Kyoto. When you say To-kyo, you also say Kyo-to. These are the two main places in Japan that people visiting this country end up (along with Osaka).
And the contrast is stark, whilst Tokyo represents modern Japan, Kyoto is firmly rooted in tradition. Known as the home of the geisha and the birthplace of the Japanese tea ceremony, Kyoto is filled with things to see and awash with temples and shrines.
But… is that it?
Sure, cultural stuff is great, but is it really all temples and museums? Old buildings and tour groups?
No! While there are some must-see historical and cultural sites, there are loads more cool things to do in Kyoto, from sampling the great outdoors to wandering around markets.
There’s so much that we’ve created this list of the most awesome things to do in Kyoto to help you choose the coolest stuff to do! So let’s see what we can get up to in Japan’s ancient capital!
- Top Things to Do in Kyoto
- Unusual Things to Do in Kyoto
- Safety in Kyoto
- Things to Do in Kyoto at Night
- Where to Stay in Kyoto
- Romantic things to do in Kyoto
- Best Free Things to Do in Kyoto
- Kyoto Packing List
- Best Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids
- Other Unmissable Things to Do in Kyoto
- Day Trips from Kyoto
- 3 Day Kyoto Itinerary
- Final Thoughts – All the Best Stuff to Do in Kyoto
From traditional shindigs to oddball adventures to going out drinking at night, here are the best things to do in Kyoto!
Wow. Wow, wow, wow. This is possibly the most famous sight in Kyoto. So, even though it’s mentally touristed, this place is definitely a must-see.
Why? Because it’s a Buddhist temple that’s literally covered in gold – that’s why!
Kinkaku-ji is the place to go in Kyoto for an iconic photo, but that’s what basically every tourist who comes here thinks, so try to come here very (VERY) early to beat the crowds, snap a pic, then run to 7-11 for a 100 yen coffee.
2. Get foxy at the shrine
This is totally one of the most awesome places to visit in Kyoto. The ‘fox shrine’ is famous for its hundreds of red gates that edge the path all the way up the hill to the shrine at the top.
A popular place to visit in the city – it’s not hard to see why – we recommend heading up just before sunset. The hike up the many steps winds its way up the hillside but the view from the top of the sun setting over the old city is pretty special.
Just don’t get too freaked out on the way back down in the dark like we did; we certainly could not identify the source of those weird sounds.
3. See how sake is made (and taste some, of course)
What’s more Japan than sake? Ok, a lot of different things are quite Japanese, but sake is THE definitive Japanese alcohol.
So as with all good alcohols across the world, a good way to experience them is to see how they’re made Yes, you can witness the brewing process of the sake they make at Gekkeikan Okura, which has virtually not changed in 400 years.
A tour of this place includes tastings of various sake which is always something we’re on board with, to be honest. Free booze is definitely a top thing to do in Kyoto and a top thing to do when backpacking Japan.
Southern Higashiyama is home to many of Kyoto’s most famous and popular tourist destinations. If you haven’t been to Southern Higashiyama, you haven’t been to Kyoto!
- Visit glorious well-known temples like Sanjusangen-do, Kiyomizu-dera, Kennin-ji, and Chion-in.
- Try and spot geishas in Hanami-koji.
- Be wowed by the cherry blossom at Shimbashi (in season).
For more places to stay, check out our full Kyoto neighborhood guide!
The tea ceremony. It’s the sort of thing that is really cool to see because we have somewhat of a different culture of ceremony in the West. Our tea ceremony tends to be…teabag into cup, pour water, maybe sugar. But in Japan, the tea ceremony is a massive part of the country’s culture and of zen Buddhism in particular.
So if you’re in Japan for a ‘cultural experience’, then the tea ceremony is a must-do activity in Kyoto for you. It was basically invented in Kyoto.
You can pop along to the chashitsu (that’s a purpose-built tea house) at Ju-an temple to see it and lap it all up for yourself.
Ok, it’s pretty touristy too, but this place is seriously cool. Can you guess where it is?
If you were thinking the bamboo grove, you’d be right of course. Arashiyama has a big draw for its beautiful thickets of towering green bamboo. Arashiyama is so stunning, it’s enough just to wander around this place and get lost in thought while observing the nice little temples and a great river walk along the way… or just take a goddamn rickshaw!
Basically, if you like nature, this is definitely a place to add to your places to visit list for Kyoto.
There’s cycling around Kyoto and walking too – but how about walking around Kyoto with someone who isn’t just a tour guide but a local to the city itself? Pretty cool!
What better way to discover the hidden gems, hear personal stories, wander down lanes you’d never go down otherwise. You can generally learn a load of new stuff about Kyoto that a regular tour guide probably wouldn’t think you’d be interested in.
Exploring a city with a local is an awesome thing to do in Kyoto, but the best part is getting to go somewhere proper local for lunch. For a Kyoto itinerary with a personal touch, this is the perfect idea.
7. Dine on vegetarian food and get boozy at a zen Buddhist temple
Are you a vegetarian? Great, then you’ll love this place. Fucha is a Japanese take on Chinese vegetarian cuisine and the Zen monks at Kanga-an cook up a tasty storm with non-meat, non-fishy ingredients. E.g. you can dine on mock eel, which is actually taro and tofu mashed together.
It’s extremely tasty. AND they have one last trick up their sleeve at Kanga-an: a bar. Yes, A BAR. It’s open to the public and popular with female office workers. The garden is relaxing, they say, but we reckon it’s the whiskey.
Kyoto is great to walk around. I think we’ve established that much.
But how about wandering around in a kimono to really blend in (or probably stand out more) with the geisha and maiko (that’s a trainee geisha) and all the other traditional goodness of this city? Find the best of Kyoto by being as Kyoto as possible!
Yep, you can rent a kimono for a day and really get the best photo ops going. We reckon this would make for a great talking point, so for all you extroverts, this is a great shout. The only thing is that you have to return it at the end of the day. Boo.
9. Visit one of the curios of Higashi Hongan-ji
Higashi Hongan-ji is a huge temple. It’s all made of wood as well, which makes it extra impressive.
But what we’re talking about right now is not the size of this religious building or what it’s made of, but instead, something that’s kept there.
To cut a long story short, it’s a rope made of human hair – a really big, really thick, sort of gross rope. During the building of two of the halls they needed extra strong rope, some nuns offered up their hair, and the rest is history.
It’s one of those oddities that it’s cool to say you’ve seen. It’s definitely one of the weirder things to see in Kyoto.
Want a Personal Kyoto Itinerary?
We know that our Things To Do in Kyoto guide is awesome right? But what is even better is getting a tailor-made, personalised itinerary planned by a Kyoto native. By signing up to Via Hero you can be matched with a local expert who will craft a perfect itinerary for you based on your interests and travel style!
Exploring Nishiki Market is a totally awesome thing to do in Kyoto for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s 700 years old. Yes, really.
It first opened in 1310 as a fish market. Secondly, there is a whole host of things to buy here now – the range is literally amazing. Soy donuts? Nice.
Sashimi on a stick? Ok.
Baby octopus stuffed with quail egg? Why not?
Thirdly, it’s always poppin’ here. The crowds, although maybe not that fun for locals is great for a buzzy atmosphere. Lastly, everybody knows that the marketplace is where it’s at when it comes to soaking up a new culture. Definitely go.
Unusual Things to Do in Kyoto
Looking for something a bit more off-kilter than ropes made from human hair? Here’s some (even more) unusual things to do in Kyoto.
11. Try to gain entry to an exclusive hidden cafe
Japan sure has its fair share of exclusive places to eat, drink and stay, but this one is literally like something from a manga, so we love it even more. It’s called ANGEL LIBRARY (yes, in capitals) and it’s located under a shop called Cacao Market.
The downside is you need a code to get in. How do you get a code? Nobody’s exactly sure.
Once you’re in though, it’s a hidden coffee spot like no other; a real exclusive place to sip on a cup of Joe and pretend to read a book in Japanese.
12. Chow down on spicy food at Spicy Street
So Japan isn’t exactly famed for its spicy food, but there is a legendary street in Kyoto totally dedicated to spicy food. Truly. It’s located in Muko town, which is in the west of Kyoto, and it’s known as Gekikara Shotengai.
That translates roughly to ‘Intense Spice Shopping Street’. That’s basically it.
It’s a great little oddball curio that’s just the kind of only-in-Japan thing we love about this country. The cafes and restaurants look normal, but then you’re sideswiped by habanero ice cream or a “Sudden Death Dog’ (a really spicy crepe). A must-do in Kyoto if you love spicy food.
13. Steal a selfie with a ghoul on Yokai Street
Yokai are not exactly ghosts; they’re more a collection of spirits, demons, monsters, AND ghosts that make up a huge roster of familiar shapes and faces in Japanese folklore and you can see ’em all on the aptly named Yokai Street.
They’re all homemade standing outside shops on the otherwise normal street of Ichijo-dori – this isn’t a proper tourist attraction in Kyoto… yet. It’s a lot of fun.
Some of them are genuinely good, sculpted and everything, some are… Well there’s a dinosaur in a dressing gown, so…
Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. Honestly, there isn’t much crime here, and people don’t really steal! You can leave your purse unattended in a metro station, and chances are, you’ll get it back.
Check out our roundup of the best travel insurance.
You should always have emergency cash hidden on you – pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it’s perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.
Things to Do in Kyoto at Night
Planning on venturing into the old capital at night. There’s definitely a nightlife around and lots of things to do in Kyoto at night! Mostly revolving around drinking.
14. Get on the beers at the pub
This cool urban-style pub is the ideal place for grabbing a beer after a long day. BEFORE9 Brewpub serves up the best beer and town and their sake is pretty good as well.
It’s pretty hipster here and, yes, we love it. Sample some of their various craft beers and enjoy a bit of tasty sushi for your dinner. You’ll love it so much you will want to come back again the next night.
This is one of the cool places to visit in Kyoto at night. Just sitting in here makes you feel cooler.
Kyoto is the home of the geisha, so your trip to the ancient Japanese capital wouldn’t be complete without a tour of Gion, the geisha district.
Better yet you can do it at night, and get the real feeling of old, traditional Japan as you wander around the streets. You can also go with a guide who’ll keep you primed with info as you discover this cool area.
Even in the daytime, the wooden houses of this district are pretty dang dreamy. It’s very photogenic, so your Insta followers will be happy. It’s definitely one of Kyoto’s must-sees.
16. Hop over to L’Escamoteur for some unique alcoholic beverages
Time for some drinks! Now, what are you in the mood for…? What about somewhere that looks half-steampunk, half-wild west, half-Victorian London – wait, that’s too many halves…
But yeah, how about somewhere like that? Alright. Then get yourself along to L’Escamoteur Bar! It’s one of Kyoto’s best bars.
This bar is run by a guy called Christophe. He serves up drinks you rarely see in Japan and whips up a mean medley of cocktails. L’escamoteur is actually French for ‘magician’ so it definitely makes sense. And then when it’s all done you can stumble home through the super safe Kyoto streets.
Need to travel to Kyoto on the cheap? Use Bookaway to find the best deals on bus, plane, train, and ferry tickets. It’s easy to use and saves you time and money. Once you’ve arrived, why not use what you’ve saved to treat yourself to a cold beer and a bite to eat?
Book your transport on Bookaway now to guarantee your seat and for the right price.
Kyoto ain’t as big as Tokyo but it still ain’t small! Choosing the right neighborhood in Kyoto is super important to making the most of your trip.
For more ideas on places to stay, check out our full roundup of Kyoto’s best hostels.
Best Hostel in Kyoto – Len Kyoto
Centrally located and just a 1-minute walk from the Kamo River, Len Kyoto is a great hostel to choose! It has a café and bar lounge where you can grab a coffee and breakfast in the morning, and drinks at night. Rooms are spacious and clean, and the beds are comfortable.
Best Airbnb in Kyoto – New House in Kyoto with Area for Family Group
Close to Kyoto Station, this Kyoto airbnb traditional home can sleep up to ten people, perfect for large families and friends travelling together. The sleeping arrangements are Japanese style, in that most people sleep in the same room on tatami mats on the ground.
Best Budget Hotel in Kyoto – Sunput Nanajo Mibu
This Kyoto hotel is luxury on a budget! Each room has air conditioning, a fully equipped kitchenette, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom. Located in the heart of Kyoto, it has everything you could want! The staff is friendly and helpful, and you can even rent bicycles.
Best Luxury Hotel in Kyoto – Kyoto Four Sisters Residence
This 5-star hotel feels like a home away from home. Each apartment has its own balcony with fantastic views, a fully-equipped kitchen, and dining room. They also have all the amenities! Perfect for couples and families. The staff is friendly and professional, happy to provide any help you need.
Romantic things to do in Kyoto
Maybe you’re a blissful traveling couple? Maybe you just met, lovedrunk and blissfully stupid, in the narrow streets of Kyoto under the cherry blossoms?
Either way, this is what to do in Kyoto if you’re looking for a romantic adventure.
17. Crawl through a rock at Yasui-kompira-gu Shrine
That doesn’t sound romantic…? This is one for those of you who want to leave less up to chance when it comes to love.
The shrine grounds are home to a huge stone which has a hole in the middle of it. The stone is covered in thousands of slips of white paper which have been tied to the stone.
The idea is that, if you’re having trouble in your love life or want a stronger relationship, you should tie your piece of paper (with a written wish) onto the stone and then crawl through the hole. Yeah, we know it all sounds a bit strange but this really is a fun thing to do in Kyoto. I think we could all use a little help grom the Gods with our lovelife…
If you’re in Japan to witness and experience the incredibly different culture of this unique country, then doing a spot of something specifically Japanese is gonna be great for you.
So that’s where flower arranging comes in. Nope, this isn’t like western flower arranging. This is – in typically Japanese form – an art. It’s called ikebana.
Learning about the history and meaning behind it is cool, but having a go is even cooler. Then you can take this skill back home and make your own home Instagram-friendly.
19. Enjoy a plate of tasty tempura
Tempura is the tasty battered food that has become popular all over the world, but there is no better place to try it than in Japan. Yoshikawa Tempura is housed in an old tea room that brings a touch of the old-world style to the dining experience.
The whole place is beautifully decorated, it’s like eating dinner in Kyoto of the past. The tempura here is ultimate in tastiness. It’s heavenly and a must-go place in Kyoto (and eat). And, if you wish, you can try out their sushi too.
Do You Need Travel Insurance?
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of Travel Insurance for backpackers – check it out here, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads, our favorite travel insurance provider.
Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
Best Free Things to Do in Kyoto
Free! No matter what you’re visiting Kyoto for, everyone can get behind free! Here are some free things to do in Kyoto for the budget-conscious travelers in Japan.
20. Take some time out away from the crowds
There’s a whole lot of temples to keep you busy during your visit to Kyoto, but Honen-In makes our list of the most awesome things to do in Kyoto for its peaceful setting.
Turn up here and be greeted by a truly serene and scenic approach to the moss-covered temple gate. The best time to turn up here is in autumn when the trees have turned into all sorts of pretty colours. It’s a very chilled out place to visit in Kyoto to escape from the sometimes quite touristy downtown.
21. Pay your respects at Mimizuka
This one is a… little bit morbid but bear with me. It has some historical merit, so especially if you’re interested in history you should check this place out.
The name in Japanese means ‘Mound of Ears’ and it’s pretty much what it is. Back when Japan invaded Korea in the 17th century, bringing back the traditional ‘trophy’ (a head) was a bit impractical, so ears and lots of noses were taken back instead.
An estimated 100-200,000 noses are buried at Mimizuka. It’s a unique thing to do in Kyoto and a grisly reminder of the brutality of war.
22. Ponder the meaning of life and marvel at the cherry blossoms on the Path of Philosophy
The Path of Philosophy: strolling along it is definitely something that’s more suitable for something named after a 20th-century philosopher (Nishida Kitaro) who used this walk for daily meditation. So follow in his footsteps and think about… stuff… whilst walking along this path.
It takes about 30 mins to walk it but there is so much of Kyoto’s sightseeing along the way that you’ll be stopping every few steps anyway. When it’s cherry blossom season your mind will literally explode at how stunning this path is.
1. Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
2. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
3. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
4. Camera or Cell Phone Camera Accessories: One thing’s for sure – Japan is one of the most photography-worthy destinations out there. If you’re relying on your mobile phone camera exclusively (which is totally common in digital-savvy Japan), enhance your lens with accessories to make those photos really pop!
5. International Adapter: Japanese outlets accommodate typical US two-pronged plugs, but for electronics that have three prongs or if your plugs are of a different variety, you’ll need an adapter. Save yourself the hassle of trying to track down an adapter at your destination and paying twice as much than planning ahead by buying one online.
Books to Read while Visiting Kyoto
- The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here.
- Memoirs of a Geisha – A masterful portrayal of the intriguing Geishas of Japan, this novel became the center of a lot of controversies but remains one of the most poignant portrayals of Japanese Geisha tradition.
- I am a Cat – The world knows about Japanese and their obsession with cats! This book is based on a nameless cat’s observations of upper-middle-class Japanese society of the Meiji era, the essence of I am a Cat is its humor and sardonic truths.
- A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, ZEN, and the Tea Ceremony – Comprehensive and well informed, the book covers a wide array of topics with numerous photographs, providing a lively digest of the society and the unusual culture of Japan.
Best Things to Do in Kyoto with Kids
Traveling to Kyoto with the family? Don’t worry, there’s heaps the little munchkins will love getting up to! Here’s some stuff to do in Kyoto with the rugrats.
If we said walking tour with a samurai… does that sound good to you? Yes. Yes, of course it does.
Kyoto is literally packed to the brim with historic sights to see and other curiosities that you’d never know about without a guide. And when your guide is an expert swordsman, that’s even cooler.
He’ll even give an ah-mazing demonstration of his skills with a katana (that’s a Japanese sword) and slice through some bamboo and other objects before your very eyes. Definitely down with this one.
A beautiful city park with groves of old trees and weathered monuments is good enough for us, but throw in some furry forest walking partners and we’re there!
The city of Nara, just an hour by train, hosts thousands of deer – considered the messengers of the gods. They freely approach visitors because they’re used to being fed.
Purchase some deer-friendly biscuits at the park and see if the deer will bow back to you before getting their tasty treat. Tours are available from Kyoto, which provide transportation and everything you need to have an awesome time in the park.
“Kembu”, what? Well, it is a martial art that’s basically swordplay mixed with dancing. Sounds good, right?
So, yeah, the best way to really experience kembu is to go watch a show. It’s sick and an absolute must-see in Kyoto.
Everyone loves a samurai sword (aka katana) don’t they? And at the Samurai Kembu Theatre you’ll also hear tales of old narrated in English and get a chance for a photo-op with a sword, which could possibly be your next Facebook profile picture… but then, maybe a bit too swordy. Great fun though.
Other Unmissable Things to Do in Kyoto
And now for the best of the rest. There’s unlimited amounts of awesome things to do in Kyoto but I’m rounding the list up with a few final of my favorites.
This had to make the list; bento isa awesome and this is one of the best things to do in Kyoto. We’ve all seen it, Instagram posts and pics on Twitter and various other visual platforms of cute Japanese lunchboxes. These are bento.
Food shaped like pandas, hearts, bunnies – anything cute basically. And it’s all in the form of sushi, or rice balls, or thin omelets, carrots, tomatoes… So how about the chance to learn how to make this cute cuisine yourself? We’re definitely in.
Ok so maybe you won’t be getting into all the sculpting and kawaii-ness, but at Cooking Sun you’ll learn how to make your very own sushi, miso soup and other tasty things.
Another one for people who like a bit of nature, taking the short – and let’s face it – completely picturesque train ride north of Kyoto to the small village of Kibune.
This place is basically wedged in a valley and you get all the dramatic scenery you’d expect in a place like that. You can hike around here, to places including Kibune Shrine with its old stairway.
The trails around here are just… stunning. It’s a slice of a less touristed Kyoto (and its surrounding areas) that you’ll literally love. Spoiler alert: there’s a hot spring involved.
28. Check out a building from 1266
Sanjusangendo Temple dates all the way back to 1266, but that’s no the maddest thing about it. The temple is home to an impressive 1001 carved statues of the Buddhist god of mercy. Not only is there a mad amount of wooden statues but each one of them has a face that is unique!
You can’t take any pictures inside the temple, but that just adds to the reflective atmosphere. The game is to find the statue that most looks like your mate.
There’s no better way to see charming Kyoto than on the vehicle of charm and whimsy itself – yes, the bicycle. Humble, carefree, bicycles are fun and if you don’t think so, then whatever.
Touring around Kyoto and its 1,200 years of history is like something from an anime, we swear. It’s what to do in Kyoto to bring the Sailor Moon vibes (the part where she’s a schoolgirl; no the part where she transforms and fights epic battles).
You get to ride along the Kamo River, then to downtown and its cute network of canals, past old Buddhist temples, down the famous Path of Philosophy, through narrow lanes, under cherry trees. You get the idea: it’s a happy blur of 100% traditional Japan.
30. Check out one of Kyoto’s largest Buddhist temples
Kyoto is all about temples. We couldn’t avoid it with this list. There are so many temples in this city – some of them are big and some of them are small.
One of the bigger ones is the very large Chion-in. Though originally built in 1234 (that’s well old), it burned down in the 1600s So what you see today is only about 400 years old. One of the main things here is the huge Sanman, the gate to the temple that’s so big it’ll make your eyes pop out your head. It’s really like a gate for giants.
Do you have money to splurge? If no, uh, don’t worry about it… If you do, then please keep reading. Because this is a helicopter tour over Kyoto.
You thought it looked good from the ground? That’s for worms! Getting up into the sky and seeing the scale of the temple complexes nestled between neat rows of houses, all tucked between forested mountains… seriously it’s quite a spectacle and one of the best things to do in Kyoto.
Well, if you have the budget for it, of course!
Kyoto is surrounded by some really lovely spaces! If you’re spending more than a weekend in Kyoto, be sure to get out and explore the surrounding areas in one of these fantastic guided tours. That way, you’re sure to get the full experience of everything the places in Kyoto have to offer.
Catch the incredibly speedy bullet train all the way to Hiroshima. Seeing the Japanese Peace Memorial City should be on everyone’s list when visiting Japan!
This tour covers everything important: visiting the Peace Memorial Park, which commemorates the peaceful growth of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb attack, the Atomic Bomb Dome, and Miyajima Itsukushima Shrine. The English-speaking tour guide is fluent and knowledgeable, escorting you on the tour and pointing out all the stops.
The tour includes return tickets from Kyoto on the bullet train – an experience in itself!
If you want to visit Osaka but don’t know what sights to see, book a local!
While a little unconventional, it’s a really great way to see the city the way you want to – whether you want to see things only locals do or the main attractions from a local angle. The day is fully customized to your interests!
The ‘local friends’ are fun and friendly, and usually have a lot to say about their home city so you get a unique insider’s perspective! Eat and drink like a local, trying the best street food at a market or relaxing at an authentic local eatery.
This is really an experience for those who are looking for something off-the-beaten-track. Or even just a solo traveler looking for someone to join on the adventure!
For those who have long dreamed of Japan’s idyllic landscape and sweeping vistas! Look down on Amanohashidate, a pine-covered sandbar, from the mountaintop.
It’s one of Japan’s three most beautiful scenes! You’ll get here by monorail, and spend some time admiring the views.
Then take to the water and enjoy unspoiled views of Funaya, a small fishing village, from a sightseeing boat. Bring snacks and water! A light meal on the coast is the perfect way to top it off. See more of Japan’s rural landscape, passing one or two villages and shrines.
It’s wheelchair accessible, and perfect for all ages and groups!
A short itinerary for visiting Kyoto. Here, I cover some of the best sightseeing in Kyoto ans well as some of the awesome stuff to do. For more ideas traveling in Japan, check out our full backpacking guide!
Day 1 – The Main Sights
Today’s your first day in Kyoto and we expect (and encourage) you to rush out and see the most you can! We’re assuming here that you have a full day right off the bat, but adjust according to your schedule. Now let’s see what you can get up to.
You can start out with a tour of the golden temple of Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji. It’s a bit out of the way, but we can’t recommend skipping it – it’s truly one-of-a-kind.
You’ll still have a full day left after the temple, which you can use to see a couple more of Kyoto’s main sights. Head south (you can plot a course on public transportation through GoogleMaps) to the Kyoto Imperial Palace for a poke around the gardens and then go further south to the Fox Shrine, Fushimi Inari Taisha.
It’s a must-visit place in Kyoto; you’ll recognize it from Instagram (and from item 2 in this post). That’s probably enough sight-seeing for one day, so we’ll let you off easy and send you over to L’Escamoteur (no. 23 on this list) to start out your night. Wander north from there to find some of Kyoto’s best clubs on the same street.
Day 2 – Unique Kyoto Experiences
Now that you’ve seen what there is to see, let’s do some unique activities that you might not find outside of Kyoto, some of which we listed above.
In the morning, get your culinary on! Take a cooking class or tour a sake distillery (we don’t judge a little day-drinking). In the afternoon, take a look around the Nishiki Market and try a few items you don’t immediately recognize.
Day 3 – See the philosopher’s side of Kyoto
We realize we might’ve worn you out with two ambitious days of sightseeing and activities in Kyoto. Today we’re going to take it a little easier, but still get you exploring the city.
After breakfast, make your way over to Eikan-do Temple and have a look around. This is the southern end of the aptly named Path of Philosophy, which winds through a few quieter (as well as a couple of busy) streets in Kyoto.
Spend as much time as you’d like wandering along, viewing the many shrines and temples along the way. Especially make sure you see Honen-in. There are plenty of options for lunch along the way, but Kisaki Tofu is particularly noteworthy. After your walk, find your way back into Central Kyoto to finish up some of the loose ends you might have wanted to see on your trip.
If you’re not already sick of walking, stroll through Pontocho, a Geisha district. If you can stand the sight of one more temple, we recommend it be the Higashi Honganji, the longest wooden structure in Japan. If you haven’t gotten the anime/manga fix you came to Japan for, dive into the archives of the Kyoto Manga Museum.
More itineraries: If it’s not already obvious, there’s way more to do in Kyoto than this little itinerary explores. Use our full Kyoto itinerary to customize your visit!
More Great Resources
Final Thoughts – All the Best Stuff to Do in Kyoto
So there you have it, 31 of the top things to do in Kyoto. Want more? Check out this post for a more alternative and underground themed list of points of interest in Kyoto.
Ok, so there are a lot of temples on this list… But believe us when we say that you’ll be wowed by the scale and charm of these ancient structures. But of course, it’s not all temples – like we said!
You can take a chilled bike ride around the countryside, learn about geisha, take in a tea ceremony, watch a sword display, find some hidden restaurants… There’s plenty to do in Kyoto! All that’s left is to book your trip and note some of your favorites down from our list!
Have fun in Kyoto. It’s super pretty. In case you forgot, it’s Japan.
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