There is a reason that Kyoto is one of Japan’s top cities for us travellers to visit. There’s so much to do in this amazing city and the surrounding area that it can seem overwhelming, but don’t worry, with a little bit of planning, lots of energy, and an explorer’s spirit you’ll fit in everything you want to do and more!
If it’s your first time visiting Japan, it’s going to be hard to not include places like; Tokyo, Osaka or even some of the national parks that are just too good to miss. Wherever you decide, make sure you check out some of these gorgeous places on a first-time visit to Kyoto! 🇯🇵
1.) Explore the Fushimi Inari Shrine
You can’t swing a cat without hitting a Shinto Shrine in this beautiful city, but this is by far one of the best to visit. Nestled on a wooded hill in the middle of the countryside with pristinely preserved gates leading to the shrine itself, this tucked away gem of a shrine is well worth a visit.
Make sure you leave a good few hours to visit the many trails and shrines that climb Inari Mountain. It’s roughly around 4 km long and over 1,000 years old. Also, keep your eyes peeled for the many foxes that decorate this sacred space.
2.) Go to the Ryōan-ji Temple
Located in north-west Kyoto, Ryōan-ji is one of the most famous temples and dry garden complexes that is a must see whilst visiting the city… especially as it boasts the most famous zen rock garden of its kind!
The temple itself acts as a prestigious mausoleum for many past emperors, which can now be seen at the Seven Imperial Tombs.
Make sure to spend some time enjoying the gardens, too. Interestingly, the garden has been built to be viewed from a seated position… so sit back, relax and enjoy this stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3.) Gorge at Nishiki Market
This is your one-stop crash course in Japanese cuisine! Everything from instant noodles to fresh ingredients is sold here, and it’s a great few hours to spend enjoying the traditional food markets of the city.
The market has a huuuuuge variety of raw fish to try… oh and make sure to grab some grilled squid too. Make sure to take some physical cash with you. Many of the stalls don’t take any cards.
4.) Get lost in Gion
Originally a resting spot for the many thousands of visitors that visited the Yasaka Shrine, Gion has now become one of the prettiest areas of the city to explore. This is one of the most historic districts of Kyoto, with willow lined streets and traditional style tea houses, and the occasional geisha strolling between them.
Gion is definitely worth a half day to immerse yourself in the history of Japan which is still alive and well there now. Make sure to visit Wadachi, one Kyoto’s best Sake Bars to wet your whistle, too!
5.) Explore Kinkaku-ji
This is, at least on the top two floors, covered in gold leaf, which glistens so beautifully in this sunny city. It’s a little north of the city and right on the banks of tranquil Mirror Lake (which is gorgeous in itself). Make sure you visit the White Snake Pagoda, too – it’s well worth seeing.
6.) Enjoy the beauty of Ginkaku-ji
Perched in the Sakyo area of the city, this Zen temple is often referred to as the ‘Silver Temple’, even though it’s not made out of any silver (though that had been the intention). Even without the silver leaf livery, it’s in a pristine surrounding and the architecture itself is just too gorgeous to miss.
7.) Stroll through the International Manga Museum
Need I say more? If you’re a fan of anime and manga, you can’t miss this place. It’s considered one of the best museums in Japan that is solely dedicated to this unique style of cartooning.
8.) Devour a feast of kyo-ryori
Kyo-ryori is a popular dish to try in Kyoto and perfect to try on a first-time visit. This tea food often consists of a variety of different dishes; sushi and raw fish and even some sweet treats. You’ll find that many restaurants offer some form of kyo-ryori dining options. Just make sure to ask when you arrive.
9.) Experience a traditional Tea Ceremony
Original tea customs and cultures have been around for centuries in Kyoto. Nowadays, us visitors can experience one of these original tea customs from times gone by. One great place to go is the En Tearoom, which offers a whole tea experience for a first-time visit to the city.
10.) Shop til you drop on Shijo-Dori
Though so much of Kyoto seems to stay in the veil of the past, rooted in tradition, some places like Shijo train station and shopping centre, is a sleek, glass front, and all modern. It’s the perfect place for you to get your fill of yummy local food, Manga comics, unique Japanese fashion, and quirky gadgets!
11.) Discover Kiyomizu-dera
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is perched on the east of the Kyoto and a beautiful Buddhist temple to explore. Make sure to enjoy the view from the overlooking veranda and visit the stunning pagoda, too. It really is a very special place.
12.) Visit the yummy Omen Restaurant
The Omen Resturant is one of the cities more prized noodle shops and eateries. The shop and restaurant is gorgeous and offers some of those yummy thick noodles they’ve become famed for…oh and make sure to try their morish tempura, too.
13.) Go wild at the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
On the outskirts of the city, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one place you’ll have to visit. These dense paths weave through this landscape and it’s a veritable forest of bamboo, green and ethereal, that goes on endlessly around you. It’s well worth an afternoon wander in this gorgeous area.
Although the area is outside the city centre itself, it’s really easy to get to. The JR Saga Arashiyama Station is a pretty close spot to this wonderful place.
14.) Fine dining at Kikunoi
If you’re a food lover, Kyoto is a must see for you in general, but the culinary star of the city is this restaurant, headed by Mutara, a Michelin-starred chef. The place has a great atmosphere, mind-blowing food and you can even dine in a private room – just make sure to reserve your spot way before your visit. The sooner the better as spots fill up fast.