The Kyoto Imperial Palace was the home of the Emperors of Japan from 794, when Heian-kyō (Kyōto) replaced Nara as capital, to 1868, when to capital was moved to Tōkyō. The Imperial Palace itself is known as the Gosho and occupies only a small part of the 90 ha (220 acres) Imperial Palace Park.
Gosho (Imperial Palace) 御所
The Gosho is enclosed by an earthen wall (tsuiji) stretching 450m from north to south and 250m from east to west. It has 6 gates, including the main gate, Kenreimon. The main buildings are the Shishinden (Ceremonial Hall), Seiryōden (Main Palace), Tsune-Gosho (Regular Palace) and Ko-Gosho (Small Palace). The present buildings date from the last recontruction in 1855.
Tours in English are available but reservations are required (see below).
Imperial Palace Park 京都御苑運動広場
The Imperial Palace Park is comprised between Marutamachi-dōri (south), Karsuma-dōri (west), Imadegawa-dōri (north) and Teramachi-dōri (east) Avenues.
Access is free. Its spaciousness makes it an ideal place for walking, jogging, bicycling or picnicking.
There is a small garden with a pond and a shrine near the Marutamachi entrance.
Sentō Gosho Imperial Palace 仙洞御所
Inside the Imperial Palace Park, south-east of the Gosho is the Sentō Gosho, formerly the grounds of a palace for retired emperors.
The Sento Imperial Palace was completed in 1630 for Emperor Go-Mizunoo's retirement, along with the corresponding Omiya Palace for the Empress Dowager Nyoin. Both palaces were repeatedly destroyed by fire and reconstructed until a blaze in 1854, after which the Sento palace was never rebuilt.
Tours (in Japanese) are available at 11:00am and 1:30pm (see below).
Guided tours in English around the Imperial Palace are available from Monday to Friday from 10:00am or 2:00pm, or the third Saturday of the month at 10:00am (every Saturday in April, May, October and November). The palace is closed on Sundays, national holidays and from 29 December to 3 January.
The 50-minute tour starts from the Seisho-mon Gate and is free. Visitors are requested to arrive at least 20 minutes in advance.
You should apply with your passport at the Imperial Household Agency (Kunaichō), near Imadegawa subway station (open weekdays, 8:45am-12noon and 1:00pm-4:00pm). Applicants must be 20 years old or older. Children under 20 must be accompanied by an adult.