>  Asia   >  Japan   >  Magic Hour at Kinkakuji Temple, the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto
kinkakuji golden pavilion in kyoto

Kinkakuji Temple is one of those rare places that fully lives up to its famous reputation. The iconic Golden Pavilion is Kyoto’s most visited tourist attraction, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and well worth your time.

To say, I was awestruck by its sublime beauty, would be an understatement.

kinkakuji temple golden pavilion kyoto

Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion in Kyoto is breathtaking!

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • why it’s worth visiting Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion)
  • the best times to visit
  • how to get to Kinkaku-ji
  • things to do at the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto

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About Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion

Located in Northwest Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, and one of the most popular places for tourists to visit in Kyoto and the Kansai region.

Formally known as Rokuon-ji, its original use was as a villa for 14th Century shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. After his death, the villa was converted into a Zen Buddhist temple, where zazen or religious meditation was practiced.

golden pavilion kyoto

The top 2 levels are covered in gleaming gold leaf.

The Golden Pavilion gets its name from its upper 2 levels, which are covered in a gleaming gold leaf that reflects gloriously off the pond below. Surrounded by harmonious greenery, the feeling is one of total peace and serenity.

It hasn’t been all sparkle and shine though. The Golden Pavilion has been burnt down several times, twice during the Onin wars, and most recently by a fanatic monk in 1950. It was fully restored in 1955 and the emblematic gold leaf replaced entirely in 1987.

drawing of kinkakuji temple on fire

Kinkakuji Temple on fire © Kawabata Ryushi, Public domain

Today, the 132,000 square metre Kinkakuji Temple grounds include Kyoko-chi, a large pond, with islands of various sizes, unusually shaped rocks and stones and a gorgeous Japanese strolling garden.

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Visiting Kinkakuji Temple

I’d seen many pictures of Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion in Kyoto before I actually saw it in person, and can safely say, that it’s one touristy site that’s much better live than in pictures. If anything, the reality is far better than any photograph!

kinkakuji golden pavilion in kyoto

The reality is better than the photographs!

You’ll enter the golden temple complex at the Somon. It’s a short walk to the temple and reflecting pond from there. On the way, look out for:

  • Syuro – an ancient bell commissionedin the  Kamakura period
  • Kuri and Karamon: a cluster of brown and white buildings in the Zen architectural style, from the Meio and Bunki Eras (1492-1504)
  • Ichiigashi: rare Quercus gilva evergreen trees that are incredibly rare in modern Kyoto
kinkakuji temple | zen architecture

Zen architectural style at Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion © 663highland (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Next, you’ll come upon the Kyoko-chi central reflecting pond, along with Kinkakuji Temple in all its gleaming glory. Take some time to drink it in. The Golden Pavilion blends 3 separate architectural styles in one masterful building.

  • Hossui-in, the first floor, is built in the Heian palatial style.
  • Cho’on-do, the second floor, is representative of the buke-zukuri style, common among samurai houses in the Kamakura period.
  • Kukkyo-cho, the top floor, reflects the style of Chinese Zen temples.
  • The roof is planked with sawara cypress, and a lucky phoenix sit on top of it all, surveying its kingdom of gold.
golden phoenix on top of kinkakuji temple

The phoenix is an auspicious symbol in China © Takeshi Kuboki (CC BY 2.0)

Be sure to continue exploring the Japanese strolling garden, after you’ve finished being awed by the Golden Pavilion. There’s plenty to see, including a shrine to the temple’s diety, a spring, waterfall, and a tea room from the Edo Period.

kinkakuji temple | japanese strolling garden

Try tossing coins into these stone statues for luck.

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Best Time to Visit the Golden Pavilion Kyoto

I’ve actually visited Kinkakuji Temple on 2 separate trips – once in March, and once in May. I preferred March because it was quieter, but this is one place you could visit in any season, and be satisfied.

The one exception being if it’s raining – though there’s probably a kind of beauty in that too.

kinkakuji golden pavilion in winter

Gold and white is a gorgeous combo © Takeshi Kuboki (CC BY 2.0)

On my first trip, we ended up there during magic hour by fluke. If you can time your visit to coincide with that time, I totally recommend it. it’s beyond beautiful, and has the added bonus of being relatively quiet. Morning visits can be full of tour groups and school children on class trips.

On my second trip, we visited in the middle of the day, and well, this picture speaks for itself.

crowds at Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto

Check out this mass of people trying to get the perfect photo angle.

Kinkakuji Temple is open every day from 9:00 – 17:00. Admission is 400 yen for adults, and 300 yen for primary and middle school students. I’d budget around an hour for your visit.

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Getting to Kinkakuji Temple

Address: 1 Kinkakuji-cho, Kita-ku, Kyoto 603-8361 Japan | 〒603-8361 京都府京都市北区金閣寺町1

It’s relatively easy to get to Kinkakuji Temple via city bus. The bus stop for the Golden Pavilion is called Kinkakuji-michi.

From Kyoto Station, take bus numbers 101 or 205.

  • The ride takes approximately 40 minutes and costs 230 yen.
  • You need exact change, but there’s a coin machine on the bus to exchange bills.
public transit in kyoto, japan

Taking public transit in Japan is always an adventure!

Alternatively, you could hop on the Karasuma subway line to Kitaoji Station, and then take a taxi or transfer to City Bus number 101, 102, or 204 to reach the Temple.

*Please check routes independently, as bus routes are constantly changing.

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Kinkakuji Temple | Travelogue

We’ve been sitting on a Kyoto bus for what feels like a really long time. The driver is careful, and the baby is calm, but she’s already lost Sophian the French giraffe, and a Hello Kitty sock on the ride over. Fortunately, they’re recovered quickly thanks to the kindness of Japanese passengers who notice their disappearance long before I do.

I check the time.

Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, closes at 5:00 and it’s already 4:30. It seems unthinkable to miss it after being on the bus for such a long time. But just as I’m really getting antsy, we finally reach the stop. We disembark, along with Naia in her stroller, and a tangle of other tourists.

Kinkakuji Temple | entrance gate

There’s no one at the admission gate when you arrive 30 minutes before closing.

The Kinkakuji Temple complex is just a few hundred metres away from the bus stop. We rush over, buy tickets, and hurry our way around the corner in the direction the staff has pointed us.

And stop short. Captivated.

kinkakuji temple | golden pavilion kyoto

Kinkakuji, Golden Pavilion is stunning at magic hour.

Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion is luminous, its reflection shimmering in the calm waters that surround it. The sun is just starting to set, and its magic hour – that evanescent period of time between day and night when the light is truly bewitching.

And that’s how I feel. Bewitched.

kinkakuji golden pavilion kyoto

We’re the last visitors!

The Golden Pavilion looks unreal – the gold a blinding contrast to the dramatic sky above it and the sculpted green landscape around it.

The harmony is sublime, and we all linger there, drinking it in for as long as we can, before we’re urged reluctantly out of the complex by closing time and the friendly old men that work there.

kinkakuj temple | golden pavilion kyoro

Nobody left at Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion, except us and this bird.

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Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion: Essential Info and FAQs

How much does it cost to go to Kinkakuji Temple? The admission fee for Kinkakuji Temple is 400 yen for adults, and 300 yen for students from grade 1 to 9.
Why is Kinkaku-ji, Golden Pavilion in Kyoto famous? Kinkaukji is one of the most famous Zen temples in the world, with its 2 top stories are covered in gold leaf. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the most visited attractions in Kyoto.
Can you go inside Kinkakuji Temple? No one can go inside Kinkakuji Temple. It can only be viewed from outside.
How to go to the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto? The bus stop for the Golden Temple is called Kinkakuji-michi. There are several city buses that stop there.

Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto is absolutely stunning! Is it on your Japan bucket list?

kinkakuji temple | golden pavilion kyoto japan


  • March 21, 2016

    Really gorgeous, and don’t you love when events conspire to make your visit happen at the perfect time? You probably couldn’t have even planned it so well! Japan is a gaping hole in my travel history, and your recent posts have inspired me to move it up my list!

    • March 22, 2016

      Totally love it when things work out that way! Until now, other than Tokyo, Japan has been a gaping hole in my travel history too, despite living just a few hours away. For shame. I think because Tokyo didn’t impress me so much coming from Seoul…but Kyoto and the surrounding area blew me away. Really stoked my desire to see more of Japan too! 😀

  • March 21, 2016

    Beautiful shots. The Golden Pavilion literally looks like it is glowing, good timing with the light. Sounds like it is a bit of a way to get there, but looks like all of you had fun and the kid looks peaceful 😀

    • March 21, 2016

      Thanks Mabel. 🙂 And would you believe it was way better in person, than any picture I could take. And so difficult to describe adequately with words. I’m really glad we went despite the long bus ride, and thank goodness Naia is as peaceful as she is. Will make traveling with her a real pleasure. 😀

  • Anisa

    March 21, 2016

    The Golden Temple was definitely my favorite. And the cherry blossoms were blooming – so beautiful!

    • March 21, 2016

      Ooooh, can’t imagine how beautiful it must be with the cherry blossoms blooming. Just like a dream…that place was so surreal. 🙂


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