Are you looking for the best things to do in Kyoto, Japan? From the site of the Insta-famous red Torii Gates to the stunning Golden Temple, our guide on what to do in Kyoto details all the best Kyoto attractions to add to your itinerary!
We first visited Japan a few years ago, and it’s safe to say that we fell head over heels for the place. We spent an amazing 14 days exploring Japan and have since been back two more times to discover more of the unique hidden gems this country has to offer.
It’s safe to say that Kyoto should be high on every first time visitor to Japan’s list of destinations to visit.
There are so many top things to see and do in Kyoto that you could easily spend a week there. But most visitors only have a few days to spend in Kyoto, because, after all, Japan is a country that has so much to offer and many places to discover.
We suggest spending at least a few days exploring Tokyo before hitting up these Kyoto tourist spots and then continuing onto Hiroshima, Osaka, or Hakone.
So, if you only have two or more days in Kyoto, we’ve narrowed down this list to our top 10 places to visit in Kyoto so it’s easy to cover in a short amount of time. Plus, we’ve also thrown in 15 more tourist spots at the end of this article for those readers who happen to have more time to spend in Kyoto.
Here are our recommendations of the top things to do in Kyoto, Japan
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Top Things to do in Kyoto – At A Glance
These Kyoto tourist spots are all unique and suited to any type of traveller. They offer an authentic taste of traditional Japanese food, culture, gardens, and architecture.
Here’s a quick run-down of our top 10 things to do in Kyoto that are covered in this guide. Read on for more details about each attraction. Plus, there are 15 bonus activities listed at the end of this article.
- Fushimi Inari
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
- Nishiki Markets
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple
- Higashiyama District
- Kinkaku-Ji (Golden Temple)
- Tea Ceremony
- Gion Corner
- Philosopher’s Path
Kyoto Attractions Map
Best Places to Stay in Kyoto
A lot of people don’t realise that Kyoto is actually quite a large city and there are many areas you could stay in. Gion and downtown Kyoto are the two areas closest to most of these Kyoto tourist spots and the places we would recommend staying.
Where to Stay in Gion:
Where to Stay in Downtown Kyoto:
How to Get Around Kyoto
Kyoto has great public transport. All the Kyoto tourist attractions listed below are accessible by public transport or on foot.
Train or Subway:
The train or subway is the most convenient method of transport during busy times (i.e. peak hours). The majority of Kyoto’s trains and subway lines are privately owned and are not operated by Japan Rail, so you won’t be able to use your Japan Rail Pass. You’ll need a contactless transport card (e.g. ICOCA, SUICA, or PASMO).
There are tons of taxis available around Kyoto and are often faster than trains (except during peak hour rush). Just be aware that most taxi drivers in Kyoto don’t speak English very well, so ask the hotel staff to write down your destination or hotel name in Japanese.
Kyoto is a very walkable city, particularly around the Higashiyama areas, which are so pretty that it’s nice to take your time wandering and seeing all the cute traditional Japanese shophouses. However, some Kyoto attractions are a little further away and will require a train, subway to taxi to reach.
Top 10 Things to do in Kyoto
#1 | Visit Fushimi Inari
Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of the most famous things to do in Kyoto, so it probably needs no introduction. What a lot of people don’t know about it though, is that the shrine is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, and it’s said to be over a thousand years old!
The shrine is most well-known for its thousands of red torii gates, which wind their way up the mountain behind the main shrine buildings. It’s a popular spot for hikers, and the 4 km uphill trail is well worth the effort, as you’ll be rewarded with stunning views from the top.
Location: Fushimi Inari Taisha
Opening Hours: 24 hours a day
Entrance Fee: Free
Recommended Tour: Kyoto Cultural Walking Tour (Small Group)
#2 | Wander through Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
The bamboo forest at Arashiyama is one of the most stunning attractions in Kyoto and should definitely be on your list of things to do in this city. This iconic forest is one of the most photographed places in the city, so chances are you’ve seen it before even if you don’t know it.
The forest is located just outside of Kyoto, in the town of Arashiyama. It’s a short bus or train ride from downtown Kyoto, and well worth the effort to get there. The forest is made up of hundreds of bamboo trees, which create a tunnel-like effect. It’s a popular spot for photography, and it’s also said to be lucky to walk through the forest.
Wandering through the towering bamboo stalks is an unforgettable experience and one that you’re sure to want to repeat!
Location: Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Opening Hours: 24 hours a day, we recommend visiting early in the morning.
Entrance Fee: Free
#3 | Feast Your way through Nishiki Market
The best part about exploring a new country is trying all the food, and Japan is no exception. From sushi to ramen, there are plenty of delicious dishes to try here – and Nishiki Market is the perfect place to sample some of Kyoto’s local fare.
The market expands over a narrow, five-block stretch and is made up of over one hundred food stalls, shops, and restaurants. It’s often referred to as “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” and it’s easy to see why. The market is a food lover’s paradise, and it’s the perfect place to try some of the local specialties, like dried seafood and traditional Japanese sushi.
You’ll find everything from fresh produce to Japanese sweets, and there are plenty of places to eat if you get hungry. Nishiki Market is a great place to wander and explore, and you’re sure to find something to your taste.
Location: Nishiki Market
Opening Hours: The market is open from 9 am to 6 pm
Entrance Fee: There is no entrance fee, and you can easily spend an hour or two exploring the stalls.
#4 | Visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Kiyomizu-dera is one of the most popular temples in Kyoto and has even been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple complex is located on a hillside, and there are stunning views of the city below.
The temple was first built in 778, and it’s been through several renovations over the years. The current buildings date back to 1633, and they’re some of the best-preserved examples of traditional Japanese architecture in the city.
The temple is most famous for its wooden stage, which juts out over the hillside and offers stunning views of the cityscape below. The stage is supported by 13 meters of pillars, and it’s said to be lucky to stand on it. The temple is also home to a number of Buddhist statues, as well as a museum with Buddhist artifacts.
The temple is located a short walk from the Kiyomizu-Gojo station, so you can get there easily on public transportation.
Opening Hours: Kiyomizu-dera is open from 6 am to 6 pm
Entrance Fee: The entrance fee is 400 Yen for adults
#5 | Wander around Higashiyama District
The Higashiyama District is one of the best places to explore on foot, and it’s full of narrow streets and traditional Japanese buildings. The district is located east of the Kamo River, and it’s a great place to wander and get lost.
There are plenty of things to see in the Higashiyama District, including the Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens, the Gion district, and the Philosopher’s Walk. The district is also home to a number of temples and shrines, including Kiyomizu-dera and Yasaka Shrine.
The best way to explore the Higashiyama District is on foot, so you can wander at your own pace and take in the sights. The district is located east of the Kamo River, and it’s a short walk from the Gion-Shijo station.
You’ll wander past the imposing Yasaka Pagoda, you can actually go inside for a look if you like.
Location: Higashiyama Ward
#6 | Visit Kinkaku-Ji (Golden Temple)
Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Temple, is one of the most popular Kyoto attractions. This Zen-Buddhist temple was built in 1397 as a retirement villa for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. It later became a Buddhist temple, and it was even used as a residence for the abbot during the Muromachi period.
The temple is named for its golden exterior, and it’s one of the most beautiful examples of Buddhist architecture in Kyoto. The temple complex is located on a pond, and there are stunning views of the gardens from the verandah. Visiting the Golden Temple is an absolute must do in Kyoto!
Opening Hours: Kinkaku-ji is open for visits from 9 am to 5 pm daily, all year round.
Entrance Fee: There is an entrance fee of 400 Yen for adults to visit the temple.
#7 | Attend a Tea Ceremony
A tea ceremony is a traditional Japanese ritual that dates back to the 15th century. The ceremony is a way to appreciate the taste and aroma of tea, and it’s also a form of art. For those looking for things to do in Kyoto that will give you a taste of traditional Japanese culture, attending a tea ceremony is a must.
There are a number of places where you can attend a tea ceremony in Kyoto, including the Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Gion district. The ceremonies are usually led by a tea master, and they’re typically conducted in silence.
During a tea ceremony, you’ll be served a cup of matcha (powdered green tea) and a sweet. The tea ceremony takes place in a special room called a tearoom, and it’s a relaxing and interesting experience.
You can find tea ceremony classes all over Kyoto, and it’s a great way to learn about traditional Japanese culture.
Location: Tea Ceremony Camellia Garden
#8 | Search for Geishas at Gion Corner
Gion is the best place to see geishas in Kyoto, and it’s one of the most popular things to do in the city. Geishas are traditional Japanese entertainers who wear elaborate kimonos and perform various arts, such as music, dance, and poetry.
While you can sometimes spot geishas walking to appointments around Gion, the best place to see them is at the Gion Corner theatre. The theatre offers a variety of performances, including traditional Japanese dance and music, and you can even get your photo taken with a geisha.
Gion Corner is located in the Gion district, and it’s a short walk from the Gion-Shijo station.
Location: Gion Corner
Opening Hours: Gion Corner offers performances every day from 6:30 pm
Entrance Fee: Theatre tickets start at 3,150 Yen.
Recommended Tour: Gion Geisha District Tour
#9 | Wander Along the Philosopher’s Path
For history buffs and philosophy fanatics looking for what to do in Kyoto, this ones for you! The Philosopher’s Path is a stone path that runs along a canal in the Higashiyama district. The path gets its name from the philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who used to walk along the path every day on his way to Kyoto University.
The path is lined with cherry trees, and it’s a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing in the spring. The path is also home to a number of temples and shrines, including Nanzen-ji and Honen-in.
The Philosopher’s Path is located northeast of the Higashiyama district, and it’s about a 20-minute walk from the Keage station. The path is free to walk, and it’s open 24 hours.
Location: Philosopher’s Path
Opening Hours: 24/7
Entrance Fee: Free
Recommended Tour: Guided Walking Tour around Philosopher’s Path
#10 | Enjoy dinner in Pontocho
Pontocho is a narrow alleyway packed with restaurants and bars, and it’s one of the best places in Kyoto for dinner. The alleyway is located in the Gion district, and it’s known for having any kind of food you can think of – from inexpensive local cuisine to international foods, and even traditional Japanese Izakaya restaurants.
An Izakaya is a Japanese pub, and they’re typically casual places where you can enjoy a meal and some drinks with friends. Pontocho is the perfect place to try traditional Japanese dishes like yakitori (grilled chicken) and tempura, and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from.
Whether you’re a picky eater or you like to try new things, you’ll find something to your taste in Pontocho. The price of your meal will vary depending on the restaurant you choose, but you can find reasonably priced meals for around 1,000 – 2,000 Yen.
Opening Hours: 24/7
Entrance Fee: Free
Looking for More Kyoto Tourist Spots?
If you’re planning to stay longer than 2 days, here’s a list of 15 more fun things to see in Kyoto:
- Relax in the Zen garden at Ryoanji Temple
- Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Temple)
- Learn how to make sushi rolls in a Japanese cooking class
- Take photos of the stunning red lanterns at Kifune Shrine
- Have lunch at Kawadoko on the Kamogawa River
- Feed the wild deer at Nara Deer Park on this heritage tour
- Take a trip out to the Ine no Funaya fishing village
- Learn the art of Samurai with a one hour class
- Wander across the Togetsukyo Bridge
- Take a trip on the Sagano Train during Cherry Blossom Season
- See the cute monkeys at Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
- Take a tour through a 400-year-old Sake Brewery
- Explore the beautiful Tenryuji Temple and surrounding Zen gardens
- Visit the Wazuka Matcha Tea Plantation
- Dress up in a Kimono and enjoy a one hour private photoshoot
Have we missed a spot? Can you recommend any other fun things to do in Japan for other visitors to check out, let us know in the comments below!
Ready to Book Your Trip to Kyoto?
Kyoto is one of our favourite cities in Japan. It is steeped in history, and there’s no shortage of sights to see and things to do in Kyoto.
Feeling inspired? Here are 10 amazing destinations you must add to your Travel Bucket List!
Planning a trip soon? Here’s a list of the websites we use for booking our trips:
- Skyscanner for the best flight deals
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- HomeAway for the best price on apartment and home rentals
- Rentalcars.com for quick and easy car rentals
- Luxury Escapes | Expedia for luxury package holiday deals and tours
- Get Your Guide | Klook | Viator for booking day tours and attraction tickets
- Tourradar for a wide selection of multi-day tours
- Safety Wing for the most comprehensive worldwide travel insurance
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About the Author:
Amanda Twine is the founder and creator of Bucket List Seekers – a luxury travel blog sharing informative travel guides, food guides, hotel reviews, itineraries, and tips about how to make luxury travel more affordable.