There is a reason that Kyoto is one of Japan’s top cities to visit when exploring the country. As a city, it’s pretty vast and there’s a whole heap of amazing places to see and the best things to do in Kyoto when you visit. In fact, you’ll be spoilt for choice!
Truth be told, it can seem overwhelming when trying to plan a visit, especially with all those best things to do in Kyoto. Though don’t fret, with a little bit of planning, lots of energy, and an explorer’s spirit you’ll fit in everything you want, I promise.
Now, if it’s your first time visiting some of the top places in Japan, it’s going to be hard to not include places like; Tokyo, Osaka or even islands like Kyushu too. Though, you’ve got plenty of the best things to do in Kyoto, so don’t worry if you’re only visiting the city itself.
You’ll still get the most amazing experience of Japan – all within an incredible city.
Take a look, below, at some of the best things to do in Kyoto on your next trip. Have the best time!
Best Things To Do in Kyoto
1.) Explore the Fushimi Inari Shrine
You can’t swing a cat without hitting a Shinto Shrine in Kyoto, 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. It really is one of the best things to do in Kyoto.
2.) Go to the Ryoan-ji Temple
Perched in north-west Kyoto, Ryoan-ji is one of the most famous temples and the best things to do in Kyoto. Plus, it has a vast dry garden complex that’s a must-see whilst exploring.
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. Oh, and make sure to spot one of the most famous Zen rock gardens of its kind, it’s stunning.
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 totally huge with a massive variety of raw fish to try. Oh, and make sure to grab some grilled squid too.
Though, do make sure to take some physical cash with you as many stalls don’t take cards. That being said, it’s still easily one of the best things to do in Kyoto if you want to see an older part of city life.
Oh, and for a great hotel, check into the Suiran Hotel which is near Saihoji Temple and is totally luxurious.
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.
Plus, Gion is one of the most historic districts in the whole of Kyoto. With willow-lined streets and traditional style tea houses, you might even spot the occasional geisha strolling across the way.
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. It’s easily up there as one of the best things to do in Kyoto for sure.
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.
It really is one of the best things to do in Kyoto and a firm favourite if you love temples.
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. Spend an hour, or so, relaxing and chilling out in the grounds – it really is so peaceful.
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 are solely dedicated to this unique style of cartooning.
Now, if you’re into Manga, you’ll easily find this to be one of the best things to do in Kyoto. Though, you’ll probably wanna give it a miss if you’re not into this art form and storytelling.
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. It’s totally delicious and one of the best things to do in Kyoto on your next trip.
9.) Experience a traditional Tea Ceremony
Original tea customs and cultures have been around for centuries in the city and is still one of the best things to do in Kyoto.
Nowadays, we 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 are gorgeous and they have some of those yummy thick noodles they’ve become famed for. Once here, make sure to try their yummy tempura, too. It’s totally moreish.
13.) Go wild at the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
On the outskirts of the city, strolling through Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of the best things to do in Kyoto that most people have heard of.
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, it does get busy.