Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto, Japan, is a city that effortlessly blends the old with the new, offering visitors a unique glimpse into Japan's rich cultural and historical heritage while also showcasing modern attractions and activities. Whether you're a history buff, nature lover, foodie, or simply looking for a memorable family vacation, Kyoto has something to offer everyone. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the best attractions in Kyoto, top activities, and everything you need to know to make the most of your visit.


Nestled in the heart of Japan, Kyoto is a city that beckons travelers with its ancient temples, serene gardens, traditional tea houses, and vibrant geisha culture. As the former imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years, Kyoto's streets and alleyways are steeped in history, making it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Japanese culture and history. From the iconic Fushimi Inari Shrine to the tranquil Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto offers a plethora of attractions that cater to all interests. In this article, we'll take you on a journey through the top things to do in Kyoto, providing practical tips and insights to help you plan your trip.

Historical Sites

1. Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine is arguably one of the most iconic sights in Kyoto. Known for its thousands of vermillion torii gates that form scenic paths up the sacred Mount Inari, this Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice and agriculture. The shrine dates back to 711 AD and remains a significant religious site.

  • Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882, Japan
  • Opening Hours: Open 24 hours
  • Tips for Visitors: Visit early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds. Wear comfortable shoes as the hike to the summit can take 2-3 hours.

2. Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion)

The Golden Pavilion, or Kinkaku-ji, is one of Kyoto's most famous landmarks. This Zen Buddhist temple is renowned for its stunning golden exterior, which reflects beautifully in the surrounding pond. Originally built in 1397, the pavilion has been reconstructed several times due to fire damage.

  • Address: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361, Japan
  • Opening Hours: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Tips for Visitors: The site can get very crowded, so it's best to visit early in the day. Don't miss the tea garden located within the temple grounds.

3. Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera, meaning "Pure Water Temple," is another must-see historical site in Kyoto. Founded in 780 AD, this UNESCO World Heritage site is famous for its wooden stage that juts out from the main hall, offering breathtaking views of the city and cherry blossoms in spring.

  • Address: 1-294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862, Japan
  • Opening Hours: 6:00 AM - 6:00 PM
  • Tips for Visitors: Combine your visit with a stroll through the historic Higashiyama District, known for its preserved streets and traditional shops.

Outdoor Activities

4. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a natural wonder that provides a serene and ethereal experience. Walking through the towering bamboo stalks is like stepping into another world, and the grove is a popular spot for photographers and nature lovers.

  • Address: Sagaogurayama Tabuchiyamacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8386, Japan
  • Opening Hours: Open 24 hours
  • Tips for Visitors: Visit early in the morning to experience the grove with fewer crowds. The nearby Tenryu-ji Temple and its gardens are also worth a visit.

5. Philosopher's Path

The Philosopher's Path is a picturesque walkway that follows a canal lined with cherry trees. This 2-kilometer path, named after the famous Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro, is especially beautiful during the cherry blossom season.

  • Address: Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8446, Japan
  • Opening Hours: Open 24 hours
  • Tips for Visitors: Start at Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion) and walk south towards Nanzen-ji, stopping at the various temples and shrines along the way.

6. Mount Hiei

For those who enjoy hiking, Mount Hiei offers a challenging but rewarding trek. The mountain is home to Enryaku-ji, a Tendai Buddhist monastery complex and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The summit provides panoramic views of Kyoto and Lake Biwa.

  • Address: Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-0000, Japan
  • Opening Hours: Varies by temple
  • Tips for Visitors: Take the Eizan Cable Car or the Hieizan Sakamoto Cable Car for an easier ascent. Pack water and snacks for the hike.

Cultural Experiences

7. Gion District

The Gion District is Kyoto's most famous geisha district. Walking through the historic streets lined with traditional wooden machiya houses, visitors can often spot geishas and maikos (apprentice geishas) dressed in exquisite kimonos. The district is also home to a variety of teahouses and restaurants.

  • Address: Gion, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0001, Japan
  • Opening Hours: Varies by establishment
  • Tips for Visitors: Visit in the evening when the district comes alive with lanterns and the chance to see geishas heading to their appointments.

8. Tea Ceremony

Participating in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony is a cultural experience not to be missed. Kyoto offers numerous tea houses where you can learn about the art of tea preparation and enjoy matcha (green tea) served with Japanese sweets.

  • Recommended Tea Houses: Camellia Tea Ceremony (address: 349-12 Masuyacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0826, Japan), En (address: 60 Gokoumachi Nijo-agaru Higashigawa, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, 604-0933, Japan)
  • Tips for Visitors: Make a reservation in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. Be prepared to remove your shoes and follow traditional etiquette.

9. Nishiki Market

Known as "Kyoto's Kitchen," Nishiki Market is a bustling marketplace offering a wide variety of local foods, from fresh seafood and produce to pickles, sweets, and street food. This market is a paradise for food lovers and a great place to sample Kyoto's culinary delights.

  • Address: Nishikikoji-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, 604-8054, Japan
  • Opening Hours: 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
  • Tips for Visitors: Try local specialties like yuba (tofu skin), fresh sashimi, and traditional Japanese sweets. Be sure to bring cash, as some vendors do not accept credit cards.

Food and Drink

10. Kaiseki Dining

Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese meal that showcases seasonal ingredients and meticulous preparation. Kyoto is renowned for its kaiseki cuisine, and dining at a kaiseki restaurant is a culinary experience you won't forget.

  • Recommended Restaurants: Kikunoi Honten (address: 459 Shimokawaracho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0825, Japan), Gion Karyo (address: 570-125 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0074, Japan)
  • Tips for Visitors: Kaiseki dining can be expensive, so be sure to check prices and make reservations in advance. Inform the restaurant of any dietary restrictions when booking.

11. Kyoto Sake Brewery Tour

Kyoto is famous for its sake, and a sake brewery tour offers a fascinating insight into the production process of this traditional Japanese rice wine. Fushimi, a district in southern Kyoto, is particularly known for its high-quality sake breweries.

  • Recommended Breweries: Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum (address: 247 Minamihama-cho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-8660, Japan), Kizakura Kappa Country (address: 228 Shioya-cho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-8046, Japan)
  • Tips for Visitors: Tours often include tastings, so pace yourself and drink responsibly. Some breweries offer English tours, so check availability beforehand.

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