for ideal lighting and minimal crowds. Late afternoon will also provide similar lighting conditions but there will be way more people. The temple is beautiful year round but is especially picturesque during spring or fall where you can capture pictures of the temple surrounded by cherry blossoms and fall foliage. In the evenings, the temple reopens for the evening illuminations, which illuminate the trees and cast a soft glow on the temple buildings.
4. Sanneizaka & Ninenzaka Streets
The Sanneizaka & Ninenzaka Streets are stone paved streets that lead towards Kiyomuzdera.
These well-preserved alleyways are lined with wooden buildings, traditional teahouses, and quaint shops that all possess an old-world charm which shows up beautifully on camera. Once you’re in the area, it’s not always easy to tell which street you’re on unless you happen to pass a sign so be sure you have enough time to wander around.
📷 Photography Tips: The best view from Sanneizaka is to walk down towards the buildings lining the streets. Along your walk, you’ll pass cherry trees that are especially picturesque in bloom as well as lanterns that cast a soft glow in the evenings. From Ninenzaka, you’ll find views of Yasaka Pagoda towering above the teahouses of Higashiyama. Be sure to walk up and down the street for different vantage points of this iconic Kyoto photo spot.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: The streets are especially photogenic in the early morning or at dusk, when the soft, golden light adds an air of mystery to the scene. For empty streets, you’ll want to be there by sunrise.
5. Pontocho Alley
Pontocho Alley is a pedestrian-only alleyway that runs parallel to the Kamogawa River. Flanked by an eclectic mix of eateries, bars, and teahouses, this street is one of the most atmospheric in all of Kyoto.
Known for its rich geisha culture, Pontocho Alley is home to several ochayas (teahouses) where geisha typically entertain guests through dance, music, and conversation. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a gesiha or maiko (geisha apprentice) walking between engagements in their stunning kimonos.
📷 Photography Tips: The charm of Pontocho Alley is best captured by strolling along its narrow lanes. Explore the side streets, look for interesting doorways, lanterns, and architectural details to best capture the intimate feel of these paths.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: Potoncho is the most enchanting in the evening when the narrow lanes are illuminated by traditional Japanese lanterns. Although you can visit during the day, it won’t have the same vibrancy, liveliness, and charm that it exudes at night.
📍 Address: Pontocho (will get you to the general area)
⏰ Hours: open 24/7
🎫 Fee: free
⌛ Time Spent: 1-2 hours (not including eating time)
6. Shirakawa-Dori Street
Shirakawa-dori Street is another picturesque street in the Gion district. Similar to Pontocho Alley, you’ll find traditional ochayas and shops that possess the timeless charm of old Kyoto. However, its defining feature is the canal that runs alongside the street, which is lined by cherry trees that bloom in the spring.
📷 Photography Tips: The most picturesque shot in this area is that of Tasumi Bridge in the center, framed by cherry blossoms on one side, and the traditional buildings on the other.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: Similar to Potoncho, Shirakawa-dori is most picturesque at night. That said, I don’t think you need to visit both Potoncho and Shirakawa unless you’re eating in the area or it’s cherry blossom season. Outside of those 2 reasons, Potoncho is the better photo spot year-round.
📍 Address: Shirawaka Lane (walk towards Tasumi Bridge)
⏰ Hours: open 24/7
🎫 Fee: free
⌛ Time Spent: <1 hour (not including eating time)
7. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of Kyoto’s most popular tourist attractions. Here, you’ll find a path that leads into a lush bamboo forest filled with towering bamboo stalks.
While the bamboo forest is typically packed, there are fewer crowds early in the morning around sunrise or late afternoon near sunset. This is also an ideal time to capture the bamboo in a softer light, as the sunlight filters through the bamboo trees.
Once you arrive, head straight to the back of the grove for your best chance of getting the iconic shot of the forest path lined with bamboo stalks, with no one around.
📷 Photography Tips: Experiment with different exposures to capture the contrast between light and dark, adding depth to your images and vibrancy to the bamboo trees. Also, be patient. There’s a good chance you’ll run into crowds no matter when you go, but keep an eye out for less crowded spots. And if you come across a group of people, just wait for them to pass. You’ll notice that there are plenty of little pockets of time when no one’s around.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is best visited early in the day or late afternoon for less crowds, regardless of the season. While the views of the bamboo forest remain unchanged throughout the year, it is especially beautiful on a rainy day.
📍 Address: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
⏰ Hours: open daily 24/7
🎫 Fee: free
⌛Time Spent: <1 hour
8. Nijo Castle
Built in the 17th century, Nijo Castle is celebrated for its architecture, palace grounds, and beautifully designed gardens.
The palace features intricate interior paintings and sliding doors (fusuma) that are adorned with gold leaf. In the spring, the castle transforms into a hub for cherry blossom viewing, with over 400 sakura trees that spectacularly come to life.
📷 Photography Tips: Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the castle but you can take pictures of the pond and gardens surrounding the palace. If photography is your main objective, I’d recommend being outside for most of the time.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: The gardens at Nijo Castle are beautiful anytime of year. You’ll find plum blossoms in winter, cherry blossoms in spring, morning glories in summer, and autumn leaves in fall.
7 Most Instagrammable Places in Kyoto [Seasonal]
9. Philosopher’s Path
The Philosopher’s Path refers to a 2 kilometer walking path in Kyoto. It’s named after the philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who used to walk this path on his daily commute to Kyoto University. This serene path is lined with cherry trees that blossom beautifully in spring and burst into vibrant red and orange hues during the fall season.
📷 Photography Tips: While the iconic shot of Philosopher’s path captures the beautiful reflection of cherry trees in the canal, my personal favorite is when geishas, maikos, or women in kimonos grace the walkway. Their presence adds a touch of enchantment to the already picturesque path.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: Anytime of day during spring or fall. While it remains a delightful stroll during other seasons, it doesn’t possess a distinctive photogenic quality in winter or summer.
📍 Address: Philosopher’s Path
⏰ Hours: open daily 24/7
🎫 Fee: Free
⌛ Time Spent: <1 hour
10. Togetsukyo Bridge
The Togetsukyo Bridge (“Bridge to the Mooon”) runs 155-meters across the Katsura River, providing stunning views of the Arashiyama area. The bridge is especially beautiful during cherry blossom season (typically late March through early April) and fall, when the surrounding mountains are ablaze with color.
📷 Photography Tips: The best views of the bridge on either ends of the bridge. With just a few steps, you can capture a shot of the bridge as it disappears into the mountains or blends seamlessly with the traditional buildings of Arashiyama, all while the Katsura River flows beneath. Depending on the time of year, you can frame your shot with seasonal blooms for added depth. If you can, bring a wide-angle lens to capture the full breadth of the bridge and the landscape.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: Anytime of day during cherry blossom season or autumn. Only visit during winter if there’s been recent snowfall.
📍 Address: Togetsu-kyo Bridge
⏰ Hours: open daily 24/7
🎫 Fee: free
⌛ Time Spent: <1 hour
11. Toji Temple
Toji Temple was founded in the early Heian period, shortly after the capital was moved to Kyoto. The most iconic feature of Toji Temple is its towering five-story pagoda, which stands at approximately 54.8 meters (180 feet) tall. It is the tallest wooden pagoda in Japan and serves as a prime example of Japanese architectural elegance.
📷 Photography Tips: If you’re looking to capture the beauty of the five-story pagoda, the best spot is from the temple grounds. There’s a pond near the pagoda that’s perfect for capturing the pagoda’s reflection in the water. For a close-up perspective, use a zoom lens to capture the intricate details of the pagoda’s architecture, beautifully framed by the surrounding trees.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: Anytime of day during spring for cherry blossoms or in autumn when the leaves change color. During this time, the pagoda is beautifully adorned by the vibrant colors of the surrounding trees, creating a picturesque scene that you’ll want to capture on camera.
12. Keage Incline
The Keage Incline is a former railway that once played a crucial role in connecting the Lake Biwa Canal to the Kamo river. While not normally a must-see place in Kyoto, it is one of the best Kyoto photo spots during cherry blossom season. During this time, the rail tracks transform into a picturesque pathway surrounded by cherry trees that form an enchanting Sakura tunnel.
📷 Photography Tips: Walk towards Keage Station. This is the highest point of the incline and where you’ll find rows of cherry trees lining the tracks.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: Keage Incline is really only worth visiting during cherry blossom season during golden (right after sunrise) or blue hour (right after sunset). Otherwise, it’s a nice walk on an old railway track but nothing extraordinary.
📍 Address: Keage Incline
⏰ Hours: open daily 24/7
🎫 Fee: free
⌛ Time Spent: <1 hour
13. Saihoji Temple
Saihoji Temple (“Kokedera”) is aptly nicknamed the Moss Temple due to its world-renowned moss garden. This Zen Buddhist temple is home to over 120 varieties of moss, which looks like a lush, verdant carpet covering the entire grounds.
Because you need a reservation to visit the temple and the process is slightly tricky to navigate, Saihoji remains one of Kyoto’s best kept secrets.
📷 Photography Tips: The prized jewel of Saihoji is the moss garden. Every part of the walk is picturesque so don’t rush your visit and take your time capturing its beauty – just remember to respect the quiet nature of the temple and do not take pictures outside of the garden areas.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Saihoji Temple is during the rainy season (June-July) or autumn (October-November). The rain accentuates the rich green of the moss, while autumn brings vibrant colors and beautiful foliage. Times are determined by your reservation but morning visits have a 15 people quota.
📍 Address: Saihoji Temple
⏰ Hours: reservation only (read my guide on how to navigate the Saihoji reservation process for more information)
🎫 Fee: ¥4000 (+¥110 online service charge if applicable)
⌛ Time Spent: 1 hour
14. Nanzen-ji Temple
Nanzen-ji is a prominent Zen Buddhist temple located at the base of the Higashiyama mountains. Despite its name, Nazen-ji is not a single temple but a complex that encompasses several subtemples and gardens.
The Sammon Gate serves as the majestic entrance to Nanzen-ji, including the Hojo. The Hojo is the main hall of the temple and used to be the former residence of the temple’s head priest. Today, it’s renowned for its rock garden and gilded sliding doors.
One of the most popular subtemples within Nazenji is the Tenjuan Temple, known for its two types of gardens – a rock and pond garden. The garden is especially beautiful during the autumn season when the leaves change color and are illuminated in the evenings.
📷 Photography Tips: For me, the highlight of Nanzenji Temple and the most unique thing to see are the stepping stones in the pond at Tenjuan Garden.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: Nanzenji is best visited during autumn, when the foliage transforms into a breathtaking display of fiery hues. While you can come in spring, there are other places in the city that are more scenic for cherry blossom viewing.
15. Kifune Shrine
Kifune Shrine is Kyoto’s oldest waterfall shrine. Located in the northern mountains of Kyoto, Kifune is known for its peaceful ambiance and the vermilion lanterns that light up the pathway to the shrine.
The best part about this shrine is that it’s still relatively unknown to tourists and a hidden gem of the city, making it less crowded compared to other photo spots in Kyoto.
📷 Photography Tips: This main photo spot is in front of the red-orange lanterns that line the 87 stone steps leading up to the main shrine.
☀️ Best Time to Visit: While the shrine is popular in autumn, the most enchanting time is in the winter after it’s snowed. This is when the bright red of the lantern contrasts beautifully against the white snow. On those days, you can visit the shrine at night when the lanterns are all lit-up (January and February only).
6 Additional Kyoto Photo Spots
- Tofuku-ji Temple – this Zen temple is a great place to capture photos of fall foliage during the autumn season.
- Eikando Temple – located near Philosopher’s Path, this temple is another popular spot for fall colors.
- Okazaki-jinja Shrine – known as the “bunny rabbit temple”, Okazaki-jinja is famous for its different rabbit statues.
- Yasaka Koshindo – located in Higashiyama near Kiyomizudera, its multicolored “kukurizaru” (monkey-shaped good luck charms) make for a quirky photo op.
- Ryoanji Temple – home to Japan’s most famous Zen rock garden
- Kimono Forest – an installation of over 600 kimono fabric tubes near the Saga-Arashiyama train station
Places to Skip
- Ginkakuji (“Silver Pavilion”) – despite its name, Ginkakuji doesn’t actually feature any silver. It’s still a lovely temple but not worth the extra effort for solely a photo op. I’m glad I visited but that was only because I was interested in visiting as many temples in Kyoto as possible (and not because I was going on a self-guided photo tour of the city).
- Kyoto Botanical Gardens – although the gardens are nice, Kyoto has so many other places where you can see Mother Nature and see it set against a backdrop of traditional buildings.
- Kyoto Tower – Kyoto Tower seems out of place for a city like Kyoto. Save the skyscrapers for cities like Tokyo or Osaka.
- Kodaiji Temple – highlights include a rock garden and a lone cherry tree, both of which are found in greater quantity and more spectacular display elsewhere.
- Yasaka Shrine – you’ll likely pass through this shrine on your way between Gion and Hgiashiyama but I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see this shrine. It’s much smaller compared to the others and there are more scenic places in the surrounding areas for you to take pictures.
- Chionin Temple – massive temple but not as picturesque as others in the city.
- Yokoku-ji Temple – Yokoku-ji is beautiful in summer when the hydrangeas are in bloom but otherwise doesn’t stand out among the many other temples in Kyoto.
- Daigo-ji Temple – also features a 5-story pagoda. If you only have time for one, make it Toji Temple.
- Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple – I’d recommend exploring more of Arashiyama unless you (1) are staying in the area or (2) really want to see the Rakan statues
Kyoto Photography Tips & Etiquette
- ❌ Mind Your Tripods: Most temples, shrines, and public places in Kyoto don’t allow tripods or strongly frown upon tripod use. If you plan on bringing one, exercise good judgment and be mindful of your surroundings (i.e. don’t block a busy roadway just to capture the best shot). If you’re shooting in low light without a tripod, use a high ISO setting and a large aperture number to capture the most important details.
- 🌅 Golden Hour: There’s no way around it but you have to wake up early and be out before sunrise if you want the best light and no people around. If you only have 2 or 3 days in Kyoto, prioritize the sites around Higashiyama & Gion first and then Fushimi Inari on day 2 or 3.
- 🌸 Seasonal Highlights: Kyoto is stunning all year round, but each season offers unique photo opportunities. Catch cherry blossoms in spring, vibrant greenery in summer, red and orange leaves in fall, and the quiet serenity of temples under a blanket of snow in winter.
- 🏮 Capture the Details: While it’s tempting to focus on grand landscapes and iconic structures, don’t forget that beauty lies in the details. Look around you for intricate carvings, gilded paintings, colorful lanterns, and charming stone paths.
- 🚫 Respect Boundaries: Remember, the temples and shrines are places of worship. Stay respectful and adhere to any photography restrictions. Don’t forget to enjoy the moment with your own eyes, not just through the lens.
- 👘 Attire: Keep in mind that some temples and shrines require modest dress, so plan your outfits accordingly. You can also rent a kimono to add a nice traditional touch to your photos.
Where to Stay in Kyoto
If your primary goal in Kyoto is photography, then the best place to stay is in Gion or the Higashiyama Ward.
Proximity to photo spots is important when in Kyoto because you won’t find many JR train lines around here, which greatly limits your ability to get to the photo spots quickly and easily. By staying in Gion or Higashiyama, you’ll be able to walk to different sites, saving valuable time and offering the freedom to explore at your own pace. This is especially important on those days when you need to get an early start to catch the morning light.
Final Thoughts on Photographing the Most Instagrammable Places in Kyoto
There are so many places to see in Kyoto that it can feel a little overwhelming when you’re trying to plan out your trip. This guide offers a comprehensive roadmap to the city’s stunning year-round and seasonal sights, helping you navigate the maze of photogenic treasures Kyoto offers.
If you’re tight on time, prioritize your must-see spots for the morning and then sprinkle in other locations in that area. Be sure to pick a place to stay that’s central to where you’re most excited to take photos, which is often Higashiyama Ward and Gion District.
Inevitably, you’ll only be able to see a handful of these places at any given time during your Kyoto trip. Whatever you can’t fit, save for another time as I’m sure you’ll be back to experience the city in a new light or a different season.
I hope you find this Kyoto photo guide helpful!