For a first-time visitor I would recommend Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavillion), Ryoan-ji (to sample a fine Zen garden) and Daitoku-ji (no worldheritage status, but a lovely complex to walk around).
I visited this WHS in November 2009. The highlight of my visit was surely the Golden Pavilion and the surrounding Japanese gardens. It was the centre of Japanese culture for more than 1000 years and the imperial capital of Japan. Surely, one of Japan's top WHS.
Date posted: September 2012 Thibault Magnien (France):
Kyoto has been the capital of Japan for almost 1000 years and still remains the cultural center of the country.
I have spent 4 days visiting Kyoto amazing world heritage listed buildings. I have visited 11 sites out of 17. Among them, those that really astonished me are Nijo jo castle with its imperial palace, full of decorated rooms, Kinkaku ji with the Golden Pavilion and To ji with its 5 story pagoda which is the tallest one in Japan. Kyoto is the heart of Japan and houses some of the finest testimonies of ancient Asian architecture with its shrines, temples, palaces and zen gardens. The place is amazing and full of splendorous treasures.
The image shows Nijo Jo castle (exterior white fortifications and interior buildings), Kiyomizu Dera entrance gate, To Ji pagoda, Byodo In temple and Kinkaku Ji Golden Pavillon.
Date posted: May 2012 Daniel Chazad (Germany):
Bicycles are a convenient transportation alternative. Nearly all sites except Kiyomizu-dera have free bicycle parking. For Kiyomizu-dera you can buy a parking ticket for 200 yen. With a mountain bike it is possible to visit e.g. all interesting sites east of the river in one day. Use the paths parallel to the river/s to avoid traffic. You can even reach Fushimi Inari Taisha in 20 minutes or so from Gion.
Ginkaku-ji was undergoing some small renovation but was still one of my favorites. I also loved Byôdô-in Uji.
I experienced the people of Kyoto to be overwhelmingly friendly – from curious passengers in city buses to the staff of the excellent tourist information in Kyoto station.
Kyoto is a truly unique place. Don't miss places like Sanjûsangen-dô and Fushimi Inari Taisha (although those are not WHS).
Date posted: September 2009 Val Nelson (USA): I visited Kyoto in April at cherry blossom time - husband was an invited guest and we were taken around the city by Japanese people. This is a rare time to see the city because all the streets and shrines are surrounded by cherry blossoms. One shrine we visited had 2,000 cherry trees in bloom and it is a tradition for the Japanese to spread blankets under them and get drunk and sing--their version of tailgating! The grounds of the Golden Shrine sits over the water and is 1,500 years old. The landscaping there is beautiful and one can see the shrine from many angles. One bonsai tree was over 800 years old and shaped like a ship. Date posted: May 2008 jaxon nobori (U.S.A.): I managed to see all except on the list of 17. Missed the Saiho-ji (moss temple)and Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei. Otherwise, everything was memorable, but some places more than others. The ones in Kyoto I'd recommend are: Ginkaku-ji, Nijo-jo, Daigo-ji (Sampo-in), Nanzen-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, To-ji (especially for the flea market on the 21st of every month), Kitano Tenman-gu (also has a flea market on the 25th of the month), Ryoan-ji (if you can tolerate crowds), and the Kamigamo & Shimgamo Shrines along the Kamo River. In Uji City: Byodo-in and the Ujigama Shrines. That only leaves three you could pass over, and another two I didn't get to visit.   C H Ho (Hong Kong, China): The bus inside Kyoto is convenience but their speed are slow. I suggest to go to Higashiyama region. Visit Kiyomizu Temple and follow the route of philosophy until Ginkakuji Temple. The best time is in April and the cherry blossom on the route of philosophy.   Rob Wilson (UK):
I have spent a great deal of time in Kyoto and it never ceases to break my heart.
The city itself is an utter monstrosity, a nightmare mess of urban planning.
There are some wonderful spots in the city, but these are marred by the city itself. Many of the temples, gardens and shrines are almost ruined by tacky souvenir stalls that seem to dog this country's tourist sites.
I have visited virtually all of the temples and sites inscribed on the list and would recommend the following:- (1)Byodo-In, one of the few remaing Heian period buildings left in Japan. It is a real gem. (2) Enryaku-Ji. A wonderful mountain-top temple that has beautiful views over Lake Biwa. (3) Nijo-Jo. One of the most outstanding palaces remaining in Japan.
The most visited temple is Kinkaku-Ji - the Gold Pavillion. I find this place rather gaudy and overdone. It is a relatively recent creation, built in 1955 after the original was burnt down.
Nishi-Hongan-Ji is currently undergoing a massive face-lift and rebuilding project. The Kondo Hall will be off limits for several years.
Ginkaku-Ji (The Silver Pavillion) is looking a bit worse for wear these days and could use a lick of paint.
Re-building is something that always has to be born in mind with Japanese temples - what you are looking at may be advertised as being 700 years old, but it could easily be a modern re-construction.
Rebecca Burger (USA): I went to Kyoto 2 summers ago as a 3 week study abroad program for my University. it was one of the most experiences of my life. Here I saw things that I had previously only seen in the textbooks of my Arts of Japan class. Kinkakuji Temple stands out in my mind due to the fact that even if you are a terrible photographer, you just can't take a bad photo of this site. It is gorgeous! One note for the inexperienced traveller, be prepared to see some of the most incredible gardens. Every temple has a spectacular garden that deserves some film space. One thing I remember is that hydrangea bushes are common and the Japanese red maple is a staple. Also be prepared for Japanese high school students. Nearly every major temple I went to had a huge group of high school or elementary school kids. Especially if you are an American male, these kids will take interest and often ask help on an English assignment. They are very cute and sometimes if they gather the courage, they will ask for a picture. Also take off your shoes before entering some of the temples. Also don't worry about rude Japanese because for the most part they are very polite towards foriegners so don't worry about how bad your Japanese is because they are fairly understanding.
Have you been to Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)? Share your experiences!