Although only a little over 100 years old, the Heian Shrine is very popular among visitors and residents. Built in 1895, to celebrate Kyoto’s 1100th anniversery and dedicated to Emperor Kammu who made Kyoto the capital of Japan in the 8th century (Kyoto remained the capital for next 1000 years, until the Meiji Restoration); the shrine was built to be a 5/8 replica of the Heian Palace, the original imperial palace in Kyoto. In 1940, the shrine was expanded and dedicated again to include the last Emperor of Japan, Emperor Komei, and to commemorate the 2600th anniversary of the founding of Japan. Today, many of the buildings you see date from only 1976, having been rebuilt after a fire.
When you arrive, the first thing you see is the giant torii gate straddling the road (use this to guide your way from the subway station). Walk under it along the sidewalk and enter the shrine. If you like, wash your hands and mouth at the basin and approach the shrine. There, you can drop a few coins in, clap your hands, bow your head and say a prayer.
About half of the grounds are dedicated to the gardens, which took over 20 years to build. There are four gardens with ponds, and perfect for strolling or just sitting. Kyoto has plenty of gardens, and they are all worth visiting, so try to space your visits to them out to make sure you give each the time it deserves.
The shrine is free and is open from 6am to 5:30pm. Admission to the gardens is 600 yen and they are open from 8:30am to 5pm. To get here, take the subway to Higashiyama station and walk north for about 10 minutes.
Even if you have already visited your fair share of Shinto shrines, the giant torii gate and spacious gardens make Heian Shrine worth a visit.