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Things to do in Kyoto

Things to do in  Kyoto

Welcome to Kyoto

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

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

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

Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple

The tip of Tahoto Pagoda, part of the Zenrin-ji Temple, peeks out between layers of sprawling mountain foliage. The Eikan-do, formerly known as Zenrinji, dates back to the 9th century. The temple was founded as a training school for the Esoteric Buddhism of Shingon sect. Over time, the temple converted to the Jodo sect of Buddhism.The stunning Tahoto Pagoda is only one of many attractions in the complex, although it is the most famous. Other attractions include a pond garden, Hodo Pond, and the main building temple itself. Within the main temple is housed a unique Buddha statue; the Buddha is looking over his shoulder. Eikan-do is most famous for its stunning display of autumn colors, which are enhanced by an illumination display from mid-November to early December.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

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

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

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

Yasaka Shrine (Gion Shrine)

Host to Japan’s most famous festival, Gion Matsuri, Yasaka Shrine is located in the heart of Kyoto. Yasaka Shrine dates back to the 7th century, when it was known as Gion Shrine for its location near the Gion district, famous for the geisha that live and work there. The shrine consists of several buildings. The main hall houses an inner sanctuary and a secondary hall. One of the most prominent features of the shrine is a large stage out front lined with hundreds of lanterns. One of the most popular times to visit the shrine is in the evening or at night, when the lanterns light the stage.The annual Gion Matsuri festival began more than 1,100 years ago at Yasaka Shrine. In modern times, it takes place every July. Originally, the festival sought to expunge the city of illnesses. Today, the festival celebrates craftwork. Intricate fabrics, textiles, and sculptures adorn floats that men carry through town. Music, costumes, and street food contribute to the festive atmosphere. Yasaka Shrine is also a popular place to visit during the Japanese New Year and during cherry blossom season.More

Sanjusangen-do Temple

Built in 1164, Sanjusangen-do Hall impresses with its 1,001 golden Buddhist statues flanking the giant seated Kannon (goddess of mercy. It’s considered one of the world’s top collections of wooden statuary. The 400-foot (122-meter hall gets its name from the 33 spaces between its columns.More


On the outskirts of Kyoto, the tranquil area of Sagano encompasses some of the city’s most stunning landscapes. This rural residential area boasts views of the mountains dotting the horizon, colorful fields, and, most famously, a dense bamboo forest that may just be one of Japan’s prettiest spots.More

Pontocho Alley

Pontocho Alley is a popular and 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

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Recent reviews from experiences in Kyoto

José took us to (more...
Sigal_Y, Mar. 2023
Private Kyoto Tour with a Local, Highlights & Hidden Gems, Personalised
He took us to places we didn't mean to visit and we are happy about that!!
We enjoy the tour very...
PHILIP_U, Mar. 2023
10 Must-see Spots in Kyoto One Day Private Tour (up to 7 people)
Mutsumi was excellent, he know very well Kyoto and the history of each place visited, her English is excellent, she is very nice.
Tour of all the highlights in Kyoto by a native
Lars_L, Mar. 2023
Private Kyoto Tour with a Local, Highlights & Hidden Gems, Personalised
We visited all the main attractions that Kyoto has to offer as well as multiple hidden gems.
Fabulous bike tour
Manda, Mar. 2023
5 Top Highlights of Kyoto with Kyoto Bike Tour
Got to see the top spots in Kyoto.
A fantastic experience in Kyoto
Emma_R, Mar. 2023
Traditional Tea Ceremony wearing a Kimono in Kyoto MAIKOYA
She spoke perfect English and taught us all about the tea ceremony.
Highly recommend
Fatme_F, Mar. 2023
Afternoon Arashiyama Bamboo Forest & Monkey Park Bike Tour
Climbing the mountain to see the monkeys wa s hard but worth it.
Very nice day trip
Maureen_M, Mar. 2023
Sagano Romantic Train & Arashiyama, Kiyomizudera, Fushimi Inari Taisha Day Tour
We got to see a variety of Kyoto areas and the train ride was really enjoyable as we had a singing conductor in our carriage!
Amazing experience!
Ahmed_E, Mar. 2023
1-Hour Private Japanese Archery Experience in Kyoto
Hamaguchi Sensei and explained very well and his students know English so they will guide you through.
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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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