Yasaka Pagoda with cherry blossoms - one of the best things to do in Kyoto, Japan

26 Unforgettable Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan

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Kyoto is a magical city like nowhere else. As the imperial capital of Japan for over 1000 years (until 1868), it’s the heart of traditional Japanese culture.

There are so many incredible things to do in Kyoto—you can visit golden temples and vermillion shrines, stroll through Zen rock gardens and swaying bamboo forests, slurp down bowls of ramen and participate in graceful tea ceremonies.

It’s one of the only places you can still glimpse geisha in extravagant kimono and white makeup rushing to appointments in wooden teahouses.

Monks still live and work in the city’s 2000 temples and shrines—you’ll see them in flowing robes performing ceremonies and hear the chanting.

You’ll visit a lot of temples in Kyoto, but even after spending two months in the city, we never tire of them. They all offer something unique—a shimmering pavilion, peaceful garden, forest hike, or a delicious vegetarian meal.

Although Kyoto is the centre of traditional Japan, it’s also a modern city with concrete high-rises, numerous vending machines, and a vibrant food scene.

But it’s on a smaller, more manageable scale than Tokyo or Osaka with plenty of green spaces, views of the surrounding hills, and neighbourhoods that feel like villages.

Despite the numerous attractions (including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites), Kyoto is best explored at a slower pace with time for aimless wandering down narrow stone streets.

In this Kyoto travel guide, I share all the best things to do in Kyoto as well as tips on avoiding the crowds and how to get around. You’ll also find a map with all the top Kyoto attractions.

Video: What to Do in Kyoto

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Watch our video for an overview of what to see in Kyoto, Japan.

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In 2011, when we first visited Kyoto, Japan received 6.2 million overseas visitors. In 2019, 32 million tourists visited the country.

That’s a huge increase, and as Kyoto is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan , we did notice a startling rise in crowd sizes on our last month-long stay in the city. 

Even with the greater number of tourists, we loved Kyoto just as much on our second visit—it’s still a unique place with an incredible number of stunning sights.

Here are some tips to enjoy Kyoto despite the crowds:

1) Visit for as long as possible

Kyoto deserves more than the two days many people allocate it.

I recommend spending at least four full days here, but a week is ideal and allows time for some of these Kyoto day trips (Nara is the most popular).

We’ve spent two months in the city and still haven’t seen it all.

A longer stay will give you more time to explore less well-known Kyoto attractions and visit popular places at off-peak times.

2) Stay close to major sights

In order to do the next tip, it will help if you are staying close to the popular Kyoto tourist attractions.

You’ll be able to set out early in the morning, take a break in the busy afternoons, and head out again in the evenings without having to travel too far.

I think the best area to stay is Southern Higashiyama (including Gion) at the foot of Kyoto’s eastern hills.

There are a multitude of temples to explore as well as the most beautiful preserved streets and the chance to spot geisha.

A maiko (apprentice geisha) in Miyagawacho near Gion, Kyoto

On our last visit we stayed in Miyagawacho, a geisha district along the Kamo River just south of the more well-known geisha area Gion.

It was the perfect location—traditional, quiet, but in walking distance to many attractions. We regularly saw geisha (or geiko as they are known in Kyoto) walking down our street on the way to appointments.

Our Vrbo apartment is no longer available but you can search for apartments in Gion here .

Hotel The Celestine Kyoto Gion is one of the few hotels in this quiet area. It has modern rooms, an onsite onsen and tempura restaurant, and gets excellent reviews.

Kyoto Inn Gion The Second is a more affordable hotel in an ideal location in Gion. Rooms are small but comfortable.

If you’d like to stay in a ryokan (traditional inn),  Ryokan Yachiyo  looks beautiful with Japanese-style rooms and garden views.

I am very tempted to book a room with a private open-air bath on our next Kyoto trip. It’s a little further from Gion but close to Nanzen-ji temple and the famous Philosopher’s Path. (Update: I’ve booked a garden view room with bath for this autumn so I’ll keep you posted!).

We also loved our stay at Sora Niwa Terrace , which is one of Kyoto’s newest hotels and has the most incredible views from its roof terrace and onsen. It’s just over the river from Gion.

Search for more hotels in Kyoto here .

3) Get up early

Yasaka Pagoda street in Kyoto

Visiting the most popular sights early in the morning is essential to truly enjoy them. It’s so much harder to appreciate the magic when you’re battling through tour groups.

These are the places that are most important to visit early (on weekdays if possible). If you can’t manage to make it early, then try an hour before closing.

  • Fushimi Inari shrine – It’s open 24 hours so go around sunrise (6 am is best) or as late at night as possible (after 8 pm). It’s our favourite place in the city (and one of the most unique things to do in Kyoto), but we gave up after 10 minutes when we visited one afternoon as the crowds were intense.
  • Kiyomizu-dera Temple – It opens at 6 am and this is the best time to visit (or definitely before 8 am). The picturesque streets leading up to it are also best enjoyed early (or late).
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion) – It’s open from 9 am – 5 pm so either arrive in time for opening or at 4 pm, but it’s hard to escape the crowds.
  • Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion) – Arrive at opening at 8.30 am or at 4 pm (before it closes at 5 pm).
  • Nishiki Market – It’s not as essential to arrive early, but lunchtime here is packed. 10 am is better or just before closing around 5 pm.

I could also add the Arashiyama bamboo grove to this list as it’s one of the most popular Kyoto tourist spots and gets horribly crowded (even before 9 am).

Honestly, I think it’s overrated and haven’t included it in my things to do in Kyoto list. I suggest some quieter, more enjoyable bamboo groves below.

If you have limited time in Kyoto and prefer exploring with a guide, this popular Kyoto early bird tour avoids the crowds at Fushimi Inari, Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), and the bamboo grove by starting before 7am. 

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4) Discover quieter temples and shrines

It’s easy to find quiet temples and shrines in Kyoto —they are often just around the corner from the crowded spots that everyone feels they have to see.

I highly recommend including some hidden gems along with popular attractions. Perhaps start your day early at one of the temples above and then head to some quieter alternatives.

5) Take a break from temples

Although the temples are incredible, save your energy by mixing them up with some fun and unusual activities.

Take a cooking class , stroll along a quiet canal, sip matcha in a tearoom, learn samurai skills , or hike through a forest—you’ll find plenty of ideas of what to do in Kyoto below.

This Kyoto sightseeing map shows the best things to do in Kyoto listed below. Temples and shrines are marked in red, interesting streets and walking paths in blue, and other points of interest in purple. 

At the end of this post you’ll find transport tips for getting to and around Kyoto.

These are the most popular things to do in Kyoto and they do get crowded.

1) Hike Through Torii Gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine

Torii gates at Fushimi Inari shrine, one of the best things to do in Kyoto

Fushimi Inari is a Kyoto must see. We’ve never visited anywhere else like it—thousands of bright orange torii gates snake up through the forest into the mountains.

It’s as much of a hike as a temple visit (and quite steep in parts), although you do pass many small shrines with stone fox statues and miniature toriis.

The fox is considered the messenger of Inari, the Shinto god of rice.

It takes us about an hour and a half to complete the whole walk (a 5 km/ 3.1 mile loop from the station), but you could easily spend two or three hours here.

You could also choose just to do the lower loop to a viewpoint over the city. I recommend continuing up the mountain as it gets much quieter and feels very peaceful as you walk through the deep forest.

The upper section of Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto through the forest

Fushimi Inari gets insanely busy and it’s no fun when you are walking with a crowd, so try to visit around 6 am (7 am at the latest) or after 8 pm.

It’s a very different experience at night with atmospheric lighting and a slightly spooky feel (we even heard a wild boar!).

Details: Free entry and open 24 hours. Take the train to Fushimi Inari Station on the Keihan Main Line (if coming from Higashiyama, 10 minutes from Gion-Shijo) or JR Inari Station on the JR Nara Line (if coming from Kyoto Station, 5 minutes).

2) Wander Around Gion and Southern Higashiyama

Yasaka Pagoda is one of the photographed sights in Kyoto

Southern Higashiyama, which includes Gion, is one of the top places to visit in Kyoto with some of the most picturesque and best-preserved streets in the city.

In this historic district you’ll find wooden houses on narrow lanes with paved stone pathways and paper lanterns lighting the way.

There are many temples to visit, but this area is perfect for aimless wandering (ideally early morning or late at night) and soaking up the charm.

Many visitors rent kimono for a day and explore in traditional Japanese attire. 

Tourists in kimono and a rickshaw on Yasaka-dori, Kyoto

Streets not to miss include Yasaka-dori which leads to Yasaka Pagoda (Hōkanji Temple), Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, Nene-no-michi, and Ishibei-koji lane (no photos allowed).

Ninenzaka early in the morning without the crowds, one of Kyoto's top attractions

This area is especially wonderful at night in March during the Higashiyama Hanatouro Festival when the streets are lined with thousands of lanterns and there are special events and illuminations at the temples.

Ishibei-koji lit up at night during the Higashiyama Hanatouro Festival

Gion, Kyoto’s main geisha district, is also lovely for strolling day and night. Don’t miss Hanami-koji, the Shirakawa Canal, Shinbashi-dori, and Yasaka Shrine (free entry). 

On the traditional streets of Gion, you may spot a geisha rushing to an appointment at one of the teahouses (especially between 5.30 pm and 6 pm).

Yes, it’s exciting, but the hordes of tourists trying to take photos have made life unpleasant for them. Please keep your distance and be respectful.

We often saw geisha without mobs of tourists following them in the quieter Miyagawacho geisha district, where we stayed near Miyagawacho Kaburenjo theatre.

A maiko (apprentice geisha) in the rain on a street in Miyagawacho near Gion, Kyoto

Wandering around Gion is one of the top things to do in Kyoto at night.

If you’d like to explore with a guide, this Gion at night group walking tour has excellent reviews and is a good way to learn about geisha culture. 

The narrow streets of Miyagawacho near Gion lit up with lanterns at night in Kyoto, Japan

Details: Free to wander the streets. The nearest train stations are Gion-Shijo and Kiyomizu-Gojō on the Keihan Main Line.

3) Enjoy the View from Kiyomizu-dera Temple 

Kiyomizu-dera during the special night illuminations, a top Kyoto sightseeing spot

Another top Kyoto sightseeing spot, Kiyomizu-dera was founded in 778 AD and has a dramatic hillside location in Southern Higashiyama with views across the city.

The large wooden main hall was built without nails and houses a statue of the eleven-faced, thousand-armed Kannon. 

It’s a large complex with many other buildings including an impressive entrance gate, red three-storey pagoda, quiet paths into the forest, and the bizarre Tainai-meguri where you enter into darkness to make a wish (one of the weirdest things to do in Kyoto).

Kiyomizu-dera opens earlier than other temples and it’s well worth visiting at 6 am to avoid the tour groups.

It can also be quieter during the night illuminations held in March, April, and November when it’s open until 9.30pm.

Details: 400 yen entry fee. Open 6 am – 6 pm. It’s a 20-minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on the Keihan Main Line. Walking up through the atmospheric lanes full of souvenir shops is part of the fun, but they get extremely busy in the middle of the day.

4) Stroll The Philosopher’s Path

Cherry blossoms along the Philosopher's Path, one of the most popular places in Kyoto

The Philosopher’s Path is a pedestrian walkway along a cherry-tree-lined canal in Northern Higashiyama.

It’s 2 km (1.2 miles) long and connects two of the most famous temples in Kyoto, Nanzen-ji and Ginkaku-ji.

It’s named because the Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro was said to have used it for his daily meditation.

The Philosopher’s Path is a pleasant place for a stroll and you can stop off at several quieter temples along the way including Honen-in.

In cherry blossom season, the path is a must do in Kyoto.

Details: Free to stroll the path. It’s not very near any train stations (Keage Station on the Tozai line is a 15-minute walk away).

We always walk here from Southern Higashiyama via Maruyama Park as there’s lots to see along the way. It’s about 5 km (3.1 miles) without detours from Yasaka Pagoda to the end of the Philosopher’s Path near Ginkaku-ji.  

5) Explore Nanzen-ji Temple

The gardens of the subtemple Tenjuan at Nanzenji in Kyoto, Japan

At one end of the Philosopher’s Path you’ll find Nanzen-ji, a large Zen temple complex that’s well worth a visit. It’s not usually too crowded and there’s plenty of space for everyone.

The shady grounds are free to wander and you can see the massive Sanmon entrance gate and a large brick aqueduct built during the Meiji period.

A monk walking under the aqueduct at Nanzenji, Kyoto

From here we like to head up the hill into the forest to the simple shrine Nanzen-ji Oku-no-in beside a small waterfall.

You can also pay to enter the sub-temples. We visited Tenjuan, which has two lovely gardens and is a peaceful escape from the crowds.

There’s a rock garden as well as a large pond garden featuring mossy rocks and a small bamboo grove.

It’s especially beautiful in autumn leaf season when it’s open for special evening illuminations (cancelled in 2023).

Bamboo at Tenjuan in Nanzenji, Kyoto

Details: Grounds are free. 500 yen to enter Tenjuan which is open 9 am – 4.45 pm. The nearest subway station is Keage Station on the Tozai line. We usually walk from Gion and continue along the Philosopher’s Path.

6) Visit the Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion)

Ginkakuji Silver Pavilion, one of the best Kyoto temples

Ginkaku-ji means Silver Pavilion, but it was never covered in silver leaf. It’s one of Kyoto’s most popular temples and is located at the end of the Philosopher’s Path.

Even without the silver, it’s a lovely temple reflected in a pond.

The stunning gardens include an immaculately raked white sand Zen garden and a beautiful moss garden.

Make sure you follow the path up the hill to admire the temple from above.

Details: 500 yen entry fee. Open 8.30 am – 5 pm. It’s best reached by walking the Philosopher’s Path or you can take bus 17 or 100 from Kyoto Station (40 minutes).

7) See the Golden Pavilion at Kinkaku-ji Temple

Kinkakuji, the Golden temple Kyoto, one of the best places to visit in Japan.

The Golden Temple or Kinkaku-ji is one of the most photographed sights in Kyoto.

We were prepared for the famous Zen temple to be overrated, and although it is almost always crowded, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the shimmering golden pavilion reflected in a pond dotted with islands of trees.

It was once the retirement villa of a shogun and it became a Zen temple after his death in 1408 (the building has been rebuilt after numerous fires since then). 

The gardens are pleasant for a stroll (if not too busy) and it’s fun to get an English fortune from a vending machine.

Although it’s beautiful, it’s a bit out the way in northwest Kyoto, so if you only have one or two days in Kyoto, I would probably skip it.

Details: 400 yen entry fee. Open 9 am – 5 pm. There are no train stations nearby. You could cycle here (like we did), take a taxi, get the bus 101 or 205 from Kyoto Station (at least 40 minutes) , or take a guided tour like the Kyoto early bird tour .

8) Spend a Day in Arashiyama

Cherry tree at Jojakko-ji in Arashiyama

As I said above, I left out the Arashiyama bamboo grove from this list because the crowds have made it unenjoyable (see the bamboo groves at Kodai-ji or Tenjuan in Nanzen-ji instead).

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit Arashiyama, though—we love this neighbourhood up in the western hills and recommend spending a day here. Away from the main sights it’s very peaceful.

Highlights include:

  • Tenryu-ji – This Zen temple is the most popular attraction in the area and has beautiful gardens and delicious vegetarian lunches at the Shigetsu restaurant (see our Kyoto vegetarian guide ). The bamboo grove is just outside if you want a quick walk through (just keep your expectations low).
  • Okochi-Sanso Villa – The former home of famous film actor Okochi Denjiro features lovely strolling gardens and views of the city.
  • Jojakko-ji  – See below.
  • Gio-ji – A tiny temple with a thatched-roof main hall overlooking a moss-covered grotto.
  • Otagi Nenbutsu-ji – See below.
  • Daikaku-ji – A grand temple complex and large pond with cherry trees.

You could also explore with a guide and enjoy street food tastings on the way on this Arashiyama and Sagano Walking Food Tour .

Details: From Kyoto Station take the JR San-In line to Saga-Arashiyama Station (17 minutes) which is about a 10-minute walk from Tenryu-ji.

From Gion we walked to Kawaramachi station, took the train to Omiya then the Randen tram to Arashiyama, which took about an hour.

9) Seek out Cherry Blossoms or Autumn Leaves

Cherry blossoms on the Shirakawa Canal in Gion

The beauty of Kyoto is that every season is different.

Winter is chilly and quiet; summer is hot, humid, lushly green, and festival-filled; but the most popular times to visit are spring or autumn.

In early April, the cherry blossoms (sakura) transform the city into a flowering wonderland.

While it’s crowded and expensive, it’s also magical and the festive atmosphere is fun. See our picks for the best places to see the Kyoto cherry blossoms .

Late November to early December is usually the best time to see the colourful autumn leaves in Kyoto, which can be just as beautiful. 

Recommended Reading: If you’re also visiting Tokyo, check out our guide to the coolest things to do in Tokyo .

These temples may not be as well known as the ones above, but they can often be a more enjoyable experience without the crowds.

See our guide to Kyoto temples and shrines for even more hidden gems.

10) Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple

Otagi Nenbutsuji, one of the best Kyoto temples to visit

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji is a fairly long walk from the popular sights in Arashiyama, but it’s well worth it for an offbeat experience.

It’s the quirkiest temple we visited in Kyoto with 1200 stone sculptures of rakan, the Buddha’s disciples, scattered throughout a shady temple complex.

They all have different facial expressions and poses—scary, serene, cheerful, cute, and just plain bizarre.

Details: 300 yen entry fee. Open 8 am – 4.30 pm. We walked from the Saga Arashiyama station, which takes about 40 minutes, and there are other temples to visit on the way. There’s also an infrequent bus or you can take a taxi from the station for about 1000 yen.

11) Jojakko-ji Temple 

Jojakko-ji, a hidden gem in Arashiyama, Kyoto

Jojakko-ji is another hidden gem in Arashiyama. Possibly due to lack of expectations and crowds, this was one of my favourite temples in Kyoto.

The hillside gardens are extensive and feature a large cherry tree, mossy roots, small bamboo cluster, a thatched roof gate, and pagoda. There’s a fantastic view of Kyoto from the top.

It’s a beautiful temple to visit in autumn, but it won’t be as quiet then.

Details: 400 yen entry fee. Open 9 am – 5 pm. It’s a 15-minute walk from Saga Arashiyama station.

12) Kodai-ji Temple

The rock garden at Kodaiji during the night illuminations in April

Kodai-ji isn’t quite as off-the-beaten-path as the two temples above, but we had it to ourselves when we visited at opening time.

It’s in a convenient location in Southern Higashiyama, so it’s easy to add in a visit while visiting more popular sights like Kiyomizu-dera.

The Zen Buddhist temple was established in 1606. The main hall features beautiful artwork and painted screen doors, but the gardens were the highlight for us.

The rock garden includes raked gravel and a weeping cherry tree, which is gorgeous in sakura season.

The other garden includes a pond and attractive teahouses. Make sure you walk up the hill to the bamboo grove, which is our favourite in Kyoto.

The bamboo grove at Kodaiji, Kyoto

Three times a year (April, August, and November) the temple opens for special night illuminations, which are well worth visiting although it’s much more crowded.

Details: 600 yen entry fee (or 900 yen combo ticket with Entoku-in). Open 9 am – 5 pm. Best visited on a walking tour of Southern Higashiyama. It’s a 15-minute walk from Gion-Shijo station or a bus will get you closer.

13) Entoku-in Temple

Entoku-in temple in Kyoto

Entoku-in is a sub-temple of Kodai-ji that’s usually fairly quiet.

There’s a small karesansui (dry stone) garden and some beautiful screen paintings, but what we most liked were the interactive elements here. You can make your own raked stone garden, trace a Buddha picture or sutra, or try zazen meditation.

Details: 500 yen entry fee (or 900 yen combo ticket with Kodai-ji). Open 10 am – 5 pm. It’s a two-minute walk from Kodai-ji.

14) Kennin-ji Temple

Kennin-ji raked gravel garden in Kyoto

Kennin-ji is conveniently located in Gion and is close to other temples like Kodai-ji, but it doesn’t get too crowded, especially if you visit at opening.

It’s the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto and was founded in 1202. There’s a large complex where you can wander for free, but it’s worth paying to go inside.

The main building overlooks a large raked gravel garden, one of the best we visited.

There are lots of small rooms where you can admire beautiful screen paintings and you can walk in the gardens to an old teahouse.

Don’t miss the separate building where there’s a stunning ceiling painting of twin dragons, painted in 2002 to celebrate the temple’s 800th anniversary.

Twin dragons ceiling painting at Kennin-ji in Kyoto, Japan

Details: 500 yen entry fee. Open 10 am – 5 pm. Gion Shijo is the nearest station.

15) Yoshida Hill Temples and Shrines

Ceremony at Yoshida-jinja shrine in Kyoto

The temples and shrines on Yoshida Hill are hidden gems and are my top pick if you’re looking for non touristy things to do in Kyoto.

We couldn’t believe how empty they were despite the fact they are just as beautiful as some of the more well-known temples, entrance is free, and there are some good cherry blossom spots .

They are a little out of the way, but we combined them with a walk on the Philosopher’s Path—it’s a 2 km (1.2 mile) walk from the Ginkaku-ji end.

These are the four we visited with around a 5–10 minute walk between them.

  • Takenaka Inari Shrine – A small shrine with a tunnel of red torii gates that is especially lovely in cherry blossom season.
  • Yoshida-jinja Shrine – A peaceful forest shrine with many classic elements like torii gates and sake barrels. We saw a monk performing a ceremony here.
  • Shinnyodo Temple – A large temple complex with a huge hondo (main hall) and small pond. We walked down the hill through the neighbouring graveyard to get to the next temple.
  • Konkai-Komyoji Temple – Also known as Kurodani Temple, this large complex has an impressive grand entrance gate and staircase lined with cherry trees.

Details: Free entrance. Best explored on foot while in Northern Higashiyama.

Recommended Reading: If you’re looking for inspiration for the rest of your trip, see the 54 best things to do in Japan .

16) Eat Shojin Ryori in a Temple

Eating a shojin ryori meal at Shigetsu vegetarian restaurant in Kyoto

Kyoto is one of the best places in Japan for vegetarians as it’s the home of shojin ryori or Zen Buddhist temple cuisine, which is free from animal products.

Shojin ryori features multiple small dishes including tofu, seasonal vegetables, and rice. It’s healthy, balanced, and delicious, although you might find some of the unusual ingredients rather odd.

You can try shojin ryori at a number of temples including Shigetsu restaurant in Tenryu-ji in Arashiyama where you eat on the floor in a large tatami room overlooking the gardens.

See my vegetarian restaurants in Kyoto guide for more delicious places to eat.

Details: Shigetsu is open from 11 am – 2 pm and lunch sets costs from 3300 yen. You must also pay the 500 yen Tenryu-ji entrance fee. Make sure you book—ideally a month in advance or two months in peak seasons like autumn.

17) Take a Cooking Class

Japanese cuisine is fascinating and a cooking class is a great way to learn more about it beyond sushi and tempura.

We had an excellent lesson with Emi at Uzuki Kyoto Cooking Class but, unfortunately, the school has now closed.

Another option that looks good (and they can cater to vegetarians) is this Afternoon Japanese Izakaya Cooking Class with Cooking Sun where you learn to make 5-6 home-style dishes.

Other cooking classes available in Kyoto focus on different dishes such as bento boxes and ramen (with vegan option).

18) Shop at Nishiki Market

Pickles at Nishiki Market, a top Kyoto tourist spot

Once you’ve learnt miso from mirin on a cooking class, you can delve into Kyoto’s foodie culture some more with a visit to the Nishiki Market.

On this narrow shopping street you’ll find all the ingredients essential for Japanese cooking including an array of pickled vegetables, fish, tofu, giant miso-smothered aubergine, sweets, and other snacks.

There are plenty of opportunities to try free samples or to buy a snack to take with you. We liked the sweet black beans and the chilli coated rice cakes.

The market has become very crowded in recent years, so it’s best to visit early.

You might find it more relaxing to visit a basement food hall in a nearby department store such as Takashimaya or Daimuru instead. This is Kyoto’s main shopping area so there are plenty of options.

Nishiki Market can be overwhelming and confusing, so if you want to learn what everything is you might want to explore with a guide (we plan to next time). Options include:

  • Kyoto Nishiki Market Food Tour – Visit 10-12 vendors with food tastings and enjoy a sit-down lunch afterwards.
  • Nishiki Market and Culture Walking Food Tour – Combine tastings at Nishiki Market with a temple visit.
  • Nishiki Market Food Tour with Cooking Class – On this private tour, you shop at the market then make a donburi (rice bowl) with the ingredients you’ve chosen.

Details: Opening hours vary by stall, but it’s best to visit between 10 am to 5 pm. The nearest stations are Shijo Station on the Karasuma Subway Line or Karasuma or Kawaramachi Stations on the Hankyu Line.

19) Drink Matcha in a Teahouse

Matcha green tea in a Kyoto teahouse - a must do in Kyoto

Kyoto is famous for its green tea and stopping at one of the many traditional teahouses is a Kyoto must do and the perfect break on a busy sightseeing day.

Slightly bitter, bright green matcha is served in beautiful bowls accompanied by wagashi, small Japanese sweets such as mochi made from pounded rice and sugar and stuffed with bean paste.

It can be an acquired taste, but even if you’re not a fan, it’s a great cultural experience and worth trying at least once.

There are many teahouses in Kyoto. We loved our experience at Ippodo Tea , a highly regarded tea shop that’s been around for nearly 300 years.

This is the ideal place to buy some high-quality tea to take home as a souvenir, but you can also sample it in their tearoom.

You can choose from a wide range of teas and you’ll be given exact instructions (in English) on how to brew it—they take their tea very seriously here. Our tea and wagashi were superb.

To delve deeper into tea culture, you can also participate in a tea ceremony. The tea ceremony ritual originated in Kyoto and is a fascinating insight into Japanese culture—it’s about so much more than just enjoying a hot drink.

We took part in a tea ceremony in Kanazawa , but there are many options in Kyoto including this 45-minute tea ceremony near the Golden Temple (with option to wear a kimono) or this tea ceremony at Jotokuji Temple .

Details: The Ippodo Tearoom is open from 10 am – 5 pm (currently closed until winter 2023 but the shop is open). It’s a little out of the way but it’s not far south of Kyoto Imperial Palace and a 15-minute walk north of Nishiki Market. 

20) Cycle Along the Kamo River

Cherry blossoms along the Kamo River in Kyoto

The Kamogawa or Kamo River cuts through the city and is a popular recreation spot for locals.

It’s a great place for a run, walk, or bike ride, especially in spring when the banks are lined with cherry blossoms.

On summer evenings, head to the Sanjo bridge where you’ll often find bands playing and young people hanging out and drinking—a cheaper night out than paying bar prices.

Cycling is an especially good way to explore and you can use the river path as a way of getting to northern Kyoto.

You could start in Gion and cycle north with a detour to the Imperial Palace. At the Demachiyanagi area the river forks and you’ll find the 2000-year-old shrine Shimogamo-Jinja.

Take the left fork to head to the Kyoto Botanical Gardens and the 7th-century shrine, Kamigamo-jinja.

The right fork will eventually take you to Takaraga-ike Park, an off-the-beaten-track spot that’s popular with locals for walks, picnics, and boating on the pond. I had a lovely birthday picnic here under the plum blossoms.

If you want to leave the river and cycle up Kyoto’s hills, I recommend getting an e-bike.

Details: The bike shop we rented from in Gion has now closed. Bicycle rental Raku-chari Nanajo is another option close to the river and a 10-minute walk from Kyoto Station.

A one-day rental from 9 am – 6 pm costs 1100 yen for a standard bike or 2200 yen for an e-bike.

21) Stroll by the Takase River

Cherry blossoms along Takase River in Kyoto

The Takase River is a narrow canal that runs next to Kiyamachi-dori parallel to the much larger Kamo River.

It was used for transporting rice and sake for over 300 years from 1611. You can see a replica of the flat-bottomed boats that were used at the starting point near Nijo-dori.

It’s an enjoyable place for a stroll by day and night, especially in spring when the cherry trees bloom, and there are lots of cafes and restaurants along the way.

The section between Sanjo-dori and Shijo-dori can be busy, especially in sakura season, but south of here it’s much quieter.

We often walked along the canal south of Gojo-dori and down past Kyoto Beer Lab and it was always a peaceful escape.

Details: Sanjo station is about a five-minute walk from the start of the canal near Nijo-dori. You could also start further south near Kawaramachi station.

22) Hike from Kibune to Kurama

Kifune Shrine in Kibune, near Kyoto

A lovely half-day trip from Kyoto is to the villages of Kibune and Kurama in the mountains a scenic 30-minute train ride north of the city.

You can do the walk in either direction. We started in Kibune, visited the Kifune Shrine, then walked through the forest up a steep path up and over the mountain to Kurama-dera temple, which has fantastic views.

The mountain section only took 35 minutes, but it felt longer as it’s uphill most of the way. It’s a peaceful walk over root-covered trails surrounded by tall trees with a number of small shrines along the way.

The village of Kurama is about 15 minutes downhill from the temple. We enjoyed a tasty shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian) lunch at Yoshuji before taking the train back to Kyoto.

This is a great walk in any season. When the weather is cooler, you can ease your muscles in the outdoor baths at Kurama Onsen (currently closed).

In summer, walk in the opposite direction and end with a meal on a suspended platform over the river in Kibune.

In autumn, it’s especially beautiful as the trees turn red. 

Details: The train on the Eizan Kurama Line from Demachi-Yanagi Station to Kibuneguchi Station takes 30 minutes. Return on the same line from Kurama Station.

Entrance to Kurama-dera is 300 yen. Use of the outdoor bath at Kurama Onsen is 1000 yen (or 2500 yen for all baths). 

23) Wander Around Kyoto Botanical Gardens

The extensive Kyoto Botanical Gardens are a relaxing place for a walk with a wide range of trees and flowers, a turtle and carp filled pond, and a huge conservatory with plants from different climatic zones.

We visited in late summer, but it’s even lovelier with the cherry blossoms of spring or red leaves of autumn.

Details: 200 yen entry fee plus 200 yen for the conservatory. Main gardens open from 9 am – 5 pm and the conservatory from 10 am – 4 pm.

The nearest subway station is Kitayama Station. This is a great place to cycle to as you can get there along the Kamo River.

24) Watch the Geisha Spring or Autumn Dances

Poster advertising the Kyo Odori geisha spring dance in Miyagawacho, Kyoto

Geisha (or geiko) are one of the most fascinating aspects of Kyoto. These professional entertainers are highly skilled in traditional Japanese arts and wear elaborate outfits that belong to another time.

It’s exciting to glimpse geisha as they slip into the teahouses of Gion, but it’s even better if you can watch them perform.

Every year in April the geisha districts put on spectacular dances where you can see dozens of geiko and maiko (apprentice geisha) dancing, acting, singing, and playing traditional instruments.

They are stunning shows and I loved getting a closer look at those extravagant kimono and hairstyles.

Don’t miss a show if you’re visiting in April—it’s one of the best things to see in Kyoto.

Geisha dance during the Hanatouro festival at Yasaka Shrine in Gion.

The Miyako Odori in Gion is the most famous, but we went to the nearby Kyo Odori in our neighbourhood Miyagawacho instead where there were very few tourists. See my Kyoto cherry blossom guide for more details.

In autumn, the Gion Odori is held from 1 – 10 November and we found it just as beautiful (if busier with tourists). We bought tickets a few days in advance from the Gion Kaikan Hall where it is held.

You can also look out for local festivals that include a geisha dance. We saw one as part of the Higashiyama Hanatoro Festival in March.

25) Geek Out at Kyoto International Manga Museum

If you are interested in manga (comics) culture, the Kyoto International Manga Museum is the ideal rainy day destination.

There’s a small exhibition looking at the role manga has played in Japanese culture, but mostly there are just lots and lots of manga comics and graphic novels.

The collection houses 300,000 volumes, and although they are mostly in Japanese, they have translations into many other languages, too.

Throughout the museum you’ll find towering bookshelves and geeky kids quietly reading.

Details: 900 yen entry fee. Open 10.30 am – 5.30 pm. Closed on Wednesdays. Karasuma-Oike is the nearest subway station.

26) Learn a Traditional Japanese Skill

As the home of traditional Japanese culture, there are many opportunities in Kyoto to learn more about the arts and try a unique activity.

We’re adding these fun things to do in Kyoto to our list for our next visit:

  • Samurai Experience – Wield a real katana (Japanese sword) and learn about Zen and bushido (the moral code of samurai) in a 250-year-old samurai residence.
  • Itajime Shibori Scarf Class – Learn the oldest dyeing method in Japan and take home a scarf you’ve made.
  • Ninja Training Dojo – Learn ninja skills including how to use ninja weapons.
  • Calligraphy Workshop – Make your own silkscreen-printed kanji t-shirt in this private calligraphy workshop.

Kyoto is best reached by train.

If you fly into Kansai International Airport (KIX), the Airport Express Haruka train to Kyoto takes 1 hour 20 minutes.

It’s cheaper if you get the ICOCA & HARUKA discount set which includes the train fare and a pre-paid rechargeable ICOCA card which you can use for local transport in Kyoto and Osaka.

If you fly into Tokyo, you can take the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto in 2 hours 15 minutes on the fastest train.

If you’ll be visiting a few other places in Japan, it’s well worth considering a Japan Rail Pass . It usually saves you money and makes travel easy as you just hop on the train.

Read my post on whether a Japan Rail Pass is worth it for more details. 

The Japan Travel by Navitime website or app is the best way to check train times and prices. 

Getting Around Kyoto

We love to walk as much as possible in Kyoto as we often discover hidden spots along the way.

Cycling is also great along the Kamo River, but I wouldn’t venture up to the main sightseeing areas of Higashiyama or Arashiyama as they’re too hilly and crowded.

Sanennzaka in Higashiyama

The public transport system isn’t brilliant and you’ll need to take a mix of trains, subway, and buses to get to every part of the city. A prepaid ICOCA card can be used on all of them.

We use Google Maps for public transport routes and directions.

Life will be much easier if you have a data plan on your phone—a Japan e-SIM by Airalo is the easiest way to get affordable data. You can set it up before you arrive and it doesn’t require a physical SIM card (so you can keep your home SIM in your phone).

Taxis can be convenient for out of the way locations and are much faster than the buses (which can also be crowded).

Drivers don’t usually speak English so it’s best to have your destination written down in Japanese (or show the Google Maps listing) unless it’s a well-known sight.

At Kyoto Station there’s now a foreigner-friendly taxi stand—the drivers speak English and accept credit cards.

Yes, Kyoto is absolutely worth visiting! It should be top of your list of places to visit in Japan.

It’s a wonderful mix of traditional culture, stunning temples, beautiful gardens, delicious food, and interesting activities.

I hope the ideas in this post will help you love Kyoto as much as we do! There can be an overwhelming amount to do in the city, but don’t try to see it all.

Choose a few activities from each of the sections above and you’ll have an amazing Kyoto trip that includes some classic spots as well as more peaceful sights off the beaten track.

Read more of our Kyoto and Japan travel tips.

  • 14 Stunning Places to See the Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto
  • The 16 Best Vegetarian Restaurants in Kyoto
  • The Ultimate Guide to Kyoto Temples and Shrines
  • 14 Best Day Trips from Kyoto

General Japan Tips

  • Planning a Trip to Japan: Dos and Don’ts
  • 16 Unmissable Places to Visit in Japan
  • Two Weeks in Japan: A Detailed Itinerary
  • 54 Best Things to Do in Japan for an Unforgettable Trip
  • Is a Japan Rail Pass Worth it?
  • Where to Stay in Japan: The Ultimate Guide to Accommodation
  • Vegetarian Survival Guide to Japan

More Japan, Direct to your Inbox!

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25 Comments

Wow! Thank you so much for this wonderful guide! It’s so beautifully written, and the attention to detail is much appreciated. I don’t have to look any further for my Kyoto plan.

Reply ↓

Thank you Bharath and enjoy Kyoto!

Thank you for such a brilliant detailed post. I’ve been to Kyoto a few times and am here again currently! I was looking for other things to do aside from the usual recommendations and this post has given me lots of ideas :)

It’s been many years since I’ve visited Japan and though I went 4 times (with another one on the way!) there’s still more to explore. Thanks for the pointers (and reminders) for some good places to spend time. The photos are beautiful and the links are so helpful. Thank you so much for putting this together (and I completely agree re Arashiyama).

First Japan guide I’ve seen that mentioned eSim. I HAD NO IDEA about these. Thank you very much.

Definitely easier than the pocket wifis that everyone recommends!

Thank you. This gives so much information :-)

Amazing guide! Thank you for putting something so comprehensive together. Looking forward to using your list when we visit this weekend.

Enjoy Kyoto, Randy!

Thank you for putting so much time and energy into creating this excellent resource!

Aw, thank you Ryan! We love Kyoto and are lucky to have had so much time there.

Thank you for providing this information on places to visit. I plan to return to Kyoto once we are able to travel again. I loved it!! It is an amazing place to visit.

I am taking my Mom to Japan, I must confess, when ran across ur site, I must say, it was my 1st and last sop during my trip research process. your attention to detail and useful information is overwhelming, Thank you so much. I am a fan.

Thank you so much, Carlos! I’m glad you found it useful and hope you don’t have to wait too long to visit Japan.

Ugh it’s on my bucket list to visit Japan during cherry blossom season! Maybe next year!

Your article is brilliant, so informative. I’m planning a trip to Japan next summer and I’m torn between an extra day in Kyoto or a day trip to Nikko (when in Tokyo). What would you recommend? We would have 2 and a half days in Kyoto if we kept in the Nikko day trip but I’m starting to think I would prefer the extra day in Kyoto. Thank you.

I would probably go for an extra day in Kyoto – there’s just so much to do there. Enjoy!

If staying for a week in Kyoto, would you recommend hiring a car, or is driving too stressful?!

I think driving would be too stressful and it’s so easy to get around by train, it’s not really worth it. We spent a month in Kyoto and never felt the need for a car.

We went some time ago and I found by chance the railway museum there. Very interesting collection of equipment. Within walking distance of the regular railway station. The locomotives seemed to be a mixture of US and European designs.

We’ll have to check that out next time, thank you!

Excelent tips, will make my trip to Japan much enjoyaBle. Thanks a lo, will continúe to check the other articles

WOW, Kyoto is just beautiful, I will love so much to go and know this place!! The scenes are very beautiful, the great landscapes that you have in your pictures are amazing! I will love to go and take a lot of pictures!

Great pics. We spent 4 weeks in Kyoto a few years back and saw most of these temples. I like what you say about the tourists and how to avoid them…we were surprised by just how many tourists there were (all fighting to take photos…but politely because they’re Japanese :) ). And also about the local transport which, surprisingly, is not very good. Many of the temples on the foothills of the city and some only accessible by city bus which sometimes made for some long journeys.

We also did the Ninja training. Lots of fun, would recommend.

I would also mention a visit to the train station (Kyoto Station). Incredible building and some great views over the city.

And you’re very right about the Kamo river. Nice place for a walk or a jog and best of all free. We spent a lot of time walking it.

Frank (bbqboy)

Yes, Kyoto Station is lovely! Glad you enjoyed your stay as much as we did!

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Kyoto Bucket List: 18 Amazing Things to do in Kyoto, Japan

Julie Last updated: January 15, 2024 Japan 7 Comments

Kyoto Japan Best Things To Do

Kyoto is the cultural heart of Japan. Visiting the shrines and temples, with their perfectly landscaped gardens and views over the city, top the list for most visitors to Kyoto. But there are also bamboo groves and small neighborhoods to explore, food markets and shopping streets to visit, and some very cool day trips that you can take. The list of things to do in Kyoto is long. So long, in fact, that it would take you weeks to thoroughly explore this extraordinary city.

In this post, we narrow down the long list of things to do in Kyoto to 18 unforgettable experiences. If this is your first time in Kyoto, this is a great starting point for having the best holiday here.

Table of Contents

Interesting Facts about Kyoto

For over 1,000 years Kyoto was the capital city of Japan. Tokyo took over this title in 1868.

Kyoto is one of the best-preserved cities in Japan. In World War II, it escaped bombing at the intervention of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and has remained Japan’s cultural center.

Kyoto has one of the world’s largest collections of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are 17 UNESCO Sites, several of which make our list of the best things to do in Kyoto.

Kyoto has a massive network of trains and subways. Trying to get from one place to another can be mind-boggling at first, as they are not all operated by the same company. Occasionally, you will have to purchase more than one ticket to travel from point A to point B.

Kyoto is unlike many other cities in the world, where the top sights are clustered in the historic city center. In Kyoto, the shrines and temples sit on the outskirts of the city, on the lush hillsides and mountains that surround the city. When you visit these temples, the experience is more than just visiting and photographing the main hall or pavilion. Strolling the paths and wandering through the tranquil gardens is the best part of the experience, in my opinion.

Temples vs. Shrines

Kyoto is filled with temples and shrines. So, how do you know the difference between the two?

Shinto and Buddhism are Japan’s two major religions. The temples are Buddhist and the shrines are Shinto.

There are over 1600 Buddhist temples in Kyoto. At the temples, you will see a Buddha statue, burning incense, and beautiful buildings surrounded by manicured gardens.

Shrines are characterized by bright red torii gates. You know you are entering a Shinto shrine when you enter through a bright red gate. There are over 400 Shinto shrines in Kyoto.

Map of Things to Do in Kyoto

How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Best Things to do in Kyoto

1. fushimi inari taisha.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the most important and iconic shrines in Kyoto. Fushimi Inari honors the Shinto god of rice.

There are thousands of torii here, each donated by a company giving thanks for its prosperity and hopes for a prosperous future. The name of each company is labeled on the torii.

For us, it was magical, walking through these tunnels of torii. Walking through thousands of these gates, in the quiet forests on the outskirts of Kyoto, felt peaceful and even a little bit mysterious.

Torii Gate best things to do in Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Torri gates at Fushi Inari Taisha | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha Photo

As you climb up the hillside, you will see many sub-shrines. You will also frequently see the fox, the messenger of the Inari shrine.

Inari Shrine best things to do in Kyoto

The farther you walk up the hillside, the fewer people you will see. You can actually turn this walk into a short hike to the summit of Mt. Inari-san. This takes about 3 hours and you can learn more here.

Getting Here: Inari Station on the JR Nara Line; Fushimi-Inari Station on the Keihan Line

2. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple, the “Pure Water Temple,” is one of Kyoto’s most popular temples to visit. It feels more touristy and more commercial than many other shrines and temples in town, but even so, it’s worth a visit.

This huge complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kiyomizudera Entrance best things to do in Kyoto

From the Kiyomizu stage of the Main Hall (a large, wooden balcony), enjoy gorgeous views over the city of Kyoto. In autumn, the view is spectacular when the maples turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red.

Kiyomizu Stage

Kiyomizu Stage | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

At the base of the main hall is the Otowa waterfall. Using ladles, visitors can drink water from the three streams. Each of these streams can help fulfill a wish: longevity, good luck in love, or success in school. Drinking from one or two of these streams is acceptable, but never drink from all three.

Ladles best things to do in Kyoto

Other places to visit are the Jishu Shrine, Koyasu Pagoda, and Okunoin Hall. There are small shops selling good luck charms for love, wealth, happiness, and good health.

Kiyomizudera Pagoda best things to do in Kyoto

Koyasu Pagoda | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

Wishes best things to do in Kyoto

Getting Here: Take the Keihan Railway Line to Kiyomizu-Gojo and it is a 20 minute walk to the temple. Or, take bus 100 or 206 to Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi stop and it is a 10-minute walk to the temple.

3. Stroll through the Higashiyama District

This historic district is a maze of narrow, paved streets and traditional wooden buildings. The Higashiyama District is the perfect place to visit if you like wandering picturesque streets, shopping, and hopping from café to café. This part of Kyoto feels more traditional than some of the other districts in the city.

Higashiyama District

Kiyomizu-dera Temple, the Yasaka Shrine, the Yasaka Pagoda, and Kodai-ji Temple are all found in the Higashiyama District. Strolling these narrow lanes is a great way to connect Kiyomizu-dera Temple with the Yasaka Shrine and Kodaiji Temple, if these are also on your list to visit. In our map above, we provide a walking route that connects Kiyomizu-dera Temple with the Yasaka Pagoda, Kodai-ji Temple, and the Yasaka Shrine, and ends in Gion.

Gion, which I talk about next, is also located in the Higashiyama District.

4. Wander through Gion

Gion is a small neighborhood in the Higashiyama District. These narrow lanes are lined with teahouses, as well as bars, clubs, and pachinko parlors. If you stroll the streets in the evening, there is a chance that you might spot a geisha as she enters one of the teahouses.

Gion Photo best things to do in Kyoto

Gion | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

On your visit here, don’t miss Hanami-koji, one of the most famous streets in Gion.

Hanamikoji Kyoto

Hanami-koji | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

Note: In response to the recent explosion in tourist levels in Kyoto, a new rule has been put into effect. Photography on the private streets in Gion is no longer allowed. Please be respectful of the geisha and do not act like a crazy paparazzi in order to photograph them.

5. Visit Kodai-ji Temple

Kodai-ji Temple is located in the Higashiyama district. This temple, which dates back to 1606, is a temple dedicated to Zen Buddhism. Walk the path through the rock garden, follow it up to the tea houses and mausoleum, and circle back to the main complex through the bamboo grove.

Our favorite experience was sitting on the tatami mats inside of the main temple and looking out over the gardens.

Kodaiji Temple

Bamboo grove at Todai-ji Temple | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

Kodaiji Main Hall

Getting Here: Gion-Shijo is the closest metro station to the temple (1 km walk, about 12 minutes). Many people visit Kodai-ji Temple when strolling through the Higashiyama district.

6. Photograph Yasaka Pagoda

Kyoto has a long list of stunning photography locations and the Yasaka Pagoda is one of our favorites. Located in southern Higashiyama, this pagoda towers over the twisting lanes and traditional wooden houses. We got extremely lucky with our timing, as there was a photography session with a young Japanese couple during our visit.

Yasaka Pagoda

If you want this same photo, take a stroll down Yasaka Kamimachi. I took this photo here: 34°59’53.4″N 135°46’48.1″E

7. See the Cherry Blossoms at Maruyama Park

In April, Maruyama Park is the place to see the cherry blossoms. The centerpiece of the park is the large weeping cherry tree which is lit up at night. To get here, you will enter the park through the Yasaka Shrine.

8. Enjoy the Fall Colors at Eikan-do Temple

Eikan-do Temple, which was once called Zenrin-ji Temple, is known for being one of the best spots to see the fall colors in Kyoto.

This temple dates back to 853. Since that time, several halls and chambers have been added to the temple complex. Inside of Amida Hall you can see the unusual statue of the Amida Buddha, which looks over its shoulder rather than straight ahead.

Getting Here: Eikan-do Temple is located in northeast Kyoto. Keage Station is the closest metro stop (1 km, 15 minute walk). Nanzenji-Eikando-michi is the closest bus stop (5 minute walk). Or, take a taxi.

9. Take a Stroll on the Philosopher’s Path

The Philosopher’s Path is stone path that follows beside a canal. It is lined with cherry trees and during the spring months, this is one of the most popular places to visit in Kyoto, in order to see the blooms.

The Philosopher’s Path starts near Ginkaku-ji Temple. It is about 2 kilometers long, ending in Nanzen-ji neighborhood.

You can walk part or all of the path. Crowds are at their largest midday, especially when the cherry trees are blooming.

10. Visit Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion)

Ginkaku-ji Temple is a Zen temple in northeast Kyoto. The main temple is an understated wooden building, but its setting amongst the trees and gardens is what makes this temple special.

Ginkakuji

Ginkaku-ji | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

In front of the pavilion is the “Sea of Silver Sand,” a large sand garden that features a giant cone of sand that resembles Mount Fuji. This is a beautiful place to go for a stroll, with paths that meander through the gardens, over small bridges, and up to a viewpoint over the pavilion.

Sea of Silver Sand

There are several theories as to why it is called the Silver Pavilion. One theory is that it was to be covered in silver once construction was completed, but shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa died before the temple was constructed. On a clear night, the moonlight hitting the temple creates a silver reflection, so this another possible origin of the name.

Getting Here: Take a stroll on the Philosopher’s Path, starting in the Eikan-do Temple and ending at Ginkaku-ji Temple (2 km, 30 minute walk).

11. Feed the Monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park

There are several different reasons why you should visit Arashiyama Monkey Park. Sure, feeding the monkeys is fun, especially if you are visiting Kyoto with kids, but the views from the park are beautiful. Not only do you have great views over the city, but if you look to the northwest, all you see are green mountains stretching off in the distance.

Monkey Park View best things to do in Kyoto

View over Kyoto | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

Monkey Park View best things to do in Kyoto

Another view from the Monkey Park | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

To get to the Monkey Park, it is a 20 to 30 minute hike to the top of Mount Arashiyama. Over 120 Japanese macaque monkeys live here. They are wild but you can feed them, if you follow several rules. Don’t look the monkeys in the eye, do not touch them, and only feed them when you are inside of the building.

Once inside the building, purchase your monkey food and you can feed them once you are behind the metal grates.

Kyoto Monkey Park best things to do in Kyoto

We really enjoyed this experience, despite its rather remote location. But maybe that is exactly why we liked it so much. This is a nice break from visiting the temples and shrines, and this rural area of Kyoto is beautiful. Even if you have no plans to feed the monkeys, I still think it is worth it to journey out this way.

Plus, you can add this visit on to the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and Tenryu-ji Temple.

Getting Here: The closest metro stop is the Hankyu Arashiyama station (5 minute walk). It is a 15-minute walk from the JR Arashiyama station. This is a very nice walk, as you get to cross the Oi River to get to the park entrance.

Oi River

Oi River | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

12. Visit Tenryu-ji Temple

This temple is located just a short walk from the Monkey Park (about 1 km, 10 to 15 minutes).

This temple was founded in 1339 by shogun Ashikaga Takauji to venerate Gautama Buddha. It was also dedicated to Emperor Go-Daigo, who had died the year after Ashikaga became shogun.

Tenryuji Temple

Most of the buildings and halls are relatively new. They date back to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, having been destroyed by fires or wars. The centerpiece of this complex is the large pond that is surrounded by manicured gardens, with the Arashiyama Mountains forming the backdrop.

Getting Here: It is five minute walk from the JR Saga-Arashiyama station.

13. Visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

You have no doubt seen photos of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove…a long, snaking pathway that is lined with hundreds of bamboo trees.

This is one of the most visited sights in Kyoto. So, expect to share it with many, many other people.

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is often described as being a mystical, serene experience. Yes, that can be true, but you have to get your timing right. Midday this short path can be swarmed with visitors, which is hardly a Zen experience.

We planned our visit for the early morning and it paid off (we were here at 9 am in July). We were one of only a few groups of visitors. Even so, it lacked the mystical nature we read so much about before our visit.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

Arashiyama Bamboo

The pathway is relatively short, about 500 meters long, so it only takes a few minutes to walk the entire distance. However, it can take much longer, depending on how often you stop and take photos.

In my opinion, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is worth visiting, just try to go early so you can avoid the crowds.

14. Kinkaku-ji Temple (the Golden Pavilion)

Without a doubt, a visit to Kinkaku-ji Temple is one of the best things to do in Kyoto.

Kinkakuji Temple

Kinkaku-ji | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

This brilliant golden temple attracts huge numbers of tourists and photographers. The prime spot to take a photo is directly across the Kyoko-chi Pond from the pavilion, which will be one of the first places that you visit when touring the temple complex. This can be a very busy spot midday.

The top two levels of the pavilion are covered with pure gold leaf. Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, was modeled after this temple.

Kinkakuji Temple Kyoto

Interesting Fact: The pavilion that you see today dates back to 1955. In 1950, a young monk set fire to the pavilion and then attempted suicide. The pavilion was rebuilt in 1955.

Getting Here: Kinkaku-ji is located in northern Kyoto. The closest metro stop is Kita-Oji (3 km, 35 minute walk). We got here by taxi and had no problems catching another taxi once we finished our visit.

15. Nijo Castle

Did you know that you can tour an actual castle in downtown Kyoto?

Nijo Castle is over 400 years old. With stone walls, a five story castle keep, and a moat, this castle seems almost out of place with its location near the city center.

Nijo Castle best things to do in Kyoto

Nijo Castle | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

Nijo Castle Gate

It was built in 1603 as a residence for Tokugawa lesayu, the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan. Later, it was used as a palace and then eventually it was turned over to the city and opened as a historic site. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

What is a Shogun? A shogun is a military dictator. The title of “shogun” was granted by the Emperor. The shogun was the ruler of the country and the Emperor was a figurehead. This period of military dictators spanned from 1185 to 1868. In 1868, power was returned to the Emperor.

On a visit to Nijo Castle, you can stroll through the gardens, rent an audio guide to learn more about the history of the castle, and, the best part, visit Ninomaru Palace. This is ancient Japan as I imagined it…large, open rooms, tatami mats covering the floors, and screens painted with dragons, Japanese maples, and evergreen trees.

Getting Here: Nijojo-mae station is the closest station to Nijo Castle.

16. Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market is a long, narrow shopping street that is lined with over 100 small shops and restaurants.

Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

Shopping Nishiki Market best things to do in Kyoto

We loved our visit here. Some foods we recognized but many we didn’t. All the signs are in Japanese but we had a lot of fun purchasing “mystery foods” as we walked through the market.

We have never seen a market this clean. Fish, seafood, and meat make up the majority of what is for sale in Nishiki Market, but the floors were spotless and everything was very orderly.

Getting Here: Shijo station is the closest metro stop (about a 5 minute walk).

17. Participate in a Tea Ceremony

One of the best things to do in Kyoto is to participate in a traditional tea ceremony. This is a great cultural activity and a nice break from touring the temples.

A Japanese tea ceremony involves the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha, which is powdered green tea.

Numerous tea ceremonies are offered throughout Kyoto. In this experience, you sit on tatami mats while your host carries out the ceremonial preparation of the matcha green tea.

18. Eat Sushi

This may be a bit cliché, but you can’t visit Kyoto without eating sushi. 

There are hundreds of restaurants to choose from. One of the best places to go is Pontocho Alley. Not only is this sometimes called the most beautiful street in Kyoto, but this street is lined with restaurants, making this one of the best spots in Kyoto to grab a bite to eat (not just sushi but many different types of Japanese food). The restaurants on the east side of Pontocho Alley have outdoor decks where you can overlook the Kamogawa River.

Kamogawa River Kyoto

Outdoor decks off the Pontocho Alley restaurants along the Kamogawa River

Pontocho Alley best things to do in Kyoto

Restaurant on Pontocho Alley | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

Sashimi best things to do in Kyoto

Sashimi | Best Things to Do in Kyoto

We were HUGE fans of kaiten sushi (kaitenzushi). Kaiten sushi is one of the most innovative ways to have dinner. As plates of sushi drift by your table on a conveyor belt, you can pick and choose what looks good. If you want something special, place your order on the touch screen computer at your table.

Kaiten sushi is cheap, fast, and lots of fun. It’s great if you are new to eating sushi, because you can just pick out what looks good as it glides past your table. This type of sushi lacks the high quality of what you will get in other restaurants in Kyoto, but it is still absolutely delicious. If you are on a budget, this is a great option to dine on sushi without spending a lot of money.

Japan with Kids

Our favorite kaiten sushi restaurant in Kyoto was Sushiro. Yum!

If you want to see more, check out our video from our first visit to Sushiro, when we were newbs at kaiten sushi restaurants. But by the end of our visit we were pros.

List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto

Here is the list of the 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto.

  • Kinkaku-ji Temple
  • Ginkaku-ji Temple
  • Kiyomizu-dera Temple
  • Tenryu-ji Temple
  • Ninna-ji Temple
  • Nijo Castle
  • Nishi-Hongan-ji Temple
  • Ryoan-ji Temple
  • To-ji Temple
  • Daigo-ji Temple
  • Saiho-ji Temple
  • Enryaku-ji Temple
  • Byodo-in Temple
  • Kozan-ji Temple
  • Shimogamo-jinja Shrine
  • Kamigamo-jinja Shrine
  • Ujigami-jinja Shrine

Day Trip Ideas from Kyoto

Nara makes an excellent day trip destination from Kyoto. Feed the deer, visit Kasuga-taisha, and tour Todai-ji Temple. Until 1998, the main hall of Todai-ji Temple was the world’s largest wooden building, having been bumped from the top of the list by a baseball stadium in Japan as well as other buildings.

LEARN MORE: Feeding the Deer in Nara, Japan

Deer in Nara

Todai-ji Temple

Hiroshima is the site where the first of two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan during World War II.

A day trip to Hiroshima is very easy to do from Kyoto. By Shinkansen, it takes just over two hours to travel from Kyoto to Hiroshima. Spend the day at Hiroshima, visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the Cenotaph, and the Atomic Bomb Dome, and more. You also have the option to add on Miyajima to this day trip.

LEARN MORE: How to Plan Your Day Trip to Hiroshima

Hiroshima Cenotaph

Hiroshima Victims Memorial Cenotaph

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is the largest and most visited castle in Japan. It is called Hakuro-jo or Shirasagi-jo (“White Egret Castle” or “White Heron Castle”) for its white exterior and appearance of a bird taking flight. It takes about an hour to get here from Kyoto.

LEARN MORE: How to Plan a Day Trip to Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle Day Trip

How Many Days Do You Need in Kyoto?

To visit the highlights in Kyoto, you will need a minimum of 3 days. This gives you just enough time to visit most of the temples and sites listed in this post. More time is better, because it allows you to slow down, spend more time exploring the neighborhoods and temples, and soak up the culture.

For each day trip we list, you will need an additional day.

On our visit, we had 7 days. That gave us three days for day trips and four days to explore Kyoto. That was the perfect amount of time for our first visit but I can’t wait to come back and explore some more.

If you have any questions about the best things to do in Kyoto, let us know in the comment section below:

More Information about Japan

TOKYO: Journey through Tokyo in photos and learn how to plan a day trip to Kamakura.

KYOTO: Travel through Kyoto in Photos  and read about our first impressions of Osaka and Kyoto.

SUMO WRESTLING: Watching Sumo wrestling is one of the best things to do in Japan. We write about our experience and get tips on how you can do the same in our article How to Watch Sumo Wrestling in Japan.

TRAVEL INSPIRATION: For more travel ideas, here are 10 unique destinations to put on your travel wish list and 10 bucket list destinations from around the world.

TRAVEL ADVICE: Here is our list of tips to help you maximize your time while traveling. We also have tips on traveling with kids plus a massive list of 101 travel tips we learned while traveling around the world.

Read all of our articles about Japan in our Japan Travel Guide.

Kyoto Japan Best Things To Do

All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

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Kyoto Japan

Thank you, Julie and Tim! We’re in Japan and following your guidance, especially in Kyoto.

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You’re welcome!!

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Thank you for the great information! My son is in Kyoto for 8 weeks and has been using your information to check out all the city has to offer!

You’re welcome! What a great opportunity for your son! Cheers, Julie

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Thank you for providing this treasure trove of places to visit in Kyoto. You have laid out the information beautifully. We will likely follow it to the tea!

You’re welcome!

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Thank you very much. I miss Japan.

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TOP 50 Things to do in Kyoto: Must See, Must Do & Must Experience Activities (2023 Edition)

By miho okamoto  | .

kyoto places to visit reddit

Fushimi Inari Shrine gates. Kyoto, Japan

  • Top Attractions and Activities

Local Cuisine

Kyoto nightlife.

  • Non-touristy things to do in Kyoto
  • Kyoto Facts
  • Travel Tips

Top Attractions

#1 arashiyama bamboo forest.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

There is a secret date spot for Japanese lovers in Arashiyama! You can also visit temples, check out the bamboo grove and feed wild monkeys all at the same place.

This area is outside the downtown area and has a lot of stops at temples and shrines so it’s best to explore it for half a day. There are a lot of cafes and restaurants around the area so there’s no need to worry about snacks and food.

Most pictures of the forest can’t hold a candle to the real thing. What you see on the web is just a fraction of the magical experience, so make sure you add this to your itinerary!

Visit the grove early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds!

#2  Kyoto Tea Ceremony  #1 RATED KYOTO ACTIVITY 

PRIVATE Kimono Tea Ceremony in Kyoto Gion Shijo Station

  • Tea ceremony

  According to  Time   Magazine, CNN Travel, and Lonely Planet , the traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto is a must-do bucket list item. Maikoya  is a spectacular start for your tea ceremony experience, whether you’re new to it or not! You can even rent out a kimono for the tea ceremony and a stroll around the streets of the Gion Geisha District in Kyoto.

Their tea ceremonies cater to a number of groups from families with kids , casual tea ceremonies , and kimono tea ceremonies . You can also rent kimonos at Maikoya and then check out famous Sakura spots in Kyoto wearing a kimono like locals. BOOK TEA CEREMONY with 20% DISCOUNT.

If you’re on your honeymoon, the Maikoya staff may even have a surprise for you! So make sure you book their  Honeymoon Photo Shoot and Special Lunch .

 Maikoya staff can teach you where to get the freshest matcha tea and beautiful antique tea bowls! You can also ask about the best places to visit in the neighborhood. 

#3  Samurai & Ninja Museum  with EXPERIENCE    #1 RATED MUSEUM & English Tours Held Every 15 Minutes

museum guide tour

Samurai & Ninja Museum near Nishiki Market is the only museum in Kyoto where you can get history tours in English every hour.

The Samurai and Ninja Museum, which located right next to the Nishiki Food Market is a must-add to your itinerary. The museum showcases samurai armors, weapons, ninja outfits and many artifacts. The basic ticket comes with free tours in English and there are optional experiences such as  training like a ninja  or samurai , watching a samurai sword show, and even trying on costumes!

ninja star - shuriken

The museum is INTERACTIVE.

The museum also has exhibits from the Edo Period from samurai and ninja families, along with real katanas! You can even book a lesson to try them out with the Tameshigiri or Sword Cutting lesson –this is the only event that you can use a real samurai sword. All the workshops and classes use model swords so even kids can participate.

If you can’t decide on the packages, book a Basic Ticket to get a taste of what they have to offer.

#4  Fushimi Inari Shrine The 10,000 gates

fushimi kyoto experiences

10,000 Gates, Fushimi Inari Shrine

The Fushimi Inari is one of the most visited spots in Japan! This is a great spot to go hiking and look for the hidden bamboo forest. Despite the high altitude, there are a number of cafes, tea shops, and noodle shops along the way.

Fushimi Inari has many attractions and spots of interest besides the 10,000 torii gates. You can find attractions to visit just a short walk away from the main shrine like the famous  Tofukuji Temple  and the  Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum  which used to be a sake factory.

You must go there earlier in the day to beat the crowds!

#5  KINKAKUJI TEMPLE

kinkakuji temple

The Kinkakuji Temple is by far the most famous and the most picturesque temple in Japan! Catching sight of the gold-covered structure is an almost surreal experience–but the building is only covered in gold leaf for the top two floors.

The temple is open from 9 AM to 5 PM. Make sure to arrive a few minutes before it opens so you can avoid any crowds! You can also visit around 4 PM since the tourists start thinning out before closing time.

The Golden Pavilion is outside the city and you can’t actually enter the building, so there’s not much to do besides strolling around the garden.

 I would sometimes skip visiting especially during peak seasons as the buses would be too crowded for me and I have to take a taxi.

See what people are posting about this place.

#6  Geisha Experience

Geisha show in Kyoto

Gion District is well-known for its geisha culture and is a must-see destination in Kyoto! The geisha are called “geiko” in the Kyoto dialect, and their apprentices are called “maiko”. There are fewer than 200 geikos in Kyoto and it can be difficult to witness a show of their talents in traditional arts.

Luckily, you can book a tour that includes meeting with a geisha ! If you were interested in the tea ceremony item from before, hit two birds with one stone by booking  Tea Ceremony in Kyoto by Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya . There are a variety of packages that we have to offer! You can even try being a geisha for a day  to see what it’s like wearing their makeup and eye-catching accessories.

If you are lucky, you may be able to see a real geisha or maiko anywhere on  Hanamikoji Street  between 6 and 8 pm when the geishas are on their way to work. Please respect their privacy and remember, they are not objects.

#7 Kiyomizu-dera Temple 

kyoto places to visit reddit

Kyoto, Japan at Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

This is a beloved tourist spot in C entral Kyoto!

The Kiyomizudera Temple main hall is completely made of wood! There is not a single piece of metal or nail that supports the structure. The temple is said to be named after a sacred water fountain that grants anyone who drinks from it the gift of health and longevity–“Kiyomizu” means “clear water”.

Just behind the main temple hall, you’ll find a shrine dedicated to the god of matchmaking and love. Legend has it that if you can find the two secret stones and walk from one to another your eyes closed your wish for love will come true.

Take note! The temple gets a lot of visitors and often undergoes structure maintenance.

Kiyomizu temple is right next to the historic Yasaka shrine and only about a 10-minute walk from the Gion Geisha District. Kiyomizu temple is right next to the historic Yasaka shrine and only about a 10-minute walk from the Gion Geisha District.

Kiyomizu temple has an amazing night view and  night illuminations  during most of the year. Don’t forget to check the historic streets and teahouses in the  ninen zaka  and  sannen zaka  areas which are right next to the temple. Recently Starbucks and Hard Rock cafe opened branches in traditional buildings, not far from the vicinity.

#8  Ni shiki Market

Nishiki Market is called the Kitchen of Kyoto and has more than 100 types of food to try! This is recommended for foodies and as a destination for rainy days. The market is also next to the Kyoto Samurai & Ninja Museum .

This is where the chefs of local izakayas and renowned sushi restaurants come early in the morning to pick up the best catch. You can find many things to try from fried tofu dumplings to black sesame ice cream. With more than 600 different types of fresh food to try and countless food stall types of stores, the Nishiki market is heaven for food lovers. Some notable places are the Sengyo Kimura Fish shop that was established in 1620, Aritsugu Knife Store run by one of the most famous blacksmith families of Japan and a 100 year old Daiyasu Oyster shop towards the end.

My most favorite is the  baby octopus  comes with a fried egg. I highly recommend trying it!

There are many other types of food to try including but not limited to:

  • Marinated maguro sashimi on a stick
  • Soy milk donuts
  • Grilled shrimp and mackerel on a stick
  • Green tea ice cream
  • Pickled eggplants
  • Dried seafood snacks
  • Japanese fried tamago

kyoto places to visit reddit

If you are not a fan of seafood, there are many places that serve red meat including  Kobe beef.

Nishiki market closes at 6 PM sharp. Show up before 5 PM. There are many free samples! Make sure you bring cash since the stalls don’t accept credit cards.  BOOK Nishiki Market Tour with 20% DISCOUNT

#9  Onsen  &  Sento

“ Onsen ” is the Japanese word for hot spring while “sento” is a public bath. The difference between them is that an onsen has multiple beneficial minerals and passes the strict requirements for hot springs in the country.

Typically, visible tattoos are not allowed in the onsens and public baths because of their association with the Yakuza. However, there are a number of tattoo-friendly onsens around Kyoto that provide exceptional service!

Remember! There are no onsens in downtown Kyoto , but you can find multiple sentos or public baths instead . If you want a hot spring with mineral waters, then you need to go outside of Kyoto City such as Kurama onsen or Arima Hot Spring. If you are okay with any public bath, I recommend  Nishiki-yu  in the downtown area or  Goko-yu  near the Gojo area.

Unfamiliar with onsens and public bath culture in Japan? Take a look at our guide so you can avoid the culture shock!

In Japan hot springs are called “onsen” and it is illegal to call a public bath “onsen” if it does not have natural hot springs with certain minerals.

For most foreigners though, it does not matter if it is a public bath (a.k.a sento bath) or onsen. After all, the traditional setup and the experience are pretty much the same.

Many ryokans and hotels have a traditional-style public bath! You can book an onsen-ryokan to get double the experience of a traditional Japanese inn and a relaxing hot spring bath.

#10  Ya saka Pagoda

YASAKA PAGODA

Yasaka Pagoda

Legend has it that if you can crawl under the huge stone you will dispel bad spells forever.

In Kyoto, almost all couples take their wedding pictures near the Yasaka Pagoda, right next to Ninenzaka.   You can also visit the historic Yasui Kompiragu shrine nearby. People often purchase colorful balls to make a wish or crawl under the huge round rock to dispel bad luck.

Whenever I have guests, I always take them to this area and it is always a hit. Luckily  the place is not far from the Kiyomizu temple area and the Gion area , so you can easily add the Yasaka Pagoda to your itinerary.

The Yasaka Pagoda is located close to a number of attractions in the Higashiyama District. You can create a short walking tour from Kiyomizudera to the pagoda and pass by many old-style shops, cafes, shrines, and temples: Chionin, Shorenin, Heian Shrine, and go further to Nanzenji, the Philosopher’s Path, and the Ginkakuji Temple.

#11 Night Food Tour at   Pontocho  (先斗町)

Kyoto food-tour

Kyoto food-tour

This is Kyoto’s liveliest bars & restaurants street which is also the 2nd largest geisha district in Kyoto. Best spot for things to do at night.

Wherever you go in Kyoto, you will always see the beautiful Kamogawa River running along the middle of the city. In the city center, right near the riverbank, you can find the narrow alley called Pontocho  (先斗町) that runs from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori. This used to be a place where merchants would sell goods from Osaka.

Today, Pontocho is one of Kyoto’s most visited areas for its wide range of dining options, from street foods or yakitori to local and modern cuisine. The lively street is not only littered all the way with bars and restaurants but is also the 2nd largest geisha area! Make sure to look out for them as they head in and out of the local teahouses. You’d often find apprentice geisha, known as a maiko, heading off from one job to another.

This is also a great place to head to when you’re looking to enjoy and explore the nightlife in the city. A sports bar-type pub or hub where you can meet and make friends with friendly locals!

If you prefer, there are also different cuisines available in the area: Italian, Chinese, American, to name a few. Most establishments offer their services in English as well to make it easier for visitors who don’t speak fluent Japanese.

#12 JAPANESE GARDENS  

Kenninji

Each Japanese garden element has special meanings (e.g. pine trees: strength; circle-shaped pebbles: waves in the ocean and the transience of life; turtle stones: longevity) Top 10 gardens listed below.

Many people come to Kyoto to escape from the hustle and bustle of big cities but then face the hordes of tourists at main sites. Luckily Kyoto is home to a number of tranquil Japanese gardens some of which are just a walking distance from the downtown area. The meanings wary but both rock gardens and Tea ceremony gardens meant to bring a miniature version of nature in your backyard. Big rocks represent mountains, small rocks represent hills, pebbles shaped as circles represent waves in the oceans.

As a Kyoto resident, these are my most favorite Japanese gardens and ideal to visit if you are short on time:

  • Kenninji   near the Gion area.
  • Kodaiji   near Kiyomizu temple.
  • Shosei-en  near the Kyoto station.

If you’re staying for more than 3 days in Kyoto or visiting the northern part of the city, I recommend dropping by these spots to take a break from all the busy tourist areas:

  • Katsura Villa

If you’re staying for even longer or about a week, you can add these gardens to your itinerary as well:

  • Saiho-ji Temple ,  as UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Enkoji  moss garden
  • Isuien , the old Imperial tea garden in Nara

You can book a hassle-free tour of the  Ken’ninji Temple  here! 

A majority of the gardens in Kyoto also hold tea ceremonies or shorter tea tasting! Make sure to check if the gardens you’re visiting offer this relaxing experience.

#13 RYOA NJI Z en G arden    

kyoto places to visit reddit

Ryoanji Zen garden

Drop by the zen garden when you visit the Golden Palace. This is a UNESCO   World   Heritage site and the most calming zen garden in my opinion.

Ryoanji  means the “Temple of the Dragon at Peace”. It became internationally famous after Queen Elizabeth visited the temple in the ’70s. This zen garden has 15 rocks placed in a rectangular area but mysteriously you cannot see all 15 at once from any vantage point. It is presumed that the circles on the sand represent waves, small rocks represent hills, big rocks represent mountains and the moss represent the forest on an island.

Don’t forget to check the historic water basin in the backyard! Maikoya also has a walking tour available if you prefer to have a guide.

Besides the garden and trails around the area, you can also try the Yudofu or boiled tofu, which is a Kyoto specialty, or order drinks and other dishes.

#14   Kifune Shrine

what to do in kyoto kifune shrine in kurama kibune

Photo by yoshie yokouchi on Unsplash

The Kifune Shrine is not in the city and located far from the downtown area! This site is not usually found in popular guide books because it’s a little out of the way. However, I highly recommend visiting as most of my guests enjoy their time here! During winters, you can have an amazing view of the orange lanterns in the snow. For the spring and summer seasons, you can have a picnic in the floating cafe.

This is a fun way to enjoy the view of nature as you try the local cuisine and Japanese sweets.

The floating cafes are best experienced during spring and summer!

#15 Try Traditional Japanese  Calligraphy  and Ikebana

Calligraphy in Kyoto - Shodo

Calligraphy – Shodo – Class in Kyoto

The Shodo calligraphy is used as a zen training method at temples.

Visiting the cultural capital of Japan, you’re sure to find even locals wearing kimonos and practicing traditional arts. One of the most prominent activities you’ll find is “Shodo” or Japanese Calligraphy, and “Ikebana” or flower arrangement. These two activities are not just hobbies to learn, they are also used as a form of Zen training.

In Shodo, it is believed that what comes out of your brush is your true spirit from how you make brush strokes on paper and so on. Japanese monks would often try to achieve satori or enlightenment by drawing Zen circles.

Ikebana, although on the surface may just be flower arranging, considers the aesthetic appeal of Zen and balance. This can range from the colors and angle degrees of the branches.

Both of these activities are great for bonding with friends, families, and couples!

You can book a shodo and ikebana  class in advance at Maikoya!

#16   Nijo Castle  

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle

N ijo Castle  (二条城) was built in 1603 at the start of the Edo Period and served as a residence of the Tokugawa Shogunate until it ended in 1867.

The castle is unique as it looks more like a temple than a typical castle. The reason for this unusual design was because it was built during peacetime, so there was no need for big keeps and an observation tower. If you come to visit, however, you may find that the floors squeak everywhere, no matter how light you are! This was specially made to detect any sneaky ninjas from raiding the castle at night while everyone is sleeping.

The castle closes early at 4 PM so make sure you visit by 3 PM at the latest if you plan on exploring! The Japanese garden requires a separate fee.

You can walk to the Imperial Palace from Nijo castle in less than 20 minutes. There is a convenient  ramen shop right next to the Nijo  castle.

#17 Kyoto KAISEKI Meal 

kaiseki kyoto

Kaiseki Meal in Kyoto

The kaiseki or kaiseki-ryori  is a traditional multi-course Japanese meal. It was recently added as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage , as a valuable experience in Japan. Kaiseki meals are known to be a great way to experience the seasonal flavors of the country, as well as to enjoy the aesthetic arrangement of the ingredients.

Typically, kaiseki would be composed of:

  • 5 different types of cooking (raw, simmered, fried, grilled, boiled)
  • 5 different tastes (salty, sour, bitter, sweet, savory)
  • 5 different colors (white, brown, red, yellow, green)
  • Many different seasonal elements (leaves, flowers, mushrooms, etc.)

Kaiseki meal usually costs more than 100 USD but if you stay at a ryokan, you can get it cheaper as part of your room plan.  You can also reserve kaiseki meal in downtown Kyoto here

#18  The Ginkakuji and the Philosopher’s Path  #1 SPOT during the SAKURA SEASON

Ginkakuji, silver palace

Also known as the Silver Pavilion , the Ginkakuji is a Zen temple located along the eastern part of Kyoto in Higashiyama. The villa was modeled after the Kinkakuji, and built as the retirement home of Ashikaga Yoshimasa. After Yoshimasa’s death, the residence was converted into a Zen temple in 1490.

Although you can reach the pavilion by bus, I highly recommend walking along the Philosopher’s path from Nanzenji especially in the spring.

Silver Palace (Ginkakuji)

Philosopher’s Path during the Cherry Blossom

The Philosopher’s Path connects the Nanzenji to the Ginkakuji and is a great sightseeing spot on its own especially during spring when the cherry blossoms bloom along the walkways and the creek.

This sightseeing spot is best visited during the cherry blossom season in the spring, so make sure you time your visit!

#19   Sanjusangendo  1000 Buddhist Statues

kyoto places to visit reddit

Sanjusan Gendo , 1000 Statues

Sangusangendo ,  unlike most Buddhist temples in Japan, does not have a lush landscape with perfectly maintained hedges. The temple is home to 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The structure is the longest wooden temple in Japan, measuring up to 120 meters.

If you want to learn about Buddhism and if you only have one day then this is it. First, there are 1000 Cannon statues protected by 28 heavenly kings and also 2 Nio statues, the Raijin and Fujin. The long hall was originally built in the 12th century making it one of the oldest wooden structures in the world.

The place is right across from  Yogen In  where you can see the 400-year old samurai blood stains on ceilings. The place is near  Kyoto’s National Museum  and not too far from the  Kyoto Station. 

#20 Train like a Ninja in the KYOTO NINJA MUSEUM   

ninja training experience kyoto

Dress up like a ninja, use a blow gun and throw ninja stars!

The Samurai & Ninja Museum is one of the only experience-based museums in Kyoto and Japan. You can try a variety of activities here from trying on samurai armor to using model ninja weapons!

The ninja tradition was born on the skirts of Mount Hiei which is in Kyoto. There were many ninjas living in Kyoto who frequented the Nijo Jinya, next to the Nijo castle during the Edo period. The Samurai & Ninja Museum near the Nishiki Market is one of the best places you could go that keeps the ninja traditions and stories alive.

They have a selection of activities, some of the best selling tickets are:

  • Samurai & Ninja Museum Basic Ticket
  • Ninja Experience for Kids and Families in Kyoto
  • Ninja Experience in Kyoto for Adults SPECIAL Authentic Ninja Training Lesson

You can book your ticket at the museum in advance here  and skip waiting in line during peak seasons!

#21  Imperial Palace Park  

kyoto places to visit reddit

Photo by Kaito Kinjo on Unsplash

The Kyoto Imperial Palace (京都御所) served as the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family until 1868 when the capital moved to Tokyo. It is surrounded by the Kyoto Imperial Park or Kyoto Gyoen and located in the center of the city.

There are a number of small gardens at the park along with old buildings and villas. Locals would typically walk walks or go jogging at the park before 9 AM. Unfortunately, no one is allowed to enter the buildings.

There are guided tours available to explore the palace grounds. I would recommend this if you like to jog early in the morning or are staying in Kyoto for more than 3 days.

The park is also used for recreation including tea ceremonies at any of the four teahouses.

#22  Animal Cafes:  Baby Pig Cafe  or Cat Cafe or Owl Cafe 

Pig Cafe Kyoto

Animal Cafes are especially popular in Japan, and Kyoto is one of the places where you can visit them!

The baby pig Cafe is one of the most popular spots in Kyoto. This features miniature Shiba Inus, a type of dog breed that descended from the regular Shiba Inu–like Hachiko in the movie and in the real story.

Although animal cafes are not necessarily a Kyoto-exclusive attraction, Shinkyogoku still features a number of them for animal lovers! You can find different themed spots like a cat cafe, hedgehog cafe, or owl cafe.

Even though the animals are well-taken care of, please remember that loud noises, and big gestures may scare or stress them. If you want to have a good experience, be sure to treat your new furry friends with respect and gentle touches.

This is the type of dog that appeared in the movie Hachiko. An interactive petting activity. 1st floor is crowded, 2nd floor is quieter and nicer. Online reviews are mixed: some reviewers claim it is very crowded and the dogs are not friendly.

#23  NINENZAKA

NINENZAKA

Ninenzaka Street near Kiyomizu Temple

Ninenzaka or “Two-year hill” is a paved pedestrian road in Higashiyama where you can find traditional buildings and antique shops! If you’re interested in more than just buying pottery, some shops will let you make your own bowl like the  Kashogama Pottery School .

Ninenzaka is believed to help couples who are wishing for a healthy child and a safe delivery. If you’re wanting the same for yourself, make sure to walk down the cobblestone path on your way to the Kiyomizudera .

If you’re feeling parched for a cup of coffee, you can visit a Starbucks coffeehouse that’s set up in a 100-year-old traditional townhouse!

#24 Join a  Sushi or Okonomiyaki Cooking Class

kyoto places to visit reddit

Okonomiyaki Cooking Class

If you have time, I would highly recommend booking a cooking class! There’s something more satisfying in making the local cuisine compared to just buying and snacking on them.

There are various cooking classes around Kyoto if you know how to look. Maikoya provides in-depth workshops that let you participate in the ingredient selection as well! Join the  Nishiki Market Tour with Rolled Sushi Cooking Class Kyoto  and learn how to make sushi from expert cooks, or  Okonomiyaki cooking experience Kyoto .

Each of these classes will have you learning how to make the snack on your own from scratch. Surely you’ll be able to replicate the dishes at home and transport your taste buds back to Kyoto!

Maikoya has a variety of traditional cooking classes available in Kyoto! Each one is hosted by an experienced instructor and you can even learn how to make traditional desserts for the Tea ceremony .

#25 Hunt for Forgotten  Antiques  

kyoto places to visit reddit

Photo by Koto Kyoto on Unsplash

Kyoto is an ancient city, making it the best place to go antique shopping! Besides Ninenzaka, Kyoto has a collection of historic neighborhoods that you can visit–one of my favorites is the Teramachi Street area between Oike and Karasuma.

If you like the Geisha district in Gion, I’m sure you’d also enjoy visiting the Kamishichiken  area! This is the oldest geisha district and is home to the famous Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. The area is a lot like Gion but without the tourist crowds.

A more unique area is  Yokai Street  where you’ll find life-size monsters all over the street! It’s not a very large area but you can explore it with a quick walk around. The majority of the shops you’ll find here are secondhand and thrift stores that contain interesting knick-knacks.

There are a lot more places to find antique shops all over Kyoto! These are just some of the more visited and easy to navigate areas.

#26 See a Festival in Kyoto

Gion Festival

Japan has so many cultural traditions, and festivals are one of them! Similar to the ones you’ve likely seen in animes and pictures online, traditional festivals are regularly held to welcome the seasons and during significant dates in the area.

If you want to experience this in Kyoto, you should try to schedule your trip around them! The biggest festival is the Gion Matsuri  as pictured above, which lasts almost 2 weeks in July . Thousands of locals would participate in this, wearing traditional outfits.

There are a number of festivals around Kyoto. Here are some of my recommendations if you want to plan your itinerary around them:

  • In February,  the Yasaka shrine hosts the Setsubun festival where you’ll see the Maiko and Geisha perform for crowds of spectators.
  • On May 15  people dress up as aristocrats, walking from the Imperial Palace to the two main Shinto Shrines in Northern Kyoto.
  • In April,  there is a month-long festival called the Miyako Odori festival where you can watch Maiko and Geisha perform a dance.
  • On August 16, there is Gozan no Okuribi where you can see giant kanji–shaped bonfires on the mountains surrounding Kyoto. This is to greet the spirits who come to visit the mortal world for a day in mid-August.
  • In October,  the Jidai Matsuri  is held at the Heian Jingu Shrine  and people would dress as major historical figures.
  • In November, there is a number of festivals in Kyoto that celebrate the beginning of autumn.

As expected, these festivals would normally be attended by crowds of locals and tourists. Make sure you pack your essentials in an easy-to-carry bag and that it’s not heavy! Also remember to come to these festivals early so you get the best view.

#27  Yakiniku

Yakiniku is as much of an experience as it is a delicious dish. Similar to popular restaurant trends, you will get to grill prepared meat and vegetables at your table! This is also commonly referred to as Japanese Barbecue. A grill is normally installed into the middle of the table, making it safe for everyone including kids.

#28  Shabu-Shabu

Shabu-shabu is one of the internationally beloved Japanese dishes. It is a popular hot pot dish where you are normally served with thinly sliced raw meat and vegetables that you cook at your table in steaming hot broth. This is a great way to enjoy time with good company as you wait for your meal together.

#29  Nabe (Japanese hot pot)

Nabe or Nabemono is another variation or Japanese hot pot. Nabe can contain just about anything from vegetables, tofu, and meatballs that you boil in a cooking pot at the table. This is the dish that sumo wrestlers usually eat before the tournaments.

#30  Okonomiyaki

Unlike the cooking classes  mentioned before, most okonomiyaki served in restaurants are prepared by a server. Restaurants normally feature table-side cooking where staff would prepare the dish right in front of you and use a hot steel plate called a teppanyaki.

#31  Zauo  Fishing Restaurant

Although this experience is not in Kyoto, I highly recommend trying Zauo! It’s a short train ride to Osaka and you can catch your own fish which the restuarant will prepare for you as sashimi or any dish you prefer. This is also cheaper, and you can’t ask for a fresher catch!

#32  Kani Doraku Kyoto Honten

Kani Doraku is one of the most popular restaurants in Kyoto. They specialize in crab dishes, from crab hot pot to snow crab legs! They also serve a variety of other seafood and crustaceans. This is a great stop for foodies and lovers of succulent crab meat.

#33  Menbaka Fire Ramen

Although ramen is fairly common, this restaurant offers an extraordinary experience for guests. This small traditional restaurant is the only place in the whole world that you can get a fire show while watching the chefs prepare a fierce noodle dish for you.

As this is a popular attraction, make sure you get there early as they don’t accept reservations!

#34  Kushikatsu

Indulge in snacking on popular deep-fried street food like meat, fish, and vegetables on sticks served to your table and you get to chose toppings on your own at your table.

Things to do in Kyoto at Night

kyoto places to visit reddit

Kyoto Tower at Night

There are not many night activities geared toward tourists other than some kabuki performances at the Minamiza theater. However, you can do many things at night in Kyoto including but not limited to:

  • Romantic walk by the Kamo River
  • Meeting locals at  HUB pub   or other bars at the Pontocho entertainment district
  • Walk in the  Gion geisha district
  • Try some theme cafes such as  bluefish  cafe/bar where you can touch baby sharks
  • Wander in the temple gardens  illuminated at night
  • Go to the observation deck of  Kyoto Tower  and view the city lights
  • Try some rooftop cafes such as my favorite,  in the moon  

Non-Touristy Things to do in Kyoto

Most people have jobs and work hard, so usually, people mostly hang out on weekends. Families who have a car can go to theme parks or fruit-picking and tea-planting farms outside the city.

City dwellers tend to go to the  AEON  shopping mall or the  Teramachi shopping street  just to enjoy window shopping. Young couples go to theme cafes in nearby cities (Nara, Osaka, Kobe).

Youngsters also enjoy  karaoke at Jankara  and bowling at  Round 1.

MOVIX  is another popular spot as it is the largest movie theater in Kyoto. MOVIX is surrounded by game arcades and a pachinko parlor (legalized arcade game-based gambling hall). People who are into sports, run by the Kamo river or go see sporting events such as soccer games or baseball games. People who are about to graduate from high school visit various universities for open-campus events. People who like reading go to libraries and bookstores.

The  BAL/Maruzen bookstore  in the downtown area has a great selection of books in English. Also every weekend there is a special exhibition, festival, or ceremony at certain temples and shrines. You can find out most local activities here on  this website  by using google translate.

KYOTO FACTS

  • What does Kyoto mean?  It means “capital city”
  • What is the population of Kyoto?  1.5 million (foreigners are 2% of the population)
  • How many Geisha (Geiko or Maiko) are there in Kyoto?  Fewer than 200
  • What is Kyoto’s original name?  Heian City (became capital in 794 AD)
  • Where is the Kyoto Airport?  There is no “Kyoto Airport.” The closest airport in “Kansai airport” which is in Osaka. The Kansai airport is 45 KM away from Kyoto.
  • How many UNESCO world heritage sites are in Kyoto?  17
  • How many temples are there in Kyoto?  1600
  • How many shrines are there in Kyoto?  800
  • How many tourists stay in Kyoto? 13.2 Million (2019), 5.17 Million (2021)
  • Best sushi in Kyoto:   Musashi sushi . Not the best or cheapest but a decent place with a decent price and fresh sushi.
  • Best ramen in Kyoto:  Ippudo ramen . Not the best ramen but a decent place with an easy-to-understand menu with an affordable price.
  • Best steak restaurant in Kyoto:   Gion Karoku . Not the best steak restaurant but a decent yakiniku place in the historic geisha district where I take my guests. It is a bit pricey.
  • Best izakaya in Kyoto:   Ganko Sanjo Honten  near the Sanjo bridge. There are also many good izakayas on Kiyamachi Street.
  • Best Vegetarian restaurant in Kyoto :  Ain Soph  with unique vegan burgers.
  • Best Halal food/restaurant in Kyoto:   Istanbul Restaurant  with a good selection of Mediterranean dishes.
  • Best Italian Restaurant in Kyoto:   Pizza Salvatore Cuomo Pizza & Grill . Definitely not the best but a decent place with decent price located by the river.
  • Best Rooftop bar in Kyoto: In the Moon by the Kamogawa River.
  • What is the climate of Kyoto like?  Cold in the winter, hot in the summer. It snows in December and January. It rains in half of July.
  • What is the terrain of Kyoto like?  There is no sea or ocean in Kyoto. Kyoto is surrounded by tall mountains.
  • What are the local sweets of Kyoto?  Yatsuhashi (sweet beans paste in rice flour)
  • What is the local dish of Kyoto?  Obanzai (combination of small dishes mostly made out of vegetables grown in Kyoto)
  • How far is Kyoto from other cities?  Kyoto is 15 mins from Osaka, 30 minutes from Kobe, 45 minutes from Nagoya, and 2.5 hours from Tokyo (by bullet train).
  • What are the famous companies in Kyoto?  Nintendo, Kyocera (Kyoto Ceramic), Wacoal
  • What are Kyoto local dialect phrases?  Ookini: thank you; Oideyasu: Welcome…
  • The cultural capital of Japan. There are fewer earthquakes in Kyoto and Kyoto was the only major city that was not bombed during WW2 since the war minister in the US had spent his honeymoon in Kyoto and really liked the city.
  • Kyoto has the highest number of national treasures in Japan.
  • Kyoto has the highest number of bakery shops per capita in Japan.
  • Kyoto was modeled after the Tang dynasty capital in China.
  • Kyoto has many old townhouses with gardens in the middle which are called “Kyo machines.”  
  • Kyoto is where the kabuki culture, geisha culture, kimono tradition, and the noh theater were born.
  • In Kansai, Kyoto is known to be the place for education (there are many high-ranked universities).
  • Japanese people consider Kyotoites a bit snobbish and conservative.
  • Kyotoites are also known for their indirect communication style (it is believed that they never show their true face).
  • People of Kyoto think the capital should be Kyoto, not Tokyo.

Kyoto Travel Tips

  • Kyoto and Osaka are not far from each other  (many Kyoto residents work in Osaka). You can stay in Osaka and still come to Kyoto every day during your visit.
  • The  downtown of Kyoto is not the Kyoto Station.  The downtown area is near the Kawaramachi Station.
  • The  shopping district is Teramachi shopping Street . The souvenir shops and kimono shops are located on Shinkyogoku Street. The largest variety of electronics and cameras are found at Yodobashi Camera, a huge building right next to the Kyoto station.
  • JR pass is not a great option in Kyoto  as you either have to ride a bus or take the subway. If there are 3 or more people in your group, taking a taxi is usually a good option. UBER is not common in Japan and I usually use Didi and JapanTaxi instead. Both apps work just fine and have good rates.
  • There are very few public bathrooms in Kyoto, always remember these 3 spots to find a bathroom:  convenience stores, train stations, and franchise stores  such as McDonald’s and Starbucks.
  • There are very few public trash bins in Kyoto, always remember these 3 spots for public garbage can: convenience stores, train stations, and franchise stores such as McDonald’s and Starbucks.
  • If it suddenly rains, or it gets too hot/cold, then you may want to go to the Teramachi shopping area where there are so many shops, cafes, and flea markets in a covered area.
  • During the Sakura (Cherry blossom season) everywhere gets so crowded, but you can enjoy the city by going to any zen garden I listed above.
  • Although it is changing,  many shops still do not accept cards  especially in the Nishiki market , so please always carry some cash.
  • In Kyoto, store owners usually don’t jack up prices in tourist areas, so feel free to buy souvenirs anywhere.
  • Always pick a young person  to ask for directions .  If you write what you are trying to say on a piece of paper, many people can understand you.
  • Always pick the oldest person  to complain about something. In Japan hierarchy almost always depends on age.
  • If you have a heavy backpack you can always put it in the  lockers available at every train station .
  • The  nearby cities are closer than you may think . You can go to Osaka in 15 minutes, Kobe in 25 minutes, and Nara City in 40 minutes.

kyoto places to visit reddit

Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan on the Ujigawa River

People would often ask me what they should do or see in Kyoto but I will always give the same answer: It depends on your personality and taste!  There’s a little something for everybody in Kyoto whether you prefer experiences over sightseeing, being a tourist and experiencing the ancient city like a local.

Take your pick from any of the things I listed from the common tea ceremonies and kimono wearing to picnicking at the beautiful gardens and parks.

WELCOME TO MY HOMETOWN KYOTO: OIDEYASU!

  • Culture Research
  • Japanese Culture
  • Japanese History
  • Harakiri and Suppuku
  • Tea ceremony Kyoto
  • Geisha Tea Ceremony
  • Ninja Experience & Samurai
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  • Geisha Experience
  • Cooking Class Kyoto

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Pontocho Kyoto

Ponto-chō (先斗町) is known either as a street, alley, or district in Hanamachi. There is a saying that “Pontocho” is a combination of Portuguese and Japanese words. Pontocho was said to be from the words “Ponte”, the Portuguese for “bridge”, and “cho” the Japanese for either blo

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KIMONO TEA CEREMONY KYOTO MAIKOYA at NISHIKI

Kimono tea ceremony tokyo maikoya, kimono tea ceremony kyoto maikoya at gion kiyomizu, samurai & ninja museum with experience.

15 best things to do in Kyoto

Jan 25, 2024 • 9 min read

kyoto places to visit reddit

Beautiful Kyoto offers tons of things to do and see - here are our favorites © Guitar Photographer / Shutterstock

Kyoto is on the travel list of most first-time visitors to Japan  for good reason. With its fleet of over 2000 temples, lush gardens and traditional tea houses, Kyoto is one of Japan’s major historical hubs – to say nothing of being easy on the eye (enjoy a sunset on the hill in Kiyomizu-dera to see what we mean).

It can be easy to get lost in the tangle of streets – Kyoto is one of those cities where it’s easy to just pick a walking direction and see what you find, whether it’s an unexpected shrine in the middle of a commercial street, sakura-lined canal or well-appointed park. But sometimes, it pays to prioritize. Plan a trip around the following can’t-miss sights and experiences to maximize your time in the city.

Beautiful Architecture at Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion) reflected in a lake in Kyoto, Japan; bordering the lake is a dense forest, with blue skies above.

1. Stay golden at Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji is a tourist favorite – nicknamed Golden Pavilion for its gold-leaf gilded upper layers, this zen temple is a magnificent sight regardless of the time of year. One-way foot traffic flows fairly consistently but tends to bunch up directly in front of the temple, where visitors tend to pause to grab a show-stopping photo of the temple reflected in the pond (again, who can blame them?).

Consider visiting on a weekday to avoid the rush.

People walking through Fushimi Inari-Taisha "torii tunnels," which are orange/red in colour.

2. Walk through the iconic orange gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha

There’s a reason that Fushimi Inari-Taisha ranks high on every visitor’s list: the 10,000 vibrant orange torii (gates) snaking up the hill to create the ultimate photo op. The practice of donating a gate to the temple has been in place since the Edo Period and carries on today as businesses celebrate their successes with an act of gratitude. 

Start at the lower level to admire the skulk of fox statues – the manifestation of the Shintō god Inari, the protector of rice, tea, agriculture and industry.  The full loop takes two to three hours to complete, but it’s worth making the climb to avoid the throng of visitors that usually populate the lower levels (don’t worry, there are plenty of vending machines to keep you hydrated along the way). 

Alternatively, it’s worth considering a sunrise visit, when the local monks are making their way up the hill to work and the resident cat population is out to play.

3. Find fortune at Kiyomizu-dera

Located in Eastern Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera  literally towers over the city with the help of 139 stilts. During the Edo period, seekers would jump from the temple's platform to the ground 43ft below in order to make their wishes come true. Today, you can instead find your fortune at the sacred Otowa Waterfall. Located on the temple’s lower level, the stream is divided into three sections, delivering longevity, academic success or luck in love depending on which one you drink from (take note that drinking from more than one stream is considered greedy). But you don’t need any luck to enjoy the temple’s panoramic views over the city, which are enhanced by spring sakura (cherry blossom) season, autumn foliage and stunning sunsets.

Gilded (at top and bottom) wooden pillars support the ornate gate at Nijō-jō (Nijō Castle)

4. Time travel at Nijō-jo

Enter through Nijō-jō 's large eastern battlements to step back in time. The castle was the former home of Tokugawa shoguns, and its lavishly appointed gardens and opulent chambers filled with detailed murals and intricate carvings speak to the warlord collective’s extreme wealth. 

Keep an eye out for the painted lions (created by an artist who had yet to see the real thing in person), and experience the sensation of walking barefoot across the “nightingale floors,” which chirp like the birds they’re named after – a built-in sonic defense against intruders.

5. Enjoy a stroll at Koke-dera

Koke-dera (the nickname for  Saiho-ji ) is so stunning that the temple inspired “Moss Garden,” a track on David Bowie’s 1977 album Heroes . However, walking in Ziggy Stardust’s footsteps takes some advance planning. In order to preserve Koke-dera’s tranquility, visitors must register at least one day in advance (although up to two months earlier is advisable due to capacity restraints). 

Once inside, guests are asked to participate in an act of devotion, usually copying a series of Buddhist sutras. Consider it an appetizer for the main course: a half-hour stroll through the scenic garden blanketed in 120 different kinds of moss.

A person whisks green tea in a small bowl with a bamboo utensil, with some powdered match sitting nearby on a small piece of paper on a plate.

6. Sip on some matcha

Matcha was originally drunk by Chinese Buddhist monks who believed the highly caffeinated beverage assisted in their quest for nirvana. When the religion spread to Japan, matcha came with it, particularly in the southern region of Kyoto Prefecture, which has an 800-year tradition of cultivation. To learn more about the beverage, start with a traditional tea ceremony at Camellia for an experience that will not only walk you through the elaborate steps of preparation but also explain the historical and practical reason behind each movement. 

For a more modern take, stop by Maccha House . Their flagship store on Shijō Kawaramachi serves a number of unique twists on the beverage, including a brown sugar matcha latte and their signature Uji Matcha Tiramisu. Tea shops like  Ippōdō and Marukyu Koyamaen (located in Kyoto Isetan department store adjacent to Kyoto Station) can help you bring the zen home with you. 

While you’re at it, be sure to grab some wagashi , a delicate red bean and sugar pastry that pairs perfectly with the matcha’s earthy essence.

7. Get your ramen fix

Kyoto’s food scene is often overlooked thanks to neighboring Osaka, aka “the nation’s kitchen.” However, the city has been teasing out different types of the famous noodle soup since the first ramen street stall was set up in 1961. 

Kyoto Gogyo is known for its high-end burnt ramen, with broth cooked at extremely high temperatures to create a smoky char and entertaining fiery show while you eat – so be sure to request a seat at the bar. Vegan Ramen UZU Kyoto ’s mushroom-based ramen is served in a darkened dining room, lit by TeamLab’s “Reversed Indiscretion,” a mesmerizing piece of digital art that creates calligraphy-like swoops across the walls and table. Engine Ramen has become a favorite due to its ability to make any item on the menu vegan or gluten-free. Just be sure to line up early as the restaurant regularly fills up after it opens for dinner at 4pm.   

Produce at Nishiki Market

8. Embrace all the options at Nishiki Market

If variety is your spice of life, then Nishiki Market is your place. Also known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” this five-block collection of over 100 restaurants and shops is the perfect place for snacking on local specialties. It also doesn’t hurt that many stalls give out free samples. Feeling brave? Try the shockingly photogenic t ako tamago ( a baby octopus with an egg in its head), or beef sushi. 

Other crowd-pleasers include soy milk donuts, rice crackers, and dashimaki – a Japanese rolled omelet that some stalls serve as tempura.

9. Bring home sustainable souvenirs

From bento boxes to  washi  (handmade paper) and porcelain, Kyoto is a great place to pick up souvenirs. You could easily spend the day browsing tourist-favorite department stores Takashimaya and Daimaru Kyoto. To bring home a piece of history, consider a stop at Vintage Kimono AN Gion , a cozy storefront crammed with vintage kimonos. Not only do they sell the historical robes at extremely reasonable prices (often as low as ¥1000), but they also offer obi belts and damaged kimonos for those looking to repurpose the silk.

Tatami room in a ryokan

10. Stay at a ryokan

Kyoto is considered one of the great historical epicenters of Japan, so there’s no better way to experience the region's essence than by staying in a ryokan. These traditional inns are generally smaller than their western counterparts and outfitted with woven tatami mats, futons that are rolled out every night and all matter of meaningful art. The intimate setting allows owners to provide guests with more personalized attention in addition to the kind of lavish meals you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. 

For the ultimate indulgence, consider a night in the Tawaraya Ryokan , where David Bowie and Iman stayed during their honeymoon. This historic ryokan is 300 years old and in its 12th generation of family ownership. It’s regularly considered one of the most exclusive hotels in the world.

11. Relax in an onsen

More than just a bath (although it certainly is that), onsen are a great way to connect with nature and friends while participating in an act of self-care, provided you’re comfortable with group nudity. Carefully wash yourself from head to toe before slipping into hot water with a mineral content that locals claim can cure a WebMD worth of ailments.

If you want to soak within the city limits, head to Fu-fu-no-yu , a facility with stunning rock-lined pools inches from the Katsura River.

Stands of towering bamboo line a walking path.

12. Wander through Arashiyama

The sound of bamboo in the wind is part of Japan's national heritage. Located in the Western Kyoto district of Arashiyama, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of the most famous places in the world to hear it. Just keep in mind that, while scenic, the 140m (459ft) walk isn’t as quiet as you might have been led to believe thanks to its popularity. If you’re in the market for the ultimate selfie, or just a more restful experience, visit at sunrise. 

Not an early riser? Opt to visit Shoden-ji , a temple in Northern Kyoto with an abundant bamboo groove that’s often overlooked by tourists.

The mountain villa of Ōkōchi Sansō

13. Enjoy an urbane escape at Ōkōchi Sansō

Despite its proximity to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, many tourists miss Ōkōchi Sansō in their rush to grab that perfect Instagram snap. This former home of 1920s samurai film actor Ōkōchi Denjirō is the perfect place to escape the crowds. Work up a thirst with a wander through the immaculate hillside gardens that offer panoramic views of the city from the top. Then retreat to the on-site tea house for a proper break with a side of complimentary matcha and Japanese sweets.

14. Embrace the seasons at Osawa Pond

Osawa Pond is a 15-minute walk from JR Saga-Arashiyama Station, but the garden feels plucked from an entirely different era. The human-made pond is the oldest known surviving Japanese garden and a peaceful refuge to enjoy fall colors and spring sakura season. Be sure to visit Daikaku-ji next door, a sprawling Shingon Buddhist temple with architecture so untouched by time it’s often used as a filming location for historical dramas.   

Two geisha in traditional attire stand beneath red umbrellas on the street in Gion.

15. Explore Gion District

Geisha, or geiko as they’re called in Kyoto, are one of the icons of the city. These skilled hostesses and entertainers are usually employed at dinners and other high-end events at venues along the lantern-lined streets of the Gion neighborhood. Like the geiko themselves, the district is a living tribute to the Edo era, with its narrow wooden storefronts, teahouses, and stores dedicated to traditional handicrafts creating the perfect escape from the modern era.

This article was first published March 2020 and updated January 2024

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The 20 Best Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan

Written By: The Planet D

Updated On: October 13, 2023

With so many things to do in Kyoto like witnessing the cherry blossoms in full bloom, enjoying tea ceremonies in traditional tea houses, and walking through Zen gardens, you’ll never want to leave. Known for its remarkable history Kyoto, has managed to preserve its authenticity and ancient traditions, and acts as a window into Japan’s past. It has one of the world’s largest collections of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is one of the most visited and loved cities in Japan. Once the capital city, Kyoto remains the cultural and spiritual heart of Japan.

Table of Contents

Top Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto, Japan is a place that is full of temples, and by spending some time here and exploring each one you can really see why this is considered the capital of traditional Japanese culture.

You can still see geisha in their traditional kimono and white makeup walking the streets and all of the temples and shrines are still occupied and maintained by monks that still carry on the old ways, wearing their flowing robes and performing ceremonies from long ago.

If you are looking for a destination that allows you to get away from the hustle and bustle of large cities like Tokyo and Osaka then this is the place for you. It can be overwhelming with so many things to do in Kyoto, so this guide should give a good idea of all the must-see things in Kyoto. And then you can read: The Best Day Trips from Tokyo

About Kyoto

Kyoto is located in the Kansai area, about 3 hours away from the capital city of Tokyo by Shinkansen (the main train line). The Kansai region is renowned for its local cuisine, which makes Kyoto a fantastic place for culture and food lovers alike. We suggest planning on at least 3 days in the city to really get the most bang for your buck.

Pick up your 1 or 2 day hop-on-hop-off bus pass to explore the top attractions, temples, and shrines in Kyoto at your own pace. Including UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji, Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, and more.

1. Explore the trails of Fushimi Inari Shrine

One of the best things to do in Kyoto is to walk the trails of the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Once an important pilgrimage walk, the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is one of the most visited shrines in Japan. Famed for its thousands of vermilion Torii gates, the Fushimi Inari Shrine is dedicated to the Shinto God of rice. It’s beautiful gates make it one of the top things to do in Kyoto. The hike along the forest trail is fairly easy. You can choose to do the whole loop, which will take about 3 hours or just do the lower loop if you don’t have that much time.

The trail itself is very busy all year round, however, the clever traveler can avoid the crowds by hiking up the mountain just before sunset or early in the morning. Along the way, you will encounter the best view at the Yotsutsuji intersection for an amazing photographic opportunity over Kyoto.

Where is the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

The Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is located in southern Kyoto at the foot of Mount Inari. To reach it   take the train to Fushimi Inari Station on the Keihan Main Line and the entrance is a 5-minute walk from there. Book this highly rated Fushimi Inari Shrine tour with a local guide . Journey into a secret bamboo forest, see the red tori gates, and take in the views away from the crowds. 

2. Kinkakuji Temple

Located in northern Kyoto The Kinkakuji Temple is a Zen temple that is really worth seeing. Decorated in gold leaf (hence why they call it the golden pavilion), the temple sits on a calm lake surrounded by trees. When you visit Kyoto, don’t miss seeing this striking temple, it is one of the most photographed places in Kyoto.

The Kinkakuji Temple was originally built as a retirement home for a famous shogun and he sanctioned it to become a temple after he died in 1408. Strolling the grounds, it is easy to see why this would make a perfect retirement place.

Like most places in Kyoto, we recommend visiting early in the morning to avoid the crowds and to enjoy the morning light that shimmers off of the calm waters and the Golden Temple itself.

3. Philosopher’s Walk

One of the best things to do in Kyoto is to stroll along the Philosopher’s Walk. The Philosophers Walk is the perfect place to enjoy a peaceful yet beautiful stroll. This pedestrian walkway is located along the Biwa Canal that is lined with cherry trees. It also connects the Nanzen-ji and Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavillion) temples. This walk is one of the top things to do in Kyoto especially if you are here when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. There are some smaller temples as well as some cafes and restaurants along the path that are worth visiting.

This Kyoto Walking Tour lets you discover the magic of Kyoto through cultural experiences, temples, and shrines including Tofukuji Temple, Zen garden, and Fushimi Inari Shrine plus a visit to the Geisha district.

4. Visit the Arashiyama bamboo grove

One of the top attractions in Kyoto is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Walking through the tall green stalks is like stepping into an alien world. The bamboo grove in Arashiyama is perhaps the most beautiful natural spot in Kyoto. When the wind blows, the bamboo stalks slowly rock, creating an elegant and dreamy dance.

The best time to visit Arashiyama is just before sunrise, when the warm rays of the sun, slowly penetrate the silent forest. It is also when you will avoid most of the crowds and tour busses. This is just something you cannot miss when visiting Kyoto.

The Arashiyama bamboo grove is located in Western Kyoto and can be reached by taking the train from Kyoto station to Arashiyama station. Then it is just a 10-minute walk to the entrance of the paths, just follow the signs. It is also free to enter.

This highly rated bamboo forest tour takes you on a rickshaw ride through Arashiyama forest with a personal guide. Imagine traveling by traditional means through one of Japan’s most iconic scenes.

5. Go Geisha Spotting in the Geisha District: Gion

Kyoto remains a romantic vision of Japan, with Geishas being its most alluring subject. Gion, known as the entertainment quarters in Kyoto, is the best place to go Geisha spotting. These elusive performers are still very much admired and idolized, not just by the Japanese, but by the whole world.

There are several companies in Kyoto that organize Geisha shows. These usually include partaking in a tea ceremony, followed by a Geisha dance. Book this night walk Geisha Tour – one of the most popular walking tours in Kyoto. A 100-minute guided walk takes you through nighttime Gion to learn about Geisha traditions.

Read about dressing up as a Geisha in Memoirs of a Male Geisha in Tokyo, Japan by NomadicBoys.

6. kiyomizu dera temple

Kiyomizu Dera Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in eastern Kyoto and has to be one of Kyoto’s most famous attractions. Built in 778 this zen Buddhist temple has some of the best views across the city. The main hall was actually built without nails, which is pretty cool to see, and the rest of the complex is just as impressive.

The Otowa Waterfall has three streams of water each with a different benefit. One for longevity, one for academic success, and the other for success in their love life. Locals use cups attached to long poles to drink from one of them.

As with most of the extremely popular things to do in Kyoto, it is advised to get there early to avoid the busses and crowds. Luckily the Kiyomizu Dera Temple opens earlier than most (6 am) so that is a bit easier to do. It is easily accessible as it is a 10-minute bus ride from Kyoto station. Take bus 100 or 206. the entrance fee is 400 Yen.

7. Witness the Cherry Blossoms

Almost everyone has heard of the famous Cherry Blossom Festival (Sakura) that takes place each year in Kyoto. During this time the cherry blossoms around the city’s temples and shrines are in full bloom and it creates this fairytale-like atmosphere. Some of the top places to see the cherry blossoms are The Philosopher’s Path, the Yasaka Pagoda, and the Kodai-ji Temple which houses the weeping cherry blossom tree.

If you do choose to visit Kyoto when the cherry blossoms are in bloom just be aware that is insanely busy all around the city at this time and everything is more expensive. Cherry blossom season is in the spring (April is the main month) so make sure to book early.

8. Admire The City From Kyoto Tower

A lot of the popular things to do in Kyoto revolve around Japanese culture, Zen temples, and cherry trees, but there is a modern side to Kyoto as well. One of the best places to visit in Kyoto for a taste of modering Japan is the highest structure in the city, Kyoto Tower.

Located in central Kyoto, the tower offers spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding area as well as telescopes and touch screens that show the names of what you are looking at. It is strange to see such a structure in the middle of a city that is known for its temples and it has been a controversial subject for locals since it was built.

In our opinion, it is still worth making the trip up to get the full appreciation of the beauty of this city.

9. Attend a tea ceremony

The Japanese Tea Ceremony is a fascinating practice that dates back to the 15th century when a Zen Buddhist monk influenced the way such ceremony was performed. Although an old tradition that is said to have started around Uji, the practice of the tea ceremony is still very much taken seriously today.

Many study it in detail and are willing to share their knowledge with travelers, which can experience an authentic tea ceremony in one of the myriad tea houses located in Kyoto. Experience your own Japanese tea ceremony led by a tea master as you learn of the rules, history, and spiritual role of tea in Japanese culture.

10. Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market should be on every food lover’s bucket list. A maze of narrow streets lined with food stalls, Nishiki Market has been nicknamed Kyoto’s kitchen.

This is the best place to try the bizarre Tako Tamago (small octopus on a stick with an egg inside its head), local pickles, and fresh eel.

11. Eat in Shijo Dori

No trip to Kyoto can be complete without spending a considerable amount of time devouring local delicacies. For the culinary enthusiast, Shijo Dori is the place to be, as this is a long street dotted with food shops and eateries.

Furthermore, it is on Shijo Dori that most tourists can indulge themselves in sampling traditional foods, including matcha goods, charcoal ice cream , fruity mochi, and plum tea.

12. Shrine and Temple hopping

Kyoto remains the spiritual soul of Japan, being home to over 2000 shrines and temples. With so many options, it’s difficult to imagine visiting all religious sites during a short visit to Kyoto. Yet there are several shrines and temples not to be missed, including Ginkaku-ji, and Ryan-ji.

Although few know it, one of Kyoto’s best-kept secrets is Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, a small Buddhist temple located way off the beaten path, around the Arashiyama district.

Book this Zen Meditation Tour where you’ll practice Zen meditation with a Buddhist monk, participate in a tea ceremony and wander through the bamboo grove. Plus many more cultural experiences. Details here.

13. T?fuku-ji

T?fuku-ji stands as one of the city’s most esteemed Zen temples, gaining significant attention for its breathtaking autumn colors. Established in 1236 by the imperial chancellor Kuj? Michiie, the temple’s roots trace back to the monk Enni, who formed its inaugural community of monks.

The name “T?fuku-ji” itself is a blend of characters from two of Nara’s ancient temples, T?dai-ji and K?fuku-ji, symbolizing its aspiration to exceed their magnificence. The expansive temple grounds are home to various notable structures, with the main hall and temple gate both honored as National Treasures of Japan. Moreover, several buildings within the compound are recognized as Important Cultural Properties.

14. The Zen Gardens

One of T?fuku-ji’s highlights is its Zen gardens, which encompass the Hojo or the Abbot’s Hall. Designed in the 1930s by the renowned garden designer Mirei Shigemori, each of these gardens mirrors a distinct theme and showcases the essence of modern Zen garden landscaping. The southern Zen garden, with its iconic moss and granite squares in a checkered layout, is perhaps the most distinguished. In contrast, the western Zen garden paints an imaginative scene of a mother tiger and her cubs traversing a river, represented through moss mounds and white gravel. The remaining northern and eastern gardens also possess unique designs, employing elements like rocks, moss, and azaleas to craft abstract patterns and landscapes.

Beyond the gardens, the Ts?ten-ky? Bridge, leading to the Kaisan-d? Hall, offers another visual treat, especially during the autumn. The surrounding valley, brimming with maple trees, transforms into a vivid canvas of reds, oranges, and yellows, drawing large crowds. Located conveniently near the T?fukuji Station on the JR Nara Line, the temple is relatively easy to access from Kyoto Station. While most of the temple grounds are open to the public for free, certain areas, such as the Hojo gardens and the Ts?ten-ky? Bridge, require an entrance fee. A visit to T?fuku-ji, whether for its tranquil gardens or the animated autumn foliage, promises an unforgettable Kyoto experience.

15. Sleep in a Ryokan

To experience traditional Kyoto, sleeping in a Ryokan is an absolute must. Although relatively expensive, these Japanese inns usually include dinner and breakfast, top-notch service, and the use of the hot springs (onsen).

Ryokans vary in terms of facilities and budget, but the best ones will include all of the above. A friendly word of warning: the ryokan experience is so incredible, it becomes rather addictive. The Gion Fukuzumi Ryokan is a top-rated ryokan for travelers to Kyoto. See it on TripAdvisor . Search more Kyoto Ryokans here.

16. Take a day trip to Mount Hiei

Although Kyoto has so much to offer, the true zen can be pursued outside of the city and within its surrounding mountains. Mount Hiei is a fantastic option for a day out, being easily accessible and home to a few temples along the way.

To access the top of the mountain, there is a cable car (a recommended experience) or a mountain trail that leads to an old Buddhist monastery. For a great day out, best to take the cable car to the top, then descend on foot to enjoy some of the ancient Japanese forested trails.

17. Lose yourself in the Kyoto station

Perhaps the least expected recommended attraction, the Kyoto Station, is an amazing place to spend a day. With over 14 stories full of shops and eateries, this place has something for everyone. Start in the basement and shop in the local department store, which sells mouthwatering fresh food.

End the evening by eating either sushi in Musashi or tonkatsu in Katsukura. It is also a great spot to enjoy amazing views over the city at night.

18. Kyoto International Manga Museum

If you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary to do make sure to check out the Kyoto International Manga Museum. Even if you are not into manga comics you will be impressed by the 300,000 volumes of comics that are translated into many different languages. The museum is a fun stop if you have kids and is the perfect place to kill a few hours if the weather is bad.

19. Kyoto Imperial Palace

The Kyoto Imperial Palace is a place not to be missed, especially if you are visiting in the spring or fall. This palace was used as the residence of different Emperors for 500 years until the capital moved to Tokyo in 1869. The walled compound has some incredible and expansive gardens which really come to life in the fall.

The building themselves are designed in the traditional Japanese style and make the perfect accent to the surrounding nature. This is a place you definitely want to stroll around for an hour or so. It is close to Nijo Castle and the Kyoto International Manga Museum as well as the Nashinoki Shrine.

20. Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

Historically, Kyoto has been the imperial capital of Japan for more than a thousand years. In 1994, UNESCO inscribed 17 historical sites in Kyoto (as well as nearby Uji and Otsu cities) as a collective World Heritage Site known as the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.” Not all temples in Kyoto are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so if you want to make a point of visiting the designated monuments, here is a list.

  • Kiyomizu-Dera Temple : Known for its wooden terrace that offers a panoramic view of Kyoto, this temple is particularly popular during cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons.
  • Enryaku-ji Temple : Located on Mount Hiei, it’s historically significant as the headquarters of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism.
  • Daigo-ji Temple : Famous for its five-story pagoda, it’s another popular site during cherry blossom season.
  • Ninnaji Temple : It’s known for its traditional imperial palace style architecture and beautiful gardens.
  • Byodo-in Temple : Located in Uji, this temple’s Phoenix Hall is prominently featured on the Japanese 10 yen coin.
  • Ujigami Shrine : Also in Uji, it’s considered to be the oldest standing shrine in Japan.
  • Kozan-ji Temple : Located in the Takao region of Kyoto, it’s recognized for its ancient scriptures and its beautiful surroundings.
  • Saiho-ji Temple : Known as the “Moss Temple”, it’s famous for its moss garden.
  • Tenryu-ji Temple : Located in Arashiyama, it’s particularly noted for its scenic garden.
  • Ryoan-ji Temple : Famous for its rock garden, which is a quintessential representation of Zen garden design.
  • To-ji Temple : Known for its five-story pagoda, which is the tallest in Japan.
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion) : Renowned for its golden pavilion which shimmers beside a pond.
  • Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion) : While not covered in silver, it’s renowned for its sand garden and beautiful grounds.
  • Shimogamo Shrine : One of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan, it’s located in a forested area, providing a serene atmosphere.
  • Kamigamo Shrine : Another ancient Shinto shrine with a tranquil ambiance.
  • Nijo Castle : Known for its “nightingale floors” which chirp when walked upon, as well as its beautiful gardens.
  • Kyoto Gyoen (Imperial Palace and Sento Imperial Palace Gardens) : Located in the heart of Kyoto, it was the former residence of the Emperor.

Each of these sites has been recognized for its historical, cultural, and architectural significance, contributing to Kyoto’s reputation as the cultural heart of Japan. If you’re planning to visit Kyoto, exploring these World Heritage Sites would offer a deep dive into the city’s rich history and unmatched beauty.

How to Get to Kyoto, Japan

Getting to Kyoto, Japan, largely depends on where you are starting from and your mode of transportation. Most people travel to Kyoto after visiting Tokyo but you can fly directly to Kyoto as well.

Kansai International Airport (KIX) : This is the nearest major international airport to Kyoto. From Kansai Airport, you can take the Haruka Express train which directly connects the airport to Kyoto Station in about 75 minutes.

Osaka International Airport (Itami Airport, ITM) : It’s a domestic airport but also quite close to Kyoto. From here, you can take buses that run between the airport and Kyoto Station.

Chubu Centrair International Airport (Nagoya) : Another option, though farther away. From here, you’d typically take a train to Kyoto.

If you’re traveling within Japan, the Shinkansen (bullet train) is one of the most convenient methods. From Tokyo , the Tokaido Shinkansen takes about 2-2.5 hours to reach Kyoto.

If you’re planning to travel around Japan, consider getting a JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass). It allows unlimited travel on JR lines (including most Shinkansen lines) and can be a cost-effective option if you’re traveling between multiple cities.

Long-distance buses connect Kyoto with other parts of Japan. While they take longer than the train, they can be cheaper, especially if you’re traveling overnight.

You can also drive to Kyoto if you’re comfortable navigating Japanese roads and traffic rules. Ensure you have an appropriate driver’s license and understand toll road fees.

Getting Around Kyoto

Once you’re in Kyoto, the city has a comprehensive bus and subway system to get you to most major attractions. There are also taxis and bike rentals available.

Accommodations in Kyoto

Kyoto has a wide range of accommodations from luxury hotels, ryokans (traditional Japanese inns), guesthouses, to capsule hotels. It’s recommended to book in advance, especially during peak seasons like cherry blossom season or autumn foliage season.

Important : Always check travel advisories, entry requirements, and other pertinent details before planning your trip, especially if you’re traveling internationally.

Remember, these are general guidelines, and the best way to get to Kyoto would largely depend on your starting point, budget, and travel preferences. Safe travels!

Final Thoughts

Kyoto is the perfect place to enjoy traditional Japanese culture, get a glimpse into the history of Japan as well as take in the incredible architecture that has made this one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. If you plan on visiting Kyoto you won’t be disappointed.

This post was originally written by Cory Varga and has been updated by The Planet D. Cory and G, are the happy British couple behind You Could Travel, a website geared towards inspiring others through information-packed articles that revolve around travel guides, recommendations, and tips. They specialize in soft adventure travel, off-the-beaten-path destinations, and culinary affairs. They motivate and encourage a nomadic lifestyle through storytelling and photographic essays. Follow them at: YouCouldTravel / Facebook / Instagram / Pinterest / Twitter

Plan Your Trip to Japan With These Resources

  • 50 Awesome Things to do in Tokyo, Japan
  • Traditional Japanese Food: 20 Dishes You Can Try in Japan or At Home
  • Mind-Blowing Facts about Japan
  • Places to Visit in Kyoto – My Favorite City in Japan
  • Complete Nikko Japan Travel Guide – 18 Things to do and Places to See

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use Booking.com and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO . 

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • Allianz - Occasional Travelers.
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Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine , the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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5 thoughts on “The 20 Best Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan”

Plant D really this superb blog and cherry blossoms are so nice and its treat for my eyes. Thanks for sharing with us!

I am going to Kyoto in march. I am looking forward to walking in the bamboo forest. Thanks for the great tips!

I want to spend a lifetime in Japan.

I was in Japan last winter and wish I would have stayed in a Ryokan and seen the Fushimi Inari Shrine! Just means I have to go back I suppose!

We’re visiting Japan in 2018, as part of our round the world trip! We’ve just started planning for it and I can’t wait! Will definitely be noting down Kyoto when we visit Japan, beautiful pictures as always 😀

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Last Updated on April 4, 2023 by Jella Erhard

The Perfect 2-3 Days Kyoto Itinerary | Guide for First-Timers

The Perfect 2-3 Days Kyoto Itinerary Guide for First-Timers in 2020

We created the perfect 2-3 Days Kyoto Itinerary for First-Timers who want to see the must-see spots of Kyoto as well as lesser-known gems in a short time. Find out what are the best things to do in Kyoto, where to eat traditional Japanese dishes.

Japan is a fascinating country with so much to see and experience there. It’s difficult to fit everything into a holiday, however, we think Kyoto is a great city to showcase the versatility of the country.

We have created the Kyoto itinerary that helps you fully enjoy the city in two to three days depending on how much sightseeing you want to do in one day.

With the help of our Kyoto itinerary, you’ll learn all about Kyoto’s history, its ancient castles and temples, great traditional Japanese restaurants, Geisha shows, shrines, bamboo groove, and even some lesser-known and secret spots of Kyoto.

What is the best location/area to stay in Kyoto?

Downtown Kyoto is probably the best area to stay in Kyoto if you only have a few days. This includes Gojo and Kyoto Stations along with Karasuma.

However, public transport is excellent in Kyoto so if you stay a bit further from the center it wouldn’t cause such a big problem. It’s good to keep in mind that what you probably saved on accommodation you may spend it on transport.

 You might also like  Best Places to Stay in Kyoto, Japan | Best Hotels, Hostels, & Ryokans

How many days should I spend in Kyoto?

A 2-3 days Kyoto itinerary should cover most of the important sights and places of Kyoto but a week is well advised.

If you choose Kyoto as your base, you can visit some lovely places near Kyoto such as Nara, Soja, and Kobe along with many more but you’ll need more than 3 days to do so.

Kyoto Itinerary

How To Travel From Tokyo To Kyoto

The fastest option would be in the air, you can catch the cheapest flights on Momondo.

Although, if you would like to soak in some other parts of the country, you can take a train and make some stops or simply enjoy the view from your seat.

If you choose to travel by bullet train (You can use your Japan Rail Pass ) then it’s going to be almost as fast as if you were flying from Tokyo to Kyoto.

The most budget-friendly way is to take a bus, however, it can be really uncomfortable and for a 9-hour ride, it can be painful.

How To Travel From Osaka To Kyoto

You can travel by train and if you purchase a day (or multiple day) JR pass , it is actually saving money for you.

Besides the benefit of visiting other cities in the Kansai area, a single fare from the airport is more or less the same price as a day pass.

Kyoto Weather

Kyoto’s Spring and Fall weather is fairly pleasant, the temperature usually doesn’t go below 68F (20C) during the day between April and October.

The summer months in Kyoto are hot, around 86F (30C). Despite there is a rainy(er) season from mid-June to the end of July, it is still enjoyable as there is no rain every day.

Kyoto’s Winter is cold, 33F (1C) is quite normal during December, January, and February. However, if you can handle the cold you can enjoy fascinating festivals and a snow-covered Japan.

 You might also like  Ultimate Japan Rail Pass Guide

The Perfect 2-3 Days Kyoto Itinerary 

Day 1 | kyoto itinerary .

Day 1 of your Kyoto itinerary is filled with some of the most exciting sights, best places to eat (with a secret spot), and of course the best things to do in Kyoto that you can’t miss.

6| Fushimi Inari Shrine Kyoto

kyoto places to visit reddit

There is no Kyoto itinerary without Fushimi Inari Shrine that is for sure. Whenever you google Kyoto, vermilion torii gates pop up straight away.

You’ll find thousands of torii gates scattered all around the grounds of the famous Shinto shrine. You can walk for minutes in the beautiful corridors that blew up Instagram.

How long does it take to walk the Fushimi Inari Shrine?

It can be a nice half-day activity if you enjoy getting lost in the greens while exploring new little moss-covered shrines and sculptures.

Although, if you are on a 2 or 3 days itinerary, you can walk around the main sights in an hour or two.

How to get to Fushimi Inari Shrine?

Take a JR train from Kyoto station by Nara Line to Inari Station. If you leave from Gion area, take Keihan Main Line southward to Fushimi-Inari Station.

Is Fushimi Inari Shrine free?

Yes, you can visit everything for free.

TIP: If you would like to boost the experience, it is a great opportunity to rent a kimono and take some amazing photos.

It is best to go as early as possible as it is often crowded during the day. The shrine is actually open 24 hours so there is no too early.

5| Philosopher’s Path AKA Philosopher’s Walk (Tetsugaku no michi)

kyoto places to visit reddit

In high spirits after the elevating Fushimi Inari Shrine, you can head north to the Philosopher’s Walk, which is breathtaking during the Sakura season or fall.

It is a lovely walk on a small canal’s side, lined by cherry trees. You are going to quickly understand the name and why is it among the best places to visit in Kyoto.

A few minutes in your walk, your thoughts will drift off while enjoying the soothing sound of water flowing and the leaves shaking in the light breeze.

Only a few steps away you can also visit Higashiyama Jisho-ji, which is a beautiful Zen temple with a lush garden. The entrance fee is 500 Yen ($4.50).

The closest stop is Ginkakuji-Michi served by buses 17, 203 and 204.

4| Shoren-in Temple

kyoto places to visit reddit

A convenient thirty-minute walk away you can find another gem you are going to appreciate to have squeezed into your 3 days Kyoto itinerary.

Shoren-in Temple is a beautiful 13th-century Buddhist Temple with a relaxing garden. It is the most beautiful during the summer and fall.

There is a 500 Yen($4.50) entrance fee here as well.

TIP: On certain days in March, April, May, and November, you can participate in a tea ceremony for an additional 1000 Yen ($9) in the tearoom.

Taking part in a tea ceremony is among the best things to do in Kyoto and Japan, so do grab the opportunity at one of the most beautiful spots.

3| Rest & Have a Quick Lunch in Kyoto’s Secret Angel Library Cafe

kyoto places to visit reddit

After enjoying a nice and long walk in the morning and early afternoon, it is time to rest a little. A fifteen-minute walk away you can find a curious little place, the Cacao Market by Mariebelle.

At first, it seems to be a charming sweets shop for chocolate lovers, but if you ask the right question, an underground secret café awaits to indulge its visitors.

At the counter say you would like to visit the café and you get a code, which opens the door to the stairs leading to Angel Library Café.

It is open between 11 am and 8 pm, no reservation can be made.

You might also like Visit Japan: 12 Reasons that will make you pack your bags and go

2| Enjoy The Beautiful Sunset in Historic Gion 

kyoto places to visit reddit

As you step out of Cocoa Market you are at the border of Gion, the historic geisha district. There is no visit to Kyoto without walking through the old cobbled streets of this beautiful area.

Even if you are juggling a busy 2-3 day Kyoto itinerary, Gion must be included. It is also a great spot to rent a kimono for an authentic experience while snapping some amazing photos.

Take a lovely walk around the old buildings and find adorable little alleys and picturesque wooden houses. Enjoy one of the most memorable sunsets in your life at the iconic tower of Yasaka Shrine.

1| Have a Traditional Japanese Dinner in Gion

kyoto places to visit reddit

You can find some of the best places to eat in Kyoto while strolling around in the small streets of Gion. There are great restaurants that blend traditional with modern tastes.

Kyoto Gion Tempura Endo Yasaka Honten  the authentic Japanese restaurant is an excellent choice. In this area it is going to be difficult to find budget restaurants, most of them are fairly costly.

Issen Yoshoku is a cheaper eatery that will perfectly introduce eating habits in the Japanese fast-food scene.

 Day 2  | Kyoto Itinerary 

On Day 2 you can also enjoy some open-air experiences and can find two other great spots to indulge in an unforgettable sunset in Kyoto.

8|  Arashiyama Bamboo Forest AKA Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

kyoto places to visit reddit

The second day of your 2 to 3-day Kyoto itinerary begins with a trip to Arashiyama in the northwest corner of the city.

Here you can visit the bamboo forest, where 15-feet long bamboos shadow the walking path.

You should arrive as early as you can to avoid the crowds. Arashiyama Bamboo Forest never really closes which means it is open 24/7 and you can visit whenever it’s the most convenient for you.

After Arashiyama Bamboo Groove you should have a nice walk around the historic town, where you can find the Kimono Forest and the lush Kameyama Park or cross the Katsura river.

TIP: If you have more time, you can visit the Arashiyama monkey forest or take the Kyoto romantic train (Sagano Scenic Railway).

7| Tenryu-ji Temple

kyoto places to visit reddit

Image © tenryuji.com

In this area, you can find the 14th-century Zen temple, Tenryu-ji. It is a fascinating building with a mesmerizing garden that is going to help you find inner peace.

No matter which season you visit you’ll find beauty and history in this world-famous UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s especially special because of the beautiful surroundings of the temple.

You can walk around for a while and enjoy the quiet before a nice lunch in the town.

Entrance fee: 500 Yen ($4.50)

6| Kinkaku-ji Temple

kyoto places to visit reddit

The next stop is one of the most popular tourist sites in Japan; Kinkaku-ji temple. It is built next to a beautiful little lake that reflects the glorious golden building offering an opportunity to take dreamy photos.

Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavillion, which is probably the most popular Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto. It’s not completely made of real gold but the top two floors are covered in real gold leaf.

Kinkaku-ji temple is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a 400 YEN  ($4) entrance fee.

This magnificent Zen temple is certainly going to take your breath away, so enjoy the view and the garden.

5| Nijo Castle

kyoto places to visit reddit

On your way back to the city make a stop at Nijo Castle. It is among the best places to visit in Kyoto because this early 17th-century fort is one of the most beautiful castles on our little planet.

The beautifully carved wooden ornaments and the combination of materials are just fantastic.

You only need about an hour in Nijo Castle and the entrance fee is 620 YEN ($5.60).

Inside Nijo Castle you can explore the beautiful grounds and gardens of this over 400 years old traditional Japanese Castle.

Nijo Castle became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994. Nijo Castle opens at 8 am (July, August, September) or 8:45 am (October to June) and closes at 5 pm (September to June) or 6 pm (July and August).

4| Explore Nishiki Market & Have some Lunch

kyoto places to visit reddit

A short walk away you can experience the best of the city’s bites and souvenirs in downtown Kyoto. Nishiki Market isn’t just beautiful, but also offers some of the most delicious and freshly made traditional Japanese dishes to try.

Walking through the market you can sample all sorts of delicacies, may them be sweet or savory, solid or liquid.

There shouldn’t be any 2-3 days Kyoto itinerary without visiting this magical place. Indulge your senses at this warm and buzzing spot of the city.

3| Wander Around on Matsubara-dori Street

kyoto places to visit reddit

Let’s take a walk on Matsubara-dori, a traditional street that stretches across the city leading to the historic Sannen-zaka.

After crossing Kamo river you will find plenty of traditional Japanese souvenir shopping options and on the top of the hill, a superb view awaits. Feel free to get lost in this area, wherever you turn, beautiful old houses line the small streets.

You will find here some of the best things to do in Kyoto such as tea ceremony, arts and crafts, and even rickshaw ride if you feel like sitting for a while. There are plenty of car-free streets in this neighborhood.

You might also like Winter in Japan: 11 Magical Things to do

2| Visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple for an Unforgettable View & Sunset (depends on the season)

kyoto places to visit reddit

As you see the magical colors appear in the sky, it is time to head up to the mesmerizing Kiyomizu-dera temple on top of Otowa hill. You can enjoy the enchanting view of the city during sunset from the veranda of the temple.

It is most certainly among the best places to visit in Kyoto for a memorable sunset. Kiyomizu-dera Temple is open from 6 am to 6 pm which means you can only enjoy sunsets here during wintertime.

However, closing time is extended until 9 pm during the winter night illumination.

Wait until it gets completely dark as the building is lit up to be like a fairy tale castle.

Kiyomizu-dera entrance fee is 300 Yen ($2.70).

If you visit during summer or spring and want to enjoy a beautiful sunset in Kyoto you should head to Shogunzuka Viewpoint (near Shoren-in Temple) after visiting Kiyomizu-dera.

1| Have a Magical Dinner in Kyoto Downtown with Geisha Experience at Yasakadori Enraku

kyoto places to visit reddit

You’ll find Yasakadori Enraku an intimate and traditional Japanese restaurant in downtown Kyoto.

Here you can enjoy delicious and traditional Japanese dishes in a traditional setting as well as a Geisha show.

After the Geisha show, you’ll also have the chance to actually talk to the Geisha. She always goes around the guests’ table so everyone can have a few minutes with her. So, you can ask all that you want to know about Japanese culture or about the modern life of a Geisha.

Yasakadori Enraku is one of Kyoto’s most beloved traditional Japanese restaurants that’s treasured by both locals and tourists. If you want to have a truly unique dining experience in Kyoto you should book a table here.

Day 3 | Kyoto Itinerary 

Day 3 is all about getting outside and into nature. Hike and explore ancient temples and dine over rivers with locals and when you’re done with exploring, relax in Japan’s one of finest Onsen.

4| Explore Kibune & Hike Mount Kurama

kyoto places to visit reddit

A bit outside north of Kyoto you can get a bit closer to nature while enjoying a number of outstanding Japanese activities. Despite taking up quite a lot of time to visit this area, we think you are going to appreciate fitting it into your 3 days Kyoto itinerary.

Go to Mount Kurama and visit Kurama-dera Temple, offering a long and joyful hike. Start at Kurama station and cross the mountain on foot and partly by cable car.

Before entering the premises of the temple, you can enjoy a quiet little Japanese village and the scenery is just breathtaking. Inside, you get to climb high, walk-in lush forests and take a deep breath of the crisp fresh air.

Here you can also visit the beautiful Kifune Shrine.

Once you get to the other side, you will be hungry enough to be even more excited about some of the best places to eat in Kyoto.

How to Get to Kibune & Mount Kurama from Kyoto?

You can easily get to Kibune from Demachi-Yanagi Station, Kyoto. You’ll have to get off either at Kibune-guchi Station or Kurama Station.

The ride will take about 30 minutes and the ticket price is 430 yen. Trains normally depart every 15-20 minutes so you don’t have to be on a strict schedule.

You might also like Japanese Mythical Creatures, Ghosts & Where to Find Them

3| Try KAWADOKO & Have Lunch Over a River in Kibune

kyoto places to visit reddit

During the summer season, you can try Kawadoko. Summer is special in Kibune because restaurants serve food over the river and under the cool shades of the Kurama mountain. You can have a really nice lunch at one of the restaurants with seatings over the calmly burbling stream and charming waterfalls.

Just imagine the soothing sound of the trickling stream a meter below you, while enjoying a traditional Japanese set meal.

Prices at the restaurants start at around 1500 Yen ($14) per set. 

In case you visit during wintertime you can still enjoy traditional Japanese dishes and a beautiful view in any of these restaurants… just not over the water.

2| Nanzen-ji Temple

kyoto places to visit reddit

After a nice lunch, it is time to return to the city and visit another Zen gem. This remarkable temple was built over 700 years ago, so it is filled with history and traditions.

Besides getting lost in the beauty of the building and the garden, you can get a good feel of a traditional temple tea ceremony.

If you are looking to find inner peace, visiting Nanzen-ji is definitely one of the best things to do in Kyoto.

1| Have an Onsen Experience AKA Natural Hot Spring Bath

kyoto places to visit reddit

After such a long three days you must be exhausted. Nothing is better than having a relaxing Japanese hot spring bath. Relieve all your aching joints and sore muscles in a nice warm bath.

It is also a great way to experience traditional Japanese activities. Baths have been playing a very important role in Japan for centuries and you can get into one to recharge after completing a really busy 2-3 days Kyoto itinerary.

There are plenty of traditional Ryokans that offer both indoor and outdoor bathing experiences. One of the most beloved ones is Kurama Onsen .

However, if you want real natural hot spring you’ll have to visit Tenzan-no-yu Onsen .

Tenzan-no-yu Onsen has natural hot water springing from 1200 meters underground making it a kind of medical treatment because of the hot springs having a variety of positive effects on our body.

Tenzan-no-yu Onsen also has an excellent restaurant which means you don’t have to worry about your meals either.

perfect kyoto itinerary

Thank you for reading!

About The Author

Jella Erhard

Jella Erhard

Jella Via Erhard is the Brain (and the Pinky) behind AsianaCircus . You can choose to call her by whichever name is easier for you to pronounce. She still creates content and loves to gush about her favorite books, movies, games, travel spots, and, frankly, all her million other hobbies. She's also written for other sites like GameRant and CBR . Thanks for being here and have fun! =)

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Home » Asia » Japan » Kyoto

34 TOP Things to Do in Kyoto • 2024 Highlight Guide

Kyoto stands as one of Japan’s premier destinations, sharing the spotlight with Tokyo and Osaka. The contrast between them is unmistakable; while Tokyo embodies the essence of modern Japan, Kyoto stands as a resolute guardian of tradition. Renowned as the cradle of geishas and the birthplace of the Japanese tea ceremony, Kyoto is a captivating tapestry woven with a myriad of sights, immersed in a landscape adorned with temples and shrines.

But is that the entirety of Kyoto’s attraction?

Certainly not! Beyond the historic and cultural landmarks lies a realm of exciting experiences. While temples and museums contribute to its cultural richness, Kyoto pulsates with diverse offerings—from immersing in the great outdoors to navigating bustling markets.

Dispelling the notion that Kyoto is solely a haven for history enthusiasts, we’ve curated a list of the most extraordinary activities to showcase the city’s multifaceted charm. Join us as we unveil the wonders awaiting discovery in Japan’s ancient capital!

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Girl takes selfie while taking public transport in Tokyo, Japan.

Top Things to Do in Kyoto

Where to stay in kyoto, faq on things to do in kyoto.

From traditional shindigs to oddball adventures to going out drinking at night, here are the best things to do in Kyoto!

1. Marvel at the UNESCO world heritage site, the Golden Pavilion of Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-j- One of Kyoto's must see temples

Wow. Wow, wow, wow. The golden pavilion is possibly the most famous sight in Kyoto. So, even though it’s mentally touristed, this place is definitely a must-see.

Why? Because it’s a Buddhist temple that’s literally covered in gold – that’s why!

The UNESCO world heritage site of Kinkaku-ji is the place to go in Kyoto for an iconic photo with the golden pavilion, but that’s what basically every tourist who comes here thinks, so try to come here very (VERY) early to beat the crowds, snap a pic, then run to 7-11 for a 100 yen coffee.

kyoto places to visit reddit

Southern Higashiyama

Southern Higashiyama is home to many of Kyoto’s most famous and popular tourist destinations. If you haven’t been to Southern Higashiyama, you haven’t been to Kyoto!

  • Visit glorious well-known temples like Sanjusangen-do, Kiyomizu-dera, Kennin-ji, and Chion-in.
  • Try and spot geishas in Hanami-koji.
  • Be wowed by the cherry blossom at Shimbashi (in season).

For more places to stay, check out our full Kyoto neighborhood guide !

2. Get foxy at the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine

Girl walking through the wandering Torii gate pathways in Kyoto, Japan.

This is totally one of the most awesome places to visit in Kyoto. The Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine is one of several important shinto shrines in Kyoto and is dedicated to Inari, the shinto god of rice. It is also known as the ‘fox shrine’ because foxes are believed to be Inari’s messengers.

Most commonly amongst tourists though, the shrine is famous for its hundreds of red gates that edge the path all the way up the hill to the shrine at the top, which makes for wicked Instagram snaps.

A popular place to visit in the city – it’s not hard to see why – I recommend heading up just before sunset. The hike up the many steps winds its way up the hillside but the view from the top of the sun setting over the old city is pretty special.

Just don’t get too freaked out on the way back down in the dark like I did; I certainly could not identify the source of those weird sounds.

3. See how sake is made (and taste some, of course)

A sake tasting tour in Kyoto Japan.

What’s more Japan than sake? Ok, a lot of different things are quite Japanese, but sake is THE definitive Japanese alcohol.

So as with all good alcohols across the world, a good way to experience them is to see how they’re made Yes, you can witness the brewing process of the sake they make at Gekkeikan Okura, which has virtually not changed in 400 years.

A tour of this place includes tastings of various sake which is always something I’m on board with, to be honest. Free booze is definitely a top thing to do in Kyoto and a top thing to do when backpacking Japan .

4. Visit the incredible Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle Kyoto

One of the most important sites in Kyoto is the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the former residence of the Emporers of Japan before they moved to Tokyo. By taking a walking tour of the Imperial Palace, you can learn all about the history, marvel at the intricacies of the design and learn about the importance of the residence of the shogun.

As well as the Imperial Palace, the walking tour heads to Nijo Castle, another important attraction in Kyoto, Japan. The Nijo Castle dates back to the reign of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). It’s a huge monument with two palaces, the Ninomaru Palace, and the ruins of the Honmaru Palace, plus some really stunning gardens.

For culture vultures and lovers of Japanese history, you cannot miss these attractions.

5. Witness the art involved in the Japanese tea ceremony

A girl dressed in a traditional Japanese kimono smiles for a photo.

The tea ceremony. It’s the sort of thing that is really cool to see because I have somewhat of a different culture of ceremony in the West. My tea ceremony tends to be…teabag into cup, pour water, maybe sugar. But in Japan, the tea ceremony is a massive part of japanese culture and of zen Buddhism in particular.

So if you’re in Japan for a ‘cultural experience’, then the tea ceremony is a must-do activity in Kyoto for you. It was basically invented in Kyoto.

You can pop along to the chashitsu (that’s a purpose-built tea house) at Ju-an temple to see it and lap it all up for yourself.

6. Explore the bamboo groves of Arashiyama

A bunny dressed in a kimono chills out in the bamboo forests of Kyoto.

Ok, it’s pretty touristy too, but this bamboo grove is seriously cool. Can you guess where it is?

If you were thinking of the bamboo grove, you’d be right of course. Arashiyama has a big draw for its beautiful thickets of towering green bamboo. Arashiyama is so stunning, it’s enough just to wander around this place and get lost in thought while observing the nice little temples and a great river walk along the way… or just take a goddamn rickshaw!

Basically, if you like nature, this is definitely a place to add to your places to visit list for Kyoto.

7. Discover Kyoto with a local

A beautiful overhead view of the streets of Kyoto.

There’s cycling around Kyoto and walking too – but how about walking around Kyoto with someone who isn’t just a tour guide but a local to the city itself? Pretty cool!

What better way to discover the hidden gems , hear personal stories, wander down lanes you’d never go down otherwise. You can generally learn a load of new stuff about Kyoto that a regular tour guide probably wouldn’t think you’d be interested in.

Exploring a city with a local is an awesome thing to do in Kyoto, but the best part is getting to go somewhere proper local for lunch. For a Kyoto itinerary with a personal touch, this is the perfect idea.

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Wanna know how to pack like a pro? Well for a start you need the right gear….

These are packing cubes for the globetrotters and compression sacks for the  real adventurers – these babies are a traveller’s best kept secret. They organise yo’ packing and minimise volume too so you can pack MORE.

Or, y’know… you can stick to just chucking it all in your backpack…

8. Dine on vegetarian food and get boozy at a Zen Buddhist temple

A photo of an elaborate sushi dinner in Tokyo, Japan.

Are you a vegetarian? Great, then you’ll love this place. Fucha is a Japanese take on Chinese vegetarian cuisine and the Zen monks at Kanga-an zen buddhism temple cook up a tasty storm with non-meat, non-fishy ingredients. So, you can dine on mock eel, which is actually taro and tofu mashed together.

It’s extremely tasty. AND they have one last trick up their sleeve at Kanga-an zen temple: a bar. Yes, A BAR. It’s open to the public and popular with female office workers. The garden is relaxing, they say, but I reckon it’s the whiskey.

9. Rent a kimono and wander around Kyoto looking for photo ops

Traditionally dressed geishas walking the streets of Kyoto.

Kyoto is great to walk around. I think we’ve established that much.

But how about wandering around in a kimono to really blend in (or probably stand out more) with the geisha and maiko (that’s a trainee geisha) and all the other traditional goodness of this city? Find the best of Kyoto by being as Kyoto as possible!

Yep, you can rent a kimono for a day and really get the best photo ops going. I reckon this would make for a great talking point, so for all you extroverts, this is a great shout. The only thing is that you have to return it at the end of the day. Boo.

10. Visit one of the curios of Higashi Hongan-ji

Higashi Hongan-ji - Unusual things to see in Kyoto

Higashi Hongan-ji is a huge temple. It’s all made of wood as well, which makes it extra impressive.

But what I’m talking about right now is not the size of this religious building or what it’s made of, but instead, something that’s kept there.

To cut a long story short, it’s a rope made of human hair – a really big, really thick, sort of gross rope. During the building of two of the halls they needed extra strong rope, some nuns offered up their hair, and the rest is history.

It’s one of those oddities that it’s cool to say you’ve seen. It’s definitely one of the weirder things to see in Kyoto.

11. Visit the bustling Nishiki Market, the ‘Kitchen of Kyoto’

Sea food spread across a market table in Kyoto Japan.

Exploring Nishiki Market is a totally awesome thing to do in Kyoto for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s 700 years old. Yes, really.

It first opened in 1310 as a fish market. Secondly, there is a whole host of things to buy here now – the range is literally amazing. Soy donuts? Nice.

Sashimi on a stick? Ok.

Baby octopus stuffed with quail egg? Why not?

Thirdly, it’s always poppin’ here. The crowds, although maybe not that fun for locals is great for a buzzy atmosphere. Lastly, everybody knows that the marketplace is where it’s at when it comes to soaking up a japanese culture. Definitely go.

12. Try to gain entry to an exclusive hidden cafe

Japanese girl and American girl smile for cute polaroid at maid cafe in Tokyo, Japan.

Japan sure has its fair share of exclusive places to eat, drink and stay, but this one is literally like something from a manga, so I love it even more. It’s called ANGEL LIBRARY (yes, in capitals) and it’s located under a shop called Cacao Market.

The downside is you need a code to get in. How do you get a code? Nobody’s exactly sure.

Once you’re in though, it’s a hidden coffee spot like no other; a real exclusive place to sip on a cup of Joe and pretend to read a book in Japanese.

13. Chow down on spicy food at Spicy Street

A woman with chop sticks eating Ramen/ Asian food in Hong Kong.

So Japan isn’t exactly famed for its spicy food, but there is a legendary street in Kyoto totally dedicated to spicy food. Truly. It’s located in Muko town, which is in the west of Kyoto, and it’s known as Gekikara Shotengai.

That translates roughly to ‘Intense Spice Shopping Street’. That’s basically it.

It’s a great little oddball curio that’s just the kind of only-in-Japan thing I love about this country. The cafes and restaurants look normal, but then you’re sideswiped by habanero ice cream or a “Sudden Death Dog’ (a really spicy crepe). A must-do in Kyoto if you love spicy food.

14. Steal a selfie with a ghoul on Yokai Street

Ghoul statue on Yokai Street

Yokai are not exactly ghosts; they’re more a collection of spirits, demons, monsters, AND ghosts that make up a huge roster of familiar shapes and faces in Japanese folklore and you can see ’em all on the aptly named Yokai Street.

They’re all homemade standing outside shops on the otherwise normal street of Ichijo-dori – this isn’t a proper tourist attraction in Kyoto… yet. It’s a lot of fun.

Some of them are genuinely good, sculpted and everything, some are… Well there’s a dinosaur in a dressing gown, so…

Active Roots Security Belt

Stash your cash safely with this money belt. It will keep your valuables safely concealed, no matter where you go.

It looks exactly like a normal belt  except for a SECRET interior pocket perfectly designed to hide a wad of cash, a passport photocopy or anything else you may wish to hide. Never get caught with your pants down again! (Unless you want to…)

15. Learn the art of sushi making with Umemori Sushi School

Do you love sushi? Ever wanted to learn to make it? Well, there is no better place to learn than in Japan. With a sushi cooking class you will be taken under the wing of the experts at the Umemori Sushi School.

Now don’t get your hopes up. Sushi masters train for years to make delicious five star sushi, but this introductory class teaches you how to make the popular and delicious sushi rolls (maki). You’ll learn how to make shari (rice), grill the seaweed, and practice rolling the ingredients together.

If you’re someone who wants to take home unique souveneirs, what better way to remember your trip than learning a new skill?

16. Wander around Gion, the geisha district

the geisha district

Kyoto is the home of the geisha, so your trip to the ancient Japanese capital wouldn’t be complete without a tour of Gion, the geisha district .

Better yet you can explore the geisha district it at night, and get the real feeling of old, traditional Japan as you wander around the streets. You can also go with a guide who’ll keep you primed with info as you discover this cool area.

Even in the daytime, the wooden houses of this district are pretty dang dreamy. It’s very photogenic, so your Insta followers will be happy. It’s definitely one of Kyoto’s must-sees. If you’re travelling in April, this is the best place to snap some photos of the cherry blossoms. The cherry trees only bloom for about a week in April, so you’ll be super lucky to catch it!

17. Hop over to L’Escamoteur for some unique alcoholic beverages

A nice rose petal cocktail in New Zealand.

Time for some drinks! Now, what are you in the mood for…? What about somewhere that looks half-steampunk, half-wild west, half-Victorian London – wait, that’s too many halves…

But yeah, how about somewhere like that? Alright. Then get yourself along to L’Escamoteur Bar! It’s one of Kyoto’s best bars.

This bar is run by a guy called Christophe. He serves up drinks you rarely see in Japan and whips up a mean medley of cocktails. L’escamoteur is actually French for ‘magician’ so it definitely makes sense. And then when it’s all done you can stumble home through the super safe Kyoto streets.

18. Crawl through a rock at Yasui-kompira-gu Shrine

Yasui kompira gu Shrine, Kyoto

That doesn’t sound romantic…? This is one for those of you who want to leave less up to chance when it comes to love.

The shrine grounds are home to a huge stone that has a hole in the middle of it. The stone is covered in thousands of slips of white paper which have been tied to the stone.

The idea is that, if you’re having trouble in your love life or want a stronger relationship, you should tie your piece of paper (with a written wish) onto the stone and then crawl through the hole.

Yeah, I know it all sounds a bit strange but this really is a fun thing to do in Kyoto. I think I could all use a little help from the shinto gods with our lovelife…

19. Go flower arranging (really)

Ikebana flower arranging - traditional stuff to do in Kyoyo

If you’re in Japan to witness and experience the incredibly different

culture of this unique country, then doing a spot of something specifically Japanese is gonna be great for you.

So that’s where flower arranging comes in. Nope, this isn’t like western flower arranging. This is – in typically Japanese form – an art. It’s called ikebana .

Learning about the history and meaning behind it is cool, but having a go is even cooler. Then you can take this skill back home and make your own home Instagram-friendly.

20. Enjoy a plate of tasty tempura

Enjoy a plate of tasty tempura

Tempura is the tasty battered food that has become popular all over the world, but there is no better place to try it than in Japan. Yoshikawa Tempura is housed in an old tea room that brings a touch of the old-world style to the dining experience.

The whole place is beautifully decorated, it’s like eating dinner in Kyoto of the past. The tempura here is ultimate in tastiness. It’s heavenly and a must-go place in Kyoto (and eat). And, if you wish, you can try out their sushi too.

21. Take some time out away from the crowds

Beautiful lush green garden in a Kyoto Temple.

There’s a whole lot of temples and shrines to keep you busy during your visit to Kyoto, but Honen-In makes my list of the most awesome things to do in Kyoto for its peaceful setting.

Turn up here and be greeted by a truly serene and scenic approach to the moss-covered temple gate. The best time to turn up here is in autumn when the trees have turned into all sorts of pretty colours.

It’s a very chilled out place to visit in Kyoto to escape from the sometimes quite touristy downtown.

22. Pay your respects at Mimizuka

Pay your respects at Mimizuka

This one is a… little bit morbid but bear with me. It has some historical merit, so especially if you’re interested in history you should check this place out.

The name in Japanese means ‘Mound of Ears’ and it’s pretty much what it is. Back when Japan invaded Korea in the 17th century, bringing back the traditional ‘trophy’ (a head) was a bit impractical, so ears and lots of noses were taken back instead.

An estimated 100-200,000 noses are buried at Mimizuka. It’s a unique thing to do in Kyoto and a grisly reminder of the brutality of war.

23. Ponder the meaning of life and marvel at the cherry blossoms on the Path of Philosophy

A river runs through the streets of Kyoto Japan.

The Path of Philosophy: strolling along it is definitely something that’s more suitable for something named after a 20th-century philosopher (Nishida Kitaro) who used this walk along this path for daily meditation.

So follow in his footsteps and think about… stuff… whilst walking along the path. In the Spring, this path is lined with blooming cherry trees, which only flower for about a week. Catching the cherry blossoms in Japan requires a lot of planning, but if you’re lucky enough to witness them, this will be a sight to remember. When it’s cherry blossom season your mind will literally explode at how stunning this path is.

It takes about 30 mins to walk it but there is so much of Kyoto’s sightseeing along the way that you’ll be stopping every few steps anyway.

24. Learn about the history of Kyoto… with a samurai

Girl holds samurai sword during a class in Kyoto, Japan.

If I said walking tour with a samurai … does that sound good to you? Yes. Yes, of course it does.

Kyoto is literally packed to the brim with historic sights to see and other curiosities that you’d never know about without a guide. And when your guide is an expert swordsman, that’s even cooler.

He’ll even give an ah-mazing demonstration of his skills with a katana (that’s a Japanese sword) and slice through some bamboo and other objects before your very eyes. Definitely down with this one.

25. Walk with Deer at the Nara Deer Park

Deer smiles for camera in Nara, Japan.

A beautiful city park with groves of old trees and weathered monuments is good enough for us, but throw in some furry forest walking partners and I’m there!

The city of Nara, just an hour by train, hosts thousands of deer – considered the messengers of the gods. They freely approach visitors because they’re used to being fed.

Purchase some deer-friendly biscuits at the park and see if the deer will bow back to you before getting their tasty treat. Tours are available from Kyoto , which provide transportation and everything you need to have an awesome time in the park.

26. Watch a kembu demonstration

Two people sit in chairs posing for a photo dressed in traditional samurai armor.

“Kembu” , what? Well, it is a martial art that’s basically swordplay mixed with dancing. Sounds good, right?

So, yeah, the best way to really experience kembu is to go watch a show. It’s sick and an absolute must-see in Kyoto.

Everyone loves a samurai sword (aka katana ) don’t they? And at the Samurai Kembu Theatre you’ll also hear tales of old narrated in English and get a chance for a photo-op with a sword, which could possibly be your next Facebook profile picture… but then, maybe a bit too swordy. Great fun though.

27. Learn how to make a bento lunchbox

A traditional Japanese bento box.

This had to make the list; bento isa awesome and this is one of the best things to do in Kyoto. We’ve all seen it, Instagram posts and pics on Twitter and various other visual platforms of cute Japanese lunchboxes. These are bento.

Food shaped like pandas, hearts, bunnies – anything cute basically. And it’s all in the form of sushi, or rice balls, or thin omelets, carrots, tomatoes… So how about the chance to learn how to make this cute cuisine yourself? I’m definitely in.

Ok so maybe you won’t be getting into all the sculpting and kawaii -ness, but at Cooking Sun you’ll learn how to make your very own sushi, miso soup and other tasty things.

28. Hike in the stunning scenery of nearby Kibune

Friends take a walk through the mystical forests of Japan.

Another one for people who like a bit of nature, taking the short – and let’s face it – completely picturesque train ride to northern Kyoto to the small village of Kibune.

This place is basically wedged in a valley and you get all the dramatic scenery you’d expect in a place like that. You can hike around here , to places including Kibune Shrine with its old stairway.

The trails around here are just… stunning. It’s a slice of a less touristed Kyoto (and its surrounding areas) that you’ll literally love. Spoiler alert: there’s a hot spring involved.

29. Check out a building from 1266

Sanjusangendo temple, Kyoto

Sanjusangendo Temple dates all the way back to 1266, but that’s no the maddest thing about it. The temple is home to an impressive 1001 carved statues of the Buddhist god of mercy. Not only is there a mad amount of wooden statues but each one of them has a face that is unique!

You can’t take any pictures inside the temple, but that just adds to the reflective atmosphere. The game is to find the statue that most looks like your mate.

30. Cycle around Kyoto and pretend you’re a girl from an anime

Girl rides bike across a bridge by Lake Kawaguchiko in Japan.

There’s no better way to see charming Kyoto than on the vehicle of charm and whimsy itself – yes, the bicycle. Humble, carefree, bicycles are fun and if you don’t think so, then whatever.

Touring around Kyoto and its 1,200 years of history is like something from an anime, I swear. It’s what to do in Kyoto to bring the Sailor Moon vibes (the part where she’s a schoolgirl; no the part where she transforms and fights epic battles).

You get to ride along the Kamo River, then to downtown and its cute network of canals, past old Buddhist temples, down the famous Path of Philosophy, through narrow lanes, under cherry trees. You get the idea: it’s a happy blur of 100% traditional Japan.

31. Check out one of Kyoto’s largest Buddhist zen temples

Chion-in

Kyoto is all about temples. I couldn’t avoid it with this list. There are so many temples in this city – some of them are big and some of them are small.

One of the bigger ones is the very large Chion-in. Though originally built in 1234 (that’s well old), it burned down in the 1600s So what you see today is only about 400 years old. One of the main things here is the huge Sanman, the gate to the temple that’s so big it’ll make your eyes pop out your head. It’s really like a gate for giants.

32. See Kyoto from the sky!

Helicopter tour over Kyoto

Do you have money to splurge? If no, uh, don’t worry about it… If you do, then please keep reading. Because this is a helicopter tour over Kyoto .

You thought it looked good from the ground? That’s for worms! Getting up into the sky and seeing the scale of the temple complexes nestled between neat rows of houses, all tucked between forested mountains… seriously it’s quite a spectacle and one of the best things to do in Kyoto.

Well, if you have the budget for it, of course!

33. Marvel at the incredible works of art at the Kyoto International Manga Museum

Girl poses for photo with anime cutouts in Akihabara Tokyo, Japan.

Japan is well known for its anime and manga creations, and one of the best places to experience the best manga creations is at the Kyoto International Manga Museum.

The museum is kind of like a library, as it has a huge array of graphic novels and comic books to read, in fact, it has over with 50,000 volumes of manga that you can pick up and read in the dedicated reading areas, plus a further 250,000 more manga comics in its closed-stack collection, which can be accessed via a dedicated research room.

If you’re not sure what manga is, don’t worry, there is an exhibition on the second floor that tells you exactly what manga is and how it came to be.

34. Rest your weary legs in an Onsen hot spring

A hot spring onsen in the mountains of Kumano Kodo, Japan.

If you’ve been following along these things to do in Kyoto, Japan, then your legs would be pretty tired by now! What better way to finish a trip and heal those aching limbs before a flight home than by taking a dip in a traditional Japanese onsen (hot spring bath).

Onsens are very unique to Japan and are essentially outdoor baths, with gorgeous gardens and zen music.

You should note that you do need to be completely naked to enjoy an onsen. No bathing suits and if you’re tattooed, sorry, but you can’t come in either. If you’re shy, or have tattoos, you can get a private onsen which is essentially a bath tub. You will need to ask about whether you are allowed in with tattoos though, as it varies from place to place.

The Kurama Onsen, is only a 30 minute train ride out of the city of Kyoto and comes highly rated.

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Kyoto ain’t as big as Tokyo but it still ain’t small! Choosing the right neighborhood in Kyoto is super important to making the most of your trip.

For more ideas on places to stay, check out our full roundup of Kyoto’s best hostels .

Best Hostel in Kyoto – Len Kyoto

Kyoto itinerary

Located in central Kyoto and just a 1-minute walk from the Kamo River, Len Kyoto is a great hostel to choose! It has a café and bar lounge where you can grab a coffee and breakfast in the morning, and drinks at night. Rooms are spacious and clean, and the beds are comfortable.

Best Airbnb in Kyoto – Home near Kyoto Station for Family Group

New House in Kyoto with Area for Family Group

Close to Kyoto Station, this Kyoto airbnb traditional home can sleep up to ten people, perfect for large families and friends travelling together. The sleeping arrangements are Japanese style, in that most people sleep in the same room on tatami mats on the ground.

Best Budget Hotel in Kyoto – Sunput Nanajo Mibu

Kyoto itinerary

This Kyoto hotel is luxury on a budget! Each room has air conditioning, a fully equipped kitchenette, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom. Located in central Kyoto, it has everything you could want! The staff is friendly and helpful, and you can even rent bicycles.

Best Luxury Hotel in Kyoto – Kyoto Four Sisters Residence

Kyoto itinerary

This 5-star hotel feels like a home away from home. Each apartment has its own balcony with fantastic views, a fully-equipped kitchen, and dining room. They also have all the amenities! Perfect for couples and families. The staff is friendly and professional, happy to provide any help you need.

Don’t forget your travel insurance for Kyoto

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing .

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

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SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

Here are some quick answers to common questions about what to do and see in Kyoto.

What should I not miss in Kyoto?

A walking tour with a Samurai is a must-see. Airbnb Experiences and GetYourGuide provides unique adventures and experiences for people of all ages and interests to dive into the traditional Japanese culture and history of Kyoto.

What things can I do at night in Kyoto?

Kyoto has a legendary nightlife. Check out L’Escamoteur and, of course, you have to taste the sake. We also highly recommend a Night Walk in The Geisha District .

What are the best free things to do in Kyoto?

Visiting the temples and Mimizuka is a great way to appreciate the culture, without spending a penny. If you’re visiting at the right time of year, you can miss the cherry blossoms, too.

Are there things to do on rainy days in Kyoto?

Absolutely! Seeing a Traditional Tea Ceremony is a really unique experience. You will also learn so much about their culture at a Japanese Flower Arrangement Class , too.

So there you have it, 31 of the top things to do in Kyoto. Want more? Check out this post for a more alternative and underground-themed list of points of interest in Kyoto.

Ok, so there are a lot of temples and shrines on this list… But believe us when I say that you’ll be wowed by the scale and charm of these ancient structures. But of course, it’s not all temples – like I said!

You can take a chilled bike ride around the countryside, learn about geisha, take in a tea ceremony, watch a sword display, find some hidden restaurants… There’s plenty to do in Kyoto! All that’s left is to book your trip and note some of your favorites down from my list!

Have fun in Kyoto. It’s super pretty. In case you forgot, it’s Japan.

Girl posing for photo in front of Japan's tallest waterfall, Kegon Falls.

And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links . That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!

Aaron

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Hey Aaron, this page is so cool and very helpful! I have been to Kyoto once and will be there again this month. I took note of the activities you shared in this article. I hope you keep writing for Japan-loving people like me. Cheers!

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Kyoto   Travel Guide

Courtesy of Piriya Photography | Getty Images

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15 Best Things To Do in Kyoto

Updated February 11, 2021

Kyoto receives scores of visitors each year and crowds can be overwhelming at many of the city's top attractions. But never fear: A bit of planning can yield introspective experiences in peaceful atmospheres. Climb the well-worn steps of a  Shinto

  • All Things To Do

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Fushimi Inari Shrine Fushimi Inari Shrine free

As far as Shinto shrines go (there are about 400 in Kyoto), this one is pretty special. Perched on a wooded hillside in southern Kyoto, Fushimi Inari is a 1,300-year-old temple dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice and  sake  (Japanese rice wine). The shrine complex dates back to the eighth century, but it's not the star of the show. Most visitors come for the close to 10,000 red and orange lacquered  torii  gates that line the 2 ½-mile-long path up Mount Inari, where the shrine sits. Sometimes in dense rows and other times more staggered, the gates are all engraved with the names of Shinto devotees who donated them.

It takes about three hours to make the trek up the mountain, and some recent visitors say that the hike is mildly strenuous, but almost all agree this is a must-see spot in Kyoto, especially for first-time visitors. Plus, travelers report that there are plenty of places to stop and rest along the way. Peer at the dozens of stone and bronze foxes that line the paths along with the gates (foxes are thought to be Inari's sacred messengers). Or stop in to one of the tea houses or restaurants situated on the path, which serve udon noodle soup and sushi. Because crowds are drawn to their picturesque beauty, Fushimi Inari's trails can get quite congested during the day. To avoid the multitudes, opt for an evening stroll up the mountain – recent visitors say the pervading quiet coupled with the fading light filtering through the trees and  torii  gates makes for an eerie and spiritual experience. Early morning is another optimal time to experience the shrine sans the crowds.

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Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Situated on Otowa Mountain in eastern Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera Temple wows travelers with its stunning natural scenery, which visitors say is best viewed from the verandah off the temple's main building. The "stage," as it's called, sits atop huge pillars more than 40 feet above the hillside and affords visitors panoramas of the surrounding forest. Those views are even more beautiful in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom or in the fall with the changing foliage. When you're done taking in the temple's surrounding beauty, you are invited to drink from the Otowa Waterfall, which gave the temple its name ( kiyomizu means "pure water"). The waterfall is divided into three streams, each of which is said to bring longevity, academic success or love, respectively. But according to temple etiquette, drinking from all three streams is bad luck, so don't be greedy.

Also within in the complex is the Jishu Shrine, a red-lacquered temple dedicated to Okuninushi-no-mikoto, the Shinto god of love. Visitors who can successfully walk between two stones outside of the shrine with their eyes closed (the stones are about 20 feet apart) will supposedly have their love-related wishes granted. Along with toying with their fates, recent travelers also enjoyed the souvenir shops found along the path to the temple. Many visitors insist that Kiyomizu-dera Temple should be on every Kyoto traveler's to-do list.

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Gion Gion free

Recent visitors to Gion were in awe of its quaintness (though some travelers note that hordes of camera-wielding tourists can detract from the scenery). This neighborhood is known for its charming historic features: historic tea houses, willow-lined roads,  kaiseki  (Japanese haute cuisine) restaurants, wooden  ryokan  (Japanese guest houses) and shops selling local crafts and antiques. But all of those things are secondary to Gion's real source of fame – the geisha. Visitors to Gion may catch a glimpse of these extravagantly dressed women flitting between tea houses on wooden-sandaled feet.

Contrary to western belief, geisha are not prostitutes. A geisha's primary role is entertainment; she is hired to provide diversions at dinner parties and banquets in the form of singing, dancing, games and conversation. But they are more than mere performers: Geisha are living, breathing gatekeepers of ancient Japanese culture. They train from an early age in traditional Japanese art, dance and music, and perform at exclusive dinners in  ochaya  (tea houses), usually only for locals. While tourists can arrange geisha dinners as well, it will put quite a dent in a travel budget. Hiring one geisha for the evening with dinner for two can cost about 103,000 yen (about $900) or more. A less costly way to see Gion's geishas in action would be to check out the daily geisha performances at the Gion Corner theater, which cost 3,150 yen (about $28). Or, if you're visiting during April, you can catch the  Miyako Odori  dance festival – geisha dance performances, which are held four times daily during the festival at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo theater, cost between 4,000 and 5,500 yen (about $35 to $48) per person. You may also see geisha strolling through the neighborhood; keep a polite distance and refrain from photographing them without explicit permission.

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Arashiyama Arashiyama free

Arashiyama is a quaint neighborhood surrounded by trees and mountains on the western edge of Kyoto. The neighborhood's most iconic landmark is the wooden Togetsu-kyo Bridge, which has spanned the Katsura River since 1934. It makes a great spot for admiring cherry blossoms or changing fall foliage, depending on the season, though some visitors seem less than impressed with the bridge. If you want to avoid the tourist crowds that congregate on the bridge, consider renting a paddle boat to enjoy the scenery from the water. On either end of the bridge are a number of shops, restaurants, temples and gardens to explore. Some recent visitors enjoy walking around and taking in the sites, but others suggest renting a bike. You can get one for the day for around 1,000 yen (about $9) near train stations in Kyoto.

A visit to Arashiyama can be overwhelming, as there is so much to do and see here. It's best to arrive with a plan of action, and to not try to fit too many activities into one day. For example, you won't want to miss a stroll through the area's lush, peaceful bamboo groves, which recent visitors highly recommend. Once you're through the bamboo, you'll find yourself at Okochi Sanso Villa, a beautifully landscaped former residence of Japanese actor Okochi Denjiro. You can tour Denjiro's mossy, manicured gardens daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and the admission price of 1,000 yen (about $9) includes matcha green tea and cake (make sure you keep your admission ticket to enjoy this).

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Ryoanji Temple Ryoanji Temple

Every day, hundreds of people visit Ryoanji Temple to see its Zen rock garden – which is probably the most famous of its kind in Japan. Located in Kyoto's northern outskirts, the temple was built in 1450, but details surrounding the rock garden's origins are hazy. Its white pebbles, which surround 15 larger rocks, were laid sometime during the Muromachi period (between 1392 and 1573), but beyond that, the garden's origins are unknown.

From any vantage point, at least one of the garden's 15 rocks is obscured from view. But why? Visitors are invited to come to their own conclusions about the garden's deeper meaning. Along with viewing the rock garden, you can explore the temple's grounds, which include a 1,000-year-old pond fringed with lily pads and tree-lined walking trails. The garden, as well as the grounds, are among the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, which were designated by UNESCO in 1994.

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Nishiki Market Nishiki Market free

For those unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine, a trip to Nishiki Market can be an overwhelming experience. This bustling, five-block-long covered market is lined with more than 100 stalls, each one hawking Japanese foods and specialty items that are hard to come by in the United States. With barely any English signage for reference, it might be difficult to determine what to buy or where to start. But just because Nishiki Market is busy and confusing doesn't mean you should avoid it. In fact, recent visitors said that's exactly why you should go, saying it's an essential food tour. Others pointed out that this is a great way to sample many different local cuisines without having to buy a whole meal.

The key here is to start small. Sample some authentic green tea or nosh on some  nigiri (rice balls). After you've acclimated yourself to the flavors, you can work your way up to the unfamiliar: roe-stuffed squid, dried kelp or silky  yuba  (tofu-milk skin). Of course, connoisseurs of Japanese cuisine can feel free to jump right in, but Nishiki Market can also offer new eating experiences to old pros. Alongside the more traditional Japanese fare, you'll find some trendier shops like Konnamonja, which sells doughnuts and soft-serve ice cream that are both made from tofu (and reportedly delicious). One thing to note: You'll have to sit (or stand) to eat your food. Walking and eating is not permitted, according to recent visitors.

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Nijo Castle Nijo Castle

After years of bitter strife, the aging samurai lord Tokugawa Ieyasu finally wrested power from Japan's many warring clans and unified them at the turn of the 17th century. Upon being proclaimed Shogun (feudal military dictator) of Japan in 1603, Ieyasu constructed a palace that would reflect his supreme power. Nijo Castle in central Kyoto was certainly ostentatious enough to fit the bill. Unlike other noble homes of the day, Tokugawa's gleaming white structure – decorated with ornate wood carvings – was built for show, not for defense. Even the palace's moat and inner wall stood not as defensive structures, but rather as examples of the shogun's exclusivity; only Japan's highest-ranking officials were allowed into the castle's inner sanctum.

That is not to say that Nijo lacked in protective properties entirely. Decades of war had instilled in Tokugawa Ieyasu a deep-seated paranoia, so he had "nightingale floors" installed in his palace. Designed to creak under even the lightest footstep, these floors prohibited anyone from walking through the Nijo Castle unnoticed. Travelers today can tread upon these fabled floorboards as they tour the inside of the castle, but visitors suggest wearing socks, as you'll have to remove your shoes to enter the building. Outside the palace is the lovely Ninomaru Palace Garden designed by famed landscaper and tea master Kobori Enshu. Recent visitors applaud the site’s excellent guided tours in English and say the castle and surrounding gardens are quite beautiful. However, because it is on every tourist's "must-see" list, the castle can get quite crowded. To enjoy your visit in peace, stop by just after opening or right before closing.

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Sanjusangendo Hall Sanjusangendo Hall

At nearly 400 feet, Sanjusangendo Hall is the longest wooden structure in Japan (there are archery contests held along the length of the hall every yeah). And lining its lengthy walls is a rare full set of 1,000 wooden statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The human-sized statues were carved from Japanese cypress in the 12th and 13th centuries. Recent travelers are consistently blown away by Sanjusangendo and its statues, calling it an "amazing" and "thrilling" place to visit.

Sanjusangendo Hall is open between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. from April through mid-November, and between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. from mid-November through March. Visitors suggest arriving at Sanjusangendo early, as the hall is not well ventilated and only gets hotter and more crowded as the day goes on. Admission costs 600 yen (about $5.25) per person (half-price for children). To get to Sanjusangendo Hall, take bus No. 100, 206 or 208 from Kyoto Station to the Hakubutsukan-Sanjusangendo-mae stop. Alternatively, you can take the Keihan subway line to Shichijo Station (Sanjusangendo is about a 5-minute walk from there). The temple sits across the street from the Kyoto National Museum, and many visitors suggest stopping by both attractions. For more information, visit the official website (in Japanese).

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Philosopher's Walk Philosopher's Walk free

Honoring Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who used to stroll here on his commute to Kyoto University in the early 20th century, the Philosopher's Walk is a roughly mile-long pathway along the Lake Biwa Canal in the Higashiyama district of northern Kyoto. In the spring, the cherry trees overhang the canal blossom, emitting a flurry of petals onto the path every time the wind blows. But recent visitors say that Philosopher's Walk is gorgeous no matter the season.

Past travelers suggested setting aside about an hour to enjoy the walk, noting that you'll probably want to stop along the way to admire the temples and shrines that can be found just outside the walking path. Others also caution that the area can get quite congested during cherry blossom season. Although there are no public restrooms along the walk, there are cafes and shops.

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Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

Its top two floors swathed in gold leaf, the Golden Pavilion sits pretty in Kyoto's northern reaches, overlooking the glassy surface of Mirror Lake. Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu lived in the gilded structure in the late 14th and early 15th centuries after he passed political power down to his son, Ashikaga Yoshimochi. When his father died, Yoshimochi had the pavilion converted into a Buddhist temple. However, in 1950, an extremist monk set the golden temple aflame, reducing it to smoldering ashes. What now stands is a replica of Kinkaku-ji that was built in 1955.

Many recent travelers note the gorgeous natural scenery surrounding Kinkaku-ji; the golden temple reflecting in the smooth lake makes for a great photo, no matter the season. Unfortunately, some visitors say that throngs of tourists mar the temple's tranquil atmosphere. To enjoy the attraction without the crowds, heed the advice of reviewers and avoid an afternoon or weekend visit. Keep in mind: Visitors are not permitted to enter the pavilion.

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Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)

Unlike the very literally named Golden Pavilion, the Silver Pavilion is not actually silver – though it was intended to be. Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who built Ginkaku-ji in 1482 as his retirement villa, died before he could swath the structure in silver leaf. But even without the bling, Ginkakuji and its grounds are stunningly beautiful.

The main pavilion, which was converted into a Zen shrine, sits overlooking a glassy pond surrounded by trees. Unfortunately, you can't go in – none of the buildings are open to the public. But visitors come here to enjoy the outdoors. As you stroll around the grounds, you'll come across a lush garden filled with mossy groves, as well as a Zen garden called "The Sea of Silver Sand." If you continue up along the path to the back of the garden, you'll enjoy a stunning view of the temple grounds as well as the city below. Many recent visitors said that a stroll around the garden at any time of day is gorgeous, even if it gets crowded at times (your best bet is to visit right when it opens or on Mondays). Several travelers stopped here while enjoying the Philosopher's Walk as the temple is located just off the trail.

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Kyoto International Manga Museum Kyoto International Manga Museum

Many of Kyoto's top attractions pay homage to a Japan of the past, but the Kyoto International Manga Museum focuses on a very current form of Japanese art. Manga is a style of comics that exploded in popularity during the post-World War II period (though some historians date it back to the 12th century) and has steadily been gaining worldwide exposure in the past 60 years. The International Manga Museum, which opened in 2006, showcases a massive collection of Manga (around 300,000 items), from famous works like "Astro Boy" to more obscure comics by non-Japanese artists.

Recent visitors marvel at the museum's extensive collection, and said this is a must-do if you're a manga fan. For many, being able to sit and read the manga copies stored here was a highlight (reviewers said it felt more like a library than a museum). Travelers were also pleased that there were translations in other languages besides Japanese.

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Nanzen-ji Temple Nanzen-ji Temple free

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Shoren-in Temple Shoren-in Temple

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Kyoto Botanical Garden Kyoto Botanical Garden

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18 Amazing Things to Do in Kyoto at Night (2023 Guide)

Welcome to our complete guide on the best things to do in Kyoto at night.

When travellers consider where to go in Japan, the city of Kyoto is usually at the top of the list.

With some of Japan’s most famous temples and traditional culture at its heart, Kyoto is a must-see for any first-time visitors to the country.

Most people plan out their days in Kyoto easily, but what are some fun things to do in Kyoto at night?

READ MORE: Check out our perfect ‘ 3 days in Kyoto’ itinerary to make the most of your trip!

Table of Contents

1) Take in the View

2) grab an early bite at the nishiki market, 3) or whet your appetite in a department store, 4) lounge by the kamogawa, 5) look for street musicians, 6) snap a selfie at yasaka jinja, 7) play with the shadows at fushimi inari, 8) walk the length of the pontocho alley, 9) wander through gion, 10) marvel at the minamiza, 11) walk down miyagawacho, 12) see the hanatouro illuminations, 13) stroll down a shotengai, 14) go shopping, 15) tie one on, 16) take a food tour or bar hopping tour, 17) sing your heart out at karaoke, 18) have a soak, things to do in kyoto at night.

Here are 18 of the most amazing things to do in Kyoto at night!

There are several great places to look down on Kyoto after dark. The easiest to reach for many people is the observation deck of Kyoto Station .

Not far away is the Kyoto Tower , which considerably higher.

Then there are some of the famous hillside temples on the east side of town.

Kiyomizudera and Kodaiji are great around sunset as night falls on Kyoto.

  • Nearest Subway Station: Kyoto Station’s Karasuma Central Gate 
  • Opening Hours : Observation deck hours vary depending on the times of the last train. The Kyoto Tower is open until 9:20 PM (last entrance at 9 PM).
  • Price : Observation Deck free. Kyoto Tower ticket prices are as follows: ¥800 for adults,  ¥650 for high school students, ¥550 for primary & junior-high students, ¥150 for kids under 6 years old.

Buy your ticket for the Kyoto Tower here .

If you’re looking for an early evening nibble, then Kyoto has several venues for you. 

One appetizing location for snacks and window-shopping is the famous Nishiki Market .

Many people recommend visiting the market early in the morning. Yet most people don’t know is that the market is just as interesting near closing time.

What’s more, it’s usually less crowded, and you might even find a deal on some snacks that didn’t sell earlier.

  • Nearest Subway Station : Karasuma Station or Kawaramachi Station 
  • Opening Hours : Most stores open 9 AM to 6 PM, but hours vary.
  • Price : Free

Kyoto At Night Nishiki Market

Japanese department stores often reserve their underground floors for high-end supermarkets and delectable prepackaged meals.

You’ll also find loads of traditional candies and other goodies. Some of the sweets here are packaged and displayed so beautifully behind glass that it looks more like a jewellery shop than desserts.

Two Kyoto department stores we’d recommend visiting are Daimaru and Takashimaya .

Both are great places to grab a luxury bento before heading to the river for an impromptu picnic under the stars.

Daimaru Department Store

If you’re looking for a relaxing thing to do in Kyoto at night, head over to the Kamo River.

The river runs north to south, separating most of Kyoto City from the Gion district and some of the most famous temples and shrines.

During the summer months, the riverbank near Gion and the Shijō Bridge will be populated with street musicians and students out for a stroll. 

Walking away from Gion, the paths turn into grassy knolls that are a great place to get away from the crowds.

Just keep in mind that it’s not well lit. The only people you’re likely to run across are young couples looking for a secluded spot.

The risk of crime is minimal, but women travelling alone should always practice caution as there are few people in this part of Kyoto at night.

  • Nearest Subway Station: Sanjo Station, Gio-Shijō Station or Kyoto-Kawaramachi Station 
  • Opening Hours : 24 hours

READ MORE: Plan your trip to Japan with our Japan Travel Guide . 

Despite Kyoto’s ancient roots, it’s a surprisingly young city. Some of Japan’s best universities and art colleges are in the area, so you’re likely to see a lot of students and other young people on the streets of Kyoto at night.

Some of them have band practice by the river, while others have taken to busking for some extra cash.

The quality of music varies wildly, but it’s worth taking some time on a Kyoto evening to follow your ears.

Busker Kamo River

There are a number of beautiful places of worship you can visit in Kyoto at night.

Most Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines close up and lock the doors around 5:30 pm or earlier. But some are accessible 24 hours.

They may not be technically “open,” but you’re welcome to visit.

Yasaka Jinja is one of the easiest shrines to visit in Kyoto at night.

Built and added onto between 656 and 994 AD, Yasaka Shrine sits at the edge of Maruyama Park facing towards Gion.

In fact, it is also referred to as the Gion Shrine. One of Japan’s most famous traditional summer festivals — the Gion Matsuri — takes place here near the end of July.

This is a great shrine to visit at night because it’s near downtown and stays lit long after dark.

The location also means that you can schedule plenty of other nighttime activities before or after visiting.

Both the Kamo River and Gion are a short walk away, and usually quite lively in the evening.

  • Nearest Subway Station: Gion-Shijō Station

Striking A Pose In Front Of The Yasaka Shrine Gate

Another great shrine to see in Kyoto at night is Fushimi Inari Taisha.

This place is famous for its hundreds upon hundreds of vermilion Tori (traditional gates) that cover the walking paths.

It’s beautiful in the daytime, but just as photogenic at night. 

There are pros and cons to visiting Fushimi Inari at night.

One advantage is that the crowds have gone. I’ve been here a few times after 8 pm and it’s so empty that it’s a little creepy.

The disadvantage is that they are not as well lit and so it can be a challenge to get a good picture.

That said, the lanterns and streetlights great a great latticework of shadows that are fun to try and capture with a camera.

Sometimes the crowds make for a livelier atmosphere, so if possible, try to visit during the daytime as well.

  • Location : From Kyoto Station, take the JR Nara Line two stops south and follow the signs.

Fushimi Inari Shrine At Night

This narrow lane is packed with traditional bars and restaurants. Running parallel to the Kamo River, Potoncho Alley is one of the most scenic spots in Kyoto at night.

It’s only around 500 meters long but provides more atmospheric drinking and dining options than other streets ten times its length.

Unlike many Kyoto attractions, I recommend only visiting after the sun goes down, as it is not as impressive during the day.

Potoncho Alley Things To Do In Kyoto At Night

Best known as the stomping grounds of working geisha, Kyoto’s Gion district is a fascinating place to wander at night.

Streets like Hanamikoji Dori are lined with traditional wooden machiya houses.

Behind the doors of these houses are high-end teahouses and restaurants serving Kyoto-style fine dining.

This is also where many geishas and their apprentices (called maiko) entertain clientele.

If you’re looking for things to do in Kyoto at night, this should be near the top of your list.

  • Nearest Subway Station: Gio-Shijō Station 
  • Opening Hours : Stores vary.

The Minamiza is one of Japan’s most famous kabuki theaters and an amazing place to see in Kyoto at night.

You can attend one of the many traditional performances here. But even if you don’t, it’s worth walking by to see the building lit up at night.

  • Nearest Subway Station: Exit 6 of Gion-Shijō Station 
  • Opening Hours: Showtimes vary, but there’s usually a matinee around 11 or noon and an evening show that starts at 4:30 or 5 PM. The Minamiza stays lit until late.
  • Price : Ticket prices and seating vary, but it’s free to admire the building.

Miyagawacho is another traditional stone street with machiya-style homes and maybe a geisha or two.

While lesser known than Gion, I like Miyagawacho slightly better as there is less neon and modern architecture in the periphery.

Segments of its main drag could be the set of a samurai movie if you could just edit out the occasional vending machine or luxury sedan parked nearby.

  • Nearest Subway Station: Exit 1 or Gion-Shijō Station or Exit 4 of Kiyomizu-Gojo Station.
  • Opening Hours : Stores vary but usually open until 11pm

Twice a year lanterns flood the streets of Kyoto for a week. In the spring, the streets of Higashiyama bask in the glow.

This is a great time to visit Yasaka Shrine and the Gion area, but the lanterns extend all the way to the foot of the mountains if you want to walk further.

If you visit Kyoto in the winter, then you can see the Hanatouro Illuminations around the Arashiyama area.

Most people know Arashiyama for the path through its famous bamboo grove.

During Hanatouro, the glowing, swaying stalks of bamboo take on an otherworldly brilliance.

Chances are you’ll feel hungry after visiting here, so check out this cool food tour of Arashiyama you can book through Klook .

Lamps And Lanterns Light Of The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

There are plenty of great places to go shopping in Kyoto at night. Some of the best options are shotengai , which are traditional covered shopping streets that are easy to visit rain or shine.

Two of the most popular shotengai run parallel to each other close to the Kamo River.

Teramachi Shotengai is more traditional and caters to an older crowd.

On the other hand, Shinkyogoku Shotengai has a younger, hipper clientele, with shops selling everything from vintage clothing to iPhone cases using traditional Japanese motifs.

Both Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shotengai are popular with travellers thanks to their proximity to the Nishiki Market.

You’ll find plenty of ice cream and souvenirs for sale here. If you’re interested in a more local experience, then visit Sanjo-kai Shotengai two kilometres to the west.

Sanjo-kai Shotengai caters more to Kyoto residents and is a fairly authentic thing to do in Kyoto at night.

  • Nearest Subway Station (Shinkyogoku Shotengai): Exit 9 from Kyoto-Kawaramachi Station. 
  • Nearest Subway Station (Sanjo-kai Shotengai): Sanjo Station. 
  • Opening Hours : roughly 10 AM to 8:30 PM.

READ MORE: Don’t just hang out at night! Check out our guide of what to do in Kyoto during the day too !

If the shotengai mentioned above don’t satisfy your consumer urges, there are many more shopping opportunities in Kyoto at night.

For example, Shijō Dori is loaded with tempting ways to empty your bank account.

Here you’ll Japanese branches of major Western brands (Patagonia, Gucci, Disney) as well as countless Japanese merchants selling everything from pearls to punk-rock kimonos.

Electronics superstore Bic Camera has a branch on this strip as well.

So do hip Japanese street-wear brands like Beams, Bathing Ape and FR2 .

  • Location : Shijō Dori shops are at their most interesting from Karasuma Station on the west all the way to Yasaka Shrine across the river to the east.
  • Opening Hours : Store hours vary, usually closing between 7 PM 10 PM
  • Price : Free (window shopping, anyway).

Both Cool And Conventional Shops Abound On Shijo Dori

If you like bars and nightclubs, then you’ll find plenty to do late-night in Kyoto.

There are a number of large universities and art schools in the area, which means lots of students looking for fun after dark.

Many of the best bars and nightclubs in Kyoto are just west of the Kamo River between Sanjo Dori and Shijō Dori.

There’s nothing better than having a local show you around, and in Kyoto, that’s easier than you may think.

There are a number of great Kyoto night tours built around the city’s world-renowned food and spirits.

When I joined a Kyoto night foodie tour, we stopped at three restaurants for a multi-course feast.

They provided insight into the neighbourhoods we visited as well as the dishes we sampled.

The conversations were great and the variety of food and drinks to wash it down with made it one of my favourite nights in Kyoto thus far.  

  • Location : Gion, Pontocho, and more.
  • Opening Hours : Magical Trip’s Kyoto Night Foodie Tour starts around 6 pm and lasts around three hours.
  • Price : Approx. Between USD $65 and $100

Get An Inside Track Of Kyoto Drinks And Dining With A Small-Group Tour

That’s right: you’ll find karaoke bars and booths in various parts of the city.

After a few drinks, this can be one of the most fun things to do in Kyoto at night.

You may hear someone belting out a tune here and there as you walk around, but some karaoke bars are private local affairs.

Instead, I recommend going to a national chain like Big Echo .

They have numerous branches near Kyoto nightlife hotspots.

  • Location : Big Echo has multiple locations in Kyoto. My favourite is next to the Kamo River on Sanjo-Dori, near the statues of Yaji-san and Kita-san.
  • Opening Hours : 11 AM to 5 AM
  • Price : From 1500 yen and up, depending on the size of the group, length of stay and food/drink orders.

Belt It Out At A Big Echo Karaoke Booth

If you’re staying in Kyoto overnight, then I hope that you’ll be sleeping in a Japanese ryokan with an onsen (traditional bath).

If not, hot springs like Fu Fu No Yu in Arashiyama stay open until 10 PM.

Book your spot at Fu Fu No Yu here on Klook .

Then there are the local sento , public bathhouses used by travellers and residents alike.

Sento are usually no-nonsense: simple tile rooms divided by gender with several tubs of varying temperatures and mineral contents.

Some even have an “electric” tub with a low-voltage current running through it (I am not kidding).

While a few hours at a nice onsen can set you back anywhere from 10 to 40 dollars, sento are usually more economical.

I love to stop in, wash off and warm up before heading back out into the night.

Just make sure you understand local bathing customs .

For example, always shower and clean yourself completely before getting into the tubs.

  • Nearest Subway Station (Fu Fu No Yu): Hankyu-Arashiyama Station 
  • Nearest Subway Station (Ume-yu and Daikoku-yu): KiyomizuGojo Station.
  • Opening Hour s: Fu Fu no Yu hours are 12 PM to 10 PM. Sento usually stay open until around 2 AM. 
  • Price : Fu Fu No Yu costs 1000 yen for adults on weekdays, 1200 yen on weekends. Additional costs for towels, shampoo, etc. Sento costs around 500 yen.

Relax In A Local Sento

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About the Author - Jason Jenkins

In 1997, Jason left his home near Atlanta for a year abroad. He hasn’t moved back yet. After three years in Taiwan and 13 years in Japan, he and his wife quit their desk jobs in Tokyo, pulled their kids out of local schools and traveled as a family for six years, living in Malaysia, Spain, and Mexico along the way. They returned to Japan — Osaka this time — in the summer of 2019. Jason loves Google Maps, carry-on luggage, and most dishes that register on the Scoville scale. You can read more of his adventures on his website .

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Inside Kyoto

A Kyoto Travel Guide

Getting Around Kyoto

Kyoto is incredibly easy to explore by public transport (trains, subways, buses and taxis) or under your own steam (by bicycle or walking). This is a detailed guide to getting around Kyoto, with information on the best way to get to each part of the city.

Getting Around Kyoto - image copyright Jeffrey Friedl

Kyoto has a world-class public transport system: the buses, trains and subways will get you where you want to go fast and efficiently. And, because the city is relatively compact and mostly flat, it’s also a great city for cycling and walking.

Because the public transport system is so extensive, there are usually several ways to get to any particular destination, which is why it’s important to know the BEST way to get to where you’re going (see the Kyoto Transport by Destination Guide further down on this page).

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Kyoto’s Trains

Kyoto is served by six train lines. While some of these are intended for intercity commuting, they all can be used to get around the city. For details on Kyoto’s train system, see the Kyoto Trains page .

Kyoto’s Subways

Kyoto has two subway lines that are the best way to move north-south and east-west in the city. For details on Kyoto’s subway system, see the Kyoto Subways page .

You can download a free English-language PDF of the Kyoto train and subway system from the official JR Pass website (link opens PDF directly).

See also my page of information about getting special Kyoto bus, train and subway ticket deals .

Kyoto’s Buses

Kyoto’s bus system is incredibly extensive: you can get almost anywhere by bus if you know where to board and which bus to board. However, most travelers find the train and subway systems to be faster and easier to use. For details on Kyoto buses, see the Kyoto Buses page .

Kyoto’s Taxis

Taxis are plentiful and reasonably priced in Kyoto. And when you have three or four people, they can be a good value. They also allow you to cover a lot of ground fast and they can be used to connect areas that aren’t well served by public transport (for example, to go from Arashiyama to Kinkaku-ji Temple ). For details on Kyoto’s taxis, see the Kyoto Taxi page .

Cycling in Kyoto

Kyoto regularly appears on lists of the world’s best bicycle cities and for good reason: it’s a great place to explore by bicycle. It’s flat, the weather is usually good for cycling, and drivers are relatively sane. For details on exploring Kyoto by bicycle (including where to rent a cycle), see the Cycling in Kyoto page .

Walking in Kyoto

Whether you want to amble around the sightseeing districts inside the city or hike in the hills that surround the town, Kyoto is a brilliant place to explore on foot. For details on walking in Kyoto, see the Kyoto Walking Itineraries page and the Best Kyoto Hikes page .

The Takeaway:

  • Kyoto is a compact city with a well-developed transport network. It’s very easy to get around.
  • The subways and trains are the most convenient way to get around the city.
  • Buses are less convenient, but cover almost the whole city.
  • Taxis are plentiful and reasonably cheap. They’re sometimes cheaper than buses for groups of three or four on short trips.
  • Bicycles are a great way to get around Kyoto. The city is mostly flat and the drivers are sane. If you enjoy cycling, I strongly recommend renting a bicycle to explore the city.
  • Kyoto is a great city to explore on foot. Downtown area , Arashiyama and Higashiyama are all great for walking.
  • There are several special tickets that will save you tons of money if you plan on riding the buses, subways and trains a lot.

Chris’s Kyoto Travel Tips:

  • Avoid taxis and buses in the Higashiyama Area during the cherry blossom season . The roads will be so crowded that it will actually be faster to walk.
  • Take trains and subways where possible – they’re faster and more comfortable than buses.
  • Don’t be afraid to grab a map and just head out there. Kyoto is mostly a rectilinear grid pattern, so it’s easy to navigate. And, Kyotoites are unfailingly helpful when asked for directions.

Kyoto Transport by Destination Guide

Here’s a list of the routes most often used by visitors to Kyoto, and the best form of transport to get from one specific place to another.

From Kyoto Station to:

  • Downtown Kyoto: Take the Karasuma Line subway to Shijo Station.
  • Southern Higashiyama: Take the Karasuma Line subway, switch to the Tozai Line at Karasuma-Oike Station and get off at Higashiyama Station.
  • Northern Higashiyama: Take the Karasuma Line subway, switch to the Tozai Line at Karasuma-Oike Station and get off at Keage Station.
  • Daitoku-ji Temple: Take the Karasuma Line subway to Kitaoji Station and walk for about 10 minutes.
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple: Take Kyoto City Bus No. 205 or 101 Kinkakuji-Michi.
  • Ryoan-ji Temple: Take Kyoto City Bus No. 205 or 101 to Kinkakuji-Michi, then a brief taxi ride from there to Ryoan-ji Temple.
  • Arashiyama: Take the JR Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station.
  • Kurama and Kibune: Take Kyoto Bus No. 16 or 17 to Demachiyanagi (be careful to board a brown Kyoto Bus, not a green Kyoto City Bus) and switch to the Eizan Line and get off at Kibune or Kurama.
  • Takao: Take a JR bus and get off at the Yamashiro Takao stop.
  • Uji: Take the JR Nara Line and get off at Uji.
  • Tofuku-ji Temple: Take the JR Nara Line to Tofukuji.
  • Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine: Take the JR Uji Line to Inari.
  • Nara: Take the JR Nara Line to Nara (if you have a JR Rail Pass) or take the more convenient and faster Kintetsu tokkyu (express) train to Nara.
  • Osaka: Take a shinkansen to Shin-Osaka if you have a JR Rail Pass, or take a JR shinkaisoku (express) to Osaka if you don’t have a JR Rail Pass.
  • Kobe: Take a shinkansen to Shin-Kobe if you have a JR Rail Pass, or take a JR shinkaisoku (express) to Sannomiya if you don’t have a JR Rail Pass.
  • Hiroshima: Take a shinkansen to Hiroshima.
  • (express) to Koya-san.
  • Tokyo: Take a shinkansen (Nozomi or Hikari shinkansen).
  • Kansai Airport: Take the JR Haruka Airport Express.

From Downtown Kyoto to:

  • Kyoto Station: Take the Karasuma Line subway from Karasuma-Oike or Shijo to the Kyoto stop.
  • Southern Higashiyama: Take the Tozai Line subway from Karasuma-Oike, Kyotoshiyakusho-mae or Sanjo-Keihan to the Higashiyama stop.
  • Northern Higashiyama: Take the Tozai Line subway from Karasuma-Oike, Kyotoshiyakusho-mae or Sanjo-Keihan to the Keage stop.
  • Daitoku-ji Temple: Take the Karasuma Line subway to Kitaoji and walk for 10 minutes.
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple: Take Kyoto City Bus No. 59 from Kawaramachi-Sanjo to Kinkakuji-Michi.
  • Ryoan-ji Temple: Take Kyoto City Bus No. 59 from Kawaramachi-Sanjo to Kinkakuji-Michi and then take a brief taxi ride.
  • Arashiyama: Take the Tozai Line subway to Uzumasa-Tenjingawa and then a brief taxi ride (if you’re in a hurry), or take Kyoto City Bus No. 11 from either Sanjo-Keihan or Shijo-Kawaramachi.
  • Kurama and Kibune: Take the Keihan Line north to Demachiyanagi and switch to the Eizan Line to Kibune or Kurama.
  • Uji: Take the Keihan Main Line south to Chushojima and switch to the Keihan Uji Line to Uji.
  • Tofuku-ji Temple: Take the Keihan Main Line to Tofukuji.
  • Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine: Take the Keihan Main Line to Fushimi-Inari.
  • Osaka: Take the Hankyu Line from Kawaramachi to Umeda, or the Keihan Line from Sanjo-Keihan or Gion-Shijo to Yodoyabashi.

Kyoto Vacation Checklist

  • For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
  • Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
  • Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
  • See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
  • Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport . Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
  • Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
  • If you're visiting more than one city, you might save money with Japan Rail Pass – see if it's worth it for you
  • A prepaid Suica card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
  • World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world

Kyoto District Map

kyoto places to visit reddit

  • Central Kyoto
  • Northwest Kyoto
  • Northern Higashiyama
  • Southern Higashiyama
  • Downtown Kyoto
  • Kyoto Station Area
  • South East Kyoto

Disclosure: InsideKyoto.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. World Nomads provides travel insurance for travellers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.

IMAGES

  1. The 10 Top Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan

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  2. Best things to do in Kyoto, Japan: Top attractions to see

    kyoto places to visit reddit

  3. 14 Things To See And Do When Visiting Kyoto, Japan

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  4. TOP 50 Things to do in Kyoto: Must See, Must Do & Must Experience

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  5. Pin on Japan

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  6. The Best Places to Visit in Kyoto

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VIDEO

  1. Do you know the best way to tour Kyoto? "Researching Kyoto"

COMMENTS

  1. 5 Days in KYOTO: What to do? What to skip? : r/Kyoto

    Please no: loud nightlife (we are pretty lowkey, chill. quiet lounges or small pubs suit us best), museums (we've done so many museums during our travels, we prefer to avoid), places to "people watch", shopping malls (been there, done that), super tall towers (from the Space Needle to Taipei 101, the views are nice, but surely there's gotta be m...

  2. Your favorite places you visited in Kyoto off the beaten path ...

    Your favorite places you visited in Kyoto off the beaten path? Question Hey guys, I'm going to Kyoto later this month for 3 nights and am currently putting together my itinerary for the trip. I've seen places like the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Kinkaku-ji draw some criticism for being too crowded and not what travellers expected.

  3. 5 Days in KYOTO: What to skip? : r/JapanTravel

    Please no: loud nightlife (we are pretty lowkey, chill. quiet lounges or small pubs suit us best), museums (we've done so many museums during our travels, we prefer to avoid), places to "people watch", shopping malls (been there, done that), super tall towers (from the Space Needle to Taipei 101, the views are nice, but surely there's gotta be m...

  4. Is kyoto actually a must-see? : r/JapanTravel

    for the past weeks I was set on my 14 days itinerary being tokyo>nikko>fuji>osaka>nara>kyoto but then I read a post that kyoto isnt all that special, especially with the extremely high tourism taking much away from it, so im having last second doubts. the initial reason i wanted to visit kyoto is to see a more traditional japan, but is there perhaps a place to experience something similar ...

  5. What can reasonable be seen in Kyoto for 3.5 days? : r/JapanTravel

    I would like to see: Ginkaku-ji, philosophers path, Nijo-jo, (maaaybe the imperial palace,) fushimi inari, bamboo forest, and knakakuji, myoshin-ji, and ryoan-ji. I would love to be able to spend some time in Gion and Uji as well.

  6. Kyoto Plan Feasible? Thoughts and Tips? : r/JapanTravelTips

    Thoughts and Tips? : r/JapanTravelTips. Kyoto Plan Feasible? Thoughts and Tips? Planning on visiting Kyoto between April 1st - April 3rd. Most likely will be about 2.5 days. My family and I like to see historical sites but want to also shop around and not rush through things. We were debating about Arashiyama given we do not want things hectic.

  7. Best location to stay in for first visit to Kyoto?

    27 [deleted] • 10 mo. ago KDY_ISD • 10 mo. ago I wouldn't recommend staying near Kyoto Station, it isn't within walking distance of any of the cool stuff. You'll have to be subwaying and taxiing a lot more. Check out a hotel named Ethnography in Gion, there are two of them.

  8. What are your top 4 things to do in Kyoto, Japan? : r/JapanTravel

    AudioPanther What are your top 4 things to do in Kyoto, Japan? Question If you only had a chance to see/experience 4 things in Kyoto, what would they be? Currently I have Kiyomizu-dera, Arashiyama (Bamboo Forest), Pontocho, and Kinkaku-ji on my list. Am I missing something else that's special or worth visiting? Perhaps restaurants? Archived post.

  9. 26 Unforgettable Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan

    There are so many incredible things to do in Kyoto—you can visit golden temples and vermillion shrines, stroll through Zen rock gardens and swaying bamboo forests, slurp down bowls of ramen and participate in graceful tea ceremonies.

  10. Kyoto Bucket List: 18 Amazing Things to do in Kyoto, Japan

    Visiting the shrines and temples, with their perfectly landscaped gardens and views over the city, top the list for most visitors to Kyoto. But there are also bamboo groves and small neighborhoods to explore, food markets and shopping streets to visit, and some very cool day trips that you can take. The list of things to do in Kyoto is long.

  11. The 18 BEST Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan (2024 Update)

    2. Ryoan ji Temple. Of all of the temples and shrines in Kyoto, Ryoan ji Temple is another popular Kyoto must-see site for tourists because of its spectacular rock garden. The Myoshinji School of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism owns the garden, and the head temple is located one kilometre south of the garden.

  12. The PERFECT 3 Days in Kyoto Itinerary (2024 Update)

    Your Perfect 3 Days in Kyoto Itinerary. Day 1 in Kyoto. 8:45am - Nijo Castle. 11 am - Menbakaichida Fire Ramen - Lunch. 1 pm - Kyoto Imperial Palace. 4 pm - Nishiki Market. Day 2. 8 am - Kiyomizu Dera Temple. 10 am - Fushimi Inari Shrine.

  13. TOP 50 Things to do in Kyoto: Must See, Must Do & Must Experience

    Top Attractions #1 Arashiyama Bamboo Forest Arashiyama Bamboo Forest There is a secret date spot for Japanese lovers in Arashiyama! You can also visit temples, check out the bamboo grove and feed wild monkeys all at the same place.

  14. 20 BEST Places to Visit in Kyoto (2024)

    Visit glorious well-known temples like Sanjusangen-do, Kiyomizu dera temple, Kennin-ji, and Chion-in. Try and spot geishas in Hanami-koji . Be wowed by the cherry blossom at Shimbashi (in season). These are the BEST Places to Visit in Kyoto!

  15. 15 best things to do in Kyoto

    1. Stay golden at Kinkaku-ji Kinkaku-ji is a tourist favorite - nicknamed Golden Pavilion for its gold-leaf gilded upper layers, this zen temple is a magnificent sight regardless of the time of year.

  16. The 20 Best Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan

    1. Explore the trails of Fushimi Inari Shrine One of the best things to do in Kyoto is to walk the trails of the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Once an important pilgrimage walk, the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is one of the most visited shrines in Japan.

  17. The Perfect 2-3 Days Kyoto Itinerary

    It is among the best places to visit in Kyoto because this early 17th-century fort is one of the most beautiful castles on our little planet. The beautifully carved wooden ornaments and the combination of materials are just fantastic. You only need about an hour in Nijo Castle and the entrance fee is 620 YEN ($5.60).

  18. 34 UNIQUE Things to Do in Kyoto [in 2024]

    Free booze is definitely a top thing to do in Kyoto and a top thing to do when backpacking Japan. 4. Visit the incredible Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle. One of the most important sites in Kyoto is the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the former residence of the Emporers of Japan before they moved to Tokyo.

  19. 15 Best Things to Do in Kyoto

    #1 in Kyoto 4 miles to city center Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward Free, Churches/Religious Sites TYPE 2 hours to Half Day TIME TO SPEND

  20. Must See Kyoto Temples

    Below that, I've provided a Kyoto 1 Day itinerary that helps you see all of these attractions (except Nijo-jo Castle) in the most time-efficient manner possible: Kinkaku-ji Temple. Kinkaku-ji, the famed "Golden Pavilion," is Kyoto's most iconic sight, rising above its reflecting pond like an apparition. Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine.

  21. 18 Amazing Things to Do in Kyoto at Night (2023 Guide)

    With some of Japan's most famous temples and traditional culture at its heart, Kyoto is a must-see for any first-time visitors to the country. Most people plan out their days in Kyoto easily, but what are some fun things to do in Kyoto at night? READ MORE: Check out our perfect ' 3 days in Kyoto' itinerary to make the most of your trip!

  22. THE 15 BEST Things to Do in Kyoto

    Things to Do in Kyoto Explore popular experiences See what other travelers like to do, based on ratings and number of bookings. Walking Tours (223) Half-day Tours (150) Sacred & Religious Sites (1,056) Cultural Tours (227) Cooking Classes (45) Points of Interest & Landmarks (250) Mountain Bike Tours (24) City Tours (106) Historic Sites (283)

  23. Getting Around Kyoto

    Whether you want to amble around the sightseeing districts inside the city or hike in the hills that surround the town, Kyoto is a brilliant place to explore on foot. For details on walking in Kyoto, see the Kyoto Walking Itineraries page and the Best Kyoto Hikes page. The Takeaway: Kyoto is a compact city with a well-developed transport network.