When sightseeing in specific countries or cities, there are places you just have to go. In London, you see Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. Paris has the Eiffel Tower. New York has the Statue of Liberty. And Kyoto has Kinkakuji.
The building has burned down several times, most recently in 1950 due to a fanatic monk. The current building was finished in 1955.
It is quite difficult to see, especially because my photos are a bit hazy, but the windows on the first floor are open, and you can see the statues inside. This is usually the case.
While the pavilion is amazing to see - an entire building covered in gold! - the one-trick-pony aspect of this site meant that I was really only paying to see a building. And I've done that before, but usually it includes a tour inside or some auxiliary sites; Ginkakuji had the beautiful gardens, observation towers have observation decks, and Abashiri Prison and other architectural museums tell interesting stories about the building and its use through exhibits and experiences.
That isn't to say Kinkakuji isn't worth visiting - it is. Just know what you're getting to see!
Bus numbers 101 and 205 go from Kyoto Station to Kinkakuji, the cheapest and easiest way to get there. However, Kyoto can have heavy traffic, so you can take the Karasuma subway line to Kitaoji Station and catch the 101, 102, 204, or 205 bus to the temple. The subway-bus route is more than double the price, though it is a bit faster and much more reliable on time.
Admission is 400 yen, and the grounds are open 9:00-17:00. While there are plenty of things to see and do in northern Kyoto, there really aren't any other tourist stops near Kinkakuji, so plan your onward destination before leaving Kyoto Station.
A little bit away from the rest of the tourist destinations in Kyoto, Hozugawa flows through a mostly-undeveloped ravine. At the point where it exits the ravine to the relatively flat land around Kyoto, it widens and a small park exists at that transition.
Tourists planning to take the boat tour should take the JR Sagano Line to Kameoka. Alternately, take the JR Sagano Line to Saga Arashiyama, transfer to the Sagano Scenic Railway (the station is next door, called Torokko Saga) getting off at Torokko Kameoka and taking a short bus ride to the cruise terminal.
The park is free but cruises are about 4100 yen; they depart 9:00-15:30 hourly (10:00-4:30 December through early March, every 90 minutes). On busy days there are more boats and departures are irregular but more frequent. Reservations aren't possible.