Kyoto Imperial Palace, known as Gosho, is the former residence of Japan's royal family. It is now an impressive landmark in the very center of Kyoto.
After serving as home for Japan's royals during the more than ten centuries Kyoto served as the nation's capital, the Imperial family left the palace in 1868 when the capital moved to Tokyo. Visitors are now free to stroll the grounds surrounding the palace, an activity once limited to guided tours.
Kyoto Gosho is easily accessed in Kyoto by train.
From Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Line to Marutamachi or Imadegawa stations.
The palace you see today was built in 1855 after a fire destroyed the previous structure. The complex is surrounded by a high wall on all sides. The palace buildings incorporate architectural elements from different periods throughout the city's history.
The Imperial Palace is actually one of two major facilities inside of Kyoto Imperial Park. The other, the Sento Imperial Palace, houses the Omiya Palace, which is where members of the royal family stay during visits to Kyoto.
The original structure in the Sento Imperial Palace was built in 1630 as a retirement home for Emperor Gomizuno, and became a permanent residence for all retired emperors. After a fire in 1854, it was replaced by Omiya Palace.
The palace allows people to visit without permission twice a year: once at the end of April and once in the middle of November.
Otherwise, to apply for a free tour, including ones offered in English, visit the Imperial Household Office in Kyoto Imperial Palace Park. To apply, simply fill out a form and show your passport. If you visit early enough in the day, you will probably be granted same-day admission.