Best from 06:00–08:00am to see the sunrise and avoid the crowds
Having been nominated by Trip Advisor as the most popular tourist spot in Japan among foreign tourists for 4 years running, it justifiably attracts pretty large crowds. But as the shrine is open 24 hours a day, and with no entrance fee, you can escape the crowds by heading there as soon as the sun rises, allowing you to appreciate the atmosphere before the tour groups start rolling in from 9am onwards.
(伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shintoshrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari's messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital's move to Kyoto in 794.
A 25-minute walk or short bus ride will take you from Sanjusangendo to Gion, Kyoto’s largest geisha district. Hanamikoji is one of the most famous streets in the area, and it’s a popular place for people to go in the evening, hoping to catch a glimpse of geisha hopping between the various tea-houses on their way to appointments. You’re unlikely to see any geisha at this time of day, but it’s well worth strolling down the beautifully preserved street to soak up the atmosphere.
There are 1001 statues of Kannon the goddess of mercy. The temple was founded in 1164 and rebuilt a century later after the original structure had been destroyed in a fire. It is also good to get here early as it gets very busy with tourists.
From Fushimi Inari Shrine, at the far end of the road you’ll find Kennin-ji, the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, and a high contender for my favourite place in the city. The temple has a beautiful dry-landscape ‘Zen garden’. At the temple there are the beautiful fusuma screen doors, including some recent additions to the temple by contemporary female Japanese artist, Toba Mika. Another thing that shouldn’t be missed is the twin-dragon panting on the ceiling of the Hattolecture hall.
Ninna-ji pilgrimage walk
Northwest is the Ninna-ji pilgrimage. One of Kyoto’s 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There is a lovely walk where you pass 88 temples.