Things to Do in Kyoto

Kyoto, Japan is a city that is rich in culture, history, and natural beauty. It is a city that has something to offer everyone, from the history buff to the foodie, and even the shopaholic. There are so many things to do in Kyoto that it can be overwhelming to plan your itinerary.

To start with, Kyoto has a rich historical background, and this is evident in the many temples, shrines, and palaces that dot the city. From the famous Kinkaku-ji Temple to the Nijo Castle, Kyoto has a lot to offer in terms of historical attractions. But Kyoto is not just about history; it is also a city that is known for its cuisine, shopping, and entertainment.

Whether you are looking to indulge in some retail therapy, try out some delicious Japanese cuisine, or simply relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city, Kyoto has something for everyone. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the top things to do in Kyoto, including the must-visit attractions, the best places to eat, and some of the most exciting day trips that you can take.

Key Takeaways

  • Kyoto is a city that has something to offer everyone, from its rich historical background to its delicious cuisine and exciting shopping and entertainment options.
  • The city is home to many famous attractions, including temples, shrines, and palaces, and is also known for its beautiful natural scenery.
  • Whether you are looking to explore the city’s history, indulge in some retail therapy, or simply relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city, Kyoto is a destination that should not be missed.

Historical Overview


You’re in Kyoto, a city steeped in history and culture. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years, from 794 to 1868, and it played a pivotal role in shaping the country’s history. The city has witnessed the rise and fall of shoguns, the flourishing of Buddhism and Shintoism, and the emergence of samurai culture.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), Kyoto was the centre of power for the Tokugawa shoguns, who ruled Japan for over 250 years. The shoguns established a strong central government and promoted economic growth, which led to the emergence of a wealthy merchant class. Many of Kyoto’s temples, shrines, and gardens were built during this period, and they remain some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

Buddhism and Shintoism have had a profound influence on Kyoto’s history and culture. The city is home to many important Buddhist temples, including the Jōdo sect’s Pure Land Paradise temple, which was built in the 12th century. Shintoism, the indigenous religion of Japan, is also deeply rooted in Kyoto’s history. The city has many important Shinto shrines, including the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates.

The samurai were a powerful warrior class that emerged in Japan during the 12th century. They played a significant role in shaping Japan’s history, and their influence can still be felt in Kyoto today. Many of Kyoto’s historic sites, such as Nijo Castle and the Kyoto Imperial Palace, were built to protect the city from samurai attacks.

In conclusion, Kyoto’s rich history and culture make it a fascinating destination for anyone interested in Japanese history and tradition. Whether you’re exploring the city’s temples and shrines, wandering through its historic streets, or savouring its delicious cuisine, you’re sure to be captivated by Kyoto’s unique charm and beauty.

Top Attractions


Kyoto is a city with a rich cultural heritage, and there are many attractions to explore. Here are some of the top attractions in Kyoto that you should not miss.

Temples and Shrines

Kyoto is home to some of the most beautiful temples and shrines in Japan. Kiyomizu-Dera is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto, and it offers stunning views of the city. Fushimi Inari Shrine is another must-visit attraction, with its thousands of torii gates leading up to the mountain. Kinkaku-Ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is a beautiful Buddhist temple that is covered in gold leaf. Other notable temples and shrines include Nanzen-Ji, Tenryū-Ji, and Jishu Shrine.

Historic Districts

Kyoto has several historic districts that are worth exploring. The Higashiyama District is a charming area with narrow streets, traditional shops, and teahouses. Gion is another historic district known for its traditional architecture and geisha culture. You can also visit Nishiki Market, which has been around for over 400 years and offers a glimpse into Kyoto’s culinary culture.

Cultural Experiences

Kyoto offers many cultural experiences that allow you to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. You can attend a tea ceremony at a traditional teahouse, or learn how to cook Japanese cuisine. Enryaku-Ji and Chion-In are Zen temples that offer meditation and other spiritual experiences. You can also visit Daitoku-Ji, a complex of Zen temples and gardens.

Whether you are interested in history, culture, or nature, Kyoto has something for everyone. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience the beauty and charm of this unique city.



When it comes to food, Kyoto is a culinary paradise that will leave you salivating for more. From traditional Japanese cuisine to international dishes, the city has something for everyone.

One of the most iconic dishes in Kyoto is sushi. It’s no secret that Japan is famous for its sushi, and Kyoto is no exception. You can find sushi restaurants all over the city, ranging from high-end establishments to casual eateries. The sushi in Kyoto is known for its fresh and high-quality ingredients, so be sure to try it out!

Another must-try dish in Kyoto is tofu. The city is famous for its soft, silky tofu, which is made using local water and soybeans. You can find tofu dishes in many restaurants across the city, but one of the best places to try it is at a traditional Japanese inn, where you can enjoy a multi-course meal that includes tofu.

If you’re looking for a more upscale dining experience, then Kaiseki is the way to go. Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese multi-course meal that features seasonal ingredients and is beautifully presented. Many Kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto are located in historic buildings and offer a unique dining experience that you won’t forget.

Finally, if you’re a fan of foxes, then you’ll love the fox-themed cafes in Kyoto. These cafes feature fox-inspired decor and serve fox-shaped snacks and drinks. It’s a fun and unique way to experience the city’s food culture.

In summary, Kyoto’s cuisine is diverse and exciting, with something for everyone. Whether you’re a sushi lover, tofu enthusiast, or looking for a unique dining experience, Kyoto has got you covered.

Shopping and Entertainment


When it comes to shopping and entertainment, Kyoto has a lot to offer. Whether you’re looking for traditional Japanese souvenirs or modern fashion, you’ll find it all here.

One of the best places to shop in Kyoto is Shijo-dori. This street is known for its all-in-one shopping and entertainment experience. You’ll find everything from department stores to small boutiques, as well as restaurants and cafes. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon or evening, especially if you’re looking for a lively atmosphere.

If you’re interested in traditional Japanese crafts, be sure to check out the Nishijin Textiles Centre. Here you can see demonstrations of weaving and dyeing techniques, and even try your hand at making your own fabric. You can also purchase beautiful textiles and accessories, including traditional kimono.

For a more modern shopping experience, head to the Kyoto Station Building. This massive complex houses over 240 shops and restaurants, as well as a cinema and a spa. It’s a great place to spend a rainy day or to grab a quick bite to eat before catching your train.

If you’re looking for entertainment, there are plenty of options in Kyoto. The city has a thriving theatre scene, with performances ranging from traditional kabuki to modern plays. Check out the schedule at the Kyoto Theatre to see what’s on during your visit.

Overall, Kyoto offers a unique shopping and entertainment experience that combines traditional Japanese culture with modern amenities. Whether you’re looking for souvenirs, fashion, or just a fun night out, you’re sure to find something that suits your tastes.



You’re in luck when it comes to finding accommodation in Kyoto. There are plenty of options available to suit all budgets and preferences. From traditional Japanese ryokans to modern hotels, Kyoto has it all.

If you’re arriving in Kyoto by train, the area around Kyoto Station is a great place to stay. It’s a convenient location with easy access to public transportation and plenty of restaurants and shops. You’ll find a range of accommodation options in this area, from budget-friendly hostels to luxury hotels.

If you’re looking for a more traditional experience, consider staying in a ryokan. These Japanese-style inns offer a unique experience, with tatami mat floors, futon beds, and traditional Japanese meals. Some ryokans even have hot springs on the premises.

Another option is to stay in a machiya, a traditional Japanese townhouse that has been converted into accommodation. These properties offer a glimpse into Kyoto’s past, with traditional architecture and decor. Many machines are located in the city’s historic districts, such as Gion and Higashiyama.

No matter where you choose to stay in Kyoto, it’s important to book your accommodation in advance, especially during peak travel seasons. Keep in mind that some properties may require you to remove your shoes before entering, so be sure to bring socks or slippers.

Overall, finding accommodation in Kyoto is an exciting part of your trip planning. With so many options to choose from, you’re sure to find the perfect place to rest your head while exploring this beautiful city.



Getting around Kyoto is easy and convenient, with a variety of transportation options available. Whether you prefer to walk, cycle, take public transport, or hire a taxi, there is a mode of transportation that will suit your needs.

Public Transport

Kyoto has an extensive public transport system that includes buses, trains, and subways. The local transport card is called the ICOCA, but Tokyo’s SUICA and PASMO transport cards are also accepted. You can purchase these cards at vending machines in train stations or at convenience stores. Public transport is an affordable and efficient way to get around the city.


Taxis are readily available in Kyoto, and they are a convenient way to get around the city if you don’t want to walk or take public transport. Taxis in Kyoto are metered, and fares are reasonable. You can hail a taxi on the street or find one at a taxi stand.

Rental Cycles

Kyoto is a very bike-friendly city, and rental cycles are a popular way to get around. There are many rental shops throughout the city, and you can rent a bike for a few hours or a few days. Cycling is a great way to explore the city at your own pace and see the sights.

Kyoto Station

Kyoto Station is the transportation hub of the city, and it is a major stop on the Shinkansen bullet train line. From Kyoto Station, you can take buses, trains, and subways to other parts of the city. The station is also home to many shops, restaurants, and other amenities, making it a great place to start your Kyoto adventure.

Overall, Kyoto has a reliable and efficient transportation system that makes it easy to get around and explore the city. Whether you prefer to walk, cycle, take public transport, or hire a taxi, there is a mode of transportation that will suit your needs.

Day Trips


If you have some extra time in Kyoto, consider taking a day trip to explore some of the surrounding areas. Here are a few options to consider:

  • Nara: Just a short train ride away from Kyoto, Nara is a must-visit destination for any animal lover. The city is known for its free-roaming deer, which you can feed and interact with. In addition to the deer, Nara is home to some stunning temples and shrines, including the Todai-ji Temple and the Kasuga-taisha Shrine.
  • Hiroshima: While it’s a bit further away from Kyoto, a day trip to Hiroshima is well worth the journey. The city is best known for its tragic history, but it’s also a vibrant and thriving place with plenty to see and do. Visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum to learn about the atomic bombing that devastated the city in 1945, then take a stroll around the beautiful Shukkei-en Garden.
  • Kochi: If you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-path destination, consider a day trip to Kochi. This charming city on the island of Shikoku is known for its traditional culture and stunning natural beauty. Visit the Kochi Castle, take a walk along the Katsurahama Beach, or explore the local markets and shops.
  • Mie: Mie is another great destination for those looking to get off the beaten path. The prefecture is home to some stunning natural beauty, including the Ise-Shima National Park and the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route. You can also visit the famous Ise Grand Shrine, one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan.

No matter which destination you choose, a day trip from Kyoto is a great way to experience more of Japan’s rich culture and history.

Bucket List


Kyoto is a city full of wonders and hidden gems that are waiting for you to discover them. Whether you are a first-time visitor or a repeat traveler, there are some experiences that you simply can’t miss. Here are some of the top things to add to your Kyoto bucket list:

  • Visit the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine: This iconic shrine is one of the most popular and important attractions in Kyoto. Take a stroll through the thousands of torii gates that lead up to the main shrine and enjoy the breathtaking views of the city from the top.
  • Wander through the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest: This stunning natural wonder is a must-see for any nature lover. Take a peaceful walk through the towering bamboo stalks and immerse yourself in the tranquility of the forest.
  • Take a stroll down the Philosopher’s Walk: This picturesque pathway is named after the famous philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who used to take daily walks along the canal. Enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms in spring or the colorful foliage in autumn as you walk along the peaceful path.
  • Marvel at the Golden Pavilion of Kinkaku-ji: This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most famous sights in Kyoto. Admire the stunning golden temple and its reflection in the surrounding pond.
  • Experience a traditional tea ceremony: Kyoto is known for its tea culture, and there’s no better way to experience it than by taking part in a traditional tea ceremony. Immerse yourself in the art and beauty of this ancient Japanese tradition.
  • Dress up in a kimono: Kyoto is one of the best places in Japan to experience the beauty of traditional Japanese clothing. Rent a kimono and stroll through the city’s historic streets, feeling like a part of Kyoto’s rich cultural heritage.

These are just a few of the many incredible experiences that Kyoto has to offer. Add them to your bucket list and start planning your trip to this amazing city today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some fun activities for families to do in Kyoto?

Kyoto offers a variety of activities suitable for families. Visit the Kyoto Aquarium to see marine life up close, or take a trip to the Kyoto Railway Museum to learn about the history of trains in Japan. For a more active experience, head to the Arashiyama Monkey Park to see monkeys roaming freely or rent bikes and explore the city.

What are some off-the-beaten-path things to do in Kyoto?

Kyoto has many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Take a stroll through the Philosopher’s Path, a peaceful walkway lined with cherry blossom trees. Visit the Adashino Nenbutsu-ji Temple to see thousands of stone statues representing the souls of the dead. For a unique experience, try a tea ceremony at a traditional tea house.

What is Kyoto best known for?

Kyoto is known for its rich history, beautiful temples and shrines, and traditional culture. It was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years and is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Kyoto is also famous for its cuisine, including Kaiseki, a multi-course meal featuring seasonal ingredients.

How many days should I plan to visit Kyoto?

To fully experience Kyoto, we recommend planning to stay for at least three days. This will give you enough time to visit the main attractions, explore the city, and try some of the local cuisine. However, if you have more time, there are plenty of other activities and sights to see.

What are some relaxing activities to do in Kyoto?

Kyoto has many opportunities for relaxation. Visit one of the city’s many onsens, or hot springs, for a soothing soak. Take a walk through the bamboo groves in Arashiyama or visit a Japanese garden, such as the famous Ryoan-ji Temple. For a unique experience, try a meditation session at a Zen temple.

What are some unique things to do in Kyoto during the winter months?

Kyoto is beautiful in the winter, with snow-capped mountains and temples covered in a blanket of white. Visit the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine to see plum blossoms in bloom, or take a trip to the Kurama-dera Temple to see the winter illuminations. For a cozy experience, visit a traditional tea house and warm up with a cup of matcha tea.

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