Discover the 20 best things to do in Kyoto to experience the magic that is in Japan.
Kyoto is a city known for its rich cultural heritage and stunning landscapes. It is one of the most visited places in Japan that captivates visitors with its timeless beauty. From ancient temples and tranquil gardens to bustling markets and traditional tea houses, Kyoto offers a unique blend of old-world charm and modernity that is very different from Tokyo. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or a foodie, this enchanting city has something for everyone. Kyoto is one of my favorite cities in Japan and a place I urge everyone to visit and explore to the fullest.
Here are 20 incredible things to do in Kyoto that will immerse you in the city’s vibrant traditions and awe-inspiring sights.
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TOP 20 Things to Do in Kyoto, Japan
Explore Fushimi Inari Shrine
Visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the top things to do in Kyoto. The shrine is famous for its endless vermilion torii gates that create a path throughout the surrounding hills. As you enter, you’ll be captivated by the breathtaking sight of thousands of vibrant red gates. The trails wind through the forested mountainside, leading you on a mystical journey. Along the way, you’ll encounter stone fox statues, symbolizing the shrine’s significance in Japanese folklore.
The hike to the summit takes about two to three hours, but you can explore at your own pace. Along the way you will discover serene forests, smaller shrines, and picturesque viewpoints, Fushimi Inari Shrine not only serves as a religious site but also showcases the beauty of nature. Whether you wander through the torii gates or venture further into the trails, Fushimi Inari Shrine offers an unforgettable experience that will leave you in awe.
After around 8:30 AM, it gets incredibly busy at Fushimi Inari Shrine which can make the experience slightly less special. It is best to arrive at 7 AM to avoid this. I arrived at 7 AM and there were some people there but not many at all. When I left at 8:30, huge tourist busses of people were starting to swarm in.
Nonetheless, visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine is 100% free, it is truly one of the top things to do in Kyoto you do not want to miss.
Walk Around the Bamboo Grove
Walking around Bamboo Grove is one of the top things to do in Kyoto that transports visitors to a magical world. As you enter, you are surrounded by towering bamboo stalks that form a canopy overhead. The main path, known as the Sagano Bamboo Forest Path, guides you through this unmatched forest that creates a peaceful atmosphere and a break from city life.
As you explore deeper into the grove, you’ll discover hidden trails and clearings that offer moments of tranquility. The different lights and shadows add an even more special touch to the walk. Don’t miss nearby attractions like the Tenryu-ji Temple, and the Arashiyama Monkey Park.
Stroll Around Nineizaka (Ninenzaka)
Experience the charm of Ninenzaka as you wander its narrow, stone-paved streets. This historic district is lined with well-preserved wooden machiya houses and traditional shops, creating a picturesque atmosphere. Browse through the unique shops offering traditional crafts, souvenirs, and delicious snacks like matcha-flavored treats. Take a moment to visit the quaint tea houses and indulge in a cup of Japanese tea amidst the serene surroundings.
Ninenzaka truly showcases the essence of traditional Kyoto and provides a glimpse into the city’s rich cultural heritage. Whether you’re seeking to shop for unique items, immerse yourself in history, or simply enjoy a peaceful walk, exploring Ninenzaka was one of my favorite things to do in Kyoto that I could have spent hours exploring!
Visit Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
Immerse yourself in the mesmerizing beauty of Kinkaku-ji as one of the top things to do in Kyoto. This iconic Zen Buddhist temple is a true masterpiece. The golden exterior reflects its magnificence in the pond that surrounds it, creating a breathtaking sight. Strolling through the wonderfully maintained gardens is a serene experience, with bridges and lush greenery enhancing the temple’s allure.
While the interior is not accessible, the exterior alone is enough with its gleaming gold leaf-covered structure. Kinkaku-ji’s charm is further accentuated during cherry blossom season and autumn when vibrant colors enhance its surroundings. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kinkaku-ji showcases Kyoto’s rich cultural heritage. This is a must-see, offering a glimpse into Japan’s architectural wonders and leaving visitors in awe of its beauty.
Try Traditional Dishes
Embark on a culinary adventure and immerse yourself in the flavors of traditional Japanese dishes. This is easily one of the top things to do in Kyoto to taste all the wonderful food Japan has to offer. From sushi to ramen and beyond, Kyoto’s traditional dishes are a sensory delight that will transport you to the heart of Japanese gastronomy. Just be prepared to wait in long lines for the top places in Kyoto. Like all of Japan food is a big deal and with great food and small spaces lines are super common!
I am a vegetarian and was pretty nervous about what types of food I would be able to find in Japan. Although being vegan or vegetarian can be a challenge in Japan, Kyoto has quite a few places that are veggie friendly where you can enjoy traditional dishes without worry! Some of my favorites are:
Experience Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Visiting Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of the top things to do in Kyoto. This iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its wooden terrace and expansive temple grounds, which feature various halls, pagodas, and beautiful gardens that showcase Kyoto’s architectural excellence. It also offers stunning views of the city.
Don’t forget to visit the Otawa Waterfall, where you can partake in the ritual of drinking from three streams believed to grant blessings. The temple is particularly beautiful during evening illuminations, creating a magical atmosphere. Whether you’re interested in history, nature, or spirituality, Kiyomizu-dera Temple offers a journey into Kyoto’s cultural heritage. It’s a place of tranquility and beauty that will leave a lasting impression on your visit to Kyoto.
Wander through Gion District
Indulge in the enchanting atmosphere of Kyoto’s Gion district as you wander through its historic streets. Known for its traditional charm, Gion is a captivating neighborhood with well-preserved wooden machiya houses and the possibility of spotting geisha or maiko. Stroll along the narrow stone-paved alleys and admire the elegant architecture that transports you back in time.
Hanamikoji Street, with its bustling ambiance, is the perfect place to catch a glimpse of geisha or maiko gracefully making their way to appointments. Take in the beauty of the Yasaka Shrine, known for its vibrant festivals and lively atmosphere. As evening falls, the lanterns illuminate the streets, adding a touch of magic to the surroundings. Don’t miss a walk along the picturesque Shirakawa Canal, where weeping willows sway and charming restaurants beckon with delectable traditional cuisine.
Gion is a place of timeless beauty and cultural significance, offering a glimpse into Kyoto’s rich heritage. Wandering around here is one of the top things to do in Kyoto for all.
Indulge in Local Snacks
Treat your taste buds to the delightful flavors of Kyoto’s local snacks and desserts. This is one of the most popular things to do in Kyoto to taste your way through the city. I could have easily spent hours trying all the unique little treats and snacks so I had to be picky to not overeat to enjoy more.
Indulge in the famous 10 yen cheese coin, sakura ice cream, Mont Blanc, and more! Don’t miss the chance to immerse yourself in the rich flavors and cultural heritage of Kyoto through its delightful local snacks and desserts. They are a true treat for your taste buds and a reflection of Kyoto’s culinary artistry.
Visit Nijo Castle
Immerse yourself in the historical charm of Nijo Castle, one of the top things to do in Kyoto. This UNESCO World Heritage Site showcases Japanese architecture’s beauty and offers a glimpse into the country’s rich heritage. Explore the castle’s grounds, surrounded by huge walls and moats, and marvel at the intricately decorated Ninomaru Palace.
Admire the exquisite artwork on the sliding doors and experience the unique “nightingale floors” that make chirping sounds as you walk, designed to alert against potential intruders. Take a leisurely stroll through the beautifully landscaped gardens, featuring serene ponds and vibrant seasonal blooms. Nijo Castle holds significant historical importance as the residence of the Tokugawa shoguns during the Edo period.
Visit the Hōkan-ji Temple
Admire the Hōkan-ji Temple, also known as Yasaka Pagoda, one of the most iconic and photographed temples in Kyoto. This five-story pagoda stands as an iconic symbol, and visiting it t view and photograph it is one of the top things to do in Kyoto! Dating back to ancient times, Hōkan-ji Temple offers a sense o sacredness and tranquility.
Marvel at its architectural details and admire the harmonious blend of nature and spirituality with its peaceful surroundings. Whether you visit during cherry blossom season or during in the autumn foliage, Hōkan-ji Temple offers a serene escape, inviting you to connect with Kyoto’s rich cultural heritage and find solace in its timeless beauty.
Walk the Philosopher’s Path
Walking Philosopher’s Path is one of the top things to do in Kyoto a quiet escape. This picturesque walkway follows the canal and is lined with cherry trees. Stretching for approximately two kilometers, this tranquil path starts near the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji) and leads to Nanzen-ji Temple.
As you leisurely stroll along the path, you will fall in love with the scenery and the peaceful ambiance that surrounds you. During the cherry blossom season, the path is transformed into a tunnel of pink petals, creating a truly enchanting experience. Take in the sights of charming stone bridges, quaint shops, and peaceful shrines that dot the path. Pause to rest on one of the benches or find a cozy café to enjoy a moment of relaxation and contemplation.
Embracing its namesake, the Philosopher’s Path offers a space for introspection and deep thoughts, allowing you to find solace and inspiration amidst nature’s beauty. The Philosopher’s Path promises a serene and unforgettable experience in the heart of Kyoto.
Enjoy a Tea Ceremony
Enjoying a tea ceremony is one of the top things to do in Kyoto for cultural immersion in Japan. This ancient tradition allows you to witness the artistry and grace of the tea master as they prepare and serve matcha with precision and mindfulness.
The tea ceremony is more than just a beverage; it represents a philosophy of harmony, respect, and appreciation for the present moment. Through the ceremony, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of Japanese culture and aesthetics.
Kyoto is renowned for its tea houses and cultural centers that offer authentic tea ceremony experiences. Whether you’re a tea connoisseur or simply curious about Japanese traditions, participating in a tea ceremony in Kyoto will provide a tranquil and enlightening encounter, leaving you with a profound appreciation for the art and beauty of this ancient practice.
Visit the Kyoto Imperial Palace
Step into the past and experience one of the top things to do in Kyoto at the Imperial Palace. This historic landmark offers a glimpse into Japan’s imperial history and culture. Explore the meticulously maintained grounds, adorned with traditional architecture, tranquil gardens, and elegant courtyards.
While you cannot enter the palace buildings, the exterior showcases the regal beauty of the Imperial residence. As you walk through the palace grounds, imagine the lives of emperors and their courtiers who once inhabited these hallowed halls. The Kyoto Imperial Palace is a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and those seeking a deeper understanding of Japan’s rich imperial heritage.
Take a Boat Ride on the Hozu River
Embark on a scenic boat ride along Kyoto’s Hozu River and fall in love with the tranquil beauty of the surrounding nature. Drift along slowly as the skilled boatmen navigate through the picturesque waterways. Immerse yourself in the serene atmosphere and soak in the breathtaking views of the lush mountains and verdant forests.
This leisurely journey offers a peaceful escape from the city, allowing you to reconnect with nature and enjoy a moment of tranquility. The Hozu River boat ride is a wonderful opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty of Kyoto’s countryside and create lasting memories of your visit. This is one of the top things to do in Kyoto sit back and simply soak in the city.
Explore Nishiki Market
Immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of Nishiki Market to enjoy the culinary paradise of Kyoto. Wander through the bustling market street and discover a world of tantalizing flavors and local delicacies. From fresh seafood and seasonal produce to traditional sweets and spices, the market offers a diverse array of ingredients and treats.
This is the perfect place to try local foods that reflect the city’s rich food culture. Nishiki Market is a must-visit destination for food enthusiasts and one of the overall top things to do in Kyoto for all tourists.
Embark on a Day Trip to Osaka
Embarking on a day trip from Kyoto to Osaka is one of the top things to do in Kyoto. Osaka is a city renowned for its vibrant atmosphere and culinary delights and the perfect place to spend the day for a completely different experience than Kyoto.
Start by exploring the Osaka Castle, immersing yourself in its history and panoramic views. Indulge in the lively streets of Dotonbori, trying local street food and enjoying the neon-lit signs. A day trip to Osaka is a great way to see a different part of Japan and broaden your experience in the country.
Visit Mount Fuji
Visiting Mount Fuji is not only one of the best things to do in Kyoto but one of the best things to do in all of Japan! This is Japan’s most majestic and iconic mountain that is honestly more impressive in real life than in photos.
From Kyoto, make your way to this sacred peak known for its breathtaking beauty. Whether you choose to hike to the summit or admire it from afar, Mount Fuji promises some of the best views in the world and it does not disappoint. Seeing Mount Fuji in real life was a true “pinch me” moment, nothing compares to seeing it in real life. Going here is something I 100% recommend.
Take a Day Trip to Nara
A day trip from Kyoto to Nara is one of the best things to do in Kyoto to experience a new city steeped in history and cultural heritage.
The top thing to do in Nara is spend time in Nara Park, where friendly deer roam freely and can be fed special crackers. These deers are super friendly and bow to humans! After this, you can marvel at the grandeur of Todai-ji Temple and discover the serene beauty of Kasuga Taisha Shrine. A day trip to Nara promises a captivating journey through ancient traditions, captivating architecture, and the harmonious coexistence of nature and wildlife.
Explore Chion-in Sammon Gate
Stand in awe of Chion-in Sammon Gate, the majestic entrance to Chion-in Temple in Kyoto. This imposing structure showcases intricate Japanese architectural design and embodies the spiritual essence of Buddhism. As you pass through the gate, you’ll be greeted by the serene atmosphere of Chion-in Temple, where you can explore its beautiful gardens and other impressive buildings.
The gate itself holds historical and cultural significance, symbolizing the rich heritage of Japanese Buddhism. Admire the grandeur of Chion-in Sammon Gate and immerse yourself in the tranquil ambiance of Chion-in Temple, a place where spirituality and architectural splendor harmoniously converge.
Join a Cultural Tour
Immerse yourself in the rich cultural tapestry of Kyoto by joining a captivating cultural tour. Led by knowledgeable guides, these tours provide a deep exploration of the city’s history, traditions, and artistic treasures. Whether you’re a history buff or an art enthusiast, a cultural tour in Kyoto promises a memorable and enlightening experience.
Where to Stay in Kyoto
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