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Top Things to Do in Kyoto

Kyoto is one of Japan's best cities to visit if you want to learn more about traditional Japanese culture. Kyoto is known as the cultural and spiritual center of Japan, due to its having over 2000 temples, multiple incredible Zen gardens, ancient tea houses, real geisha, and world-class restaurants.

There are many things to do for visitors who travel to Kyoto, from dyeing your own kimono and dressing up as a geisha to walking the path of philosophy and taking a culinary tour. In this article, we will explain some of our favorite things to do, in order to have the most fun and make lasting memories during your time in Kyoto.

Highlights

  • If you love art, a great way to get some hands-on experience is by making some traditional Kyoto crafts such as making pottery or dying a kimono.
  • If you are interested in geisha culture then we suggest making an appointment to drink tea with a geisha or spend a few hours dressed up as a geisha while you explore the city.
  • If you want to see the more natural side of Kyoto, then you can head to Nara Park to feed the deer or to Arashiyama to walk through the bamboo groves.
  • Get a feel for the city by taking a stroll along the Philosopher’s Path or by exploring the local markets and picturesque back alleys.
  • A trip to Kyoto isn’t complete without visiting some ancient temples and shrines. There are plenty of them in the city and many are easy to get to using public transportation.
  • If you are a tea-lover then a visit to the famous nearby town of Uji is a must, in order to see how the best tea is made and also to try some for yourself.

Dye kimonos or make traditional clay pottery

Recommended visiting time: 1 day

One thing Kyoto has always been famous for are their arts and crafts. Kyoto is particularly famous for their yuzen or dying of kimonos. Nowhere else in Japan does yuzen so beautifully portray vibrant scenes of nature and the changing of the seasons.

You can start learning about the yuzen process and its importance in Kyoto by visiting the Yuzen Gallery. It exhibits beautiful kimonos that have been restored from over 150 years ago. At the gallery, you can also learn how to dye a kimono yourself and can take your personalized kimono home as a souvenir.

Another craft that is famous in Kyoto is the art of making pottery. Kyo-yaki is the term that means pottery that was made in Kyoto. Famous since the Edo era, kyo-yaki uses diverse techniques to create sophisticated and colorful designs. When visiting the pottery district of the city, visitors can learn how to make their own pottery in the Kyoto-style and even have it shipped back to their home country.

Experience the home of green tea in Uji

Recommended visiting time: half-day

Tea is the most popular beverage in Japan and has been an important part of the country's culture for centuries. If you are a tea lover like us, then there is no better place to taste and learn about tea than Uji.

Uji is a small town that is located near Kyoto and has been famous for its high-quality green tea since the year 1100. Although tea production in Japan did not begin in Uji, it soon moved to the town due to the quality of the town's soil and its ability to make some of the best tasting green tea in the country. You can visit the tea plantations to learn more about the process behind making tea and how to check for taste and quality.

After a visit to the tea plantations, you can explore the picturesque downtown area of Uji, sample tea from different sellers and maybe even buy some matcha green tea to take home.

Drink tea with a geisha

Recommended visiting time: 2 hours

Although Japan used to be full of geisha, this tradition has slowly been declining. Kyoto is one of the only places where you can still see geisha walking the streets on their way to appointments. If you are interested in learning more about this disappearing part of Japanese culture, then a good way to experience it is by making an appointment to drink tea with a real geisha.

The best place in Kyoto to spend time with a geisha is in an ochaya (geisha teahouse) where you can drink matcha green tea and eat Japanese sweets while in the company of a maiko (geisha in training) or a geiko (professional geisha). During this time, the geisha will show you her skills by playing instruments, dancing, singing or even teaching customers to play some traditional games.

You can also ask the geisha questions about her life or training as well as take some photos with her.

Explore the city wearing a traditional kimono

Recommended visiting time: 2 hours

Just like the geisha, the tradition of wearing kimonos in Japan has been disappearing. Kyoto used to be the center of kimono creation, and the artists there were famous for creating beautiful pieces for Japan’s upper class, including the emperor, his family, shoguns, and politicians. Today, kimonos are mainly worn for special occasions, and some people do still wear them daily, although this tradition is declining.

One way you can celebrate this part of Kyoto's culture as a visitor is by dressing up as a maiko and wearing a beautiful and intricately dyed kimono for an hour or two. Once you have donned your kimono and makeup, you can have your pictures professionally taken and then spend some time exploring the city.

Because the city government of Kyoto wants to encourage more people to wear kimonos, some temples and museums will even give you a discount on entrance tickets for wearing one.

Take a cooking class or attend a sake tasting

Recommended visiting time: 4 hours

Being one of Japan's top food cities, Kyoto is a great place to further explore Japanese cuisine. Whether it's at cocktail bars, chic cafes, sushi spots, ramen stalls, or through the art of kaiseki dining, Kyoto has food for everyone. One of our favorite ways to experience food in this city is by taking a cooking class.

Some of the best cooking classes will first take participants to Nishiki Market. Nishiki Market is often called Kyoto's Kitchen because you'll be able to find the important traditional ingredients that make the local food so special. At the market, you and your teacher can buy the fresh ingredients that you will use later in your cooking class.

While walking from the market back to the area where the cooking class will take place, many guests like to stop for a sake tasting. Once visitors have tried this unique type of alcohol, they head to the wooden townhouse to make traditional Kyoto specialties such as rolled sushi, miso soup, and a cooked salad or seasonal dessert.

The best part is that you eat the food once you're done!

Walk the Path of Philosophy

Recommended visiting time: 4 hours

The Philosopher's Path is a beautiful stone path that is located in the Higashiyama District and follows a canal that is lined by hundreds of cherry trees. The path is beautiful all year round but is especially picturesque during spring when the cherry trees bloom and in autumn when the trees turn bright orange and red.

This 2-kilometer long path starts near the Ginkakuji Temple (or Silver Pavilion) and ends in the neighborhood of Nanzenji. The pathway got its name because the famous Kyoto philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, often used to take this route to the university where he worked.

The pathway is a popular destination in the city because of its calm beauty and also because there are many small shrines and temples that visitors can stop and explore along the way.

Find peace in the Arashiyama bamboo groves

Recommended visiting time: 4 hours

Arashiyama is located just outside of Kyoto and is one of the city's most important sightseeing districts. Although the district is especially famous for its large bamboo groves, there are plenty of other attractions there, including Zen gardens, meditation halls, temples, and tea houses. This area of Japan is a great way to escape the large city and find some of the country's famous natural beauty.

The main areas of Arashiyama are often crowded with tourists trying to get the best views. However, Arashiyama covers a very large area and you can escape the crowds by renting a bicycle and exploring the less crowded but equally beautiful areas of the district.

Some of our favorite places to visit in Arashiyama include the Okochi Mountain Villa which includes several beautiful gardens and a meditation hall, the ancient Shinto Nonomiva Shrine, and Tenryuji which is the largest and most impressive temple in the area.

Visit the best of Kyoto's temples

Recommended visiting time: 1 day

As the former imperial capital, Kyoto is full of temples, both big and impressive as well as small and modest. However, many of Kyoto's most visited temples and World Heritage sites are conveniently reachable using the city bus system making temple hopping a perfect day activity.

We suggest starting your temple excursion at Kinkakuji Temple which is located at the base of Kyoto's mountains and is also known as the Golden Pavilion. Kinkakuji was originally built as the retirement home of an influential shogun and turned into a Buddhist temple after his death.

We also suggest not missing Kiyomizu (pure water) Temple, where visitors can stand on its veranda to get a great view of the city of Kyoto below. Afterward, you can visit Sanjusangendo which is the longest wooden structure in Japan and houses 1001 statues of Kannon the goddess of mercy.

Other temples we suggest you visit if you have time include Ginkakuji, Tofukuji, and Ryoanji.

Walk through the Red Gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine

Recommended visiting time: 2-3 hours

Fushimi Inari is a beautiful Shinto shrine, located in southern Kyoto, and is famous for its thousands of bright red torii gates which cover the trails leading towards the mountains. You might recognize the Fushimi Inari shrine, which made an appearance in the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha", for its striking colors and contrast.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins and existed even before Kyoto became Japan's capital in the year 794. It is also one of the most important shrines that are dedicated to the Inari, the Shinto god of rice.

Many foreigners like to visit Fushimi Inari not only to see the temple but also to explore the mountain trails that are located behind the main buildings of the shrine. Walking the trails behind the temple normally takes around 2-3 hours.

Feed the adorable deer in Nara Park

Recommended visiting time: 4 hours

Often called Deer Park by the locals, Nara Park is a large park in central Nara that is full of over a thousand free-roaming deer. You can walk in the park while observing the adorable animals. It is also possible to feed the deer by buying some deer crackers that are sold within the park. The deer are quite docile and some have even learned to bow in order to ask for food.

The park covers an area of over 1000 acres and includes some beautiful Japanese gardens, the Nara National Museum, and even a sake brewery, where visitors can participate in a sake tasting.

Nara Park is also very close to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, and many visitors like to take the time to see both during one day.

Explore Kyoto with Asia Highlights

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