If you are planning to explore Kyoto in Japan properly, you need to include these 11 best things to do in Kyoto in your itinerary!
Kyoto is a beautiful city that used to be the capital of Japan. There are many incredible tourist attractions in Kyoto; it may be, therefore, challenging to create the perfect sightseeing itinerary if you are only there for a few days.
To help you out, we have created a list of the 11 best things to do in Kyoto that should not be missed.
11 Best Things To Do In Kyoto
The best time to visit Kyoto is during cherry blossom season (mid-March through early April) because there will be thousands upon thousands of cherry blossom trees blooming outside for all tourists and locals alike to admire!
A four-day stay should give you enough time to see a lot that Kyoto has to offer; however, a week will ensure you miss nothing.
Let’s jump into these 11 best things to do in Kyoto!
The Gion District is one of Kyoto’s most popular tourist destinations. It’s filled with beautiful temples, shrines, and gardens that are well worth checking out if you have time. There are also lots of street performers and shops selling traditional Japanese goods to explore.
The best way to get around the area is on foot, but there is a streetcar that runs through the area as well. If you’re looking for something more relaxing than walking everywhere, consider taking an electric car tour around this area so that you can take in all its sights without getting exhausted from all the walking!
Gion is also known as an area in Kyoto to spot Geisha. Sunday afternoon is considered to be the best time to spot one.
Kinkaku-ji is a zen Buddhist temple in northern Kyoto. The temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who had it built for his brother in 1397. This was done as an act of devotion to Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara), a bodhisattva who has been associated with celestial guardian deities since ancient times.
The name means “Temple of the Golden Pavilion”, and it’s easy to see why: The top two floors are covered with pure gold leaf! It’s an impressive sight no matter what season you visit; my favorite time is when everything is lush and green outside.
3. Fushimi Inari
Fushimi Inari is a gorgeous shrine in Kyoto, Japan, and probably one of the most recognized. It’s known for its thousands of vermilion torii gates that line a 1.6-kilometer path through the forest. Fushimi Inari is a must-visit place if you’re visiting Kyoto.
A lot of visitors walk up to the viewpoint; however, the paths run all the way around the mountain, and you can walk them all at your own pace. You’ll find yourself surrounded not only by little shrines and, of course, the gates but also in the middle of a lovely forest. It is a unique experience.
Fushimi Inari is open 24 hours, and it does get busy, so get up early and head up through the gates before the crowds appear.
4. The Philosopher’s Path
The Philosopher’s Path is a quiet walking trail that connects temples, shrines, and other points of interest. It’s perfect for spending time wandering through Kyoto’s greenery, enjoying the beautiful cherry blossoms in spring, or taking in the sights during the autumn when the leaves change.
If you’re lucky enough to be there during the sakura season (March-April), this is an excellent place to see them; otherwise, expect more trees than flowers! The path itself is only about 2 kilometers long and runs alongside a small canal. There are also plenty of cafes along the way if you want to stop for a tea break or lunch after your walk – just make sure not to miss out on getting your own selfie taken by statuesque Ginkgo trees!
The best part about this path is that it’s great for all ages as well as being wheelchair accessible too, so don’t hesitate about bringing little ones along too!
Arashiyama is a peaceful, relaxing area of Kyoto that’s filled with temples and shrines. The famous bamboo forest is the main reason tourists come to Arashiyama, but you shouldn’t miss at least a few of the shrines.
While there are many temples to see in Arashiyama, the Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple, located about 3 kilometers from the station, is the last temple you will see on your walk. It is known for having over 1200 stone statues that locals carved under the tutelage of head priest Kocho Nishimura.
Added to the temple in the 1980s, most sculptors carved their statue as a likeness of themselves or another family member, and you can find tennis-playing statues, a pair saluting each other with Sake and even one with a cassette player. You could easily spend a few hours checking out all the statues and their unique features.
6. Nishiki Market
Nishiki Market is a must-see for any first-time visitor to Kyoto. Nestled between the Kamo River and Higashiyama mountains, it’s one of the largest traditional markets in Japan. The narrow winding streets are full of vendors selling an array of Japanese souvenirs, sweets, snacks, sushi, sashimi, and sake.
The market is divided into three main sections: Nishiki Ichiba (fish market), Nishiki Mura (vegetable market), and Tosando (food court). The most notable thing about this market is its fresh seafood selection; you can find everything from grilled river fish to sashimi made with freshly caught tuna! Another highlight here is all things tofu – there are multiple shops selling homemade tofu products like aburaage (deep-fried soybean curd) or natto (fermented soybeans).
If you’re looking for something other than food, then there’s plenty more to do at Nishiki Market, such as:
- buy kimonos made by local craftspeople
- explore a traditional pottery workshop where you can watch artists create works of art right before your eyes
- visit a handmade chopstick factory where locals come together twice a year to craft beautiful chopsticks using antique tools passed down through generations
- shop for yakitori skewers made by an artisanal chef who has been making these tasty treats since he was just 13 years old
- pick up some exotic fruits like lychee or persimmon that aren’t typically found outside Asia
- learn how sake was originally brewed over 1,000 years ago at one of Japan’s oldest breweries
7. Mount Kurama
Mount Kurama is a mountain northwest of Kyoto, and it offers an easy day trip from the city. Accessible by train Mount Kurama is about an hour train trip taking changes into consideration.
Kurama’s main attraction is Kurama-dera Buddhist temple which is about a 40-minute hike from the town below, or you could take the cableway about halfway up to cut down on some steps. It’s best to visit in spring when cherry blossoms are in bloom. The mountain is sacred to Shintoism, so you’ll see lots of shrines and temples up there!
Behind the temple, the path continues on to Kibune, and while it is manageable, it does get a little steep at times. Kibune has a station on the same line as the one you took to get to Kurama, so you can easily get back into Kyoto.
There is also an Onsen at Mount Kurama, about a 10-minute walk from the station, which has both indoor and outdoor hot springs.
8. Maruyama Park
If you want to see cherry blossoms in Kyoto, Maruyama Park is the place to go. With over 1,300 cherry blossom trees, this park is home to one of Japan’s largest displays of sakura trees.
The park also has a few other attractions, including Yasaka Shrine and the Hanatoro Festival, which both take place around early April each year. During this festival, visitors can enjoy food stalls selling traditional Kyoto cuisine while they watch traditional dance performances by local schoolchildren in Shinto robes or kimonos.
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting during the Maruyama Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival that runs from late March through mid-April every year, then there will be even more activities, including live music performances on stage both days along with fireworks shows at night! The main feature of the park is the weeping cherry blossom trees, with one giant example taking pride of place in the park.
9. Kiyomizudera Temple
Kiyomizudera Temple is a must-visit for Buddhist pilgrims and sightseers alike. Built in 798 AD, this temple is one of the most famous in Japan and has been included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
The main hall (or hondo), which houses three main statues, is beautiful with its woodwork and painted ceiling panels depicting scenes from Buddha’s life. Visitors can take part in many different types of cultural events, such as traditional tea ceremonies or seasonal celebrations during their visit; however, Kiyomizudera Temple is most well known for its large timber deck that allows you to look out over Kyoto during either Cherry Blossom season or in the fall when the leaves are changing.
10. The Higashiyama District
The Higashiyama District is home to some of Kyoto’s most celebrated sites, including Kiyomizudera, Yasaka Shrine, Kenninji, and Gion, where Geishas entertain locals and visitors alike.
While there are a number of small restaurants and shops along these streets, the area is best explored on foot. If you aren’t visiting during cherry blossom season (March-April), Higashiyama District is still a great place to visit year-round.
The architecture here is also breathtaking, with traditional machiya houses on display at every turn. The walk between Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine is about 2 kilometers long and could easily be walked in about half an hour; however, with all the lovely shops, cafes, and restaurants to visit, it can take at least a few hours.
11. Kyoto Tower
As one of the most iconic landmarks in Kyoto, you simply cannot miss seeing the Kyoto Tower. It is a symbol of Kyoto that can be seen anywhere in the city, whether you’re looking up at it from ground level or watching it on TV.
The tower itself offers breathtaking views of the city, some of which are only available via climbing to its observation deck halfway up its height. You can also enjoy panoramic views from multiple levels inside the tower itself and visit its museum while you’re there.
Additionally, there are restaurants on every floor where you can eat traditional Japanese food (like okonomiyaki) or modern fusion dishes. While enjoying your meal and taking in your surroundings, don’t forget to look out at night when all four faces of the building are lit up with lights!
As you might have gathered, Kyoto has a lot to offer to visitors. The attractions and activities listed in this post are the most unforgettable experiences that should not be missed.
I hope you have enjoyed this little travel guide and that it will help you create your perfect Kyoto itinerary.
About The Author Of “11 Best Things To Do In Kyoto, Japan”
Jenny is an Australian over 50’s adventure traveler who is often out there “Charging the Globe“. Her travels have taken her from Sydney to The Sahara; she is committed to telling you what travel is really like and loves to pass on her stories, advice, and experience from over 30 years of travel.
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