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Largest City

Kyoto Gyoen (Imperial Park)

Two majestic Imperial Palaces in the center of Kyoto

By George Underwood

Kyoto was home to the Japanese Imperial family from 794 until 1868, with their residences concentrated around what is now Kyoto Gyoen – a large park right in the center of the city.

In the park, visitors can explore several preserved complexes from pre-modern Japan, including the main Imperial Palace and the Sento Palace gardens.

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Gyoen

Photo by: PIXTA/ t.sakai The entire walk takes about an hour, and admission is free.

The main palace remains one of the largest and most impressive historical sites in Kyoto, even among the city’s fierce competition, thanks to its grand, varied architecture and well-preserved state.

Visitors can explore the majority of the palace grounds, although cannot go inside the buildings. Extensive information is provided through English signs as well as pamphlets in multiple other languages.

The walk follows a strict path around the main sights, including the grand Shishinden Hall, the site of several important historical events, and the small but beautiful palace gardens.

Sento Imperial Palace

Kyoto Gyoen

Photo by: PIXTA/ m.Taira You need to register in advance for a free guided tour at the park’s Imperial Household Agency office.

The second key complex in Kyoto Gyoen, Sento Palace has long served as the home of retired emperors. Many of Sento Palace’s historical buildings no longer exist, but it still contains a large Imperial landscape garden and remains in active use as an occasional residence for modern Imperial family members.

To view the palace grounds you ostensibly need to register in advance for a free guided tour at the park’s Imperial Household Agency office. That said, it’s often possible to show up unplanned and secure a spot on the next scheduled tour. Note that you may need to have a residence card or passport on hand.

Although the guides only speak Japanese, audio guides are available in several languages and give a thorough overview of the many sights across the gardens. The tours last for about an hour.

Elsewhere in the Park

Kyoto Gyoen

Photo by: PIXTA/ t.sakai An escape from the crowds.

Kyoto Gyoen also contains several shrines plus the Kaninnomiya Residence, a former noble mansion with displays on imperial court culture and the park’s history. And, of course, the park itself makes for a nice break from Kyoto’s crowded streets.

If you have a busy schedule and can only fit one sight in, then the Imperial Palace makes for a more well-rounded experience than the Sento Palace and is easier to enter. But combining the two in one trip can make for an interesting dive into both the historic and modern imperial lifestyle.

Things To Know


Admission is free for both attractions.

Kyoto Imperial Palace Opening hours

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (April to August); 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (September and March); 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (October to February). Closed on Mondays (or the following day if Monday is a national holiday)

Sento Imperial Palace Opening Hours

9 a.m to 5 p.m. Closed on Mondays (or the following day if Monday is a national holiday)

How To Get There


By train

Kyoto Gyoen is served by the Marutamachi metro station in the south and Imadegawa station in the north, both on the Karasuma Line.

Where To Stay

Kyoto Garden Palace
  • 605 Tatsumaecho, Kyoto-shi Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto, 602-0912 Japan
  • ¥7,300 - ¥7,300
  • 4.3/5 (1,381 reviews)
  • 0.4 km
Stay Sakura Kyoto Gyoen East
  • 211-16 Kamiikesucho, Kyoto-shi Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto, 602-0855 Japan
  • ¥10,213 - ¥36,640
  • 3.5/5 (18 reviews)
  • 0.6 km
Kyoto Brighton Hotel
  • 330 Shiteicho, Kyoto-shi Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto, 602-8071 Japan
  • ¥22,800 - ¥23,750
  • 4.7/5 (3,454 reviews)
  • 0.7 km
The Screen
  • 640-1 Shimogoryomaecho, Kyoto-shi Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, 604-0995 Japan
  • ¥38,500 - ¥175,500
  • 0.8 km
Noku Kyoto
  • 205-1 Okuracho, Kyoto-shi Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, 604-0861 Japan
  • ¥18,000 - ¥100,000
  • 3/5 (58 reviews)
  • 0.8 km

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