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Things to do in Kyoto

Things to do in  Kyoto

Welcome to Kyoto

Boasting an impressive 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites—one of the world’s largest collections—Kyoto epitomizes traditional Japanese culture. Quaint, serene, and rooted firmly in tradition, the city operates at an entirely different pace than bright, frenetic Tokyo. In the historic Gion district, geishas scurry to work wearing trademark silk kimonos; during sakura (cherry blossom season), Maruyama Park swells with pastel-pink flowers; and in Nishiki Food Market, vendors front stalls selling Japanese delicacies. Kyoto brims with dazzling Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, all set against striking natural landscapes typical of Japan. Tick off more highlights in less time on sightseeing tours, which typically cover the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), Nijo Castle, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Heian Jingu Shrine, and Kiyomizu Temple. Culture lovers can arrange a traditional tea ceremony and watch a Maiko show, nature fans can hike through Arashiyama and the Sagano Bamboo Forest, and foodies can master the art of Japanese cuisine during a sushi-making lesson. Within easy reach of Kyoto are several popular destinations that make ideal choices for half- or full-day tours: Nara, home to Deer Park (Nara Park) and Todai-ji (one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan); and Osaka, with its picturesque canal, grand Osaka Castle, and vibrant Dotonbori district. Farther afield but doable as a one-day tour, Hiroshima and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park are popular among travelers looking to learn more about Japan’s history.

Top 15 attractions in Kyoto

#1
Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha)

Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha)

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One of Kyoto’s most sacred temples and among the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan, the Fushimi Inari Shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha) is dedicated to Inari, the God of rice. The shrine’s five magnificent temples lie at the foot of the Inari mountain, and thousands of red torii gates (the Senbon torii) mark the forested trails to the top.More
#2
Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

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With its gleaming gold tiers reflected in the lake below and a backdrop of forests and twisted pines, Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) is an enchanting sight. Dating back to the 14th century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Kyoto’s most popular attractions and among Japan’s most visited temples.More
#3
Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

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Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of Japan’s oldest and most eye-catching Buddhist temples. Its classic red pagoda has been influential to Japanese architecture for centuries. Located on a hilltop, Kiyomizu-dera Temple is also worth visiting for its sweeping views over Kyoto.More
#4
Gion Corner

Gion Corner

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Gion Corner is a convenient place for art lovers to visit while in Kyoto, as it brings seven traditional Japanese performing arts together under one roof. Attending one of its nightly performances is an ideal way to spend an evening in the heart of the Gion entertainment district while learning about traditional Japanese culture.More
#5
Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market

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With more than 100 shops, stalls, and vendors selling everything from fresh-off-the-boat fish and seafood to tasty sweets and sushi takeaway, Nishiki Food Market is a wonderland of culinary delights. It's no surprise then that Kyoto’s biggest and most popular food market is a local institution and a popular attraction for traveling foodies.More
#6
Nijo-jo Castle

Nijo-jo Castle

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UNESCO World Heritage Site Nijo-jo Castle, a fortified complex dating from 1603, was the official residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun. Walk in the pretty gardens or visit Ninomaru Palace to see fine Japanese artworks. It’s one of the most popular attractions in Kyoto, a city already full of must-visit attractions.More
#7
Arashiyama Park

Arashiyama Park

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For classic Kyoto in a nutshell, head to Arashiyama Park. The perennially popular area is rich in temples and a riot of fall colors in November, with pink cherry blossoms in April.The park area embraces several major sights, including Tenryu-ji Temple, founded in 1339. The main temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, Tenryu-ji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by tranquil Zen gardens and bamboo forest.There are many other temples in Arashiyama, including the Gio-ji, Jojakko-ji and Daikaku-ji temples. Another highlight is walking across the Moon Crossing Bridge, with views over to Mt Arashiyama.More
#8
Sagano

Sagano

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On the outskirts of Kyoto, the tranquil area of Sagano encompasses some of the city’s most stunning landscapes. This rural residential area boasts views of the mountains dotting the horizon, colorful fields, and, most famously, a dense bamboo forest that may just be one of Japan’s prettiest spots.More
#9
Sanjusangen-do Temple

Sanjusangen-do Temple

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Built in 1164, Sanjusangen-do Hall impresses with its 1,001 golden Buddhist statues flanking the giant seated Kannon (goddess of mercy. It’s considered one of the world’s top collections of wooden statuary. The 400-foot (122-meter hall gets its name from the 33 spaces between its columns.More
#10
Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple

Eikan-do Zenrin-ji Temple

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The tip of Tahoto Pagoda, part of the Zenrin-ji Temple, peeks out between layers of sprawling mountain foliage. The Eikan-do, formerly known as Zenrinji, dates back to the 9th century. The temple was founded as a training school for the Esoteric Buddhism of Shingon sect. Over time, the temple converted to the Jodo sect of Buddhism.The stunning Tahoto Pagoda is only one of many attractions in the complex, although it is the most famous. Other attractions include a pond garden, Hodo Pond, and the main building temple itself. Within the main temple is housed a unique Buddha statue; the Buddha is looking over his shoulder. Eikan-do is most famous for its stunning display of autumn colors, which are enhanced by an illumination display from mid-November to early December.More
#11
Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho)

Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho)

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The Japanese royal family lived in Kyoto Imperial Palace(Kyoto Gosho) until 1868, when the capital moved to Tokyo. It’s located within the Kyoto Imperial Park, which also houses other palaces and shrines. This must-visit attraction allows visitors to gain a greater understanding of Japan’s rich history and culture while enjoying landscaped gardens.More
#12
Tenryu-ji Temple

Tenryu-ji Temple

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Located in the Arashiyama area of Kyoto, Tenryu-ji Temple is one of the five great temples of Kyoto. Make a stop at this sprawling Zen temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates from the 14th century, to experience its traditional Japanese landscape garden.More
#13
Ryoan-ji Temple & Garden

Ryoan-ji Temple & Garden

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Among Kyoto’s collection of UNESCO-listed temples, Ryoan-ji Temple stands out for its mysterious 15th-century zen rock garden. No matter where you stand gazing out over the rock garden, at least one rock is hidden from sight, and the meditative spot is said to represent ‘infinity’ or an ‘endless sea.’More
#14
Sannenzaka & Ninenzaka

Sannenzaka & Ninenzaka

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Travelers hoping for a glimpse of a more traditional Kyoto will feel like they’re stepping back in time upon first stepping into the Imperial-era shopping district of Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka. This pair of gently sloping, pedestrian-only roads, considered among the most attractive streets in the city, are lined with traditional shops, restaurants and tea houses occupying traditional wooden houses.Shoppers will find chopsticks, fans and handmade crafts, while foodies can sample mochi balls, green tea ice cream or matcha cakes. Whether you come to shop, eat or simply soak up the atmosphere, take care not to stumble. According to local legend, slipping on either street will lead to bad luck (or even death) in two or three years respectively.More
#15
Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion)

Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion)

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Beneath the verdant canopy of the eastern mountains, Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion is among the most visited of Kyoto’s UNESCO-listed temples and renowned for its idyllic gardens. Built in 1482 by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, legend dictates that it was to be covered in silver in homage to Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion—a feat that was never realized.More

Trip ideas

Kyoto Temple Guide

Kyoto Temple Guide

Things to do in Kyoto this...

Recent reviews from experiences in Kyoto

star-5
Great experience!
Riyo_P, Apr 2022
Kyoto Golden Early Morning Tour
Hope to see her again on our next trip to Kyoto!
star-5
Excellent Kyoto guide
Katie_W, Apr 2022
Kyoto Lazy Bird Tour
We got such great insight about Kyoto and felt at ease knowing we were going to see the best parts of each site.
star-5
Great walking food tour in Saga-Arashiyama area
Jose, Jun 2021
Kyoto Arashiyama & Sagano Walking Food Tour
Guide was very kind and knowledgeable, he even gave us tips on what to do in Kyoto after the tour.
star-5
Virtual Kyoto tour
Natasha_S, Jan 2021
Kyoto Virtual Tour
The tour was a great virtual escape that will definitely make you want to visit Kyoto in real life asap!
star-5
Wonderful Way to Connect to the People and the Culture
Nancy_K, Jan 2021
Kyoto Virtual Tour
Minako and her assistant have a great way of engaging you throughout the tour with humorous stories, historical information, and fun quiz activities.
star-5
A must do in Kyoto
Luca_L, Mar 2020
Traditional Tea Ceremony wearing a Kimono in Kyoto MAIKOYA
They speak a perfect English and they were so careful to make sure we are all fine :) I'm simply loved my experience and the tea was delicious
star-5
Excellent Tour
Melissa_L, Feb 2020
Kyoto Late Bird tour
Can't wait to visit Kyoto again to visit additional sites.
star-5
Excellent
Jamie_C, Jan 2020
Arashiyama Bamboo Bike Tour (Early Bird)
Excellent recommendations at the end of the tour about what to do next in Kyoto very helpful.
star-5
Fantastic tour!
Christopher_J, Jan 2020
5 Top Highlights of Kyoto with Kyoto Bike Tour
This was the best way to see all of Kyoto in one day.
star-5
Kyoto walking tour
thachvo, Nov 2019
KYOTO Walking Tour [Customize Your Itinerary]
We were able to visit some of the best places of Kyoto and just like exactly the books say, all is marvelous, the gardens, the temples, the shrines and the food.
star-4
Kyoto half-day private tour - highly recommend it
Nomad44556182242, Oct 2019
Kyoto Half-Day Private Tour with Nationally-Licensed Guide
Spoke good English and took us to all the top spots in Kyoto.
star-5
Enjoyable Tour
wilbyonclyde, Oct 2019
Kyoto Morning Tour - Golden Pavilion and Kyoto Imperial Palace from Kyoto
We enjoyed visiting the various attractions although unfortunately we couldn’t visit the Imperial Palace as it was closed due to the Emperors Coronation in Tokyo.
star-4
Excellent Kyoto & Nara Bus Tour
Gary S, Oct 2019
Kyoto and Nara 1 Day Trip - Golden Pavilion and Todai-ji Temple from Kyoto
Very good Japanese lady with good English speaking guide.
star-5
Our First Virtual Tour
Jim_S, Sep 2020
Kyoto Virtual Tour
Aki and Minako were fabulous hosts, tour conducted in English via Zoom call.
star-5
A good morning out and about
Jorgus50, Oct 2019
Kyoto Morning Private Cycling Tour Including Bicycle and Helmet rental
highly recommended way to see Kyoto.
star-5
Fantastic !!
Dianne W, Oct 2019
5 Top Highlights of Kyoto with Kyoto Bike Tour
This was the perfect way to see the best sights Kyoto city.
star-5
Lovely guide
bettybud0ck, Oct 2019
Cycle along the ancient canals of Kyoto: Kyoto Small Group Bike Tour
It was a lovely tour which took us around the quiet streets of Kyoto to visit temples and shrines.
star-4
Great overview of Kytoto
Aleke_K, Sep 2019
Kyoto Lazy Bird Tour
Our tour guide gave us a great overview of the Kyoto‘s essential places to visit.
star-5
A great time
Grace M, Sep 2019
Kyoto and Nara 1 Day Trip - Golden Pavilion and Todai-ji Temple from Kyoto
This was amazing to see the deer!
star-4
Interesting visit, good tour guide
Allison_P, Aug 2019
Nijo Castle and Imperial Palace Visit with Private Guide
She was friendly, professional, and spoke good English.

A local’s pocket guide to Kyoto

Akie Watanabe

Akie—a tour guide, origami instructor, sake sommelier, and the 29th generation of a Samurai family—loves Kyoto for its history, traditional culture, and great food.

The first thing you should do in Kyoto is...

go to Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion). You'll find traditional Japanese beauty in the spectacular garden. Coming to Kyoto and skipping Kinkakuji is like going to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower.

A perfect Saturday in Kyoto...

starts with coffee from Café Good Day Velo and continues with take-out mackerel sushi and mochi from Nishiki Market. Afterwards, take a walk along Kamo river, before getting dinner and drinks in Pontocho, a famed geisha district.

One touristy thing that lives up to the hype is...

the Fushimi Inari Shrine where there are 10,000 red gates. It's so unique, special, and spiritual. And, of course, you can take amazing photos.

To discover the "real" Kyoto...

ride a bike. Go down narrow backstreets, the Imperial Gardens, and the Sanyo Shopping Street, where you can feel the old-world atmosphere and sample affordable ramen in cool local cafés and supermarkets.

For the best view of the city...

go up to Iwatayama Monkey Park. You'll get a great city view from the top of the mountain and the 20-minute hike is worth it. Plus, you can also see cute monkeys roaming around.

One thing people get wrong...

thinking that Kyotoites are close-minded. People from Kyoto generally welcome visitors.

People Also Ask

What is Kyoto famous for?

Kyoto is famous for its ancient Buddhist temples, idyllic gardens, Shinto shrines, and traditional wooden townhouses—and for being one of Japan’s oldest cities. Often referred to as the cultural heart of Japan, Kyoto is the perfect place to learn about Japanese traditions such as tea ceremonies, ikebana (flower arranging), and geisha culture.

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How can I spend 3 days in Kyoto?

Start a 3-day trip in Kyoto with a morning visit to Kiyomizu-dera temple to beat the crowds, followed by a visit to Kinkaku-ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion. Visit Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine and the nearby Arashiyama Bamboo Grove for great photo opportunities. Lastly, explore Gion District and eat at Nishiki Market.

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What should I not miss in Kyoto?

Don’t miss Kyoto’s magnificent temples and gardens such as Eikando Zenrinji Temple, Ginkaku-ji Temple, Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, and Sanjusangendo Temple. Take a stroll down the atmospheric Pontocho Alley to see its preserved machiya houses, try local bites at Nishiki Market, and explore the grounds of Nijo Castle.

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Is Kyoto near Tokyo?

No, Kyoto is not near Tokyo—it’s roughly a 2-hour trip if traveling on the Nozumi bullet train, a 5.5-hour journey by car, and a domestic flight would take about 1-hour. For comfort, ease, and beautiful views of Mt. Fuji; the bullet train is the best way to travel between cities.

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What is there to do in Kyoto besides temples?

Foodies can taste their way around Nishiki Market, take part in a cooking class, or participate in a tea ceremony. Access panoramic views of the city from Kyoto Tower’s observation deck, watch a traditional geisha performance in Gion, or go shopping at one of Shijo Street’s department stores.

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Do they speak Engish in Kyoto?

Yes, English is spoken in Kyoto, but most commonly in hotels and restaurants that attract foreign visitors. Although English isn’t spoken fluently by many locals, people are extremely friendly and locals can usually speak a few words of English (even if shy to say so). Just remember to speak slowly.

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Frequently Asked Questions
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