Cultural Things to Do in Kyoto

Kyoto, Japan’s former capital, is a city steeped in history and culture. From iconic temples and shrines to vibrant markets and natural wonders, the city offers a wealth of cultural experiences for visitors to enjoy. Whether you’re interested in exploring Kyoto’s districts or delving into its rich art and museum scene, there’s something for everyone in this fascinating city.

One of the most iconic things to do in Kyoto is to visit its many temples and shrines. From the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, these historical sites offer a glimpse into Japan’s rich cultural heritage. But Kyoto isn’t just about historical landmarks – the city is also home to a vibrant food scene, with delicious Japanese cuisine to suit all tastes.

If you’re looking for a truly immersive cultural experience, Kyoto also offers a range of activities such as pottery-making and traditional dyeing. And for those seeking a more spiritual experience, Kyoto’s Zen and Buddhist temples offer a chance to unwind and reflect. With so much to see and do, Kyoto is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Japanese culture.

Key Takeaways

  • Kyoto offers a wealth of cultural experiences, from iconic temples and shrines to vibrant markets and natural wonders.
  • The city’s rich history and art scene provide endless opportunities for exploration and discovery.
  • Kyoto’s food scene is not to be missed, with a range of delicious Japanese cuisine on offer.

Historical Background


Kyoto is a city steeped in history and culture. As the former capital of Japan, it has a rich heritage that spans centuries. From the Edo Period to the Shogun era, Kyoto has played a crucial role in shaping Japan’s history.

Edo Period

The Edo Period, also known as the Tokugawa Period, lasted from 1603 to 1868. During this time, Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa Shogunate, and Kyoto was an important cultural and political centre. The city was home to many of Japan’s most prominent artists, writers, and intellectuals, and it was a hub for traditional arts and crafts.

One of the most significant landmarks from this period is Nijo Castle. Built in 1603, it was the official Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist attraction.

Shogun History

The Shoguns were military rulers who controlled Japan for over 700 years. They played a crucial role in shaping the country’s history, and their legacy can still be seen in Kyoto today.

One of the most famous Shoguns was Tokugawa Ieyasu. He founded the Tokugawa Shogunate and established Edo (now Tokyo) as the new capital of Japan. However, Kyoto remained an important cultural centre, and many of the Shoguns had residences in the city.

The Kyoto Imperial Palace was the former residence of the Emperor and the Imperial family of Japan. It was also used by the Tokugawa Shoguns when they visited the city. Today, visitors can tour the palace and learn about its rich history.

Kyoto’s history and culture are a testament to Japan’s enduring legacy. By exploring the city’s landmarks and attractions, you can gain a deeper understanding of the country’s past and present.

Iconic Temples and Shrines


Kyoto is home to some of the most iconic temples and shrines in Japan. These cultural landmarks are not only beautiful but also hold significant historical and religious importance. Here are a few must-visit temples and shrines in Kyoto that you should add to your itinerary.

Kinkaku-Ji Temple

Kinkaku-Ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is a stunning Buddhist temple covered in gold leaf. The temple is situated in a tranquil garden and overlooks a pond, creating a picturesque scene. Kinkaku-Ji is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kyoto.

Kiyomizu-Dera Temple

Kiyomizu-Dera Temple is a notable Buddhist temple that dates back to the 8th century. The temple is famous for its wooden stage that protrudes from the main hall and offers a panoramic view of Kyoto. Kiyomizu-Dera Temple is also home to the Jishu Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the god of love and matchmaking.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha is a Shinto shrine that is famous for its thousands of torii gates that lead up to the sacred Mount Inari. The shrine is dedicated to the god of rice and sake and is one of the most visited shrines in Japan. The torii gates create a striking visual and make for a great photo opportunity.

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle is a historical landmark that was once the residence of the Tokugawa shoguns. The castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site and features stunning gardens and traditional Japanese architecture. The castle is also home to the Ninomaru Palace, which is known for its intricate paintings and carvings.

Visiting these iconic temples and shrines is a must-do cultural experience in Kyoto. Whether you’re interested in Buddhism or Shinto, these landmarks offer a glimpse into Japan’s rich cultural history.

Exploring Kyoto’s Districts


Kyoto is a city that is rich in culture and history. It has many districts that offer unique experiences, from exploring traditional wooden homes to visiting contemporary restaurants and boutiques. Here are three districts that you must visit when exploring Kyoto.


Arashiyama is located on the western outskirts of Kyoto and is known for its bamboo groves and scenic views. You can take a walk along the Togetsukyo Bridge, which is a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing in the spring. There are also many temples and shrines in Arashiyama, such as Tenryu-ji Temple and Nonomiya Shrine.


Gion is a historic district in Kyoto that is famous for its geisha culture. You can take a stroll along Hanami-Koji, which is a street lined with traditional teahouses and restaurants. You may also spot a geisha or maiko (apprentice geisha) walking along the streets. Gion is also home to many temples and shrines, such as Yasaka Shrine.

Southern Higashiyama

Southern Higashiyama is a neighbourhood that is located at the eastern end of Kyoto’s main sightseeing district. It is known for its narrow streets and traditional architecture. You can visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers a panoramic view of Kyoto. You can also explore the historic streets of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, which are lined with traditional shops and restaurants.

When exploring Kyoto, make sure to take your time and soak in the culture and history of each district. Whether you are interested in geisha culture, temples and shrines, or just want to explore the neighbourhoods, Kyoto has something to offer for everyone.

Cultural Experiences


Kyoto is a city rich in culture and tradition, and there are plenty of cultural experiences to be had. From the serene and meditative Japanese tea ceremony to the thrilling samurai experience, there is something for everyone. Here are some of the best cultural experiences you can have in Kyoto.

Tea Ceremony

The Japanese tea ceremony, also known as the Way of Tea, is a traditional ritual that has been practiced in Japan for centuries. During the ceremony, guests are served tea and sweets in a specially designed tea room. The ceremony is a way to appreciate the beauty of simplicity and to connect with others in a peaceful and meditative setting.

There are many places in Kyoto where you can experience the Japanese tea ceremony, including the famous Urasenke tea house. You can also take part in a tea ceremony experience at some of Kyoto’s temples and shrines.

Samurai Experience

For those looking for a more action-packed cultural experience, the samurai experience is a must-try. You can learn about the history and culture of the samurai, and even try on a traditional samurai outfit. You can also learn how to use a sword and practice samurai techniques.

There are several places in Kyoto where you can have a samurai experience, including the Samurai Kembu Theater and the Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Museum.

Geiko and Maiko Encounter

Kyoto is famous for its geiko and maiko, traditional female entertainers who are trained in various arts such as music, dance, and conversation. A geiko is a fully trained entertainer, while a maiko is an apprentice.

You can have a geiko and maiko encounter in Kyoto by attending a traditional tea house or restaurant. You can watch the geiko and maiko perform traditional dances, play music, and engage in conversation. It’s a unique and unforgettable cultural experience.

In conclusion, Kyoto offers a wide range of cultural experiences that are sure to leave you with lasting memories. Whether you want to experience the serenity of the Japanese tea ceremony, the excitement of the samurai experience, or the beauty of the geiko and maiko encounter, Kyoto has something for everyone.

Zen and Buddhism in Kyoto


If you’re interested in Zen Buddhism, Kyoto is the perfect place to visit. Kyoto is home to many beautiful Zen gardens and Buddhist temples that offer visitors an opportunity to learn about Zen Buddhism and Japanese culture. In this section, we’ll explore two aspects of Zen and Buddhism in Kyoto: Zen gardens and Buddhist temples.

Zen Gardens

Zen gardens, also known as karesansui, are a unique type of garden that originated in Japan. These gardens are designed to be contemplative spaces that inspire a sense of calm and tranquillity. Kyoto is home to many beautiful Zen gardens, which are often found in Buddhist temples.

One of the most famous Zen gardens in Kyoto is the Ryoan-ji Temple. This temple is known for its beautiful rock garden, which is made up of 15 rocks arranged in a pattern on a bed of white gravel. The garden is designed to be viewed from a seated position, and it is said that the arrangement of the rocks is meant to represent a tiger carrying her cubs across a river.

Another beautiful Zen garden in Kyoto is the Daitoku-ji Temple. This temple is home to 22 sub-temples, each with its own unique garden. The gardens at Daitoku-ji are designed to be contemplative spaces that inspire a sense of calm and tranquillity.

Buddhist Temples

Kyoto is home to many beautiful Buddhist temples, which offer visitors an opportunity to learn about Zen Buddhism and Japanese culture. One of the most famous Buddhist temples in Kyoto is the Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion. This temple is known for its beautiful golden pavilion, which is reflected in a pond below.

Another beautiful Buddhist temple in Kyoto is the Ginkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Silver Pavilion. This temple is known for its beautiful garden, which is designed to be a contemplative space that inspires a sense of calm and tranquillity.

If you’re interested in learning more about Zen Buddhism, Kyoto is the perfect place to visit. With its beautiful Zen gardens and Buddhist temples, Kyoto offers visitors an opportunity to learn about Zen Buddhism and Japanese culture in a unique and inspiring way.

Kyoto’s Vibrant Markets


If you’re looking for an authentic cultural experience in Kyoto, visiting the city’s bustling markets is a must. The markets offer a glimpse into the daily life of locals and a chance to sample some of the city’s traditional foods and crafts.

Nishiki Market

One of the most famous markets in Kyoto is Nishiki Market, also known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”. The market is a narrow, covered street lined with over 100 shops selling fresh seafood, vegetables, pickles, sweets, and more. You can also find traditional Japanese sweets like mochi and wagashi here.

Make sure to try some of the local specialties, such as grilled fish skewers, tofu donuts, and matcha-flavored snacks. You can also purchase souvenirs like lacquerware, chopsticks, and tea sets.

Nishiki Market is open daily from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm, but some shops may close on Wednesdays or Sundays. It’s located in central Kyoto, just a short walk from Shijo Station on the Karasuma Subway Line.

Overall, visiting Kyoto’s markets is a unique way to experience the city’s culture and cuisine. Don’t miss out on the chance to explore Nishiki Market and try some of the delicious traditional Japanese sweets and snacks.

Natural Wonders


Kyoto is not only famous for its cultural heritage, but also for its beautiful natural wonders. Here are two must-see natural wonders that will leave you in awe.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a mesmerising natural wonder that attracts tourists from all over the world. The bamboo grove is located in the Arashiyama district and is easily accessible by train or bus. Once you arrive, take a stroll through the bamboo forest and marvel at the tall, green stalks towering above you. The sound of the bamboo rustling in the wind is a truly unique experience that you won’t forget.

If you want to avoid the crowds, it’s best to visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon. You can also take a guided tour to learn more about the history and significance of the bamboo grove. Don’t forget to take plenty of photos to capture the beauty of this natural wonder.

Otowa Waterfall

The Otowa Waterfall is a stunning natural wonder located in the Kiyomizu-dera Temple complex. The waterfall is divided into three streams, each representing a different virtue: longevity, success, and love. Visitors can drink from the streams using special cups and make a wish for the corresponding virtue.

The waterfall is surrounded by lush greenery and provides a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Take a moment to sit and relax by the waterfall and enjoy the tranquillity of the surroundings. It’s a perfect spot for meditation or reflection.

In conclusion, Kyoto is not only a city of cultural treasures but also a city of natural wonders. The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Otowa Waterfall are two must-see natural wonders that will leave you in awe. Plan your visit today and experience the beauty of Kyoto’s natural wonders for yourself.

Japanese Cuisine in Kyoto


When it comes to Japanese cuisine, Kyoto has a lot to offer. From traditional kaiseki meals to street food, there is something for everyone. Here are some must-try dishes and experiences to add to your Kyoto food adventure:

Matcha and Green Tea

Kyoto is famous for its matcha and green tea, which is grown in the nearby Uji region. You can find matcha and green tea in many forms, from traditional tea ceremonies to matcha-flavoured sweets and drinks. Some popular places to try matcha include the historic tea houses in the Higashiyama district and the Ippodo Tea Co., which has been in business since 1717.


Sushi is a staple of Japanese cuisine, and Kyoto has some of the best sushi restaurants in the country. The city is known for its “kappo” style sushi, which is served in small, bite-size pieces. Some popular sushi restaurants in Kyoto include Izuju and Kyotaru, both of which have been in business for over 100 years.

If you’re a vegetarian, don’t worry – there are plenty of vegetarian sushi options available in Kyoto. Look for sushi made with vegetables, tofu, or egg.

Shojin Ryori

For a unique dining experience, try shojin ryori, which is a type of vegetarian cuisine that originated in Buddhist temples. Shojin ryori focuses on using fresh, seasonal ingredients and avoiding meat, fish, and other animal products. Some popular shojin ryori restaurants in Kyoto include Shigetsu and Tenryuji Shigetsu.

Whether you’re a foodie or just looking for a new culinary adventure, Kyoto is the perfect destination for Japanese cuisine. From matcha to sushi to shojin ryori, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Kyoto’s Art and Museums


Kyoto is a city that is rich in history and culture, and one of the best ways to experience this is through its art and museums. Here, you can explore various forms of art, from traditional Japanese paintings to contemporary art from around the world. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the best art and museum experiences that Kyoto has to offer.

Imperial Palace

The Kyoto Imperial Palace is a must-visit for anyone interested in Japanese history and culture. This palace was the residence of the Emperor of Japan until 1868 and is now open to the public. You can take a guided tour of the palace, which includes the Shishinden Hall, the Seiryoden, and the Kogosho. The palace is surrounded by beautiful gardens, which are especially stunning during the cherry blossom season.

Speciality Museums

Kyoto is home to many speciality museums, each with its own unique focus. Some of the most popular include:

  • The Kyoto National Museum, which features a collection of Japanese art and artefacts, including ceramics, textiles, and paintings.
  • The Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, which showcases the traditional crafts of Kyoto, such as pottery, textiles, and lacquerware.
  • The Museum of Kyoto, which explores the history and culture of the city through interactive exhibits and displays.

Whether you’re interested in history, art, or culture, Kyoto’s art and museums have something to offer everyone. So why not take some time to explore these fascinating institutions and discover the beauty and richness of Kyoto’s cultural heritage?

Kyoto for Instagrammers


If you’re an Instagram lover, Kyoto is a perfect destination for you. With its rich cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty, Kyoto offers plenty of opportunities to capture Instagram-worthy shots. From ancient temples and shrines to vibrant streets and gardens, Kyoto has something for everyone.

One of the most iconic spots for Instagrammers is the Kyoto Tower. This landmark offers a panoramic view of the city, making it a perfect spot for capturing stunning cityscapes. You can also enjoy a meal or a drink at the tower’s restaurant or bar while taking in the view.

Traveller reviews on Tripadvisor and Viator also recommend visiting the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. The towering bamboo stalks create a unique and peaceful atmosphere, making it a popular spot for Instagrammers. You can also take a stroll through the nearby gardens and temples, such as Tenryu-ji Temple, for more photo opportunities.

If you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-path spot, consider visiting the Togetsu-kyo Bridge. This historic bridge offers a picturesque view of the river and surrounding mountains. It’s especially beautiful during the autumn foliage season, when the leaves turn vibrant shades of red and orange.

Sell Out, a popular travel website, recommends visiting the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. This temple is renowned for its stunning architecture and breathtaking views of the city. You can also explore the nearby streets and shops, which offer a glimpse into Kyoto’s traditional culture.

In conclusion, Kyoto is a paradise for Instagrammers. With its diverse range of cultural and natural attractions, Kyoto offers endless opportunities for capturing stunning photos. Whether you’re looking for iconic landmarks or hidden gems, Kyoto has something for everyone.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some unique cultural experiences to have in Kyoto?

Kyoto is home to a plethora of unique cultural experiences. You can try your hand at traditional crafts such as pottery, calligraphy, and weaving. You can also participate in a tea ceremony, watch a maiko or geisha performance, or dress up in a beautiful kimono. For a more immersive experience, you can stay at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, and enjoy a kaiseki meal.

What are the top cultural landmarks to visit in Kyoto?

Kyoto is full of cultural landmarks that are a must-visit. The most famous ones include Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and Nijo Castle. These landmarks are not only beautiful but also rich in history and cultural significance.

What traditional crafts can you learn in Kyoto?

Kyoto is known for its traditional crafts, and there are many opportunities to learn them. You can try your hand at pottery, calligraphy, weaving, dyeing, and even sword-making. Many workshops offer classes for beginners, and you can take home your own handmade souvenir.

What are the must-see cultural festivals in Kyoto?

Kyoto is famous for its festivals, and there are many throughout the year. Some of the most popular ones include the Gion Matsuri in July, the Jidai Matsuri in October, and the Aoi Matsuri in May. These festivals are a great way to experience traditional Japanese culture and see beautiful floats and costumes.

What are some lesser-known cultural activities to do in Kyoto?

Aside from the famous landmarks and festivals, there are many lesser-known cultural activities to do in Kyoto. You can visit a local temple or shrine and participate in a prayer or meditation session. You can also explore the city’s traditional shopping streets, such as Nishiki Market and Teramachi-dori, and try local snacks and sweets.

How has Kyoto’s cultural heritage influenced modern Japan?

Kyoto’s cultural heritage has had a significant influence on modern Japan. Many traditional crafts and arts, such as pottery and tea ceremony, are still practiced today. The city’s architecture and design have also influenced modern Japanese aesthetics. Kyoto’s cultural heritage is a source of pride for the Japanese people and continues to inspire new generations of artists and craftsmen.

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