Things to do in Kyoto

Things to do in  Kyoto

Don’t forget your kimono

Boasting an impressive 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites—one of the world’s largest collections—Kyoto epitomizes traditional Japanese culture. Quaint, serene, and rooted firmly in tradition, the city operates at an entirely different pace than bright, frenetic Tokyo. In the historic Gion district, geishas scurry to work wearing trademark silk kimonos; during sakura (cherry blossom season), Maruyama Park swells with pastel-pink flowers; and in Nishiki Food Market, vendors front stalls selling Japanese delicacies. Kyoto brims with dazzling Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, all set against striking natural landscapes typical of Japan. Tick off more highlights in less time on sightseeing tours, which typically cover the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), Nijo Castle, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Heian Jingu Shrine, and Kiyomizu Temple. Culture lovers can arrange a traditional tea ceremony and watch a Maiko show, nature fans can hike through Arashiyama and the Sagano Bamboo Forest, and foodies can master the art of Japanese cuisine during a sushi-making lesson. Within easy reach of Kyoto are several popular destinations that make ideal choices for half- or full-day tours: Nara, home to Deer Park (Nara Park) and Todai-ji (one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan); and Osaka, with its picturesque canal, grand Osaka Castle, and vibrant Dotonbori district. Farther afield but doable as a one-day tour, Hiroshima and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park are popular among travelers looking to learn more about Japan’s history.

Top 15 attractions in Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha)

One of Kyoto’s most sacred temples and among the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan, the Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha) is dedicated to Inari, the God of rice. The shrine’s five magnificent temples lie at the foot of the Inari mountain, and thousands of red torii gates (the Senbon torii) mark the forested trails to the top.More

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

With its gleaming gold tiers reflected in the lake below and a backdrop of forests and twisted pines, Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) is an enchanting sight. Dating back to the 14th century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Kyoto’s most popular attractions and among Japan’s most visited temples.More

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of Japan’s oldest and most eye-catching Buddhist temples. Its classic red pagoda has been influential to Japanese architecture for centuries. Located on a hilltop, Kiyomizu-dera Temple is also worth visiting for its sweeping views over Kyoto.More

Nishiki Market

With more than 100 shops, stalls, and vendors selling everything from fresh-off-the-boat fish and seafood to tasty sweets and sushi takeaway, Nishiki Food Market is a wonderland of culinary delights. It's no surprise then that Kyoto’s biggest and most popular food market is a local institution and a popular attraction for traveling foodies.More

Gion Corner

Gion Corner is a convenient place for art lovers to visit while in Kyoto, as it brings seven traditional Japanese performing arts together under one roof. Attending one of its nightly performances is an ideal way to spend an evening in the heart of the Gion entertainment district while learning about traditional Japanese culture.More

Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion)

Beneath the verdant canopy of the eastern mountains, Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion) is among the most visited of Kyoto’s UNESCO-listed temples and renowned for its idyllic gardens. Built in 1482 by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, legend dictates that it was to be covered in silver in homage to Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)—a feat that was never realized.More

Pontocho Alley

Pontocho Alley is a popular, atmospheric dining area packed with restaurants and exclusive tea houses lining a narrow, cobbled alley just west of Kyoto’s Kamo River. With no cars, modern buildings, or ostentatious signage allowed, it’s considered one of the most beautiful streets in Kyoto.More

Arashiyama Park

For classic Kyoto in a nutshell, head to Arashiyama Park. The perennially popular area is rich in temples and a riot of fall colors in November, with pink cherry blossoms in April.The park area embraces several major sights, including Tenryu-ji Temple, founded in 1339. The main temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, Tenryu-ji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by tranquil Zen gardens and bamboo forest.There are many other temples in Arashiyama, including the Gio-ji, Jojakko-ji and Daikaku-ji temples. Another highlight is walking across the Moon Crossing Bridge, with views over to Mt Arashiyama.More

Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho)

The Japanese royal family lived in Kyoto Imperial Palace(Kyoto Gosho) until 1868, when the capital moved to Tokyo. It’s located within the Kyoto Imperial Park, which also houses other palaces and shrines. This must-visit attraction allows visitors to gain a greater understanding of Japan’s rich history and culture while enjoying landscaped gardens.More

Nijo-jo Castle

UNESCO World Heritage Site Nijo-jo Castle, a fortified complex dating from 1603, was the official residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun. Walk in the pretty gardens or visit Ninomaru Palace to see fine Japanese artworks. It’s one of the most popular attractions in Kyoto, a city already full of must-visit attractions.More

Togetsu-kyo Bridge

Surrounded by the forested peaks of Mt Arashiyama and the west Kyoto mountains, Togetsu-kyo Bridge offers one of Kyoto’s most photographed views. Spanning the Katsura River, the historic wooden bridge is a landmark in its own right and leads the way to the atmospheric Arashiyama district.More

Maruyama Park (Maruyama Koen)

Set at the base of Maruyama Mountain in the western suburbs of Sapporo, Maruyama Park (Maruyama Koen) comprises 15 acres (6 hectares) of virgin and secondary forest filled with oak, magnolia, maple and Japanese katsura trees. Some 1,700 Hokkaido wild cherry trees also grow within the park, making it a particularly popular destination come springtime.Predating the park itself is the Hokkaido Shrine, located at the north end of the park. Built in 1869, the shrine sees a steady stream of devotees, especially on New Year’s Day and the last day of winter, seeking the good graces of the four protective deities believed to be enshrined within.Visitors to Maruyama Park will also find Maruyama Zoo on the grounds. The zoo houses around 200 species of plants and animals and includes a tropical bird aviary and an insect house.More

Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple

Best known for its riot of colorful foliage each autumn, this celebrated Buddhist temple—part of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism—is considered an indispensable stop on any Kyoto itinerary. With roots dating back to the 8th century, here you’ll find a variety of traditional buildings and a tranquil garden with a tree-lined pond, all open to visitors year-round.More

Tofuku-ji Temple

Founded in 1236, Tofuku-ji is a large Zen Buddhist temple in southeastern Kyoto. It’s one of the most important Zen temples in Kyoto (and the entirety of Japan) and it's the head temple of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. It’s an especially popular place to see the vibrant colors of the trees in fall.More

Katsura Imperial Villa (Katsura Rikyu)

Built in the 17th century by Prince Hachijo Toshihito, Katsura Imperial Villa (Katsura Rikyu) is regarded as one of the cornerstones of Japanese architecture and garden design. With its landscaped gardens, bamboo forests, and traditional teahouses dotted around a central lake; it’s an idyllic spot for strolling.More

Trip ideas

Top activities in Kyoto

Kyoto and Nara 1 Day Bus Tour
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Kyoto and Nara 1 Day Bus Tour

Traditional Tea Ceremony wearing a Kimono in Kyoto MAIKOYA
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Kyoto Departure - 1 Day Hiroshima & Miyajima Tour
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Hidden Kyoto E-Biking tour
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Hidden Kyoto E-Biking tour

Private Highlights of Kyoto Tour

Private Highlights of Kyoto Tour

Explore Gion and discover the arts of geisha
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Private Dinner with a Geisha

Private Dinner with a Geisha

Kyoto Night Foodie Tour

Kyoto Night Foodie Tour

KYOTO Private Tea Ceremony with kimono near by Daitokuji
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Kyoto Early Bird Tour
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Kyoto Early Bird Tour

Kyoto and Nara 1 Day Trip - Golden Pavilion and Todai-ji Temple from Kyoto
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Kyoto Samurai Experience
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Kyoto Samurai Experience

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All about Kyoto

When to visit

Trees covered in white cherry blossoms draw large crowds of visitors to Kyoto every spring. While spring is, indeed, a beautiful time to be in the city, it is also the most popular, so be prepared for long waits and higher-than-average hotel rates. Fall is relatively quiet in comparison but is arguably just as scenic, thanks to the rich colors of the changing leaves. October also offers a chance to experience the colorful Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages).

Getting around

Kyoto has an efficient public transportation system, and you can get pretty much anywhere quickly and efficiently on the city’s buses, trains, and subways. If you’re planning to use public transit, get a prepaid Icoca smart card, which is accepted on most trains and buses. If you plan to visit a lot of sights in a short time frame, it may be worth buying a 1- or 2-day pass that offers unlimited travel.

Traveler tips

Rummaging through Kyoto’s excellent flea markets is a delightful way to spend an afternoon. You may even find some real treasures, from kimonos and ceramics to ukiyo-e woodblock prints and handicrafts. Visit Chion-ji Temple on the 15th of the month for handicrafts, To-ji Temple on the 21st for antiques, and Tenjin-san Flea Market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine for vintage clothes on the 25th.


A local’s pocket guide to Kyoto

Akie Watanabe

Akie—a tour guide, origami instructor, sake sommelier, and the 29th generation of a Samurai family—loves Kyoto for its history, traditional culture, and great food.

The first thing you should do in Kyoto is...

go to Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion). You'll find traditional Japanese beauty in the spectacular garden. Coming to Kyoto and skipping Kinkakuji is like going to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower.

A perfect Saturday in Kyoto...

starts with coffee from Café Good Day Velo and continues with take-out mackerel sushi and mochi from Nishiki Market. Afterwards, take a walk along Kamo river, before getting dinner and drinks in Pontocho, a famed geisha district.

One touristy thing that lives up to the hype is...

the Fushimi Inari Shrine where there are 10,000 red gates. It's so unique, special, and spiritual. And, of course, you can take amazing photos.

To discover the "real" Kyoto...

ride a bike. Go down narrow backstreets, the Imperial Gardens, and the Sanyo Shopping Street, where you can feel the old-world atmosphere and sample affordable ramen in cool local cafés and supermarkets.

For the best view of the city...

go up to Iwatayama Monkey Park. You'll get a great city view from the top of the mountain and the 20-minute hike is worth it. Plus, you can also see cute monkeys roaming around.

One thing people get wrong...

thinking that Kyotoites are close-minded. People from Kyoto generally welcome visitors.


People Also Ask

What is Kyoto famous for?

Kyoto is famous for its ancient Buddhist temples, idyllic gardens, Shinto shrines, and traditional wooden townhouses—and for being one of Japan’s oldest cities. Often referred to as the cultural heart of Japan, Kyoto is the perfect place to learn about Japanese traditions such as tea ceremonies, ikebana (flower arranging), and geisha culture.

How can I spend 3 days in Kyoto?

Start a 3-day trip in Kyoto with a morning visit to Kiyomizu-dera temple to beat the crowds, followed by a visit to Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion. Visit Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine and the nearby Arashiyama Bamboo Grove for great photo opportunities. Lastly, explore Gion District and eat at Nishiki Market.

What should I not miss in Kyoto?

Don’t miss Kyoto’s magnificent temples and gardens such as Eikando Zenrinji Temple, Ginkaku-ji Temple, Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, and Sanjusangendo Temple. Take a stroll down the atmospheric Pontocho Alley to see its preserved machiya houses, try local bites at Nishiki Market, and explore the grounds of Nijo Castle.

Is Kyoto near Tokyo?

No, Kyoto is not near Tokyo—it’s roughly a 2-hour trip if traveling on the Nozumi bullet train, a 5.5-hour journey by car, and a domestic flight would take about 1-hour. For comfort, ease, and beautiful views of Mt. Fuji; the bullet train is the best way to travel between cities.

What is there to do in Kyoto besides temples?

Foodies can taste their way around Nishiki Market, take part in a cooking class, or participate in a tea ceremony. Access panoramic views of the city from Kyoto Tower’s observation deck, watch a traditional geisha performance in Gion, or go shopping at one of Shijo Street’s department stores.

Do they speak Engish in Kyoto?

Yes, English is spoken in Kyoto, but most commonly in hotels and restaurants that attract foreign visitors. Although English isn’t spoken fluently by many locals, people are extremely friendly and locals can usually speak a few words of English (even if shy to say so). Just remember to speak slowly.

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