With the many things to do in Kyoto, it has become one of Japan's best places to visit. This rural part of the country is home to a long list of shrines, temples, gardens, restaurants, and more. You can even visit with geisha in Kyoto as you immerse yourself in traditional Japanese culture.
This cultural and spiritual hub is a charming destination packed with many attractions on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. If you're wondering what to do in Kyoto for your next trip, consider adding the below activities to your Japan travel itinerary.
Spend the Day at Nishiki Market
Make sure to add visiting Nishiki Market, aka Kyoto’s kitchen, to your list of things to do in Kyoto, as it’s a must-see for food lovers. This market has been running since the 14th century. Originally, it was a fish market. Now, you can find all sorts of goodies, including pickled vegetables, tofu, flavored rice cakes, and more.
Tip: Aim to arrive around 10 am to avoid the crowds at Nishiki Market.
View the Kyoto Cherry Blossoms
Springtime brings beautiful cherry blossom blooms (also known as Sakura). If you visit in March or April, you can usually catch the Sakura trees blooming. There are cherry blossom festivals that occur during these months throughout Kyoto City. Expect these events and cherry blossom viewings to be crowded but well worth it.
Some of the best places to view the flowers in Kyoto Prefecture are Nijo Castle and the Kyoto Botanical Garden.
Try Your Hand at Kyoto Ceramics
When Kyoto was Japan's capital in the Momoyama Era, many artisans gathered in the city to create ceramics. During this time, these artisans also formed different ceramic techniques. Now, Kyoto is known for the art of kyo-yaki, which refers to any pottery made in the city.
Unsure of what to do in Kyoto? Book a pottery class to learn some of the ancient kyo-yaki techniques.
Visit the Gion District
If you find geisha and maiko (geisha in training) fascinating, take time to explore the Gion District. This district near the Kamogawa River (aka Kamo River) is one of the only places where geisha still work. You're more likely to see geisha in the evening when they have tea ceremony appointments to attend.
As a reminder, please be respectful of the geisha when you see them by not asking for pictures or swarming around them.
Check Out a Zen Temple
There are many temples to see in this area. Unless you plan on spending a month exploring things to do in Kyoto, you won't have time to visit all of them. Below is a list of a few top Zen Buddhist temple options to check out.
- Tenryu-ji Temple
- Ryoan-ji Temple
- Kiyomizu Dera Temple
- Kinkaku-ji Temple (aka Golden Pavilion)
- Ginkaku-ji Temple (aka Silver Pavilion)
Don’t Skip the Shrines
400 Shinto god shrines are spread throughout Kyoto. You'll recognize them by their vibrant red torii gates at the entrance. If you're on a tight budget, shrines are a great option, as they're usually free to visit. Here are a few top options:
- Yasaka Shrine
- Fushimi Inari Shrine (also known as Fushimi Inari Taisha)
Walk Through Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Nature lovers will find plenty of activities to pursue in Kyoto, including exploring the
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. This beautiful northern Kyoto bamboo forest makes you feel as if you're in another world. You can take a walking tour through the bamboo grove or a self-guided tour through this beautiful spot.
Tip: If you have extra time, stop by Kimono Forest to see colorful kimono textiles. It's about a 10-minute walk from Bamboo Forest.
Visit the Famous Monkey Park
You’ll find Iwatayama Monkey Park in Arashiyama, near the Bamboo Forest. This park is packed with semi-wild Japanese macaques. You’ll need to hike for about 20 minutes to reach a small hut where you can feed the monkeys through a mesh wire.
This park has been around since the 1950s when a Kyoto University scientist began feeding the monkeys for research.
Try Local Cuisine
You can't visit Kyoto without trying some of the local food. This city is famous for a few items, sake, soba, and tofu. So, make sure you try popular snacks from Kyoto during your visit. If you want to try multiple local restaurants in a short time, head to a food hall. You can find them throughout the city, like at the Kyoto Kawaramachi Garden.
See the Kyoto Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace, aka Kyoto Gosho, was home to the royal family until the late 1800s.
This central Kyoto palace in Kyoto Imperial Park includes gardens, halls, and more to explore. You can take a guided tour or stroll the palace grounds on your own.
Additional Attractions to Check Out in Kyoto
If you have extra time, consider visiting these attractions:
- Maruyama Park
- Kyoto International Manga Museum
- Kyoto National Museum
- Kyoto Tower
How to avoid crowds?
Kyoto sees millions of visitors annually, with the number steadily growing each year. Try the following tips to help you avoid crowds as you work through a Kyoto itinerary.
Avoid visiting attractions between 9 and 5 am.
The best way to avoid crowds is by heading out early in the morning (think 5 am). Sure, you may lose some sleep, but the crowds do not show up until around 9 am. Alternatively, you can visit more popular attractions after 5 pm, as most visitors leave by this team.
Visit less popular things to do in Kyoto between 9 and 5 to make the most out of your days.
Plan more touristy activities during the week.
As expected, weekends and holidays are most popular for Kyoto visitors. Avoid spending time on more touristy activities during these days. Instead, plan to visit less popular spots, like Daitokuji Temple and Sanjusangendo Temple.
Walk when possible.
Avoid taking the bus from Kyoto Station, as it’s always packed with people. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking an early or late bus, you’ll find long lines at this railway station. Often, it’s faster to walk than take a bus anyway because of congestion.
Walk when possible to save time and avoid waiting in line for the next bus. If you plan to visit a further away attraction, try to get there by train or subway for a faster, more comfortable ride. Ensure you get a Japan Rail Pass to help keep the transport costs down.
Prepare your tastebuds for Japanese snacks by ordering a Japanese snack box subscription from Bokksu. Each box has a delicious array of sweet and salty treats shipped directly from Japan. Each box has a monthly theme that explores areas in the country. For example, the March theme box of 2023 was based on the Sakura season in Kyoto. Check out the Bokksu website for more details.
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