Kyoto is rich in atmospheric temples, food, and cultural experiences. You're suggested to spend at least 2 days there to discover this cultural capital of Japan.
Read on to check out our planning tips on top things to do, a sample itinerary, costs, and more.
The Top 6 Things to Do in Kyoto
Kyoto is a window into ancient Japan, so historical sites, like its best temples, are not to be missed. Cultural interactions will light up your trip as well, such as a tea ceremony, kimono experience, and/or a samurai class.
If you're looking for natural scenery, travel to Kyoto in spring or autumn. With the pleasant weather and appealing views, Arashiyama is a wonderful place to go.
For foodies, kaiseki (refined multi-course Japanese cuisine) and sake (rice wine) are the highlights.
1. Taste Kaiseki in a Ryokan (Japanese Inn)
If you're a foodie, nothing could beat kaiseki (fine dining with traditional and seasonal food). Having a kaiseki dinner is a luxury experience, but it is well worth the price.
The best place to experience a kaiseki feast is in a traditional ryokan setting. You could surprise your beloved or family with a luxurious ryokan stay.
Sample a traditional kaiseki meal, relax in a private hot spring, or just have some free hours for intimacy or family bonding — a Kyoto ryokan would be the ideal place!
2. Explore the Ancient Temples and Shrines
As home to 1,600+ temples and shrines, it is worthwhile to spend a day stepping back in time into ancient Kyoto. With their ingenious designs, you would easily get great photo opportunities and an immersion into their Zen-feel atmosphere.
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is one of the most recognizable temples. It features thousands of red torii (gates). Wearing kimonos as you stroll inside would offer an in-theme and memorable addition to the experience!
3. Meet Geishas Hosting a Tea Ceremony
Geishas (female hostesses skilled in the traditional arts of entertainment) are another icon of old Kyoto. Most travelers enjoy watching the geishas while exploring Gion District.
You could have more interaction with them, though, by attending a tea ceremony. In a Zen-styled garden, you could put on a kimono, appreciate a Japanese tea ceremony, and chat with them.
4. Take a Samurai or Ninja Class: Kid-Friendly!
While the Samurai and Ninja Museum offers but a glimpse of samurai culture in days gone by, joining a local class would make samurai and ninja skills come to life!
Wear traditional clothes, experience authentic samurai/ninja training, and practice with local masters.
Learn more about family-friendly activities from How to Plan an Incredible Family Trip to Japan in 2024/2025 or 13-Day Japan Private Family Vacation>>>
5. Feed Deer in Nara Park
A Kyoto trip is not complete without a side trip to Nara, where feeding deer is the top highlight (especially if you have young children).
Buy some crackers to feed them and interact with the cute deer in a temple atmosphere!
6. Seek Out Natural Beauty in Arashiyama
Its bamboo groves make Arashiyama one of the iconic landmarks of Kyoto.
In the early morning, stroll through the bamboo forest with your beloved/family, feel the cool breeze and listen to the rustling of the leaves...
To appreciate cherry blossoms or autumn leaves, don't miss its scenic train ride in spring or fall. For a romantic experience, you could have lunch on a private traditional boat cruise with stunning scenery along the Hozu River. Get more inspiration from our cherry blossom tour>>>
How Long to Spend in Kyoto
Most travelers prefer to stay in Kyoto for 2 days. As an ancient capital, it is worth reserving a full day for its temples, shrines, and castles.
For the other day, feeding deer in Nara would make your kids feel more involved. If you like tea, you could take a day trip to Uji (home to Matcha tea). Arashiyama offers various options for appreciating the awesome scenery (hiking, cycling, boating…).
A Classic Itinerary for a Trip to Kyoto: 2 Days
Day 1: Discover the Famous Temples, a Castle, and a Local Market
You could have an overall view of Kyoto's history from visiting Golden Pavilion, Pure Water Temple, and Nijo Castle.
Then head to bustling Nishiki Market to shop for freshly-cooked snacks and see bustling local life.
Day 2: Explore Iconic Fushimi Inari Shrine and Feed Deer at Nara Park
Around a 50-minute drive from Kyoto, a private transfer would be the most flexible and time-saving choice for this Kyoto day trip.
Take photos with impressive red-painted toriis (memorial arches), see the interesting stone foxes, and feed the lovely deer...
Read more about sample itineraries from our popular Japan tours>>>
Popular Excursions from Kyoto
For a longer stay in Kyoto, Arashiyama and Uji are popular choices. You could spend half a day to a full day in each area. To reach these two destinations, private transfers are the most hassle-free way of navigating these rural locations.
- Arashiyama: You could have a peaceful stroll through its bamboo groves, take in the panorama of the city from Okochi Mountain Villa, and meet cute monkeys in their natural habitat...
- Uji: You could learn how to make tea, participate in a traditional tea ceremony, or stroll through a picturesque Japanese village.
Do you have any other must-dos? Contact us to have your requirements, including the length of holiday you want, designed into a fulfilling tour uniquely planned for you.
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Alisa Liu was my contact person for Asia Highlights. She was remarkably punctual, she was thoughtful, and she handle an emergency on my end, with grace and patience. She recommended great hotels in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka Japan that put us in the center of the action. The guides she choose were personable, punctual a knowledgeable about their cities.More
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Rachel Nelson, Oct 2023
Our airport pick-up went very smoothly. Our guide, Vivian, on the second day was very nice, very accommodating, took into account our preferences. In Osaka, our trip to the castle was a very long walk with lots of steps to climb and quite honestly wasn’t very interesting. But Dotonburi is a must-see and we enjoyed that very much.Our trip to Hiroshima was very memorable. I highly recommend it. Our guide, Etsuko, was very knowledgeable and kind. The trip to Miyajima island, on the other hand, wasn’t too memorable. Our next city, Kyoto, is a truly wonderful place to visit. All the temples we went to were very interesting and very distinctive from each other (Kinkakuji temple, Nijo castle, Sanjusangendo temple,Kiyumizo temple, Fushimi Inari shrine, Kasuga Taisha shrine, Tojaidi temple). The sake tour was a downer and wouldn’t recommend it.Our guide, Ritsuko, was a darling. She was very knowledgeable too and kind and warm and easy to talk to. Our last tour in Tokyo was a rainy day and Sue, our guide, was able to change our tour to the next day. She was so efficient and so accommodating and so kind and very knowledgeable too.More
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Very good tour of Japan
Very good tour around Japan for 10 days, including Tokyo, Hakone and Kyoto. Excellent guides and experiences. Albee, the tour organiser, was always available to sort out changes to itinerary or extra requests.More
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All of the hotels were wonderful and our guides were super friendly, knowledgeable and flexible. We had a 10 day trip that included multiple cities and lots of different sights, we squeezed in as much as we could, including a 2 day hiking trip to Mt. Fuji (our guide Sun Nan was awesome!). Our guide in Tokyo, Jennifer, was lovely and our guide for 2 days in Kyoto, Dennis, was also super great. We did a food tour in Osaka with Vivian which was nice Sallie Fujimoto-SwunMore
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First and foremost, this review is based strictly on prompt response from Asia Highlights.I was browsing Asia Highlights website on the night of September 17th 2023 and really impressed of the positive reviews. So I decided to send an e-mail for an estimate of a private tour guide in Tokyo Japan for 6 days/7 nights including hotel accommodation for my 90-year-old father and I. I provided as much information as I can what areas of interest we would like to visit. I was really expecting a 72-hour delay response from Asia Highlights given time difference in California and Japan. The following day, I received an e-mail from Kate Long. Impressive! Kate provided a very detailed suggested itinerary with great consideration for my 90-year-old father. I truly appreciated her thoughtfulness! I will definitely reach out to Asia Highlights on our next trip! Thank you Kate!More
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How Much Does It Cost for a Trip to Kyoto?
Japan has a similar pricing level to other developed countries. But you can expect lower travel costs in Kyoto, compared with other popular cities in Japan.
For a group of 2–5 people, you might need US$350–400 per person per day for a private tour with 4-star hotels and a private car and guide. For higher-end hotels, you might need to pay an extra US$150+ per person per day.
You could also find out more information from How to Plan Your Trip to Japan 2024/2025>>>
How to Select a Hotel in Kyoto
The popular areas to stay are around Kyoto Station, in Gion District, and in the Kawaramachi area.
Gion District is best for experiencing traditional Kyoto. Stroll the atmospheric streets, take in the culture in sips in its tea houses, and browse local markets with their elaborate handicrafts...
To celebrate your big moments, a luxury ryokan stay is a must. Sit back in your private room, sample the sake (Japanese rice wine), and dine on an elaborate kaiseki feast.
A ryokan is also friendly to families with kids, as your whole family could stay in one room. How memorable it would be to spend an exotic and quintessentially Japanese night with your family!
With just a few rooms, booking around a year before is the regular routine. With us, you enjoy 100% refund of any payments made to Asia Highlights prior to 3 weeks before departure (see more on our booking policy⇒).
Contact our experienced experts, who will recommend the most romantic or family-friendly ryokans/hotels for you!
Best Times to Visit Kyoto
With its distinct and uniquely-attractive seasons, you can enjoy an awesome Kyoto trip whenever you go.
For a romantic anniversary celebration, spring (March to May) is the best choice, followed by autumn (September to November). During these periods, the iconic cherry blossom (mainly in April) or autumn foliage (mainly in November) and pleasant weather are a charming backdrop for creating a memorable trip!
Inevitably, the favorable weather is aligned with crowds and high costs. Thus, you're suggested to contact us at least half a year before to gain some early-bird reductions and enjoy our free cancellation policy. To beat the crowds, you could also visit Kyoto early or late in the high seasons.
If you're willing to bear the humid and hot summer (June to August), you'll have chances to enjoy the majestic firework shows, experience colorful parades and appreciate the vibrant Zen-style gardens.
Winter (December to February) offers a perfect escape from the crowds and high travel costs. At this quiet time, Kyoto doesn't lose its appeal for everyone: snow scenery and hot springs are its winter highlights.
Further reading: Best (& Worst) Times to Visit Japan>>>
How to Get Around Kyoto
There's no airport in Kyoto, so most travelers reach Kyoto by fast train or a private transfer from Osaka.
Upon arrival in Kyoto, private transfers are more advisable for worry-free travel around the area with their more-comfortable pace, especially when going to Nara and Arashiyama. For retired couples or families with little kids especially, this would allow you to save your energy for the highlights, instead of walking long distances from/to transfer hubs.
Contact us for a private tour with a private vehicle for an unbeatably hassle-free experience that maximizes your enjoyment!
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Why Travel with Asia Highlights (98.8% positive customer reviews among 10,000+)
- Unique experiences tailored to your interests: Enjoy a premium trip that goes beyond the typical tourist attractions.
- Hassle-free travel and peace of mind: Every aspect of your trip will be carefully planned and organized by your 1:1 travel consultant.
- Experienced and knowledgeable guides: Your guides will be local and love to work for travelers' smiles.
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Get Inspired with Some Popular Itineraries
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