Kyoto Best Things to Do: 19 Top rated Attractions, Activities (2023 Update)
Have you always been dreaming of living like a Japanese -even just for a day?
Well, there are so many things to do in Kyoto that will make your dream come true. Traditional Japanese tea ceremonies? Yeap. Authentic geisha performances? Check. Incredibly photo-worthy shrines? You bet. Japanese cooking lessons? Absolutely!
To discover even more amazing things to do in Kyoto, all you have to do is read on!
The best things to do in Kyoto in a nutshell
See the most fascinating mangas at Kyoto International Manga Museum
Tour the residence of the royal family at the Imperial Palace
Discover the most fascinating marine animals in Kyoto Aquarium
Join an organized cycling with a local guide to see all the major attractions in Kyoto
Go for a day trip to Hiroshima to explore one of the modern symbols of peace
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The best fun things to do in Kyoto
It’s not a secret that Japan has a long tradition in tea making! So, what’s a better way to introduce yourself to the local culture than an authentic tea ceremony?
Also known as Chado, tea ceremonies are a part of everyday life for Japanese people and a staple of zen Buddhism. Participating in a tea ceremony in Kyoto, you’ll witness every detail of the sacred ritual of tea preparation from the utensils used to the way tea is served. But, above all, you’ll experience the spiritual aspect of the ceremony, which is based on consciousness and awareness of the present moment. It’s one of the coolest things to do in Kyoto!
One of the best ways to explore Kyoto is through the local cuisine! The top place to explore Japanese gastronomy? Nishiki Market! With more than 700 years of history and more than 150 stalls, it’s an epic place to eat and shop.
But. Be aware: the food here is not for the faint-hearted. Except for worldwide Japanese delicacies, like fish cakes, dumplings, and sushi, you’ll also find some weird local specialties, like boiled quail eggs and dried black soybeans. We dare you to try them!
Tip: Nishiki Market is usually overcrowded, so we recommend that you go early so that you can eat your way through the food stalls undisturbed!
It’s not a secret that Japan is worldwide famous for its manga cartoons, which are super-popular with children and adults alike. Kyoto International Manga Museum is dedicated to the Japanese art of manga, housing an extensive collection of over 300,000 mangas. Most mangas are Japanese, but, if you don’t speak the language, don’t worry -there are translations to other languages, too.
Whether you’re a manga enthusiast or not, you’re bound to love the Kyoto International Manga Museum!
Tip: Kyoto International Manga Museum offers its visitors several activities. Don’t miss to have your portrait done manga-style and see manga artists in action!
The best things to do in Kyoto for free
The Philosopher’s path, also known as tetsugaku-no-michi, is a mile-long path along a river in Northern Higashiyama. Named after the 20th-century philosopher Nishida Kitaro, the Philosopher’s walk is a must-visit attraction in Kyoto, especially during the cherry blossom season, when it is lined with pretty cherry trees. This fairy-tale pathway is perfect for a quiet stroll and sightseeing!
P.S. Don’t miss the shrines along the way!
Also known as Gion Shrine, Yasaka Shrine (Yasaka Jinja) is one of the most impressive sacred shrines in Kyoto. It boasts a super photogenic exterior with red, gold, and green details, while in front of it there is a dance stage adorned with traditional lanterns that are lit at night. Pure magic!
Architecture is not the only reason why you should visit this shrine, though. There are also many things going on there, like the most popular festival in Kyoto, Gion Matsuri, and geisha shows. The best part? There’s no entrance fee!
Maruyama Park is considered one of the best cherry blossom parks in Kyoto. If you find yourself in Kyoto during the sakura season (early April), when cherry trees are in full bloom, you can’t miss this park. Maruyama Park boasts the typical setting of a traditional Japanese garden, meaning it is full of bridges, little ponds, fountains, flowers, and -of course- cherry trees.
The highlight of Maruyama Park (and a top spot for photos) is the huge cherry tree in the middle of the park!
Tip: Maruyama Park lies next to Yasaka Shrine, so you can combine your visits to both attractions.
The best things to do in Kyoto with family and friends
Thanks to its flat ground, Kyoto is an ideal city for cycling -it has been multiple times voted one of the best cycling cities in Asia! There are many places where you can rent a bike in Kyoto. However, joining an organized tour is a better option, as you’ll be guided through the major attractions without losing time trying to your way. On top of that, many cycling tours in Kyoto are guided by locals, so you’ll get an insider’s look at the city!
Do you know what’s better than gorging on Japanese delicacies? To learn how to make them yourself! Besides, cooking is the best way to explore the culture of every new place you visit.
In Kyoto, you’ll find amazing Japanese cooking lessons that will initiate you into local gastronomy and teach you how to cook the most delicious traditional dishes including sushi, bento boxes, and ramen. The best part is that classes are taught by locals, so you’re going to learn the authentic process of Japanese meal preparation!
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is nothing like you’ve seen before! Stretching for 200 meters between Tenryuji Temple and Ōkōchi Sansō Villa in Arashiyama, just an hour away from Kyoto, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is perfect for a quick getaway in nature!
This stunning bamboo forest is one of the most visited attractions in Kyoto -for a good reason. Apart from the fact that it is entrance-free, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove boasts an otherworldly setting with super-tall bamboos that can reach up to 20 meters. Walking through the bamboo plants feels like entering a whole new world -it’s truly amazing!
This is one of the top things to do in Kyoto with family -especially with little kids. Kyoto Aquarium might not be as big as other aquariums around the country, but it hosts an interesting selection of sea and river animals. Inside this impressive aquarium, you’ll have the chance to see penguins, dolphins, jellyfish, tropical fish, seals, as well as the local Japanese giant salamander.
Besides admiring the animals, you can also do several fun activities, like watching the dolphin show, feeding the penguins, and learning everything about sea life through interactive events. It’s the perfect afternoon-out for the whole family -trust us, you’re going to have as much fun as the kids, if not more!
The best places for sightseeing in Kyoto (Top attractions and monuments)
Counting over 1,300 years of history, Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha) is one of the most iconic temples in Kyoto. It was built in honor of Inari, the Shinto god of rice and sake, and is considered the most important among the shrines dedicated to him.
One of the most impressive features of this temple is the 10,000 red and orange Torii Gates, which form a 2.5-mile-long walkway that leads to the shrine through the forest. It takes a 3-hour hike to reach the shrine, but don’t worry, there are several places to rest along the way!
Tip: In the morning, the paths that lead to the shrine are usually overcrowded, so we recommend that you visit the shrine in the evening.
Kinkakuji zen temple (Golden Pavilion) is one of the most popular attractions in Kyoto. The Golden Pavilion, which owes its name to its stunning golden exterior, is located in northwest Kyoto. Originally constructed as a retirement villa, Kinkakuji Temple comprises two golden leaf-covered floors and is surrounded by a beautifully-maintained zen garden with little ponds, trees, and statues. Outside the temple, there’s also an outdoor tea house, where you can enjoy a warm Japanese tea after your visit!
Tip: To avoid the crowds, the best time of the day to visit Kinkakuji Temple is early in the morning.
If you want to dig deeper into Japanese history and learn more about the geisha culture, Gion is the place to go. Gion is known as the entertainment district of Kyoto, because it is home to many theaters, tea houses, and traditional restaurants. Wandering through the streets of Gion, you’ll feel teleported to another era and be charmed by the unique atmosphere.
But, the true highlight of this area is the geishas, who walk around the streets wearing traditional costumes and wooden sandals! You can book a geisha dinner or watch a geisha performance, but if you’re tight on budget, just wandering the streets is enough to have a taste of the geisha culture.
No trip to Kyoto is complete without a visit to the Imperial Palace. Also known as Kyoto Gosho, the Imperial Palace was the residence of Japan’s royal family until the middle of the 19th century when it moved to Tokyo. The gorgeous Imperial Palace is set in Kyoto Imperial Park in the heart of Kyoto city.
Although it has been burned down several times throughout its history, it was rebuilt in 1855. With a history that begins in 794, when the Japanese Emperor moved there, the Imperial Palace is a very fascinating attraction, especially for history geeks. So, if you want to dig into the palace’s history and learn everything about its fascinating past, we highly recommend that you book an organized tour -you won’t regret it.
Tip: You can combine your visit to the Imperial Palace with a tour to Sento Imperial Palace, Kaninnomiya Mansion, and Itsukushima Shrine, which are also located in Kyoto Imperial Park.
The best day trips from Kyoto
After the tragic dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945, Hiroshima became a worldwide symbol of peace. Today, Hiroshima is fully-reconstructed and boasts some interesting attractions dedicated to the memory of the horrible events that had devastated the city. Among them are the Peace Memorial Park, Children’s Peace Monument, the Peace Memorial Museum, and the Flame of Peace.
Other than sightseeing, there are also several other things to do in Hiroshima, like trying delicious local specialties and chilling out at verdant gardens!
The Unesco World Heritage-listed Miyajima is one of the most magical sights in Japan! Miyajima (officially named Itsukushima), which is also known as the Shrine Island, is a tiny island located an hour away from Hiroshima. As its name indicates, this island is known for its shrines, which stand on the water in front of the island. The beautiful scenery with the floating temples has made Miyajima famous as one of the most picturesque and romantic places in Japan. This majestic site is definitely worth a visit!
Kanazawa, which is also known as Little Kyoto, lies just 2 hours away from Kyoto, in the Ishikawa Prefecture. One of the best-preserved Edo-period cities in Japan, Kanazawa has a lot to offer in terms of sightseeing.
The main attraction in the city is Kenroku-en Garden, one of the three great landscape gardens in Japan. The garden boasts a verdant scenery and peaceful atmosphere, ideal for quiet strolls. There are also many tea houses, where you can sit and drink tea with a magical view. Other attractions to visit in Kanazawa are the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Ishikawa Art Museum, Kanazawa Castle, and Omicho Food Market.
The top places to eat & drink in Kyoto
Founded in 1465, the legendary Honke Owariya has over 500 years of history. Its origins are reflected in its interior, which boasts a traditional decoration with wooden tables and tatami mats. Over the years, this cozy restaurant has become famous as one of the best restaurants in Kyoto for soba noodles (buckwheat noodles).
Although soba soup is a simple dish, which consists of noodles and broth, Hoke Owariya prepares it with great love and attention to detail, using the highest quality ingredients. The noodles are handmade and served along with several toppings including omelet, shrimp tempura, shiitake mushrooms, and vegetable pickles. Yum!
Info: 322 Niōmontsukinukechō, Nakagyō-ku, Kyoto, 604-0841, Japan. Tel: +81 75-231-3446
With over 1,200 sake varieties, over 600 types of whiskey, and an excellent cocktail list, Bar K6 is arguably one of the top bars in Kyoto! Thanks to its variety of spirits and chill atmosphere, this sophisticated bar has been loved by locals and travelers in the know.
Go to Bar K6 for rare Scottish whiskies, traditional sake, and delicious cocktails made before your eyes. The bar also offers an exquisite food menu that includes delicacies like haggis pizza, gingered pork, and smoked quail eggs.
Info: 481 Higashiikesucho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-0922, Japan. Tel: +81 75-255-5009
How to get to Kyoto?
If you’re traveling from anywhere else besides Japan, the only way to get to Kyoto is by air. The closest airports to Kyoto are Kansai International Airport (KIX) in Osaka, which serves international flights, and Osaka International Airport (ITM), which mainly serves domestic flights. The first lies 50 minutes away from Kyoto and the latter about 90 minutes away from Kyoto. You can reach the city from the airports by taxi, by bus, by train, or by shuttle.
What is the best season to visit Kyoto?
The best season to visit Kyoto is arguably spring. More specifically, late March-early April is the best period for your visit, as the cherry trees are in full bloom. However, this is also when Kyoto is the most crowded. If you want to avoid the crowds but take advantage of the mild weather, opt for September-November.
What are the best areas to stay in Kyoto?
The best areas to stay in Kyoto are Southern Higashiyama (for first-time visitors), Shimogyo-ku (for sightseeing), Pontocho (for nightlife), and Ukyo (for families).
Explore more: Check all the hotels in Kyoto
What are the top attractions in Kyoto?
The most popular attractions in Kyoto are the Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Gion District, Arashiyama bamboo forest, Nishiki Market, Kinkaku-ji Temple, and the Philosopher’s Path.
What are the must-try foods in Kyoto?
The best foods to eat in Kyoto are Soba soup, Saba sushi, Ramen, Kyozushi, and Kyo-tsukemono.
Now we ‘d like to hear from you
There’s no denying that Kyoto has a unique traditional Japanese style!
From Japanese tea ceremonies and imposing shrines to fascinating natural attractions (see the Bamboo Grove) and geishas, everything screams history. Are you ready for a fascinating trip back in time?
Tell us in the comments what’s your favorite thing about Kyoto and don’t forget to share this article on Social Media if you liked it!