Sento Imperial Palace (仙洞御所, Sentō Gosho) is a secondary palace complex across from the Kyoto Imperial Palace in Kyoto Imperial Park. It was built in 1630 as the retirement palace of Emperor Gomizuno, and became the palace for subsequent retired emperors.
The original palace buildings burned down in 1854 and were not rebuilt. Instead, Omiya Palace was constructed on the Sento grounds in 1867 and now serves as the lodging place for the current prince and princess during their visits to Kyoto.
Visiting Sento Imperial Palace requires joining a free tour by the Imperial Household Agency, which manages all the Imperial properties. The tour leads through the Sento garden which is comprised of the North Pond and South Pond areas. It is a beautiful example of a strolling garden.
Tours of Sento Palace last about one hour and are conducted in Japanese only. Audio guides in several foreign languages are available. None of the palace buildings are entered, however, some of the structures, such as the Seikatei teahouse, are left open so that visitors can see inside and get an impression of imperial design and style.
Sento Imperial Palace is located within the Kyoto Imperial Park. It can be reached from Kyoto Station in about 10 minutes by the Karasuma Subway Line. Get off at Marutamachi or Imadegawa Station. Both stations are about a 15 minute walk from the entrance gate of Sento Palace.
Free tours of Sento Imperial Palace are held four times per day except on Mondays (or the following day if Monday falls on a national holiday).
To book a tour, you need to apply in advance with your passport at the Imperial Household Agency's office in Kyoto Imperial Park (Monday to Friday from 8:45 to 12:00 and from 13:00 to 17:00). Alternatively, a small number of tour spots are available for reservation over the agency's website (see links below); however, these often get booked out. Online reservations must be completed several days before the intended visit.
In addition, a limited number of same-day tickets for some of the tours are distributed at the Sento Imperial Palace from 11:00 on a first-come first-serve basis.