kyoto japan

23rd April 2024

17 Best Things to Do in Kyoto Revealed: Wanderlust (2023)

If you are looking for the best things to do in Kyoto, you’ve come to the right place.

From our past experience of leading group trips here, we can promise you an incredible journey filled with hidden gems, majestic temples, and mouthwatering delights.

So, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to immerse yourself in the essence of ancient Japan. Let’s dive into Kyoto’s rich tapestry of culture and beauty, one awe-inspiring attraction at a time!

Interesting Facts about Kyoto

  • Kyoto is Japan’s former imperial capital, steeped in over a thousand years of history.
  • The city is home to thousands of temples, shrines, and UNESCO World Heritage sites, preserving its cultural legacy.
  • Kyoto is renowned for its seasonal beauty, with cherry blossoms in spring and vibrant foliage in autumn.
  • It houses the iconic Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) and Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), representing contrasting architectural styles.
  • Kyoto’s traditional arts, such as tea ceremonies, kimono dressing, and ikebana (flower arranging), thrive amidst modernity.

Best Things to Do in Kyoto

1. Explore the Vibrant Nishiki Market

If you’re a culinary adventurer, Nishiki Market is a paradise that awaits you. Stroll through this bustling food haven, where local delicacies and traditional Japanese products are displayed like treasures.

From freshly caught seafood and aromatic spices to mouthwatering sweets, immerse yourself in the rich flavors of Kyoto’s culinary heritage.

  • Location: Central Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Morning to early afternoon
  • Famous For: A bustling food market brimming with local delicacies and traditional Japanese products.

2. Experience a Traditional Tea Ceremony

In the heart of Gion District lies a cultural ritual that transcends time – the traditional tea ceremony. Step into the serene ambiance of a tea house and witness the meticulous preparation and serving of matcha tea.

As you savor each sip, let the graceful movements of the tea master and the meditative silence embrace your soul.

  • Location: Various tea houses in Kyoto, including Gion District
  • Best Time to Visit: Year-round
  • Famous For: A time-honored cultural practice that showcases the art of preparing and serving matcha tea.

3. Discover the Charm of Gion District

Wander through the cobbled streets of Gion, where the spirit of ancient Japan thrives. Adorned with traditional wooden machiya houses, this enchanting district is a haven for geisha sightings and cultural performances.

As the sun sets, the lantern-lit alleys come alive with an aura of mystique, transporting you to a bygone era.

  • Location: Gion District, Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Evening to catch a glimpse of geisha walking along the streets.
  • Famous For: An enchanting area preserving the essence of Kyoto’s traditional entertainment quarter.

4. Visit Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

Prepare to be mesmerized by the resplendent beauty of Kinkaku-ji, a glistening Zen Buddhist temple cloaked in gold leaf.

Reflecting gracefully on the tranquil pond, the Golden Pavilion stands as a testament to harmony and perfection in Japanese architecture.

  • Location: Northern Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Early morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds.
  • Famous For: A stunning Zen Buddhist temple adorned in gold leaf, surrounded by picturesque gardens.

5. Wander Through Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

A stroll through the ethereal Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a journey into nature’s embrace.

Tall, swaying bamboo stalks create an otherworldly atmosphere, inviting you to lose yourself in the magical serenity of this extraordinary forest.

  • Location: Arashiyama, Western Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Early morning or late afternoon for a tranquil experience.
  • Famous For: An ethereal bamboo forest creating a surreal and serene atmosphere.

6. Admire the Traditional Architecture of Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)

Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, is a symphony of architectural elegance and artistic refinement. Surrounded by meticulously landscaped gardens, this Zen temple exudes tranquility, inviting contemplation and reflection.

  • Location: Eastern Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: All year round, with cherry blossoms in spring and autumn foliage in fall.
  • Famous For: A beautiful Zen temple with elegant architecture and a mesmerizing sand garden.

7. Experience the Beauty of Kiyomizu-dera Temple

As you ascend to Kiyomizu-dera, perched high on a hill, prepare to be greeted by a breathtaking panorama of Kyoto.

This UNESCO World Heritage site, with its iconic wooden stage, offers a mesmerizing view that changes with the seasons.

  • Location: Eastern Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring for cherry blossoms and autumn for colorful foliage.
  • Famous For: A UNESCO World Heritage site with a magnificent wooden stage offering panoramic views.

8. Marvel at the Splendor of Nijo Castle

Step into the historical splendor of Nijo Castle, where the opulent interiors and meticulously maintained gardens reflect the grandeur of Japan’s feudal era.

Walking through the “nightingale floors,” designed to chirp like birds when walked upon, is a unique experience not to be missed.

  • Location: Central Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Year-round, but spring and autumn offer pleasant weather.
  • Famous For: A historical fortress boasting impressive architecture and exquisite gardens.

9. Explore Fushimi Inari Shrine

Embark on an enchanting journey through thousands of vermillion torii gates, each leading to Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Dedicated to the Shinto god of rice, this sacred site is a symbol of prosperity and protection, and its allure lies in the mesmerizing trails that wind through the dense forest.

  • Location: Southern Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Early morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds.
  • Famous For: Thousands of vibrant torii gates leading to the Shinto shrine, offering breathtaking views.

10. Enjoy the Serene Atmosphere of Ryoan-ji Temple

Find solace in the serene beauty of Ryoan-ji, where the Zen rock garden evokes a sense of tranquility and simplicity.

The carefully arranged stones on a bed of raked gravel serve as an invitation to meditate and reflect on life’s mysteries.

  • Location: Northwest Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: All year round for its tranquil ambiance.
  • Famous For: A Zen temple featuring a famous rock garden that embodies simplicity and harmony.

11. Discover the Beauty of Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple

Eikan-do Zenrin-ji unveils its true allure during the autumn season, when the temple’s surroundings are ablaze with fiery hues.

Stroll through the garden, and witness nature’s grand finale as vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows paint the landscape.

  • Location: Eastern Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Autumn for the striking colors of foliage.
  • Famous For: A serene temple renowned for its picturesque autumn scenery.

12. Visit the Peaceful Kokedera (Moss Temple)

Tucked away in Western Kyoto lies Kokedera, a hidden oasis of tranquility. Be captivated by the artistry of moss-covered gardens and soothing water features, as you bask in the serenity of this lesser-known gem.

  • Location: Western Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring for the blooming moss and autumn for the foliage.
  • Famous For: A lesser-known temple with lush moss gardens providing a unique and calming experience.

13. Immerse Yourself in the History of Kyoto National Museum

A treasure trove for history buffs, the Kyoto National Museum houses an extensive collection of art and historical artifacts that narrate Kyoto’s captivating past.

Delve into the rich heritage of Japan and gain insights into the traditions that have shaped its identity.

  • Location: Central Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Year-round, especially during special exhibitions.
  • Famous For: A rich collection of art and historical artifacts that narrate Kyoto’s captivating past.

14. Take a Stroll Along Philosopher’s Path

Named after the influential philosopher Kitaro Nishida, this idyllic stone-paved path meanders alongside a picturesque canal.

Lined with cherry trees, it blooms in spring, painting the waters with delicate pink petals, and creates a serene atmosphere for contemplation.

  • Location: Northern Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring for cherry blossoms and autumn for the foliage.
  • Famous For: A scenic stone-paved trail with cherry trees lining the path, perfect for a contemplative walk.

15. Take a Boat Ride on the Hozu River

For a unique perspective of Kyoto’s beauty, embark on a boat ride along the Hozu River.

Drift through scenic gorges and lush landscapes, and let the gentle river currents carry you on a tranquil journey.

  • Location: Arashiyama, Western Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring or autumn for pleasant weather and scenic views.
  • Famous For: A relaxing boat journey that offers picturesque landscapes along the Hozu River.

16. Visit the Kyoto Imperial Palace

An architectural marvel that reflects Japan’s imperial heritage, the Kyoto Imperial Palace showcases stunning gardens and historic structures.

Stroll through its expansive grounds, and feel the echoes of ancient royalty that once graced these hallowed halls.

  • Location: Central Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Year-round, but spring and autumn have the most pleasant weather.
  • Famous For: A symbol of Japan’s imperial history, with beautiful gardens and historic structures.

17. Experience the Traditional Arts at Gion Corner

Gion Corner is a cultural kaleidoscope, where the arts and traditions of Kyoto converge.

From tea ceremonies and traditional dance performances to puppetry and flower arranging, this immersive experience will leave you spellbound.

  • Location: Gion District, Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Evening to enjoy cultural performances and displays.
  • Famous For: A showcase of various traditional Japanese arts, including tea ceremony, dance, and music.

Best Time to Visit Kyoto

The best time to visit Kyoto is during spring (March to April) and autumn (October to November). In spring, the city is adorned with breathtaking cherry blossoms, creating a picturesque and romantic atmosphere.

Autumn, on the other hand, transforms Kyoto into a vibrant canvas of red, orange, and yellow hues, making it a perfect time for scenic strolls and temple visits.

These seasons offer pleasant weather, making it ideal for exploring the city’s historical landmarks, gardens, and cultural attractions.

How to Get to Kyoto

  • By Air: If you’re traveling from abroad or distant parts of Japan, you can fly to Kansai International Airport (KIX) or Osaka International Airport (Itami Airport). From there, you can take a direct train or bus to Kyoto, which usually takes around 1-2 hours.
  • By Shinkansen (Bullet Train): Kyoto is well-connected to major cities like Tokyo and Osaka by the Shinkansen. The JR Tokaido Shinkansen provides fast and efficient travel options, with frequent services throughout the day.
  • By Bus: Buses are also available for those seeking a more budget-friendly option. Many highway buses connect Kyoto with other major cities, offering a comfortable journey.

Where to Stay in Kyoto

1. The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto: Nestled along the Kamogawa River, The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto exudes elegance and luxury. This 5-star hotel boasts opulent Japanese-inspired decor, a serene garden, and stunning river views. With impeccable service and top-notch amenities, it offers an unforgettable experience in the heart of Kyoto.

2. Hyatt Regency Kyoto: Located in the Higashiyama district, Hyatt Regency Kyoto offers a harmonious blend of traditional and contemporary design. The spacious rooms, adorned with modern comforts, overlook the hotel’s beautiful garden or the historic streets of Kyoto. Guests can savor delectable cuisine at the hotel’s restaurants and unwind in the tranquil atmosphere.

3. Hotel Kanra Kyoto: Hotel Kanra Kyoto captures the essence of Kyoto’s heritage with its minimalist yet inviting ambiance. Each room features traditional materials like wood and washi paper, providing a cozy and authentic experience. Situated near popular attractions, this boutique hotel offers a perfect base to explore Kyoto’s cultural wonders.

Where to Eat in Kyoto

1. Izusen: Step into a world of vegetarian bliss at Izusen, a temple restaurant within Daitokuji Temple. Indulge in shojin ryori, the traditional Buddhist cuisine, prepared with fresh seasonal ingredients. With its serene setting and artful presentation, dining at Izusen is a unique and spiritual gastronomic experience.

2. Nishiki Warai: For a taste of Kyoto’s culinary delights, head to Nishiki Warai, a lively restaurant in the heart of Nishiki Market. Sample an array of local dishes, from savory takoyaki to delectable matcha sweets. The vibrant atmosphere and diverse menu make it a favorite among food enthusiasts.

3. Kikunoi: Embrace the pinnacle of Kyoto’s kaiseki cuisine at Kikunoi, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant with a legacy spanning centuries. Here, master chefs curate exquisite multi-course meals that tantalize the senses with refined flavors and artistic presentation. Prepare for an unforgettable culinary journey that celebrates Kyoto’s culinary heritage.

Travel Tips & Suggestions

  • Respect local customs and etiquette when visiting temples and shrines.
  • Get a Kyoto City Bus Pass for convenient and affordable transportation.
  • Try a traditional tea ceremony or participate in cultural workshops.
  • Visit popular attractions early in the morning to avoid crowds.
  • Experience the beauty of Kyoto’s seasonal events and festivals.
  • Sample Kyoto’s local cuisine at Nishiki Market and other food stalls.
  • Don’t forget to explore nearby areas like Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari.

Conclusion – Best Things to Do in Kyoto

In conclusion, Kyoto casts a spell that lingers in the hearts of every traveler who explores its hidden gems. From strolling through the enchanting Arashiyama Bamboo Grove to savoring traditional flavors at Nishiki Market, the best things to do in Kyoto reveal the essence of ancient Japan.

Embrace the tranquility of its temples, the vibrancy of its festivals, and the warmth of its locals – a journey that leaves you enchanted forever. So, pack your curiosity and embark on an unforgettable adventure through Kyoto’s rich tapestry of culture and beauty.

Let the magic of this timeless city embrace you, and may your experiences here be nothing short of extraordinary.

FAQs – Best Things to Do in Kyoto

What are the best things to do in Kyoto?

Kyoto offers a myriad of delightful experiences. Don’t miss exploring the iconic Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) and strolling through the mesmerizing Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Experience a traditional tea ceremony and immerse yourself in the charm of Gion District.

When is the best time to visit Kyoto?

Spring (March to April) showcases enchanting cherry blossoms, while autumn (October to November) boasts vibrant foliage. These seasons offer pleasant weather for exploring Kyoto’s cultural landmarks and beautiful gardens.

How can I get to Kyoto?

Kyoto is accessible by air via Kansai International Airport or Osaka International Airport. Alternatively, take the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) from major cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Regular trains and buses also connect Kyoto to nearby regions.

Which hotels are recommended for a stay in Kyoto?

For a luxurious experience, consider The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto or the Hyatt Regency Kyoto, blending traditional and modern charm. If you seek an authentic stay, Hotel Kanra Kyoto offers a cozy boutique ambiance.

What are the must-visit restaurants in Kyoto?

Experience vegetarian bliss at Izusen for shojin ryori, or savor diverse local dishes at Nishiki Warai. For an exquisite kaiseki experience, indulge at the renowned three-Michelin-starred Kikunoi.

Any travel tips for Kyoto?

Respect local customs at temples and consider a Kyoto City Bus Pass for easy transportation. Visit popular attractions early to avoid crowds and immerse yourself in Kyoto’s seasonal events and festivals.

What makes Kyoto so enchanting?

Kyoto’s allure lies in its timeless charm and cultural heritage. The Best Things to Do in Kyoto reflect the essence of ancient Japan, with its serene temples, stunning gardens, and warm hospitality. Let Kyoto’s magic embrace you and create unforgettable memories.
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