Kyoto is a modern city with an ancient culture that’s still largely evident today. I first visited with my host family from Osaka when I was 15: I remember my host sister asking whether I’d prefer to go to a theme park or to see the temples. Earnest Japanophile that I was, I opted for the temples.
Whether your kids are into theme parks or temples, Kyoto is a great family destination. It’s safe and easy to get around, and there’s so much to see and do. Here’s what I recommend families do with three days in the city.
Kyoto is cold in winter but very hot and humid in summer; spring and fall are ideal seasons.
If you only have time for one thing, make it Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Temple.
Kyoto is a big city but it’s orderly, and the historic neighborhood of Gion and its surrounding areas are bike and pedestrian-friendly. Visit highlights such as Kiyomizu-dera, Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Temple), and Fushimi Inari Taisha. If you’re with older kids, opt for a bicycle or e-bike tour; if younger kids are in tow, Kyoto’s underground rail network and buses are the best way of getting around.
In the afternoon, learn all about samurais or ninjas, or visit TOEI Kyoto Studio Park, where Japanese period dramas for television are filmed. Kids will love being immersed in Japanese history.
Spend your second day in the mellow Arashiyama area of Kyoto. This western Kyoto neighborhood is a dream for parents: it’s easy to navigate on foot (or rickshaw), and there are shady bamboo groves and plenty of temples to explore.
You could spend all day meandering around Arashiyama, but if you want an extra dose of Japanese culture, enjoy a tea ceremony—complete with kimonos—especially designed for families.
If you dream of your kids making their own school lunches, give them a nudge with a bento box cooking class. These kid-friendly food boxes contain small portions of all kinds of tasty treats. Alternatively, learn to make hand-rolled sushi, a favorite with kids.
Continue the creative theme of the day and join another workshop or class. Origami folding, traditional calligraphy, and Japanese music are all great ways for kids to learn more about Japanese culture while having fun.