Starting July 26, 2016, admission to Kyoto Imperial Palace has been simplified. Tourists are now able to explore the grounds on their own, and there is no more need for prior reservations and participation in a guided tour.
The Kyoto Imperial Palace (京都御所, Kyōto Gosho) used to be the residence of Japan's Imperial Family until 1868, when the emperor and capital were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. It is located in the spacious Kyoto Imperial Park (京都御苑, Kyōto Gyoen), an attractive park in the center of the city that also encompasses the Sento Imperial Palace and a few other attractions.
The current Imperial Palace was reconstructed in 1855 after it had burnt down and moved around town repeatedly over the centuries. The complex is enclosed by long walls and consists of several gates, halls and gardens. The enthronement ceremonies of Emperors Taisho and Showa were still held in the palace's main hall. Tokyo Imperial Palace is now used for enthronement ceremonies.
Formerly only accessible on guided tours that required advance reservations, the palace grounds can now be entered and explored without joining a tour and without any prior arrangements (although tours in English are still available). Visitors can see the the palace buildings and gardens, but note that none of the buildings can be entered.
Besides the Imperial Palace and the Sento Palace grounds, a few other historic sites are located within Kyoto Imperial Park, including the Kaninnomiya Mansion, a former residence of court nobles that is open to the public in the park's southwestern corner. Not far away stands a small branch shrine of Miyajima's famous Itsukushima Shrine on a small island of a pond.
The 1300 meter long and 700 meter wide park also serves as recreational space for both tourists and residents, featuring attractive, broad gravel paths, lawns and tree groves. A pretty group of weeping cherry trees stands beside Konoe Pond in the park's northwestern corner and is usually in bloom for two to three weeks from late March to mid April.