Probably the most famous temple in Kyoto, the UNESCO world heritage site Kinkaku-ji attracts massive crowds, for good reason. With its top two floors covered entirely in gold leaf, Kinkaku-ji truly lives up to its reputation as a sight to behold, surrounded by pretty ponds and gardens.
The moment you enter the paid area, you see the gorgeous temple overlooking the carefully styled pond. This is the best place for a photograph of the temple,as on the right day, when the water is still, you can actually see its complete reflection on the mirroring pond.
Unfortunately, the temple is not open to the public, but you can get up close to the temple. The ground floor is in the Heian period shinden-zukuri, or palace style. The middle floor is built in the buke-zukuri style, like that of a samurai homestead. The top floor is in the zenshū-butsuden-zukuri style of Zen Buddhist temples, and it is topped off with a pretty golden phoenix.
The designated path leads to some really beautiful viewpoints within the temple grounds, as well as coin tosses! There are a few places where there are fortune bowls set up. Try and toss a coin into the bowl for good luck! The larger the value of the coin you toss in, the larger your fortune.
Ryumon-taki is a small waterfall located along the path that many miss. In the middle is a stone called Rigyo-seki that literally means a carp stone. Its name is based on the story ‘Toryumon’, in which a carp turns into a dragon after climbing up a waterfall. The rock resembling a carp splashing water and ascending up the waterfall like a dragon.
Before reaching a tea garden and Fudo hall, be sure to capture the hilltop view of Kinkakuji.
Fudo Hall is where you can pick up souvenirs from the gift shop, pray at the shrine and even get English fortunes! If you get good luck, great! If you get bad luck, just tie the fortune at the designated area to prevent it from following you.
There is also a small tea garden where you can have matcha tea and wagashi sweets (500 yen) with gold leaf bits! In this quite corner you can choose to sit outdoors or indoors on the tatami mats.
Before heading off to the next location, you can take a quick break at the soft serve ice cream shop! Choose between vanilla, matcha and black sesame (yup, black ice cream).
When should I visit?
Needless to say, you should try and avoid weekends & holidays at all costs. As for timing, its best to visit either just before the temple closes (5pm), or just after the temple opens (9am). Personally, I visited on a weekday in December, around 2pm, and the crowds were actually not bad (sunset during winter is around 4.30pm)
If visiting in Winter (January in particular) do check the weather forecast for the days you are visiting. Because on the rare chance of a snow day, Kinkakuji looks like this
What else is nearby?
UNESCO world heritage sites Ryoanji & Ninnaji are extremely nearby. You can also choose to visit the culturally important Kitano Tenmangu shrine & Hirano shrine.
Entrance free: 400 yen, Children: 300 yen
no closing days
Official website (japanese)