4 Places in Kyoto for Great Views

Kyoto is one of my favourite cities in Japan and also a photographer’s delight. Kyoto also feels less crowded compared to Tokyo and with just a 20 minutes train ride you can be out of the city and inside a forest, it certainly gives that big city with a small town vibe. From it’s traditional streets and temples to the futuristic looking railway station, there is no lack of opportunities for photography. You don’t have to look very far for great views, whether it’s architectural, street or landscape photography.

Kyoto is cradled in a valley between 2 spurs of the Tamba Highlands, so it’s easy to find high ground overlooking the city for great views. Here are 4 places in Kyoto which offer great views especially for sunset.


Kiyomizudera Temple

This is one of the most iconic temples in Kyoto and is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on a ridge overlooking the city, this is one is easy to get to and always crowded with tourists.

Walking around the grounds of Kiyomizudera Temple will lead to a pathway that overlooks Kyoto city.
It was a rainy evening when I came here but even after a storm, the scene of sunlight bursting through the rain clouds is quite dramatic. From here you can see Kyoto Tower rising out of the city.
When I was there in spring, the temple grounds were open until late at night and it’s possible to get a good night time view of Kyoto city. During Spring and Fall periods, the temple is opened till late and they even have a light up at night.

You will need to pay a ¥400 admission fee to enter the temple, although you can get a view of Kyoto city from the entrance of the temple without any need to enter it. However, the views further inside the temple are worth the admission, plus you also get to see the Otowa Waterfall at the base of the main hall.


Fushimi Inari Taisha

Easily the most recognisable temple in Kyoto is Fushimi Inari Shrine. With it’s outstanding red tori gates that run throughout the footpaths, I found myself being transported into a magical realm.

Unlike Kiyomizudera Temple where you only need to take a short walk to get a good view, you will need to hike a good 2 hours or more here.

The hike to the summit of Mt. Inari (233m) and back takes around 2 hours. Along the way, I passed by thousands of the red tori gates that line the pathways through the mountain slopes.
There are 2 lookout points along the pathways where you can get a view of Kyoto. This is the main intersection and lookout point called Yotsutsuji which is roughly halfway to the summit.
The lookout points offer a view of south Kyoto.
Once you reach the summit of Mt. Inari there is a shrine, but there isn’t any viewpoint as it’s all blocked by trees.

Fushimi Inari Shrine is very crowded with tourists so it’s best to go early in the morning before all the tourist buses arrive. Also, most tourists will congregate around the main hall. As you go higher up the mountain, it gets less crowded. I think you won’t get any good sunrise or sunset views from here due to the southern facing, but the views are breathtaking all the same, plus the hike is a nice way to enjoy the fresh air.

Entry to Fushimi Inari is free and it’s open 24 hours.


Yasaka Shrine

Also known as the Gion Shrine, this is also one of the most well known shrines in Kyoto. Overlooking the Gion entertainment district and facing west, this is a good spot for sunset views over Gion.

The front gate of Yasaka Shrine is elevated slightly. But that was good enough for me to shoot a gorgeous sunset view of the Gion district.
Shot on my Galaxy S8 because this was the day I forgot to bring spare batteries for my DSLR. You don’t need a DSLR to capture this splendid sunset.

After taking your sunset shots, it’s a short walk to the Gion District for dinner and drinks.

Entry to Yasaka Shrine is also free and it’s open 24 hours.


Kyoto Tower

This has probably got to be the tallest building in Kyoto. Standing at 131m tall, this observation tower is Kyoto’s most prominent landmark. There is an observation deck at 100m and the entry fee is ¥770.

Standing at a total height of 131m, Kyoto Tower was built in 1964 and offers a 360° view of Kyoto.
Probably the best time for views is sunset. On a clear day, you can see all the way until Osaka from here. Although the day we visited was a bit hazy and strained as we could our eyes, we couldn’t see Osaka Castle.
Everyone’s waiting for the sunset to happen.
After the sunset, you can hang around to watch the city’s lights come on.
If you don’t have a telephoto lens, fret not. Placed around the observation deck are high powered telescopes and binoculars. These aren’t the cheap ones that you find elsewhere. Their view was so clear that I could even read the license plates of the cars looking through the telescope. Here are shots taken using my smartphone’s camera looking through one of the telescopes.

Kyoto Tower is located right next to Kyoto Station, so it’s really easy to get there. Entry is through the shopping centre that is just below it. Just look for the signs and follow them to the lift that will bring you to the tower’s lobby.

So here you have 4 places to enjoy a panoramic view of Kyoto. There are more places that overlook Kyoto which I didn’t visit this time including Kinkaku-ji Temple and the Araishiyama Monkey Park. Both these places are on the western side of Kyoto and face east, so they would actually make good spots for sunrise photography.

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