Kyoto, Japan is home to thousands of shrines and temples–literally. Most cost around 500 yen, but some are free to enter. In this post, we rank the best options that don’t charge an admission fee and recommend which to include in your itinerary.
While spending around $3 to $5 per temple may not sound like much, it does add up quickly. For example, if you’re visiting Kyoto for 4 days, that could be as many as 25 admission fees, or $125 per person. For a family of four, that’s $500 just to enter temples!
We’ve visited hundreds of temples and shrines in Kyoto–many of them several times. I shudder to think of how much we’ve spent on admission fees…but that’s not the point here. Rather, it’s because our Top 100 Temples & Shrines in Kyoto, Japan list includes around two-dozen options that are totally free or have free areas.
Here are the best of Kyoto’s free temples and shrines, with their overall ranking on that top 100 list included in parentheticals. Note that you can click on each temple or shrine’s name to read and see our full post about it…
Yasaka Shrine (#49) – This makes the list because it’s so easy to visit. Located between the Gion and Higashiyama Districts, Yasaka Shrine is a spot you’re likely to naturally pass while walking between two of Kyoto’s most popular districts or to Kawaramachi Station.
We’re always drawn into Yasaka Shrine’s courtyard, which is filled with lanterns and has an enchanting atmosphere at night. It’s also home to several festivals throughout the year, and you can frequently find outdoor food vendors lining the path between the shrine and park near it.
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (#48) – Located in northwest Kyoto, this free shrine is a popular place to visit during spring for its plum trees and fall for its autumn foliage, as well as during its monthly flea market.
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine has an intriguing layout. The main shrine, worship hall, and the Ishi-no-Ma Hall have combined roofs above them and are interconnected. There’s also a paid garden that’s open during certain times of year, and it’s beautiful during fall colors season.
Kamo Shrines (#45 & #46) – Shimogamo and Kamigamo Shrine are UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Northern Kyoto. While considered important and free to visit, the Kamo Shrines are also off the beaten path and a bit of a commute from the city’s main tourist areas.
Shimogamo Shrine is the easier of the two to access, as it’s located at the junction of the Takano and Kamo rivers north of Kyoto Gyoen and the Imperial Palace. It’s in a large park public, surrounded by an old growth forest, which is a unique setting. If you’re thinking of visiting the Kamo Shrines, start with Shimogamo for these reasons.
Heian Shrine (#39) – This is a tough one. The free area is large and one of Kyoto’s most famous shrines, but not in a way that evokes grandeur or makes you want to spend time exploring the grounds. To the contrary, the shrine feels impersonal and lacks much of substance to see. The design is neat and memorable, but that’s partly because the wide open courtyard is unique.
Then there’s the paid garden area behind the main buildings of Heian Shrine, which are exquisite. There’s a winding path with beautiful weeping cherry trees, small ponds, intimate areas for contemplation, and lovely design. These gardens are charming, and you’re arguably missing the highlight of Heian Shrine if you only do the free areas.
Chionin Temple (#33) – The free grounds here are large and impressive. Chionin Temple’s main entrance Sanmon gate stands right at the road–you can’t miss it if you’re walking the road between Maruyama Park and Shorenin Temple. Continuing inside, you’ll encounter a long and steep set of stairs, which might get your heart rate up a bit.
At the top of the stairs is a large open area with pathways to temple’s main buildings. The most prominent of these are the main Miedo Hall and Amidado Hall, with other less-significant buildings and one of the temple’s paid gardens in this general vicinity. The paid garden is far from essential, so don’t worry about missing that.
Yoshida Shrine (#32) – One of several temples on Mt. Yoshida, which is a hill between downtown Kyoto and the Higashiyama Mountains. This cluster includes some of our favorite hidden gem temples in Japan: Kurodani Temple, Shinnyodo Temple, and Yoshida Shrine along with its array of sub-shrines.
Yoshida Shrine is within a hillside park that’s also home to a number of interesting spots, plus sub-temples and shrines. One of these is Takenaka Inari Shrine, which is sort of like a bargain version of Fushimi Inari. Another is Daigengu Saijosho, which is only open the 1st day of every month, and for Setsubun.
Shinnyodo Temple (#28) – This under-the-radar and free temple makes for a short but sweet visit. It makes both our Top 10 Fall Color Spots and 10 Best Hidden Gem Photography Spots lists for Kyoto, an impressive feat for such a low-profile location.
Most of Shinnyodo Temple’s grounds are free to visit, including the main hall, pagoda, and smaller buildings behind the main hall. However, there is a paid inner chamber accessed from inside the main hall that includes the temple’s garden and costs 500 yen to enter. (This paid area is totally skippable.)
Kurodani Temple (#23) – This is another free temple situated in the Yoshida Hill area, which is home to a trio of temples and shrines we love. All of the buildings here are free to see, and this temple that’s removed from the touristy side of Kyoto is a peaceful hidden gem.
We’ve now made several visits here, and I think we’ve seen a grand total of 1 or 2 other tourists. It’s far from a busy temple to begin with, but most of the people here seem to be using the temple as a shortcut coming from work or school, or neighborhood residents who treat Kurodani as a functioning temple. Don’t miss it!
Honenin Temple (#22) – Entirely free, easy to access from the (also free) Philosopher’s Path, and a quiet respite from the crowds, Honenin Temple is highly recommended. Even though it’s not a huge or high-profile temple, Honenin packs a powerful punch.
The thatch-roofed Main Gate has a sense of restrained beauty, and upon entering down through it, you’ll see the “Byakusadan – Terrace of White Sand.” These are twin white sand mounds with seasonal designs etched on top, surrounded by moss. Other buildings provide a lot to love at Honenin Temple.
Tofukuji Temple (#18) – Here, the outer grounds are free, and this is where you’ll find the treasured Sanmon Gate and the main hall, among several other buildings scattered about. We like this free area in the fall when pockets of color help make it pop. It’s tough to recommend a visit to Tofukuji Temple for the free areas alone.
It’s understandable if you’re on a tight budget and can’t do dozens of paid temples in Kyoto, but the free area of Tofukuji is not what elevates this temple to one of the best in Kyoto–the Hojo Garden and Tsutenkyo Bridge are the stars here. The effort to get to Tofukuji Temple is not worth it for the free areas alone in our estimation.
Daitokuji Temple (#13) – The free grounds at this sprawling temple complex are highlighted by the Chokushimon Gate from Kyoto’s Imperial Palace, the Karamon (Chinese Gate), and Sammon Main Gate. There are also several “public” halls (Butsuden Hall, Hatto Hall, and Hojo Residence), none of which can be entered.
The rest of Daitokuji Temple is a series of 24 sub-temples, some of which are open to the general public (for a fee) and some of which are privately owned. A couple of these are worth paying admission to see, particularly if you like Japanese gardens.
Ninnaji Temple (#10) – This UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northwest Kyoto, Japan offers free admission to its grounds, including a large and well-landscaped area. Most notable in the free area is the towering five-story pagoda and the massive Niomon Gate.
Note that while admission to the grounds of Ninnaji Temple is normally free, during special events (namely cherry blossom season) there is a fee applies. Access to Goten Palace, which we highly recommend, also requires a 500 yen admission.
Daikakuji Temple (#8) – This temple offers a large free area outside of its main grounds that include a pagoda, other buildings, and a huge pond. Around this pond there are many trees that make Daikaku-ji a popular cherry blossom and fall colors location.
Inside, the temple is comprised of several buildings connected by elevated wooden walkways and covered corridors. Entrance to the inner area of Daikakuji Temple requires paying the admission fee. (It’s worth it.)
Nanzenji Temple (#5) – This temple ranks so highly due to its impressive variety spread amongst its many buildings and subtemples: a Sanmon gate, main hall, shrines, rock gardens, tea rooms, pond gardens, fusuma, and an aqueduct.
That aqueduct is the unequivocal highlight. It’s something we’ve still yet to see anywhere else in Japan, and following the aqueduct up the hillside reveals a treasure trove of other details at Nanzenji Temple. There are a few paid areas at Nanzenji Temple, but most of the highlights are free for all to see.
Fushimi Inari Shrine (#1) – What can we say about Fushimi Inari Taisha that we haven’t already said? That it’s not just the best free thing to do in Kyoto, it’s arguably the best thing (paid or free) to do in all of Japan. That we’ve visited dozens of times and still discover new things at Fushimi Inari. That you could visit multiple times (morning, midday, and night) and have unique experiences.
There’s a ton more that could be said, but suffice to say, this is far and away the best free option in Kyoto. If you’re trying to do ‘Japan on a dime’ then you should really budget several hours at Fushimi Inari, and perhaps a visit for sunrise and a return trip in the evening. Perhaps even do a hike (also free!) from here to Tofukuji Temple or visit the Secret Bamboo Forest of Fushimi Inari (another freebie!).
If you’re planning a trip to Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend that you start by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit!
Have you visited any of these free temples or shrines in Kyoto? What did you think of the experiences? Which ones would you recommend to a first-timer visiting Japan? Which would do you think are skippable? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Any questions about what we’ve covered here? Hearing about your experiences—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!