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Best Things To Do in Kyoto

best things to do kyoto japan, fushimi inari shrine

Kyoto is one of the most beautiful, traditional cities you will ever visit in the world. It can be a bit overwhelming planning your trip to Kyoto because there are so many unique, traditional attractions in Kyoto. So, where do you even start planning what things to do in Kyoto? I’ll be honest, it was overwhelming for us and so we ended up doing a one day private tour of the 10 must see spots in Kyoto, which I highly recommend!

Some of the most popular things to do in Kyoto are to experience Cherry Blossom Season in Maruyama Park and the Philosopher’s Path, enjoy a traditional tea ceremony, stroll through Gion, hike and explore nature and visit the historic temples and shrines. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Hozugawa River and Fushimi Inari Shrine are popular places to stroll and hike. Other iconic temples include Kinkak-ji (the Golden Pavilion), Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion) and Kiyomizu-dera. In Gion, the historic district, you can stroll along traditional wooden machiya houses, tea houses and the potential to see geisha and maiko.

Below, we’ve compiled the best things to do and see in one of the world’s greatest cities. Whether you’re into the best shopping in Kyoto, the best restaurants in Kyoto or the best things to do in Kyoto, you can all find it here.

Kyoto Quick Links:

Best Things To Do in Kyoto: Tips and Advice

  • You’ll need at least one full day to see all of the top sites in Kyoto, but planning for 2 full packed days of sightseeing is best.
  • It is very easy to take day trips to Osaka, Nara and Hiroshima with the bullet train.
  • Bring a wireless charger and a pocket wifi for internet access on the go. This will help you navigate and translate Japanese with ease.
  • Make sure to respect cultural norms in Kyoto. Kyoto is steeped in tradition and etiquette. Some temples will give you bags to put your shoes in and you’ll walk around the temple in socks.
  • Experience tea culture while you’re in Kyoto either by participating in a traditional tea  ceremony or visiting a tea house.
  • The best tour / excursions: 10 Must See Spots in Kyoto One Day Private Tour
  • Most important tip: Plan ahead. There are many things to do in Kyoto, so make sure you prioritize your must-see sights, and know when they are open. Many of the popular attractions can get very crowded, especially during peak season so plan to visit the most popular attractions early in the morning or later in the afternoon.

Best Things To Do in Kyoto

Kyoto Station

When you first enter Kyoto, you will likely enter through Kyoto Station. If you have some time before dropping your bags off at the hotel, Kyoto Station has an underground food market and a rooftop balcony / garden. There are also lots of things to do near Kyoto Station if you’re only able to visit Kyoto briefly. Near Kyoto Station you’ll find Nishiki Market, the Kyoto Imperial Palace, and the shopping district of Shijo-Kawaramachi.

Bamboo Forest/ Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Bamboo Forest Kyoto, best things to do in Kyoto

The Bamboo Forest, also known as the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is located near Arashiyama and is unlike any place you’ve ever visited. There is a great walking path within the Bamboo Forest and you can walk in awe being surrounded by large Bamboo shoots. This is one of the most photographed spots in Kyoto. To get the best pictures and avoid crowds visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove go early in the morning.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine Kyoto Japan, best things to do in Kyoto, Kyoto Shrine

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto is one of the most popular things to do in Kyoto. It’s an iconic destination renowned for the thousands of torii gates. It’s estimated there are over 10,000 torri gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. You can spend hours at this sacred site, as you walk under the tunnel-like passage of torri gates up the hill. While this shrine can offer a tranquil retreat from bustling city life, it is incredibly packed during prime time during peak season so go early or late to avoid the large crowds. Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is included in many of the private tours, and is a place you may want to come back to on your own to do the full hike and take it all in.

Nazenji Temple

Nazenji Temple Kyoto, best things to do in Kyoto, Kyoto Shrine

Nazenji Temple was recommended to us by a traveler we met when we were dining in Kyoto and we happened to meet up again when we were in Kyoto. He said he ended up spending hours here and it was the most peaceful place to walk around and just take it all in – and he was right. We ended up spending several hours exploring around. We stumbed upon a hike with railroad tracks which we followed for a bit and another hike in the back of the temple in the woods. It was an incredibly tranquil, peaceful morning at Nazenji Temple.

Kinkakuji Temple

Kinkakuji Temple Kyoto, Golden Pavilion Kyoto, best things to do in Kyoto, Kyoto Shrine

The Zen Buddhist temple, Kinkakuji Temple, is one of the most famous landmarks and popular tourist attractions in Japan. The temple was originally built in 1397. Because of the iconic golden appearance, it’s known as Kinkaiji (Golden Pavilion). The upper stories of Kinkakuji Temple are covered in gold leaf and the roof is topped by a bronze phoenix. There is a pond right next to the Golden Temple and the reflection of the temple shimmers in the water.

Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market Kyoto, custom chopsticks Kyoto

Nishiki Market is the largest market in Kyoto. It has over 125 shops, and is truly more of a shopping destination, not as much of an eating destination though there is some food. The sushi was not quite as good as our favorite sushi at the markets in Tokyo and Osaka but the Gyoza here was good at Motoi Gyoza and we also enjoyed a pastry at the Snoopy café. Nishiki Market is over 400 years years old and spans many blocks, though is pretty narrow inside. It is dubbed the “Kitchen of Kyoto” and you can buy many things for your meals like fruit, vegetables and fish. You can also find great shopping at Nishiki Market including chopsticks which you can get engraved and beautiful umbrellas.

Edo Tatami Starbucks

Edo Tatami Starbucks Kyoto, famous Starbucks Kyoto

You may think, why would I want to visit a Starbucks in Kyoto, those are everywhere. However, the Edo Tatami Starbucks is very unique and traditional looking. The menu is the standard Japan Starbucks menu but the structure, seating and scene are all very unique and worth stopping by for a coffee if you’re in the area and have a few minutes.

Arashiyama Kimono Forest

Arashiyama Kimono Forest Kyoto

The Arashiyama Kimono Forest is located in the  Arashiyama district of Kyoto, Japan. There are hundreds of illuminated kimono-shaped pillars in this art installation. Each pillar has vibrant textile patterns reminiscent of traditional Japanese Kimonos, that line each side of the walkway.

Yasakanoto / Yasaka Pagoda

Yasakanoto Kyoto, Yasaka Pagoda Kyoto, Kyoto Shrine

Yasakanoto, also known as Yasaka Pagoda, is an iconic landmark situated in the heart of Kyoto’s historic Gion district. This five-story pagoda is a symbol of Kyoto’s rich cultural heritage and architecture. It offers a picturesque setting, especially in the spring when it’s surrounded by cherry blossoms and in the fall when it’s surrounded by colorful foliage. The current structure has undergone several reconstructions but is believed to date back to the 15th century.

Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka Streets

Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka are charming historic streets located in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto, Japan. Both streets are lined with traditional machiya wooden houses. Walking along these streets will offer a glimpse into Kyoto’s rich cultural heritage. Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka are popular for tourists to stroll along to enjoy the quaint atmosphere, souviner shops, teahouses and traditional Japanese sweets stores. Walking along these streets you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time to the Edo period.

Tenryuji Temple

Tenryuji Temple Kyoto, Kyoto Shrine

Tenryuji Temple is one of UNESCO Kyoto’s 5 great Zen temples. Here, you can also find gardens and walking paths. It has an amazing Zen-style garden. At the head temple of Tenryu branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism you’ll find The Cloud Dragon ceiling of the Hatto Hall. Though vires and conflicts destroyed the original buildings, the current structures that are restorations are still over 100 years old.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto, Kiyomizu Temple Kyoto, Kyoto Shrine

Kiyomizu-dera Temple present structure was built in the 1600s and the Main Hall has been designated a National Treasure. It is known for it’s cliff top Main Hall which has a broad wooden veranda with a panoramic view of Kyoto. The veranda almost seems to hang in midair, and faces the temple’s south side so it faces the Otowa Falls.

Gion District

GIon District Kyoto

Gion district is the traditional neighborhood in Kyoto. Here, you will find ochaya (teahouses) and Geisha. You’ll find many bars and riverside dining in the summer along the Pontocho. In the GIon district you can also find a shopper’s paradise filled with department stores and specialty shops further west. Yasaka Shrine is also located in the Gion district.

Nonomiya Shrine

Nonomiya Shrine can be found in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto, Japan. It holds a great cultural and historical significance as this is where imperial princesses stayed for a year or more prior to taking up their duties as royalty. Here, princesses would be prepped to serve the deities at the Ise Grand Shrine. Nonomiya Shrine offers a tranquil escape from the hustle of an urban area. Visitors can explore the grounds, see the main hall and enjoy the beauty of the shrines natural surroundings.

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle is a World Heritage Site. Here, the Ninomaru Palace is also designated a National Treasure due to the amazing architecture and interior decoration. It was built by Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 1600s, and he built it as his residence. It also served as a symbol of Tokugawa power in the Nansai region.

Kyoto Monkey Park

The Kyoto Monkey Park is in Arashiyama’s scenic mountains. Visitors can observe the monkeys up close from the observation decks. At the park’s summit, visitors can see panoramic views of Kyoto and the surrounding mountains. It’s a great thing to do in Kyoto for nature and animal lovers.

Togetsukyo Bridge

Togetsukyo Bridge Kyoto

The Togetsukyo Bridge is in the Arashiyama district and spans across the Katsura River in Kyoto. It translates to “Moon Crossing Bridge” and is a symbol of natural beauty. It offers views of the surrounding mountains, cherry blossoms in the spring and colorful foliage in the fall. The Togetsukyo Bridge is a beloved landmark and a popular spot to admire Kyoto’s natural beauty.

Walk Along the Kamogawa River

Kamogawa River Kyoto

It’s nice to stroll along the Kamogawa River, especially on a sunny, warm day. The river offers a peaceful and scenic environment to enjoy nature. You can rent bicycles, stroll, or have a picnic along the river. The banks of the Kamogawa River are about a ten minute walk from the JR Kyoto Station.

Hike in the Higashiyama Mountains

Hiking in the Higashiyama Mountains of Kyoto offers an escape into nature. On this hike, you can see breathtaking views of Kyoto’s historic landscape. The trails go through forests, serene temples and alongside streams. Visitors can find iconic temples such as Kiyomizu-dera and Eikan-do along the way. It’s a great way to enjoy a hike and culture all at the same time.

Enjoy a Scenic Boat Ride Along the Hozugawa River

When the weather is warm in Kyoto, it’s nice to enjoy a scenic boat ride along the Hozugawa river, enjoying the natural scenery that surrounds you.

Cherry Blossom Season

Cherry Blossom Season Kyoto

Cherry Blossom Season is a gorgeous time to visit Kyoto. The best places to view the cherry blossoms in Kyoto are in Maruyama Park and the Philosopher’s Path.

Have Matcha Tea at Ippodo

Ippodo Tea Kyoto, Kyoto Tea House, Famous Kyoto Tea House

Ippodo is the most famous place to buy and drink matcha tea in Kyoto. If you want to bring matcha tea home with you from Japan, Ippodo tea is the place to go. Ippodo has certain teas that are only sold in Kyoto. Even though you can buy Ippodo tea in Tokyo, it is best to go to Ippodo in Kyoto. Here, you can also sit down and enjoy a tea in their tea house.

Traditional Tea Ceremony

Kyoto is famous for traditional tea ceremonies. Unfortunately our trip was too short to squeeze a traditional tea ceremony in, however; we heard great reviews from a friend about this traditional tea ceremony and can’t wait to check it out ourselves the next time we visit Kyoto.

Nintendo Store Kyoto

Are you a gaming enthusiast? If yes, the Nintendo Store in Kyoto is a great thing to do in Kyoto. It’s one of Japan’s most iconic brands and the Nintendo store offers a vibrant and interactive experience. Visitors will see classic video game consoles, exclusive merchandise and can participate in hands-on gaming experiences and special events.

Day Trip to Nara

A day trip to Nara from Kyoto is very easy to do. The train ride can be anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the train and schedules. Nara is famous for it’s sacred deer park, temples and rich cultural heritage. Visitors can explore iconic landmarks such as

Todai-ji Temple, home to the Great Buddha statue, and Kasuga Taisha Shrine, known for its thousands of stone lanterns. Nara Park is unlike anything visitors will ever experience where visitors have the opportunity to interact with friendly deer. Visitors can also stroll through the streets of Naramachi to admire traditional machiya houses and sample local delicacies.

Day Trip to Osaka

Day Trip to Osaka from Kyoto, Osaka Castle Japan

A day trip to Osaka from Kyoto is also very easy to do from Kyoto. The train ride can be anywhere from 30-45 minutes depending on which train, and which station you get off of. There are local trains and bullet trains from Kyoto to Osaka, so you have plenty of train times to pick from. The train ride is so easy that you’re able to do multiple day trips if you want to explore Osaka one day and go to Universal Studios / Nintendo World another day. Osaka offers a variety of attractions, from the iconic Osaka Castle and Dotonbori street to Shitennoji Temple. There are lots of street foods to try, including our favorite of the trip the best tuna nigiri we’ve ever had at Kuromon Fish Market. You can also find Takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki (savory pancakes), and the 10 cent coin pancake stuffed with cheese. In Osaka, you’ll find great attractions, great shopping and incredible food.

Day Trip to Hiroshima

A day trip to Hiroshima from Kyoto is a bit longer of a journey than Nara and Osaka but still doable in a day. The bullet train typically takes an hour and a half to two hours depending on the type of train and train schedule. Hiroshima was devastated by the atomic bomb in 1945 and despite this it is now a vibrant city with a message of peace. Visitors can explore the Peace Memorial Park which commemorates the victims of the bombing and promotes nuclear disarmament. The Atomic Bomb Dome stands as a reminder of the tragedy. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum provides a comprehensive guide into the events of that day. There is a nearby island, Miyajima, which is known for it’s “floating” torii gates, which is easily accessible from Hiroshima.

Best Things To Do in Kyoto Conclusion

In conclusion, there are many things to do in Kyoto. Visitors can explore neighborhoods, ancient temples, serene gardens, great shopping, traditional tea ceremonies and more. There is something for everyone, whether it’s wandering through the historic districts like Gion and Higashiyama or the Arahiyama Bamboo Grove, visiting the Golden Pavilion or the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. Kyoto offers many unique experiences and with proper planning you can visit all of your top things to do, even if your visit is short.

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