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In the north of Kyoto stands a beautiful Zen temple covered in gold leaf. This temple goes under many different names including Kinkaku (meaning golden pavilion), Rokuon-ji Temple or Kinkaku-ji Temple. It is one of the absolute highlights of Kyoto. One you cannot miss, especially during your first visit to this ancient yet modern city. In this guide, I’m sharing everything you need to know about visiting this beautiful place to make your visit the best it can be.
About Kinkaku / Rokuon-Ji Temple
The golden pavilion is one of the 17 World Heritage Sites you can find in Kyoto. The Zen Buddist temple is a popular tourist attraction, so to avoid disappointment, expect it to be a bit busy. Most notably are the temple’s top two floors, which are completely covered in gold. On top, a beautiful phoenix looks out over the water. And yes, it’s all real gold!
The golden pavilion’s history
Originally, the area hosted a villa named Kitayama-dai. When in 1397, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu took a liking to the place, he bought it. He then built his own villa, called Kitayama-den. After his death, the villa was turned into a Zen temple as the garden surrounding the temple represent the pure land of Buddha. Over the years, the ancient villa has been burned down multiple times but was always rebuilt. The current pavilion was built in 1955. In 1994, the temple officially became a World Cultural Heritage Site.
Inside the temple
The design of the temple successfully illustrates three important Japanese styles of architecture. The first level is built in the 11-century shinden style. The second level represents the warrior aristocracy in the samurai style. The temple on the top level was built in the Chinese style. Inside the top level, relics of Buddha are kept safe.
Kinkakuji opening hours
The golden pavilion is open every day from 9 AM till 5 AM and is open every day of the year.
Best time to visit Kinkakuji
Because of the popularity of Kinkaku-ji, it is recommended to go as soon as it opens or later in the afternoon. It’s hard to catch the temple without any people standing in the way, but that doesn’t make the temple any less special. Try to get there a few minutes before 9 AM, so you can be one of the first people inside the gates. Or you can choose to go later in the day. If you’re planning on going later in the day, I’d recommend not to arrive any later than 4 PM. This gives you an hour to see the temple and its gardens.
You are still able to get some good photographs of the temple, even when it’s crowded. The fence that keeps people from the lake is a perfect place to avoid any other tourists photo-bombing your snapshots.
Kinkakuji Entree Fee
Kinkaku-ji has a small entree fee, which is used to keep everything look nice and tidy. It costs ¥400 for adults, ¥300 for children. You can get some discounts if you’re visiting with a larger group.
How long do you spend at Kinkakuji
When visiting Kinkaku-ji, you get to see the golden pavilion and you get to walk through the beautiful zen garden of the villa. It took us about an hour to take photos of the pavilion, walk through the garden and spend some time at some of the shops and temples at the end of the route.
Please note that you can’t actually visit inside the temple. The path guides you along the lakeside on which Kinkaku-ji has been built.
How to get to the golden pavilion
Kyoto’s golden pavilion is located quite far from the city centre. You can get there by bus or by train. From Kyoto Station, you can get bus number 101 or 205 for ¥230 and you will get to Kinkaku-Ji in about 45 minutes. Please note that busses can get crowded during the day, especially on weekends.
We took the train to get to Kinkaku-Ji. From Kyoto Station, we took the train to Kitanohakubaicho. From there, it is about 10 minutes on foot to get to the golden Zen temple. What I liked about this route, is that you get to walk through some lovely neighbourhoods and it allows you to look into the less touristy side of Kyoto. For accurate train times, you can use Hyperdia’s website or app.
Alternatively, you can get a taxi from Kyoto station and get to Kinkaku-Ji in less than 15 minutes. This is, however, way more expensive.
It really helped that we had our pocket wifi with us. With Google Maps, we were able to easily navigate through Kyoto’s streets to get to the entrance of Kinkaku-Ji.
Where to stay when visiting Kyoto
Because Kinkaku-Ji is located quite far from other Kyoto highlights, I wouldn’t recommend staying near the golden pavilion. It would be better to find a hotel in the city centre and use public transport to get to Kinkaku-Ji.
During our trip to Kyoto, we stayed in the budget Urban Hotel Kyoto. It is located near Fushimi Inari Taisha, has a train station you can reach by foot in 5 minutes and is very affordable. Nex to the hotel, you will find a bakery that sells fresh buns for ¥100, saving you some money on the hotel breakfast!
Check out my 2 day Kyoto itinerary for a fully planned 48 hours in this beautiful city.