Kinkaku-ji : Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan.

Kyoto is the premier city to experience Japan's traditional culture and history – standing in stark contrast to ultramodern Tokyo. The one-time capital of Japan is rich with culture, packed with 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Over 1,600 Buddhist temples and around 400 Shinto shrines pepper the cityscape of Kyoto. It was these historic sites and their historical and cultural value that saved Kyoto from destruction during WWII.

First impressions of the city show you a sprawling, busy metropolis, but with a little exploration, you'll find that you can't walk around a corner without stumbling onto a temple or a shrine. One tip: many temples have an admission fee, ranging from around 300 to 700 yen, while the shrines are usually free (with many opportunities to give an offering). Another tip: hit up the popular temples first thing in the morning, and beat the crowds for a better experience.

Kinkaku-ji, or Golden Pavilion is one of the most iconic images of Japan and a must-see for any Kyoto visit. The upper two stories of this temple are covered entirely in gold leaf – an awesome sight. The gilded temple overlooks a pond, complete with koi, and is surrounded by lush Japanese gardens.

Across town in Higashiyama, Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavilion, stands in stark contrast to its golden counterpart. Despite its name ,Ginkaku-ji isn't a silver version of the famed Kinkakuji, but silver-plating was once part of its plans. With that comparison in mind, Ginkaku-ji may seem a little underwhelming, but what it lacks in luster, it makes up for in serenity. The temple and its grounds, which include a zen garden, have an ethereal quality.

After exiting the temple, take a slow stroll down Philosopher's Path and contemplate the meaning of life while you take in the scene. Countless temples and shrines are just a short walk off the path, such as Honen-in, and are considerably more tranquil than the main temples around Kyoto. 

Published On: Tuesday, May 28th, 2013