Located on the Island of Honshu, Kyoto is a fantastical city full of wondrous shrines, beautiful Buddhist temples, Zen Rock Gardens, and numerous other priceless structures of great importance to Japan’s History. So, If you are thinking about visiting Kyoto, then believe me, you will fall in love with this magical city.
Keeping Japanese traditions, culture, and history alive, you will find tons of pleasurable things to do in Kyoto. That’s why I have prepared a list of the 15 best things to do in Kyoto so that you can experience the absoluteness of Kyoto without missing out on anything!
Top Best Experiences and Things to do in Kyoto, Japan.
1. Go on Ohara Excursion: Visit the Sacred temples & onsens of Ohara
One of the top things to do in Kyoto is to go on an excursion to Ohara. Ohara is a lovely mountain town in Northern Kyoto, situated in the green mountains. It is the perfect retreat from Urban life and a great getaway location from daily life. In Ohara, you can see both the stunning beauty of nature as well as the creations of human hands.
Some of the main attractions that you must not miss are the Sanzenin temple which is believed to have deep ties to the Imperial family, and the Jikko In the temple, whose guest hall features the Shomyo music instruments. Another place not to miss is the Jakko In temple which is extremely famous for its scenic stairway that leads to the front gate.
In Ohara, you also get to see the most exquisite autumn leaves, which unfold into lovely colours before any other part of Kyoto. It is the same for Cherry blossoms and azaleas during the spring season, a sight that should not be missed!
Main Attractions: Sanzenin temple, Jakko In temple and Jikko In the temple
Location: 540 Ohararaikoincho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto
How to get to Ohara: You can reach Ohara from Kyoto by bus. It is a 40-minute bus ride, accessible from JR Kyoto Station.
2. Go Hiking on Mount Hiei: Climb to the Peak of Mount Hiei
Located on the border of Kyoto, Mount Hiei is an extraordinary mountain popular for many reasons. Not only do you get to enjoy a stunning view of Kyoto hiking on mount Hiei, but you also get to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Enryaku-ji Temple. That’s why going hiking on Mount Hiei is a great way to spend your time in Kyoto.
If you are not really into hiking the entire way up the mountain, you can also enjoy the cable car service here. The cable car service runs from the Kyoto side of Mount Hiei- known as Eizan Cable car- is the steepest in Japan, and the entire trip takes about 15 minutes.
You should really Hike Mount Hiei and experience this beautiful journey on this mountain!
Main Attractions: Enryaku-ji Temple and Garden Museum Hiei
Hike Time: 3- 4 hours
Location: Mount Hiei, Ichijoji Idegadanichosenguchi, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto
How to get to Mount Hiei: You can reach Mount Hiei by both car and train. Via car or a taxi, you have to travel about 18 kilometres, and it will take about 40 minutes. Via train, you have to get to Kyoto Station and reach Hieizan-Sakamoto Station, from where you can decide to make the rest of your journey to the mountain any way you wish.
3. See Kyoto Cherry Blossoms: Walk and enjoy the cherry blossoms in Kyoto parks
One of the most anticipated aspects for travellers all around the globe coming to Japan is to experience the cherry blossoms, and Kyoto is one of the best places in Japan for experiencing the incredible cherry blossom season. There are many fantastic cherry blossom spots within Kyoto where you can go and have a picnic, party, or hanami or simply delight in seeing the falling of pink and white clouds like flowers all around you!
The season for cherry blossoms usually starts around mid-March and lasts till early May. April is the peak time for cherry blossoms, but make sure to check the climate and weather reports before planning your trip here.
Many Kyoto parks allow free entry, but some places require you to purchase a ticket. All of them are easily accessible, and you can get there easily. Honestly, experiences like cherry blossoms in Kyoto are worth it all!
Main Locations for Cherry Blossom in Kyoto: Philosopher’s Path, Arashiyama, Nijo Castle, Kiyomizu-Dera, Maruyama-Koen Park, Keage Incline, Kyoto Botanical Gardens, and Shimbashi-dori, Gion,
Price range: 200 yen to 600 yen. Some Places charge no fee.
4. Enjoy Gion waterfront dining: Eat at a riverside restaurant in Gion
Another amazing thing to do in Kyoto is to visit Gion and enjoy riverside dining. Located around Shijo Avenue between Ysaka shrine and Kamo river, Gion is a famous Geisha district and one of the most popular tourist attractions of Kyoto. Here, you find yourself surrounded by wonderful shops, teahouses and restaurants.
You should visit this place to enjoy a wonderful dinner overlooking the Shirakawa River while basking in the quaint atmosphere of Gion. Here, you get to enjoy Classic tempura or teppanyaki dishes that are served along with Sake. With the old wooden bridges and floating lanterns in the river that create a charming ambience, eating a meal here is a must-experience to catch a glimpse of Japan of the past.
Also, before heading to a place for dinner in Gion, you must visit Ochaya, a Japanese teahouse where you get the ultimate Gion experience. You are entertained by a Geiko and Maiko who serve you drinks, engage you in delightful conversation, conduct drinking games and perform traditional Japanese dance for the guests!
Main Attractions: Hanami-koji Street, Gion Corner, Shirakawa Area, Shijo Avenue and Kenninji Temple.
The price range for a Gion dining experience: is 500 yen to 10,000 yen
How to get to Gion: The best way to reach Gion, you have to take bus No. 100 or Bus No. 206 from Kyoto Station. It will cost you 230 yen and take about 20 minutes to get there.
5. Go Sightseeing on a bike: Bike between the northern shrines of Kyoto
Another great thing to do in Kyoto is to go Sightseeing at various shrine locations on a bike. You can cycle your way around the Northern suburbs of Kyoto to visit popular shrines like Tōfū-jinja Shrine, Kamigamo-jinja, Himuro Shrine, etc. These places are quiet and serene, and biking to these landmarks is a wonderful experience that you are sure to love and enjoy greatly.
You should rent a bike here, not only for the experience but also for the convenience that you get by having the freedom of having your own vehicle to get around the city. Kyoto’s streets are easy to navigate through, and you get to cycle on relatively flat and smooth roads.
One of the best bicycle rental recommendations I can make is the KCTP which stands for Kyoto Cycling Tour Project. Their rental shop is very close to Kyoto station, so you don’t have to roam around too much. Also, their staff is bilingual, and they provide you with a map, too and have multiple branches throughout the city. Said that there are also many other rentals you can opt for in Kyoto too, and you should look them up before deciding on a particular service.
Make sure to cycle safely and make the most of the moment cruising around the streets of Kyoto from the back of your bike!
Main Attractions to visit while Cycling: Himuro Shrine, Kifune-jinja Shrine, Tōfū-jinja Shrine, Kamigamo-jinja, and Kamo Yamaguchi-jinja.
Bike Rental Shops Recommendation: KCTP, Demachiyanagi eMusica, J-Cycle, Kyo no Raku Chari, Shijo eMusica.
The price range for Bike rent: is 800 yen to 2000 yen
6. Zen temple meditation: Learn to meditate at a Zen temple
Zen is a part of Buddhism, and Kyoto, being renowned for its shrines and temples, is a perfect place to practise Zen meditation. There are many Zen temples in Kyoto where you can find English-speaking instructors to guide you through Zen meditation.
Even if you are not a person who meditates regularly or at all, you will find that practising Zen meditation is much more than the regular meditation that is practised by others. Zen Meditation is more about taking deep-rooted issues and not stress-relieving. That’s why I think everyone should try Zen Meditation at least once. And what can be a better place than Kyoto for this purpose?
It is really worth the time to Zen meditate in Kyoto, and you shouldn’t miss out either!
Main Zen Temples to visit for Zen Meditation: Shunko-in Temple, Kennin-ji Ryosoku-in, Nanzenji Temple, Shokokuji Temple, Tenryuji Temple and many more.
Price range: some of the temples provide free guided Zen meditation services while some charge a small amount between 100 yen to 1000 yen.
7. Japanese matcha ritual: Take part in a traditional tea-making ceremony
One of the things I find really special about Japan is its Traditional Tea-making Ceremony. And learning an integrated part of Japanese culture in its cultural capital is one of the best experiences to have. Kyoto is home to the top 3 tea ceremony schools in Japan. Learning this matcha drinking tradition here while enjoying the mystical weather and views of nature is honestly the best thing to do in Kyoto.
Usually, during a tea ceremony, you are served matcha which is prepared with the utmost care, dedication to the process and focus. The main part of this ceremony is that you are supposed to perform every step in quiet and silence. It is like a reflection time and an away time from all the loud noises of daily life and responsibilities.
When they are instructing you, they are very welcoming and make you very comfortable. This is because the Japanese really appreciate when they see people from other cultures and nationalities trying to learn about their traditions and culture.
At some schools, you can also get Kimonos and have a Japanese hairdo done too. It adds to the whole experience of the Japanese matcha ritual, and you will make great memories and learn something new!
Top Tea Ceremonies in Kyoto: Tea ceremony Koto, Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya, En Tea Ceremony, Camellia Flower, Tea Ceremony Juan, En Tea Ceremony
Price range: 2500 yen to 5000 yen
8. Okazaki Canal cruise: Glide through the city on a boat tour
Another great thing to do in Kyoto is to go on a river cruise known as Okazaki Canal Cruise. The cruise is taken from the comfortable seats of the traditional-style boat called jikkokubune on the Okazaki canal.
The entire view of Kyoto from the boat seat is unique and incredible, especially during the cherry blossom season. Doesn’t the idea of cruising on peaceful water in a new city while nature’s beauty is at its peak sound like one of the most wonderful experiences to have?
During the spring, these traditional-style boats depart at every 15-minute interval from Nanzenji Boat Pier. It is a round-trip canal cruise, and although it’s only half an hour’s cruise, trust me, it will be the highlight of your trip to Kyoto.
Price range: For adults, the fee taken at the door is 1500 yen, and for kids, it’s 800 yen. You can make web reservations too, and during the spring season, you should definitely book your tickets in advance because, being the peak season, tickets are sold out pretty quickly.
Location: Kyoto Economic Center 4F 413, Hakoya Hokomachi 78, Shijo Dori Muromachi Higashi Iru, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto City
How to get to Okazaki Canal cruise pier: You can get here by taking a subway from From Sanjo Station on the Keihan Railway, From Kyoto Station on the JR/Kintetsu Railways, From JR Yamashina Station, and Karasuma Station on the Hankyu Railway and then make your way to the boat pier which is only 7 minutes walk away. Another way is to take a bus from JR Kyoto Station and then make a 10-minute walk to the pier.
9. Shop on Yokai Street: Visit Yokai Street’s monster totems
The next on this list of the best things to do in Kyoto is to shop around Yokai Street, the weirdest yet most unique street in Kyoto. What makes this street so special is the fact that your shopping trip is accompanied by monsters and local folklore.
The word ‘yokai’ translates to monsters, and today, you will see a wide variety of yokai wandering around here. All the shops have monster statues, posters and people in costume to celebrate the legend of Yokai invading the northernmost street of the old capital of Kyoto because they were fed up with humans.
The fun thing is that while some of these yokai are based on Japanese folklore, many are just a hodge-podge of many things to make it look like some sort of monster.
You can click many pictures here and purchase cool yokai things to bring back home as souvenirs. All in all, Yokai Street is a really awesome place to visit in Kyoto!
Main Attractions: Taishogun Shopping Street and the yokai parade.
Location: Japan, Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Kamigyō-ku, Nishimachi (Tenjindōri)
How to get to Yokai Street: to reach here via bus, you have to get off at the Kitano Tenmangu stop and then make a short walk. If you wish to get to Yokai street by train, then get off at Kitano Hakubaicho station on the Keihoku line. From there, you can reach here on foot.
10. Attend a Sushi-making class: Learn with sushi & sashimi chefs
The next on the list of best things to do in Kyoto is attending a Sushi Making Class. If you love sushi, then this is a must-have experience for you. In these classes, you get to learn about the delicate art of sushi making from masters.
Sushi has gained a lot of popularity around the world, and that’s why learning how to make the perfect sushi in the land where it originated is a great experience to have. It is also a great opportunity for you to meet new people and make friends!
It is so much fun, and when you get to taste your creation at the end of the class, every penny and hard work is worth it!
Top Recommendations for Sushi Making Classes: Izakaya Style Cooking Class, Bento Box Cooking Class, Haru Cooking Class Kyoto
Price range: 9200 yen to 15000 yen
11. multi-course kaiseki meal: Eat a classic Kyoto-style kaiseki dinner
Another must thing to do in Kyoto is to have the traditional Japanese multi-course meal. It is known as ‘Kaiseki‘, and I would recommend you not skip out on this experience while being in the heart of Japan’s Culture Capital.
The best thing about Kaiseki’s meal is that it is not just super delicious, but it is also prepared with special care for flavours, texture and colours. This meal is a feast for both your taste buds and your eyes!
When you visit a Kaiseki restaurant, you get to choose the number of courses off the menu. The dishes they serve are made from simple ingredients and often include seasonal vegetables, but one thing is guaranteed, Kaiseki will be one of the best culinary experiences of your life!
Top Kaiseki Restaurants: Izusen, Kyoto niku kappo Wakuragi, Kodaiji Wakuden, Kinume Kiraku, and Gion Karyo
Price range: 3000 yen to 10000 yen. At Luxurious Kaiseki Restaurants, one meal can cost up to 39000 yen.
12. Enjoy the Nightlife of Pontocho Alley: Spend your evening along Pontocho Alley
If you enjoy experiencing the nightlife of different places, then Kyoto will not disappoint you. Another best thing to do in Kyoto is to visit the Pontocho district in Kyoto after sunset and enjoy your evening wandering the living streets of this geisha district.
You should visit the Pontocho district and enjoy its long and paved alley, where most of the buildings are built in traditional style and using wood. You will find an array of amazing restaurants and bars here to spend quality time with your friends.
Pontocho district in Kyoto is another great location to have an unparalleled experience of typical Japanese nightlife. If you find yourself in Kyoto in may, then make sure that you visit the Pontocho Kaburenjo Theater for the famous Kamogawa Odori dances they host annually.
Location: Pontocho district is located between Sanjo and Shijo streets, running parallel to the Kamo River.
How to get to Pontocho district: You can easily reach Pontocho District via both buses and trains from Kyoto station. The nearest train stations to this place are Kyoto Kawaramachi Station, Sanjo Keihan and Gion Shijo.
Another awesome thing to do in Kyoto is to try out its popular dish, Yudofu. Yudofu is an essential stew made from tofu, ginger and scallions simmered in seaweed broth. Fall and Winters are the popular times for this dish. If you are a vegetarian, then yudofu is a dish you definitely want to try out.
You can enjoy Yudofu at a yudofu restaurant in Kyoto and enjoy the whole tofu experience in Japan! When you visit a yudofu restaurant, you are served a few small dishes first that are made from many kinds of tofu. The main dish comes later in a big pot, all soft, hot, and creamy, and it is the best-tasting tofu ever!
Trying out dishes like yudofu is the best way to experience the simplicity, richness and lusciousness of Japanese cuisine!
Best Yudofu Restaurants in Kyoto: Tosuiro Kiyamachi Main Shop, Junsei, Okutan Nanzenji, Saga-Tofu Ine North Branch, and Yudofu Sagano
Price range: 4,500 yen to 10,000 yen
14. Tour the Sake Brewery: Go to the Fushimi District for a Sake brewery tour
Another unique place that you can visit while in Kyoto is the Fushimi district and go on a tour of the Sake breweries. Here, you get to see a stunning mix of traditional as well as modern breweries where Sake has been prepared in the 400-year-old’s sake-brewing tradition of the Fushimi area.
You should visit the Fushimi district because it is the place where the world’s best Sake is prepared. The secret for Fushimi breweries’ Sake being the best lies in the water they source from the natural spring water of the area that holds less magnesium and calcium as compared to any other locations in Japan.
After you are done touring these breweries, you can go and visit various restaurants, go on a boat cruise, visit the popular temples and museums and shop for exclusive products here!
Main Attractions: Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum, Kizakura, Fushimi Yumehyakushu, The Teradaya Inn, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine and Choken-ji Temple
Location: Between the Uji and Katsura rivers, Southern Kyoto.
How to get to Fushimi District: You can easily reach Fushimi district via bus from Kyoto Station, train by Keihan Railway and taxi if it fits your budget.
15. See Traditional textiles of Kyoto: Explore Nishijin textile district in Kyoto
The last thing on this list of the best things to do in Kyoto is to visit the textile district of Kyoto, Nishijin. In the Nishijin district, you can witness the spin-patterned fabrics’ making process in traditional Japanese workshops. They use a local technique that is more than a thousand years old, and the fabric they create is absolutely gorgeous.
In the Nishijin district, you get a glimpse of artisans at work as well as try on and even purchase Kimonos made here. Strolling around this district’s street wearing these stunning kimonos is an experience you must have while in Kyoto!
The entire district has a vintage feeling to it, and you can explore its various shops, workshops, and temples, as well as visit some awesome galleries and museums dedicated to the traditional weaving industry of Kyoto.
Visiting Nisihijin is a great thing to do while in Kyoto, and you get some really awesome pictures too!
Top Recommendations for seeing Traditional Textiles: Nishijin Textile Center, Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu, Arashiyama Shoryuen, Asahido Honten and Orinasukan / Handwoven Technology Promotion Foundation
Location: 414 Tatemonzencho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto
Timings: 10 am to 4 pm. It is closed on Monday.
How to get to Nishijin district: You can get here by bus from Kyoto Station to the Horikawa-Imadegawa stop. Another way is to get a subway from Kyoto Station to Imadegawa stop and walk from there for 20 minutes or get a taxi.
There are a few things that you should know before you plan your visit to Kyoto and keep in mind while here to have the best experience in Kyoto. Here is a list of top tips for travellers visiting Kyoto:
- Plan your visit according to the season: The best times to visit Kyoto are during the spring and autumn season because these are the times when Kyoto’s beauty is at its peak. Other reasons are that Kyoto is a seasonal destination, and the weather during summers and winters is extreme. The summers are hot and humid here, while Winters see temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius. Also, during the New Year holidays, shops, restaurants and other tourist places are closed.
- Pack your Easy slip-on shoes: As you will be visiting many temples and shrines, and other sacred grounds in Kyoto, you will find yourself needing to take off and on your shoes many times a day here. This is because of Japanese traditions and because it is a sign of respect. That’s why it is smarter to just wear convenient shoes or even just flip-flops when you are on excursions in Kyoto.
- Plan your stay in southern Higashiyama and downtown Kyoto: there are many locations in Kyoto where you can book your stay, but for the Sake of convenience and access to the sightseeing locations, Downtown Kyoto and southern Higashiyama are where I would recommend that you stay. You can find anything from a budget hotel to a high-end hotel as well as the traditional Ryokan.
- Be ready to see big Crowds: Kyoto is a popular tourist destination among both domestic and international tourists, and being a seasonal destination, you are bound to find yourself in crowded places.
- Don’t Just focus on Temples and Shrines: Kyoto might be popular for its stunning shrines and ancient temples here, but that is not it for Kyoto. Kyoto has many things to offer, including some really awesome markets to shop, like Nishiki Market, museums, castles and hiking routes!
Some other simples tips and reminders for Kyoto Travellers:
- Do get travel insurance because even though medical care is affordable in Kyoto, it is better on the safer side to bring your travel insurance.
- Watch out for Bicycles because, in Kyoto, people going around places on cycles is very common, and when you hear a ringing sound, it’s most likely a biker trying to safely get past you.
- Don’t tip in restaurants because, in Japan, tipping is considered disrespectful.
Kyoto is truly one of the most peaceful and serene places to visit in Japan. All the lovely temples, gardens, geisha and shrines in Kyoto add to its beauty, and you get to learn about the beauty of Japan’s traditions and rich culture and heritage. Visiting Kyoto is full of so many fun things to do and many amazing memories that you can make alone as well as with friends and family.
Don’t you want to immerse yourself in the beautiful life and culture of Japan and feel the serenity that Kyoto’s atmosphere can provide you?
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1. How many days do I need in Kyoto?
I would recommend staying four to five days in Kyoto, but if you are short on vacation time, three days will be enough to do most of the best things in Kyoto.
2. Is Kyoto better than Tokyo?
Both Kyoto and Tokyo are major cities in Japan and can’t be compared. If you prefer visiting modern cities and seeing the technological achievement of Japan, Tokyo is your city. But if you wish to experience a more traditional Japan with its temples, geisha, gardens, and shrines, then Kyoto is the perfect destination for you.
3. What is the best month to visit Kyoto?
Kyoto is beautiful all year round, but Kyoto is especially magical during the spring season. Spring is also the cherry blossom season in Japan, and Kyoto City is a sight to behold during March and April. Another great time to visit Kyoto is during the month of Fall, which in Japan is during the months of September, October, and November. Temperature and humidity are moderate, and the weather is best for an incredible vacation!
4. Is Kyoto colder than Tokyo?
Yes, Kyoto is way colder than Tokyo due to Kyoto’s geographic location amidst mountains and over 1000 metres above sea level. So, if you are not a fan of extreme cold, avoid visiting Kyoto during the Winter season.
5. How do I get from Tokyo to Kyoto?
The best way to get to Kyoto from Tokyo is to get a bullet train from Tokyo station to Shinagawa Station to Kyoto Station. The distance between Tokyo and Kyoto is about 450 km, and it will take about 2.5 hours for you to get here on a bullet train.
6. Is Kyoto cheaper than Tokyo?
Kyoto is a much cheaper destination for tourists in Japan than Tokyo. This is because the major tourist attractions like shrines and temples, as well as the exciting activities like hiking here, are cheaper things to do.
7. Is there snowfall in Kyoto?
Kyoto enjoys snowfall many times in winter, starting in December till March. The snow does last long and melts after a few hours.
8. What is the hottest month in Kyoto?
The hottest month in Kyoto in August, when it reaches up to 32 degrees Celsius.