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.
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
In this guide
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion: Essential Info and FAQs
Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto is absolutely stunning! Is it on your Japan bucket list?